Out of the life of an animal trainer in apprenticeship
Lina Oberließen (animal trainer)
Half a year ago I started my hopefully very successful training at the WSC .So I think it is time to look back and also to risk an outlook into the future.
Even long before I came to the WSC I knew that wolves are very special animals. That is one of the reasons I came here. Another reason is, that I wanted to get even closer to them than I could when I was working with them as a scientist. I have to admit, that a lot of the magic and full moon mysteria gets lost when you have to clean kennels and shovel droppings into buckets. Food preparation is a bloody affair and the smell of the dead prey animals is not inspiring. Also the behaviour of our wolves is not as majestic as you woud think. While playing, they like to roll themselves in dung or other smelly items and when they fail a cognition test they seem utterly stunned. But still I am fascinated by their different characters. We have a clown, a dictator and a drama queen.
Inspite of their diversity in character all the wolves have a feature in common, and that is their aloofness. That makes it difficult for new colleagues to work with them. Compared to our dogs, it takes a long time to earn their trust. Slowly I had to get accustomed to my mood swings which moved between doubt and overestimation and the worry that I would never manage to build up a stable relationship with any of the wolves. Until my self awareness is secure, I am very grateful that I have capeable colleagues who can assess difficult situations realistically.
Another thing that makes working with wolves a great challenge is their stubbornness. More than once I found it impossible to motivate one of them to move out of the enclosure for training. They either ignore you or look at you with a mix out of pity and arrogance, which is really embarrassing when visitors are watching.
At the moment my special challenge is the walk with a wolf. I had been warned that it could take up to a year until you can walk a wolf on your own, but I did not quite believe that. But I had to learn that is true. I have been here for half a year and I do not walk alone yet. Lately Tala ( a real drama queen) nearly drove me mad. The path I had chosen did not suit her, she did not like the food I had prepared and she did not want to meet the visitors. When she started to bite the lead to get rid of me, my colleague took over . She behaved a bit better then but inspite of trying to be professional and ironic about it I felt frustrated .
But I think especially these experiences are really valuable for development and self awareness. Wolves recognize insecurities quicker than we humans do. So I realized that I expect something from them, that I do not give them myself: trust!
So in many ways wolves and humans are similar, also social behaviour is alike. I recognize similar leading habits, relationships, rituals and social policies. Last but not least I sometimes even spot their greed in myself....
So all in all I love my work with the animals, because of or inspite of the challenges I face every day. All the little successes are so special because they are difficult and slow to achieve. So when a wolf rolls onto its back for you for the first time, it is a huge honor and a very special feeling!