Let’s go for a walk
Raphaela Enenkel (intern)
On a gorgeous summer morning, where the weather was merciful and not as hot as it had been earlier that week, I got asked by one of the trainers to join her on a training walk with Yukon. Yukon is a beautiful, light colored female wolf, and the trainer wanted to strengthen and further build her relationship with Yukon. The two of them needed me to accompany them like a visitor so they could practice walking with such visitors in the future. I was delighted to be asked to join their walk, of course, and immediately replied with a happy “Yes, any time”.
Visitors have the opportunity to book walks with wolves, where a trainer has one of the wolves on a 10-meter leash. It is vital that the visitors follow certain rules, so that the wolf can be comfortable in those situations. Not like suggested in many myths, wolves are not the daring beasts, but are actually quite fearful. Even a simple trash can that was put up on one of the trails once scared one of the wolves, simply because a trash can had never been there before. It could mean danger is ahead. That is why the visitors should never boldly approach a wolf, because then the wolf will fear that person, and avoid them the best they can. One of the ways contact between an unfamiliar person and a wolf can be created is through the ‘touch’ signal that the wolves of the Wolf Science Center (WSC) have learned. In that situation the visitor stretches out their arm with a fist. The trainer then shows the wolf through a hand signal to go and touch the fist with their nose. Of course, the wolf gets rewarded and the situation is immediately calmer for the animal. Once a wolf has touched something with their nose, it becomes a bit less scary, because they have touched it, and nothing happened. Of course, this is only possible for the wolf, because of the immense trust that they have in their trainer, and why it is vital that the relationship between the trainer and the animal is strong.
As a student at the WSC I have had the opportunity to accompany paid walks before, but my job was to be there for the visitor to answer question, for an example, should the trainer be too focused on the wolf. Now, however, I had the opportunity to see a walk through the eyes of a visitor. It is always special to walk with a wolf along the beautiful trails, and just see how the wolf behaves, and how excited they are to smell new scents and just to explore the trails again. This time I got to be the one who stretched out their fist and got a touch from the wonderful Yukon. She was even patient enough to give me her paw once (a wolf paw can be quite heavy!). It was an amazing moment, even as she just stood close to me for a little bit. It is always remarkable to see the willingness of the animals to work with their trainers, and the unspoken bond between them is incredible. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to do my internship here, and to have the special moments where I can be close to my favorite animal, the wolf.