One of my more memorable experiences in Canada was a visit to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Rescue in Canmore, Alberta.
The sanctuary is one of the few wolf dog rescue sanctuaries in the world and run by passionate animal lover, Georgina de Caigny.
Despite the freezing weather, De Caigny greeted me with the warmest smile.
A wolf dog is the offspring of a wolf and a dog.
At Yamnuska, I met two high-content and two low-content wolf dogs.
High-, mid- and low-content wolf dogs are identified by physical and behavioural traits, as well as other biological factors.
Alpha male, Zeus, skulked behind a row of trees, about 30m from where I stood. The wolf dog’s thick black coat was a contrast against a blanket of snow on the ground.
When I locked eyes with Zeus, I was startled by the intensity of the pack leader’s gaze. Zeus, the alpha male of the pack, was constantly shadowed by another wolf dog, a white-coated Arctic wolf dog called Nova.
Wolfdog Rescue of wolf dog hybrids
Kuna, the alpha female, was the first wolf dog to live in Yamnuska Wolfdog Rescue sanctuary. It was obvious that Kuna ruled the rest.
The friendliest wolf dog at Yamnuska, Nikki, was constantly coming up to me for pats.
I was most surprised to learn that when Nikki first arrived she was extremely shy and would hide in a corner. Nikki, along with Charlie are both low-content wolf dogs.
The wolf dogs display interesting pack dynamics, with the alpha male and female guiding the pack. A fight between Charlie, the newest pack member, and Nova attracted my attention.
Teeth bared and growling, they circled each other. Nova rushed at Charlie and the newer wolf dog rolled over in submission.
I learnt a great deal by chatting with De Caigny, who puts an enormous effort into saving and rehabilitating wolf dogs.
Wolf dog dynamics
In North America, wolf dogs are bred and sold as pets. Unfortunately, most wolf dogs are not suited to life as a domestic pet and create significant behavioural challenges such as digging and chewing their way out of conventional fencing.
Wolf dogs are far more independent than domestic dogs and are extremely shy. They need a lot of exercise, exhibit strong pack behaviour. This has resulted in a significant number of abandoned animals.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare estimates there are around 300,000 wolf dogs and 1,500 pure wolves living in captivity in North America.
De Caigny says that they are more like cats than dogs. Low content wolf dogs (wolf dogs with more dog than wolf genes) are not as concerned about their position in the pack hierarchy.
“Wolf dogs only do what they want to do, while dogs are domesticated to respond to humans,” she said.
De Caigny is attracted to the intelligence of the high content wolfdogs. These animals have strong personalities and a mind of their own.
De Caigny has an especially strong bond with Kuna, who has found a way of communicating with De Caigny.
The two have such a strong bond that Kuna curls up on De Caigny’s bed to sleep each night. Her bond with Kuna has allowed her the opportunity to train the other wolf dogs.
Transcript of my interview with Georgina de Caigny
Georgina de Caigny: So we’ve got three high-content wolf dogs and two low-content wolf dogs
Christina Pfeiffer: Okay, so which one, that one over there, that black one…
GC: So the black one over there, that’s Zeus so he’s our Alpha Male he’s been here for about a year and a half now. We got him when he was a year old as a rescue.
The white boy following him there that’s Nova. He’s only about 10 months old so he’s pretty young and he’s actually an Arctic wolf dog that’s why he got that pure white coat and that very shaggy coat and then the third one Kuna the great one by the red barn.
She’s also one of our high-content wolf dogs and she’s our Alpha female and she’s our first wolf dog here. Definitely rules the rest.
CP: Yeah, and these two, Nikki and…
GC: So Nikki the sable one, she’s a low-content wolf dog. We’ve had her for about three months and then we got Charlie as well who’s another great low-content wolf dog.
GC: Oh Nikki, you’re such a good girl. Look at you! Can you guys believe that three months ago Nikki was completely feral? Never had any contact with other people or anything like that so..
Visitor: So how was she when she first came in?
GC: She basically hid in a corner and that’s it. You know, when most of the time, you know, I can’t just reach out and pet her or anything like that.
Basically sucking up to Kuna and her respects to her that’s for sure and Nova’s not too happy about it. But these guys are pretty good at, you know, sorting out their pack dynamics on their own.
So when I first get a new rescue in, the first thing that I always wanna do is classify them as low content or high content wolf dog. And especially with rescues, you really don’t know where they came from and..
So they’re gonna go schmooze up to Zeus right now and Nova’s gonna get mad at Charlie because Nova’s basically telling Charlie that, you know, Zeus is his surrogate Dad and not Charlie’s Dad and what not so yeah so when it comes to the wolf dogs, you know, I never really know their lineage or anything like that.
So what we do in rescues is something called phenotyping where, essentially based on the physical traits, behavioural traits, as well as some biological factors, we’re able to determine whether they are a low, mid, or high-content wolf dog.
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of Travel Alberta and Canadian Tourism Corporation.
Finding more about how a wolfdog rescue operation is run is just one of the interesting things to do in Canada. Yamnuska Wolf Dog Sanctuary is located near Calgary, which is a the gateway to the Rocky Mountains. The Canadian Rockies is breathtakingly beautiful and there are plenty of activities on offer like golfing, hiking (heli hiking is a wonderful way to see the mountains) and skiing in winter.