Wolfdogs Don’t Need Whispering!

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The producers of the Dog Whisperer television program are now searching for new dogs to be rehabilitated by Cesar Millan—not just any dogs, but wolfdogs (a.k.a. wolf hybrids). Here is a link to the story… http://www.whittierdailynews.com/ci_12675189?source=rss

I want to say first that this is not about maligning Cesar Millan. It is about the advisability of using his methods on wolfdogs. There is a world of difference between doing behavioral rehabilitation with dogs versus wolfdogs. I have worked with pure wolves and wolfdogs in rescue, rehabilitation, training, and education for the last twenty years. I’ve taught seminars to animal control officers, as well as doing education in classrooms and at pet fairs. My books include “Living with Wolfdogs” and “Wolfdogs A-Z: Behavior, Training and More.” I also lived with wolves and wolfdogs for over 10 years, including rehabbing an extreme resource guarder (Samoyed/wolf mix) and a pure wolf whose version of testing was to sink teeth into the back of one's knee. (The latter was Phantom, whose eulogy you may have seen on this board last year and who can be seen whispering into my ear in the photo.)

Wolves as a species are afraid of humans. Wolfdogs, especially the higher-content individuals (who generally look and act wolfier than dogs) tend to be on the shy, skittish side. They have special needs as far as early socialization if they are to be workable “pets” and live in the world rather than spending their lives in an enclosure. They can be very sensitive and require an extremely gentle approach in training. One false move and the bond of trust between wolfdog and owner can be broken forever. Behavior modification with wolfdogs requires plenty of patience, and one should never push these animals over threshold.

While I understand the “wow factor” of seeing a man “tame” an animal that is partly wild, it is extremely unfortunate that these animals will be subjected to the type of training Millan is known for. There is a video clip on the internet of Millan “rehabilitating” a wolfdog. http://tinyurl.com/n4t2pj The wolfdog was reactive with other dogs and by the looks of it, had been doing extremely well. Not satisfied, Millan brought in yet another dog who pushed the wolfdog over threshold to where he reacted. Millan then "corrected" the wolfdog to the point where the wd turned around and bit him. Not only bit him, but bit him up and down his arm. Yep, wolfdogs are not dogs.

Interestingly, in another episode http://tinyurl.com/create.php a couple has issues with their 2 wolfdogs who are showing very typical issues--the couple complain they can't leave them alone in the home because of extreme destruction, and there is serious resource guarding going on over food. One of the wolfdogs also has issues with other dogs. And they've destroyed the back yard. Well, that's what the majority of wolfdogs do! (possibly minus the issues with other dogs). The dog aggression issue was handled in the typical manner, the resource guarding issue was "fixed" by the guy standing up and holding the bowl high up while the dog eats--nothing was ever shown of the wolfdog being in possession of the food and then someone trying to approach. When the wolfdog gave an agonistic pucker (vertical retraction of the upper lip, that wolfy-looking snarl) it was interpreted by Cesar as nothing to worry about, that it showed insecurity--no, it showed "if you keep coming near my stuff there will be trouble!" As to the destruction, you know those people are never going to have two adult wolfdogs loose in the home without there being some destruction--there just isn't a magic wand for that one other than containment. They complain that they can't ever go away together without the wolfdogs coming with them, it's impossible to just take a vacation. Welcome to the reality of having wolfdogs. Again, these are not dogs, and no one without specialized knowledge of their behavior and needs should be working with them, period.

Back to techniques--another technique Millan frequently employs is flooding—exposing an animal to that which triggers its fear, in overwhelming doses. Any type of flooding could cause irreversible damage to a fearful wolfdog’s psyche.

On a broader scale, a show that features wolfdogs—which are, by all accounts, strikingly beautiful animals—could easily cause viewers to want one of their own. There are many us who have been trying to educate the public for years and years that wolfdogs are not the perfect pet for the average person. The potential fallout of this type of exposure is huge. Many people are not even aware that wolfdogs are illegal to own in many areas. They then get one, the wolfdog ends up at the shelter for one reason or another (usually because they can jump a 6-foot chain link fence in a single bound), and the animals ends up either euthanized or at a rescue center for life.

I have written to National Geographic to express my opinion. (http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/contact) If you wish to do the same, please do not write a diatribe against Cesar Millan--that's not what this is about. It's about how ill-advised it is to expose wolfdogs to these training methods, and to the public in general.

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