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First Year With Our Wolfdog

About our first dog and how we are coping together.

Jiří Čertík, translated by H. Čertíková, 30.7.2010

I have always wanted to have a dog that would look as wolfish as possible. Therefore I automatically concluded that German Shepherd (vlcak informally in Czech, from vlk = wolf ) would meet this criterium perfectly. Surprise came when I googled “vlcak” and was faced with the information that “vlcaks” as a breed really do exist, (and in two variants too! [1]) created by recent crossing of German Shepherds with wolves. In no time I was staring on YouTube at the graceful movements of Czechoslovakian wolfdogs.

It has been a year since we brought our female Czechoslovakian wolfdog puppy named Raksha home. She has been growing into a wonderful animal - personality-wise as well as in appearance and movements - and our whole family fell for her head over heels. Not a single day passes by without her showing us what the other dog breeds have long lost due to domestication and degeneration.



We are starting to forget what it was that used to surprise, shock or disappoint us, because new experience never stops coming. That’s why I will write down some of it, despite the fact that one-year-old wolfdog is not even closely adult yet and still can change a lot.

I’m going to leave out detailed breed description and suggestions from experienced breeders. These things are easily to be found on the Internet [2]. What I wanted though, were particular experiences of wolfdog novices, like us. It almost seemed that our advisors have forgotten what it was like to be a novice and on that account they don’t seem to understand what I was asking.

In the following text I sometimes call Raksha a wolf or wolvish and such, but that’s an overstatement. To be truthful, Czechoslovakian wolfdog is three quarters dog and only one quarter wolf.


Getting ready for the puppy


My first and foremost idea of the dog was having him as a companion. To watch his behavior, to communicate with him - and to bother him with training only to the point where I would be able to take him almost anywhere with me.

I found inspiration in Konrad Lorenz, world-renowned ethologist [4] (on the picture with his beloved geese). Lorenz claimed dog to be the closest animal to human because we are both social and domesticated.

Besides recall (coming when called) Lorenz wanted from his dogs only 3 more abilities: leaving a dog laying and waiting in it’s place, making the dog go away on it’s designated place (kennel, sleeping rug,...), and having the dog walk at heel. He also described how he achieved that with his dogs. Lorenz also delighted me with the reasons accoring to which he picked his own dogs. It’s rather probable that he would have picked wolfdogs if he had the chance.


The last obstacle to overcome was to persuade my wary wife.

Our visit at Monika Soukupová’s kennel "Z Molu Es" (which can be found near Prague, Czech Republic) proved to be crucial. Monika willingly let us see her wolfdogs and responded to our many questions. The fact that the breeder openly pointed out what troubles might come with owning a CS wolfdog finally convinced my wife. Monika also explained how we can reach cooperation with our wolfdog and her opinion was that our inexperience with dogs can be a good starting point of bringing up a wolfdog.

My wife only stipulated that we buy a female wolfdog, because females are generally smaller and easier to handle than males.


We decided that our resilient wolfdog will spend her time outside the house in our garden the whole year round. Starting with her being strictly forbidden to enter, we might decide to invite her in later on - if she behaves herself. As it turns out, holding our ground is not very easy (see the picture) and we would be lost if we weren’t consistent.


I built a roofed kennel on our garden, partly open and partly isolated. We put no doghouse inside, but I made the kennel big enough so that I could sleep inside with the puppy during her first few nights in her new home. We leave the kennel open all the time and close Raksha inside it only on rare occasions, when for example we don’t want her to bother some of our visitors.

So when the kennel was almost finished, I started to look for a suitable puppy. It took some time, because the breeders usually have their puppies booked in advance. Therefore I stumbled only upon puppies whose prospective owner at last minute decided not to buy.
I was picking a puppy only among those breeders whose web pages looked reliable and trustworthy to me. As for a puppy without pedigree papers - I didn’t even consider it and I also think that I hadn’t even seen any such offer.

In the end one puppy was left for us at Hana Kaufmanová’s kennel "Od Úhoště" in Kadaň, Czech Republic.

Her dogs can accompany bike, pull a scooter, a skier or do mushing. You can see her on the picture with two of her dogs petting Raksha on our garden when she paid us a visit. Our neighbours keep remembering even now the wonderful sight of a pack of wolfdogs at play, and they recommend us to buy a wolfdog companion for Raksha.

The stepping stone of a wolfdog education is creating a strong and positive bond with people, it’s recommended to start early (it’s called socialization). The breeder already starts with it and then the new owner continues. I wrote an invitation [5] to all my acquaintances so that they would find some time for us and be ready to socialize.

First days in new home

We picked up Raksha in Kadaň when she was 6 weeks old. The breeder equipped us with many recommendations and advice, a vaccination record, a collar, a leash, a drinking bowl, some kibble for the first few days, piece of clothing that Raksha was used to sleep with and we felt Raksha’s chip under her skin. We paid 15,000 CZK and took off back home. Raksha spent the hour in a lap, sleeping.



A kitten of approximately same age was waiting for Raksha at our house, as well as the first socialization visit.

Our first night in the kennel followed.
Just to make sure I spent the second night there as well, but it wasn’t necessary. In fact, Raksha never cried for her family pack, except once on the way home. As long as there was someone willing to sacrifice their hand to her teeth, she was happy. The victim was less so.

I kept closing her inside the kennel for two weeks for the night as I was worried she might dig her way out in search of a way back to her old home. Every morning I got up early and let out one awakened, sad and abandoned she-wolf.

At first, Raksha eliminated wherever she happened to be at the moment. As soon as I stopped closing her in her kennel for the night, she stopped eliminating in her kennel. It took approximately three more months for her to stop eliminating on our patio.
Since the beginning I have collected all her droppings to one place in the garden, unfortunately that doesn’t seem to inspire her. On the other hand she is reliable now to eliminate on our walks instead of home.

Her first puppy teeth were needle-sharp. All tips and tricks to divert her urgent need to bite worked only a little, so in the end the whole family ended up with forearms full of bloody scratches. The unstoppable habit of biting and chewing was - and partially still is - the worst trait in our wolfdog. Fortunately as the time passed she bit us less and less and big relief to our long-suffering hands came with her second adult teeth, which are less sharp.

To this day I’m still hesitating whether I should forbid her chewing absolutely and consistently punish her for that. It seems to me that her biting and chewing is an important part of her communication with us and I don’t want to be deprived of that. When she wants to tell me on our walk that she is especially happy, she fleetingly catches my hand in her maw. The thing is, if she is doing that while sprinting then the sleeve might take the worst of it.



Socialization, meeting various people, was great fun for Raksha. Just imagine all the nice people only waiting for her to lick their face! The treats they offered maybe even weren’t so important. Our invitation was met with great success: when we reached fifty visits in one week, we stopped counting.
Till this day if someone talks to Raksha in soft, friendly voice, she immediately smiles with her ears and uses the first opportunity to thank by licking the face of the surprised admirer.
The picture above is from weir on Otava. It shows one such meeting: you can see the smiles on both sides.

Troubles

Raksha hates traveling by car and maybe it’s all my fault because I kept soothingly talking to her for the duration of every ride. Despite my efforts er complaints were getting worse and worse. We hit the bottom when even my wife got nervous during a ride with our unhappy and wailing puppy, which in turn made Raksha howl desperately.
Change came with our daughter reminding us what we have read many times before somewhere. You don’t pity and soothe your dog when he protests: no soothing is needed because traveling by car is a completely normal part of a dog’s life! Raksha still dislikes rides in our car (she drools) and enters the car only when she sees that we really mean it. (And have her on a leash, so that she cannot dodge or crawl under the car.)

We have been raw-feeding Raksha since she was puppy. We use whole chickens from poultry farm, or partially processed chickens and ducks from slaughterhouse. Both kinds of meat are kindly provided to us by experienced wolf and wolfdog owners. We always buy big amount and freeze it. It seems to us that such food is healthier than dry kibble. And cheaper too.

Other food is only supplementary: kibble as treats during training, all leftovers from our meals, soaked oatmeal, cottage cheese, eggs, baker’s yeast, milk, apples, cherries, plums, strawberries, grapes, bananas, dogrose hips, blueberries... actually, I don’t even remember her ever refusing to eat anything. She is hungry like a wolf, all the time. Despite the fact that we even overfed her till not long ago (with adverse effect, as I will describe further on).



She has stolen people’s food several times already. The worst case was with grilled chicken by a lake. She got out of water before me... and all I could do after that was deal with the disastrous result. The surprised picnic company sitting on a blanket was showing me an empty paper tray and one lady still held a single bone, describing vividly how they all were looking forward to feasting on their grilled chicken.

When Raksha was around seven months old she had several episodes of limping. She was growing rapidly at that time (even 3 kg a week) and we fed her a lot of fatty ducks. The first veterinarian we visited wanted to operate on Raksha, so we decided to seek a second opinion by another veterinarian. He deemed operation unnecessary and Raksha’s limping vanished after few days of giving her Rymadil. Apparently it was common irregularity of growth (panosteitis). The limping didn’t return after eighth month of age, disappearing completely without trace.

But what came instead was suddent fainting and those were the worst ordeals with our dog. For four consecutive days Raksha had spells of fainting, out of the blue. Our veterinarian couldn’t find any obvious reason why. And thanks to the fact that this episode ended at the time we stopped feeding Raksha the ducks, our vet’s colleagues now make fun of him - he was treating a dog with a severe case of “duckiade”. The vet’s opinion now is that the cause of fainting was similar as with the limping: overfeeding, rapid growth, the levels of hormones temporarily uneven.

An important note about money: If you think the price you pay for a puppy is high, you should consider the basic fee you pay for a visit at veterinary clinic is 300 CZK. And that’s talking about the cheaper one. At our first and more expensive veterinarian specialist in neurology it was 600 CZK and a basic x-ray with sedation was 6,000 CZK. He planned to operate on Raksha for 25,000 CZK.

Advantages

The most common way of dog’s communication - barking - Raksha knows but doesn’t use. And we are grateful for that, which cannot be said about the people using the walk along our fence . Our fence is not see-through and a big wolfish head tends to appear suddenly above it. The head then looks the person close into eyes in complete silence.

Raksha communicates in other ways. She uses wide variety of sounds, moves and unexpected facial expressions. It goes from disgusted curse when sun forces her to stand up and crawl into shade to expression of highest pleasure derived from soft, preferably soaked ground on a walk. She then starts towards me and because she knows she is not allowed to paw me and neither do I like to be bitten, so she turns her head sideways and gives me a full bodycheck. That has happened only twice though. More often she performs milder form of excitement where she zigzags aroung and jumps like a kid, interlacing the spectacle with wild sprints.



Her wolf-like howling is wonderful. Luckily for our neighbors she doesn’t do it very often. She usually responds to the horn of ambulance, firefigthers or police. It appears to be a common message. Sometimes she even remains lying down, just lifts her head and sings.

As for snow and freezing temperatures, Raksha doesn’t mind them. Quite the contrary it seems. Even in freeze she continues her habit to change the places where she sleeps. When the first freezes came, I found her in the morning (16°C below zero) - sleepy and warm - on frosty stones under our patio.

Next winter I hope to take her with me to the mountains for cross-country skiing. With this objective in mind we are slowly building up her stamina with her running beside a bike.

The recall command has been 100% reliable with her for several months now. I often don’t need leash, I know that she obeys at all times.

We have met a few people who got scared of her resemblance to wolf and that’s why we take a muzzle when we go to a city. The absolute majority of people we meet, however, meets Raksha with positive or even enthusiastic attitude. It is interesting that men are usually fascinated with her wolfish graceful movement, while women usually admire her captivating eyes. The word fascination is correct to use: a suprisingly great number of strangers have put the social distance aside and in trance came to ask for informations about an animal which they obviously have seen for the first time in their life.
Just like I did years before on YouTube.

Therefore, allow me to conclude my report with these captivating eyes.


Notes


All pictures (except the second one) were taken by Hanka Čertíková, my daughter.

[1] The second wolfdog breed is called Saarloos Wolfhond, created in Holland. There is less experience with this breed in Czech Republic and we were surprised to see how the two Saarlooses we met were afraid of us, strangers.
[2] You can find many useful links on our website too raksa.certik.cz.
[3] It is a quite interesting topic, which I have written about in detail elsewhere (in Czech): raksa.certik.cz/home/obojek
[4] Konrad Lorenz: Život se psem (in Czech): raksa.certik.cz/literatura/lorenz.
[5] My invitation which met with such success:

Hello and a good day to you all,
I have a big request. We are going to bring a puppy of Czechoslovakian Wolfdog home this Sunday. (Her few days old picture is attached.) CSW is a breed which is closest to a wolf out of all pedigree dogs - which can have a downsides too. Especially one with which we need your help.


The puppy must have a good experience with as much different nice people as possible.

Her genes come from those wolfish ancestors which were so wary of people as not to let themselves be hunted down.

Come visit us, if you can, any time since 13.9. You can cuddle and scratch a six-weeks-old wolfdog puppy and give her a treat we provide. It is very probable that she will reward you by licking you, she’ll try to tear your trousers and eat up your shoe ties.




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