JW: Tell me about that completely different light.
GF: I sort of started handling her a little differently. One thing I did not realize that was dominant, a dominant behavior was that wolves will stand over each other to establish dominance. And its called standing over.” One will just stand over the other one. And Sadie would like to do that. If I were sitting down on the floor, she would come and stand over me. I always used to interpret that she wanted to get close to me. The same thing with her paw. She would take her paw and she would wrap it around my leg and I used to make this big joke, Sadie’s hugging me. Thats so sweet!” No! Sadie was claiming me. I was part of her pack and that was something I didn’t realize.
JW: How did you change your behavior?
GF: I kept an eye out for what I let her get away with. Of course, being a dog owner every dog owner knows you have to be the alpha of the pack. So now I’m very aware of behavior that before I thought was affection, I now just see as part of their hierarchy. Its very easy as a human to want to humanize our animals and see everything they do as affection or play. But their minds think completely differently and now I saw a lot of her behavior as not affection or play but as dominance and claiming.
JW: How did you change in response to understanding that you’ve got dominance?
GF: The standing over ended. There was no more standing over. I didn’t allow that anymore. I would stand over her. I would make that a point to roll her over on her belly and stand over her quite a bit. Also, the little hugging with the paw thing which I actually loved and it kind of broke my heart not to do that anymore but that’s one thing I learned is that when the animal is doing anything that’s moving you or changing your position, they are exerting a dominant behavior so I had to not let her get away with it. The sad thing is when you have a little bitty fluffy dog and they do similar things, you just dont take them as seriously. Its very easy to spoil or ruin your little dog because you’re not as worried about big teeth sinking into you at some time.
JW: How does that change you to have to change your behavior as a result of that knowledge?
GF: Some of it I don’t like. Sometimes being oblivious is a lot of fun because it is fun to humanize our dogs. Theyre our closest confidantes. Sometimes I do forget that I’m dealing with a dog and I think I’m dealing with a person. I tell them my lifelong secrets and when I’m sad, they pick me up. When I’m happy they’re the ones I want to share it with. But now I’m also very conscious of try to be a very good leader for them.
JW: What’s important about that for the dog that you be the good leader?
GF: It’s good for their psyche. Just as what they’re fulfilling for me by being my confidante, my companion. They need a leadership role from us. So if they’re giving me comfort and security, filling that role for me, I have to give comfort and security back. So now I’m a much better leader than I was before. I am the pack leader now. I am the alpha thanks to Wolf Park.
JW: How does that make you feel that you are the alpha?
GF: It makes me feel good because my dogs are much better behaved. They do listen and they still love me. You get really concerned. Oh, my dogs are going to hate me now but thats not true. They seem to really gravitate towards you even more.
Malinois in particular just want a job to do. They look to you and if youre not giving them a job, theyll go find a job. And that might be eating your couch or destroying your car or your bicycle. Sadie did do that one time. But we had found that when we learned to become better leaders and give them jobs and give them things to do, they were much happier. Destructive behavior stopped. They became very good citizens.
We have one day left in the series. Join us tomorrow for the wrap-up of this enlightening visit with Gina Farago!