This spring /summer the facility requires extra high security areas needing completion with buildings, and extra water tanks for each of the habitats, the extra security areas are for during bad storms, or trees falling down, the wolves will still be in spacious areas attached to their main habitats but can be locked in without any risk of escape if a tree comes crashing down onto the main compounds. We are situated after all surrounded by forest.
The tanks are for when trips are taken, and water can continuously flow into their main bowls so any caretaker here to babysit does not have to go into the wolf enclosures to give water and such. (liability reasons) Basically working towards the entire facility becoming self sustained. We are already 3/4's of the way there. So I am hoping by the first snow to have it all complete. I am working towards eventually my CAZA, this is given out to only zoos (I am a licensed wolf facility, not a ZOO with a collection of various animals, so I will have my work cut out for me to eventually get that kind of elite status up here, but anything I have ever set my sites on comes true for me, just takes WORK and keeping it close within my heart and THOUGHTS putting that out into the ether.
Snow season things slow down a bit and I can catch up with stories to tell that happened during the warm months :0)
People come from all over to visit, and will look around and say things like "What a life you live, it must feel so peaceful and simple" ...well it takes a lot of WORK and TIME to get to *simple*, it actually is not as easy a life as it *looks*, it requires a lot of very hard work and that never ends out here, it makes the time I do spend not working even more precious for that *peace*. To simply sit without words, and thought. To silence voices and be *still* and at one within yourself. Being an artist, and maybe other artists can relate, your mind tends to always be going in various directions. Sometimes I laugh and make fun of it and say that is a part of being an artist the insanity of it all, some might call that multitasking. Whatever it is, it can get NOISY and you want it to shut the heck up ;0)
Okay onto the blog!
Does anyone ever get grumpy during the wintertime? like if someone rubs you the wrong way you want to... I don't know Bite them? :0) sometimes, I am tempted but I don't think I bite THAT hard! (kidding, but I'll leave it up to you to figure out what I'm kidding about, or not ;0)
Well if you don't get like that, thank heavens I am sure your family feel blessed ;0) ha ha. Well I get a LOT of phone calls and emails literally from all over the world, and people from various corners of the earth have visited my home in the woods, I get asked a lot about working with wolves, and I tell people ALL sides to this. I have some cute stories but I can tell a LOT more crazy stories over the years too of the sacrifice made for them. It's NOT even remotely been easy in any way shape or form. So for anyone reading and you think you want to work with wolves, my blog is not fuzzy bunny, it is what it is, wolves are what they are, I don't down play any of it. I want my blogs to be balanced and honest. I am not talking about dogs here or dogs with wolf in them.
One thing caretakers of wolves deal with is something called seasonal aggression (not dogs said to be wolves, I had to state this as I get sent a lot of pics from people thinking they have pure wolves in their house, and saying things like my pet white wolf looks JUST like your arctic legend...NOT) ALL wolves go through this during breeding season to *variant* degrees, from simply being more grumpy (not AS affectionate, more stand offish as in don't touch me syndrome, even growly if you go to touch them) to outright aggression of not allowing said caretakers into the enclosure even , or they will get attacked, this occurs during the winter /breeding months. For some wolves it lasts a few weeks, others it may last a few months!
Mature males tend to go through this a little more than females do in intensity. ( However keeping with the behavior change theme here, SOME intact females can actually become a little more affectionate (so the opposite) during breeding season ( a couple of mine are like this,) and might pay the caretaker a bit too much attention , which might piss off any male mate and incite some aggression in the male mate. (Not good)
This is another good reason to have free feeders (which we have) and they have their own custom built building boxes they sit in to protect them from rain/snow etc, so there is enough food to last without having to go into the habitat for sometimes weeks on end, and another reason why we have custom made heavy duty electric troughs so water never freezes in our frigid winter temps up here, if you cant go in to chop ice and give water umpteen times a day! (A true luxury ) Lock out areas are also a great necessity.
Wolves tend to mature anywhere from 2-5 years of age, and if left intact can start to display behavior that is different than they **normally** behave the rest of the year. Spaying/Neutering will help the animals go through this season more easily, and help eliminate the behavior change. If left intact, precautions MUST be taken to remain SAFE, and ensuring the animal not losing respect of you, due to you not understanding how to deal with them during this time.
I have one female wolf out here, where every winter I watch carefully to see if she will *change*, and every year that she shows no significant change, knocking on wood. She is a very dominant female, one that in the wild would lead a wolf pack in fact. She is a very BOLD animal too, which also would not help were she to go through this, it seems some of the most social or bold wolves when young, can in *general* be ****a little more**** prone to going through severe seasonal aggression than those whom are more shy and timid.
Well this winter her 4th, she went through this. I went in to clean her habitat, she approached me like she always does and showed no overt signs prior, and displayed the same greeting as the day before. I tapped her hut and she jumped up onto it and as she lay on her back whining for me to rub her belly, she suddenly clamped onto my arm growling, I kept my cool, and quickly diverted her attention by grabbing for a tidbit treat, ( I always keep treats in a zippered pouch on me around the wolves,) and with my other arm said "dharma!" in a happy voice, "loooooook hot dog!" (oh they all KNOW that word, I can get them to drop the stinkiest carcass they have in their possession for a hot dog bit!) she quickly stopped growling and jumped off after the tidbit, I decided to test her again cause I was like what the he**.
I really didn't want to believe she was going through this. I didnt know if she was hurt somewhere or...and if so I had to check her out without getting bit!
She proceeded within seconds to approach me again for attention, whining, peeing, ears back, rolling over, and being pushy about it. I move to touch her belly again , she growled and did a quick snap towards me, this was a hard growl...that sealed it for me! I told her "your setting me up dharma forget this!" and went about cleaning, keeping an eye on where she was, and paying her NO attention, I then left as she kept trying to set me up, and I wasn't biting!, cause I knew if **I** did...she would!!!
This is what she does as I move around she will approach me like this, soft eyes, ears back, as she gets closer she will shrink her body down and lower her head even more and pee, then pester even try and TRIP me throwing her entire body right infront of my feet to belly rub her. Too smart! But luckily I'm smarter ;0) I know ALL the games these animals try and play and why they do what they do when they do it!
I can handle HER particular behavior, and really have no choice. I just wont pay ANY attention to her at all till she calms down, this was better than some wolves I have experienced in going through seasonal aggression, but still Dharma is one VERY intense SERIOUS wolf.
People do laugh when they see her with me, cause she likes to talk to me in return when I talk to her in a high pitch voice, as if she is trying to mimic me. She **acts** like a sweet puppy all submissive, and if I even LOOK her way from a distance when I am with a group of people, she will go into her silly dance when she makes eye contact with me, but just as suddenly, she will look at someone else who may laugh out loud at her behavior, (not really believing a wolf can act like this) and just like the swift reactions of a race car driver her entire body posture, and face changes, she puffs all up like a blow fish! and even huff and puff at them, then she will look back to me and just as quickly to assure me, it was the OTHER people she was posturing towards NOT ME.
Make no no mistake however, she is TOUCHY, and if you even bump into her or accidentally step on her foot by mistake she WILL get pissed off and bite out at you hard! She is one of those temperaments where you just always respect her moods, and moods she can and does have!
Well one thing I have never seen before, or even heard of is a female wolf going through seasonal aggression like symptoms in the spring, this spring one of my females (this was not dharma this time) started acting like she was pregnant , she definitely was not, and there was no chance of this either. She kept digging crazy dens 30 feet under the ground , yup you read right 30 feet under the ground theres like 8 of them out in her habitat.
Pics attached of what she was up to. You can nowheres see how far and deep they go till you get right down there and LOOK INTO them or crawl into one and I have been in some that literally you are 30 feet underground. These are but a few of the 8 she had dug all over the place! and she was spending time underground in ALL of them. I had to just keep laughing and joking to everyone about her imaginary puppies! and why she was all brownish/reddish looking due to spending soo many hours day after day underground.
Now I have seen some maternal aggression really come out in some female wolves once pups are born, and keep caretakers out of the habitat but not females whom did not have pups. This girl not only made dens, but she would lay down in there HOURS on end day after day as if with imaginary pups.
One day in later may, I went into her habitat to clean and the way she approached me head on and tail down low, a little tucked under and kinked just slightly to the side told me something wasn't right, but it was too late she quickly grabbed by pant leg (good reason to wear not tight clothing sometimes, as she missed my leg but ripped the pant, she then darted to get me in the hock I used the bucket and shovel to thwart these attempts and calmly backed my butt the heck out of there. Not one single sign the day before that this was going to occur and so suddenly.
I tested her a few times through the fence she would approach submissively with tongue darting eyes averted, back hunched slightly, tail lowered, but with it held slightly and rigidly under her body, and the end/tip kinked to one side. As I would place my hand out towards her at the fence, she GROWLED long and DEEP and I was like OKAY she thinks she has pups when she doesn't, how nice... NOT! Let me tell you it is a stressful thing, luckily I keep the free feeders full and the water trough can be filled from the outside. Water and food taken care of, and raw meaty meal bones can be thrown in.
This is an animal that had to be allowed go through this process and it looks like it will occur every year, well it ONLY ended a few days ago, where I was able to go in SAFELY and not get out right ATTACKED. All I thought was, and people want animals like this as PET dogs?... ahuh. Russian Roulette comes to mind.
I have been around EVERY breed and breed type of dog out there in existence practically due to my involvement with dog shows and purebred dogs, and working at a dog shelter as a teenager. I have owned various breeds over time since childhood and intact or not they don't go through **this** particular behavior to this extreme and degree. How many people would be prepared to deal with something like this? and go through the above? Or how many are told it's not like what I am describing here, (due to wolves being sold as pets to anyone with money, illegally. After all wouldn't want to impact that kind of business now would we?) and that it is only the ramblings of some radical animal rights person? (shaking the head sadly)
I am attaching something I wrote in my care guide about seasonal aggression, I wrote it after I was attacked seriously by a fully mature adult male wolf I raised since he was a wee puppy (he was not intact, I had him neutered as a pup to avoid seasonal aggression, for his father went through it badly at another wolf facility) this incident happened in the fall, and it was not seasonal aggression it was a TEST *which turned into a challenge* which is DIFFERENT, than seasonal aggression. Maybe one day I'll go into that more indepth here.
A man named Paul wrote in response publicly to my story told back in 01' something that occurred to him. I was granted permission before he died to reprint his story as I saw fit, so am including that in my own article to give you an idea about seasonal aggression. Though different once more than what occurred with one of the two females above aggression is still aggression and there is potential danger if you don't know what you are doing. The photos were gifted to me from a dear friend whom operates another wolf facility for my guide.
So what does aggression mean? Aggression is a behavior intending to cause harm, and injury through fighting / attacking, or via fear. Aggression describes an action. Aggressiveness can be the result of a pre-disposition either genetically inherited or is the animals’ individual tendency/ disposition. Fear and anxiety can cause aggressiveness in a wolf or wolf dog as can over reacting to a perceived/interpreted threat. It can be brought on due to competition for resources (food, mates, territories, shelters, and progeny) and non-resources such as competition for rank status.
The following define the nature of the interaction
a) Fight/Attack is followed by physical contact ie *bite/scratching* the intent is there to harm. The aggression will result in active physical contact/injury.
b) Intimidation/Threats there will be little to no physical contact except possibly in the form of dominance mounting, usually there is visual eye contact, and the canid will vocalize in a low pitch. The intent is to communicate possible harm, via threatening sounds, and gestures. This is very common behavior in dominance hierarchies.
The aggression is more passive aggressive. The canine displaying this sort of behavior wishes to avoid an outright attack. (I have seen this many times between some of my paired up wolves, one will mount up onto anothers back.shoulder area but display no outright aggression)
Most aggressive behaviors are determined by status or rank.
A wolf that is acting highly reactive, impulsive, angry, frustrated is actually being defensive due to a perceived threat, potential threat, or threatening stimulus. Self defense or defense can take place over offspring, territory, resources, and property.
c) Offensive aggression is unprovoked.
A canine that displays aggression that is unprovoked usually does so to gain some goal (object, subject) they will get some kind of reward from displaying this form of aggression.
Developmental Origins of Aggression By Richard Ernest Tremblay, Willard W. Hartup, John Archer
Social dominance, aggression and faecal glucocorticoid levels in a wild population of wolves, Canis lupus Jennifer Sands and Scott Creel
Department of Ecology, Montana State University, USA
Aggressive behavior plays an important role in the hierarchy to provide a solid role and structure for the alpha pair; it helps keep the pack size fairly consistent as well due to healthy competition resulting in a stronger, unified group. Individual wolves can be driven out of packs or even killed for the betterment of pack society. The alpha female can aggress threateningly upon other females in the pack into not coming into heat, or aborting if they become pregnant. During bad years for food sources the aggression increases within pack society, which leads to more social break down and weakening of the pack bond.
Once spring hits and food sources are plenty the pack becomes more unified to care for the pups, hormones decrease drastically and there is less tension amongst family members.
One form of aggression that can be seen in mature unaltered wolves and wolf dogs with a lot of wolf (enough that they look/act wolf and might as well be considered one) not typically seen in the same degree in domestic dogs and in most not at all, is something called seasonal aggression dubbed by many wolf caretakers/ and facilities through the years as Winter Wolf Syndrome. This form of aggression is something many caretakers do not wish to speak about lest animal rights groups use it as negative fodder. Unfortunately it does more harm than good if it is not talked about, people should be given the facts and thus also dispel the myths at the same time. This section is not to demonize these animals but to give the general public a look into some factual information .
It would be very unethical of me in writing anything on care to only include information people want to hear and read, that would be too easy to do and not based entirely on the truth. You’re probably saying what the heck is Winter Wolf Syndrome? Before we launch into reasons and explanations first a story, this was sent into a list in response to my own serious tangle and challenge with a wolf that left me devastated. This gentleman’s name was Paul (now deceased sadly from cancer.) He was quite well known and liked for his heart, and integrity, his openness and willingness to share his experiences with others with his own animals. He touched a lot of people and left behind howls from his animals in his wake.
Permission was granted from Paul himself to reprint as I saw fit at the time I had been considering writing a book.
In Paul Ferrari's own words
Winter Wolf Syndrome
WWS, it happens, but only to us lucky ones. (G) As they say “Winter Wolves Can Be Fun.” Although it can happen to any animal it is more prevalent in captives pures and Hi%F1’s and not all animals in that category will get it. WWS will be more noticeable in an animal that has imprinted on you and has been highly socialized to humans. This type animal will treat conspecifics and humans as social companions. They will very likely challenge humans for dominance, specially those humans that have imprinted. All this will (or may) start, the winter of maturity, the winters between 3&4 or 2&3 years old, some may even be earlier or later. Remember, not all pures and Hi%F1’s will get WWS!!! Also remember, the more social the animal, the more confidence it has and is more likely to challenge. The shyer the animal, the less confidence it has and is less likely to dominate attack at maturity. Different animals do different things or nothing at all. Some will be just as mellow as they were in the summer, some will totally ignore you and then there are the others. Two Feathers, was one of the others. (G) This is still mostly related to HiF1’s and pures but can happen with others. Some of you out there have pures related to my Two Feathers (Twoee for short) Some are brothers and others, cousins that are coming into the winter of Maturity. WW is a maturity thing along with sexual behavior. Twoee is 9 years old now and was neutered just before his fourth birthday in the spring of 1995 after a winter of maturity, WWS.
Alpha does not mean the biggest, baddest wolf or human in the pack, an alpha leader is just, and is not a bully that physically walks around threatening or beating up on the other wolves, as eventually the rest of the wolves will get tired of the bully and take them out for good. The alpha pair are perhaps the wisest and most capable of wolves to lead the pack. They help to keep the pack strong through leading.
The following pics are of a captive female wolf and what occurred to her during breeding season, from another female wolf, in the wild unaltered males and females live amicably together, in captivity however when there is tension the wolf cannot escape and fights can occur. I strongly advise not creating pack situations of the same sex, especially if they are unaltered. Fortunately as bad as this looks she survived. Some may not be so lucky. Pair up wolves with the opposite sex in captivity and unless you are an educational center avoid creating pack situations. (Photos courtesy Wolf Creek Habitat Thanks dear friend! )
A personal example of mine of hunger aggression based around food and the season was in a raptor, a hawk actually, I used to take into the classrooms for presentations on behalf of the local zoo. This bird was imprinted on humans and we actually all thought it did not know how to even be a bird it was so imprinted on people. But even though she had imprinted and was excellent to take into classrooms for presentations, every spring she became very aggressive and every fall once again.
Even though she was raised in captivity the wild inherent tendencies were still there, and could not be taken out. It was actually quite harrowing for me to enter her cage in the fall time and I quickly would place her food down on the ground instead of having her fly to my glove, cause she tended to fly at me all talons out to attack otherwise.
To explain this behavior to children watching me feed her I simply would tell them she is acting out her natural pre-migratory behavior she is a Swainsons hawk, and every fall Swainsons hawks appetites increase as they are needing to eat as much as possible to prepare for their 10,000 mile long journey to Argentina. The hunger drive increases the aggression within the hawk. When they fly back in the springtime they are again very hungry from such a long journey once more making the hawk aggressive acting.
Now why would a hawk who does not make such a journey, or who does not breed in captivity become aggressive then? The behavior is inherent she acts out what she was made to be a wild hawk in a captive situation, her body goes through the same things any wild hawk would. Human beings can take the animal out of the wild but it is virtually impossible to take the entirety of the wild out of the animal biologically and physiologically.
The caretakers of this hawk have learned (been trained) how to adequately care for this animal when it goes through this kind of behavior but how many average folk would not have a clue if they just decided they wanted a pet hawk? A hawk is not a budgie. Just as a wolf, is not a dog.
Another example: Some friends recently brought in an orphaned raccoon, though they can be extremely sweet when young, they do mature and grow up and are not so cute and cuddly anymore if they are not altered. This couple brought this cute sweet little ball of fur home and decided to raise it, they had never previously raised one so did not know what to expect. They were about to get one of the harshest lessons up close and in person. Note Raccoons need to be handled consistently and on a daily basis, if just left in a cage they will become more aggressive eventually towards their owners regardless of seasonal aggression, they will be more prone to bite and attack. Miss out on that vital step you will definitely have an unhandleable wild animal in your back yard.
All went well for the first while, the baby grew up and matured. One day they decided to go on a trip as a family, and left the raccoon behind like one might a cat in the house, with plenty of food. Upon returning and opening the door, the raccoon came out of nowhere and attacked the mother, it chased her into the bedroom and was threatening her aggressively, meanwhile the rest of the family ran around to the bedroom window broke it and pulled her to safety through the window. So what went wrong?
These are but a couple examples of wild animals that go through various forms of aggression related to seasonal changes, and even though wolves are what I would consider ***TRULY*** wild, (as SOME things have been altered due to captivity, and having not been born IN the wild and raised by the wild) they can still be affected biologically the same as any wild animal is, if potential caretakers and or zoos are aware of this they can prepare for it but they should be given all the facts so they can make the choice for themselves. I know I certainly would not wish to attain any kind of animal if I was not given all the facts surrounding the care and special unique qualities specific to that animal.
I do not Echo Paul’s statement that not every wolf, will go through WWS, (only that not ALL will go through the EXTREME version of it) some dogs with wolf in their heritage depending on wolf content may not go through it (it's a risk. ) But all pure wolves do go through changes of ***some sort***during this season, and it better to understand there’s a possibility for this to either be on the low end of things than the extreme one, and enter into such a huge commitment blindly. Seasonal Aggression is commonly misunderstood.
I often recommend that people spay or neuter their dogs, even though they do not get the above occurring, an animal period who’s hormones don’t come into play make in general much better companions and pet quality material than those animals that are not altered. Bite stats prove it to be correct. Unaltered, chained, male domestic dogs lead bite incidents on children. Yet the true reasons are not examined in depth and it is much easier to blame a certain type of canine. (breed bans) Perfectly social outgoing sweet male domestic dog pups can change drastically upon puberty.
They can become completely side tracked by hormone driven behaviors such as in your face confrontation, dominant-mounting behaviors and more. I find there is no distracting some of them from that which is in their fixation. After puberty though there can be a decline in the testosterone levels, when the behavior is practiced compulsively, it becomes a habit and darn near impossible to stop and influence, even altering won’t help a habit.
My Feeling is that dominant behavior and sexual related behavior becomes joined and one, they are both directly the result of the influx of testosterone.
So how did I come up with the heading of this blog? Well ha ha, as she grabbed my pant leg suddenly I instantly blurted out "Take A Bite Out of This" as I placed the shovel in front of me, but too bad she knew the difference between my leg and a shovel!
I've learned that such things as my story above just *are* what they are, and that sometimes it is best to simply go with it. This teaches me something about dealing with edgy humans actually, not that I've been bit and attacked by a human the *same* way a wolf might , but that I know, when coming in contact with some edgy aggressive people ,that if I *react* and push back, this results in more force coming back my way. It is always very easy to just want to impulsively *react* to a situation that *tests* our strengths and weaknesses. But to do so might just result in a serious bite in the assets!
So choose carefully which mountain you decide to lay down and die on, for it just might be a molehill in disguise. ;0)
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Jean Donaldson: Mine! A Guide To Resource Guarding In Dogs
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Barbara Sykes: Understanding And Handling Dog Aggression
Stephen Joubert & Christian Delmar: Final Hope: Gaining Control Of Your Aggressive Dog