Lucky us, we just happened to arrive when the “enrichment” exercise was the delivery of a rack of ribs and a beaver. A caretaker delivered the goodies in a wheel barrow, and then we all got to watch, behind glass and just a few feet away, as the wolves sorted out who got what, and when.
I got a few photos that I thought you’d enjoy seeing, given that they are such good examples of canid social communication through facial expressions and body posture.
It’s pretty clear in the photo below what wolf Denali is communicating. I especially like how this “offensive pucker” shows the classic “tight C” shape of a forward commissure (corners of the mouth). It is universally believed to be a sign of a confidence and an individual on “offense,” versus on defense. Other places to learn more about this facial expression are For the Love of a Dog and Barbara Handelman’s book, Canine Behavior, A Photo Illustrated Handbook.
But don’t miss that tucked tail of the dog receiving the message, nor Denali’s eye expression.
Here’s another forward commisure from the wolf on the left, but notice the lip licking, raised front paw, yawn and ear position of the wolf on the right. Note however, that the growler’s ears are not directly forward, and the mouth position is different than that of above. A bit of ambivalence?
I love this next photo because it illustrates how easy it is to conflate “guilt” with appeasement. The lowered head, retracted ears and eyebrows of the wolf on the left are clear signals loosely and anthropomorphically translated as “I am but a speck of dust on the earth. I grant you all power (but I am also here, you might notice, sliding in appeasingly, just in case a speck of food happens to fall in this direction.)” So much of this wolf’s expression is interpreted as “guilt” by dog owners, the emotion we probably share the least with dogs and wolves. However, it has nothing to do with guilt, but everything to do with preventing aggression in a situation of conflict. The more we can educate the general public about this the better.
Speaking of “the public”, I’ll be using some of these photos in my talk on canid communication at the Animal Behavior Society Public Day on Saturday, August 4th in Milwaukee, WI. It’s free, has CEUs for trainers, and has a host of great speakers, who are experts at applying sound science to our relationships with companion animals (the primary focus is dogs and horses, but there will be lots about animals in general). The “day” is from 2 PM to 6 PM, and again, it’s FREE. Come up and say hi!
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: After our visit to Virginia and Ely, we traveled to Mora, MN where Maggie and I were in the Legacy Sheepdog Trial. The sheep were challenging to say the least. They were lambs who had never been worked by dogs (lambs are also harder because there is no lead sheep) and the first day it was like herding deer. More than half the dogs couldn’t begin to handle them and had to retire or got DQ’d. Maggie, however, was in her element. She loves flighty sheep and puts just the right amount of pressure on them to avoid panicking them. We got fourth, against some truly talented competition, and I was thrilled with her.
The next day, predictably, resulted in exactly the sheep that Maggie hates working. The lambs switched from flight to fight, and turned and confronted the dogs often. Maggie’s group couldn’t even be set out for her without the use of two dogs and two handlers (usually one of each). As I watched the struggle to set out our sheep, I knew we were in trouble. Maggie doesn’t do well with that kind of pressure, and indeed, she was at her worst–she didn’t listen and lay down a lot. I am now calling this her “Ropa-Dopa” routine. We did get a score (better than half the other runs), but believe me, it wasn’t pretty. Live and learn: I should have retired her as soon as I saw she wasn’t listening. Several trials are coming up, and I certainly know what we need to work on. The beat goes on.
We just got back so not a lot to report at home, except that the day lilies are still gorgeous but slowing down, the lambs look great, and Tootsie was especially happy to be home. She loved our shorter trip to Mercer, WI a few weeks ago, but six days away was clearly too much for her. She is so spunky sometimes that it is easy to forget how old she really is (we don’t know but estimate 14 or 15).
Truth is, we are glad to be home too. Dorothy was right–“There’s no place like home!”
And we were greeted by Mrs. Toad, who just might be the same individual who spent much of her time in the cat’s water bowl in the garage last summer. I’m very fond of her, have to say, even if it does mean we have to change the water more often.