Should I stay or should I go?

Megane Burkhard (intern)



At the Wolf Science Center, the enclosures are connected to each other by crossings and small doors that can be opened when the wolves and dogs have to travel from one enclosure to another, i.e. to be shifted. This shifting system is used for different reasons; for instance when the canids have to swap enclosures, when the enclosures have to be cleaned, or if the animals have to be tested in a certain context.

Now while this sounds like some pretty easy business, sometimes shifting an animal can get quite complicated and might need some patience. As you may know, at the WSC, the canids are trained with positive reinforcement methods. This means that if they need to be moved to another place, it will happen only if they agree to and do it by themselves, they won’t be forced to. Most of the canids are usually pretty cooperative to be moved around, but some of them are a bit more unsettled when it comes to being shifted.

Let’s say that the trainers have to shift an animal out of their enclosure. One could imagine that the trainer will call the animal, open the door for them to be shifted, and politely ask with a bit of meat if they want to come out for us – and they will because, hey, they know how to do this, they’ve been trained to be shifted around. Plus, they get a nice piece of meat.

Well, easier said than done. Whilst the dogs are usually quite cooperative on this task, if a wolf does not want to come out, the wolf won’t. And there’s not much you can do about this but try again with more determination and/or more meat. If Tala is taking a nap on the other end of the enclosure and is not moving a paw, you might reconsider taking her out at all. If you plan on cleaning Una’s enclosure but she saw you walk by with buckets beforehand, she knows what you’re up to and the shifting time will take twice as long – or won’t happen.

But the gold medal of ‘You’ll Never Know If I’ll Move Out This Time And How Long It Will Take’ goes to… [drum roll]: Mr Wamblee! He is the pro of getting ¾ of his body into the shift and paying attention not to let the ¼ left leave the enclosure, so that he doesn’t actually move out. His hesitation can even cost the trainer up to 30 minutes of their time and sometimes without any success. It has happened that Wamblee got shifted hassle-free, though these occasions are now counted as miracles.

So, if you’ve ever visited the WSC and might think: how can it take 3 hours to clean the enclosures? Well, now you know. Shifting wolves that are not in the mood is a business to be respected, and patience is a precious tool trainers and animal keepers at the WSC have got in their “Swiss Army knife” set of skills.