REVIEW and INTERVIEW
Embracing the Wild in Your Dog:
An understanding of the authors of our dog's behavior - nature and the wolf
An understanding of the authors of our dog's behavior - nature and the wolf
by Bryan Bailey
Author Bryan Bailey joins me today for an interview about his book, Embracing the Wild in Your Dog. You can also read my review and an excerpt from the book.
Some time ago, dogs became as interwoven in the American culture as baseball, apple pie and the Fourth of July. In fact, in most households, the dogs have even trumped evolution itself and jumped straight to being four legged humans where they are adorned with human names, designer outfits and fed diets that would confound even the best nutritionist. In most cases, we've granted them our human intelligence and our sacred human emotions as well. They are no longer dogs to us, they're family! Yet, for all that man has done to carve the wolf from the wild to create a surrogate human, today's dog is still a wolf at heart and the accompanying instincts borne from such ancestry defines how the dog approaches its world.
The ontogeny of anthropomorphism, where we attach our human traits to our pets, is the most damaging and paralytic problem associated with dog ownership today.
Believing in a fairy tale world where dogs possess the same moral consciousness and a sense of altruism as attributed to humans has led to a drastic increase in leash laws, dogs being outlawed in a rising number of city and national parks, some breeds being banned in several states, an alarming escalation of aggression to humans, a rising cost in homeowner and business insurance, and a record number of clinically maladaptive dogs.
This book is not a training book. It does not cover obedience topics such as heel, sit, down, stay, and come. Instead, it's about righting the ship of American dog ownership by changing our perception of our dogs. It is about the author growing up in the Alaskan wild under the tutelage and guardianship of a Special Forces survival instructor who introduced him to the ways of wolves and the similarities they shared with dogs. It is about the wisdom and splendor of nature and the many life lessons she provides.
Mostly, it is about developing a deep understanding of the authors of your dog's behavior; nature and the wolf. In doing so, you will truly learn who and what your dog really is and the whys and hows of its behavior. You will learn the tools that nature gave them to survive and coexist in both the mountains and in our homes. You will learn how activating and deactivating natural impulses and mechanisms in your dog will lead to the harmonious existence and the control you always dreamed of. Most of all, you will come to embrace the wild in your dog and the grace and the peace that is breathed into its acceptance.
Chapter 1 - Lessons from the Wild
Do you know what you’re looking at?” my mentor asks as he stands looking over my shoulder. “Wolf prints?” I answer timidly because I still had trouble differentiating between wolf and wolverine tracks.
“Yep. How many wolves left these prints?” he questions. Now he is squatting next to me, perfectly balanced on his snow-shoes even though he is supporting a fifty-pound pack on his back. “I’m not sure,” I reply, knowing that’s not the answer my mentor is looking for, but it’s the truth. Telling the truth will earn me a lesser penalty than if I just make up a number.
“Not sure? Not sure doesn’t work out here in the wild. Not sure gets you killed. Only being sure works, and being sure about how many wolves are near us is important. I’m going to go back over our trail a bit while you figure out how many wolves left these tracks. When you ARE SURE, let me know,” he commands. With that, he taps me on my shoulder and heads back down the trail from which we had come.
As a young lad in Alaska, my introduction to wilderness survival and navigating the wild was not with the Boy Scouts but with my mentor, a U.S. Army Green Beret. Having been blessed with only two daughters, he took me under his wing, and I became the son he always wanted. Under his tutelage, weather patterns, terrain, foliage, animal behavior, and survival equipment were all broken down to their most basic forms and taught to me. He was a lean, muscular man with a square jaw and steel, gray eyes that never missed any mistake I made. The wild was his home, and he fit so perfectly in it that if I didn’t know any better, I would have thought he had been born from mountain rock and suckled by a wolf. He was as mean as a wounded moose when he needed to be but as loving and protecting as a she-bear to her cubs at other times. He was Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Charles Bronson all wrapped up in one man. He was my hero, and I wanted nothing more than to be just like him.
Alaska is well known for her cold winters, and today is no exception. The bitter cold is playing havoc with my ability to concentrate. I keep catching myself trying to figure out how many usable toes and fingers I still have instead of how many wolves have traveled through the area. The days are also very short in the winter, and a quick glance at the horizon tells me I don’t have much longer to solve my mentor’s question.
I know the first part of the equation is to determine the speed of the wolves. Not only is my mentor sure to ask me this question, but the faster the wolves ran, the easier it was to count them.
Because nature at her most basic form is an exchange of energy for more energy, wolves usually travel at an energy- conserving trot, not at a gallop. While trotting, wolves leave an alternating track pattern where the hind leg’s paw print often lands on top of the opposite front leg’s paw print. This makes discerning the tracks of three or four wolves traveling together a cinch, but with wolves usually traveling in a single file while trotting, any number greater than this can almost be impossible to tell. However, in a gallop, such as what wolves use while chasing prey, the number of wolves is easier to tell because the wolves usually break off the disciplined single file trot line and fan out. This strategic move creates individual tracks that make it easy for a tracker to not only know how many wolves are involved in the hunt but also to know their approximate size and hierarchical status among the group. Even if the wolves do not fan out, the speed of some of the wolves will be greater than the others, and centrifugal force will push them off the established single file line to create individual tracks. I know this for a fact because this had to be compensated for when my dogs pulled my sled; otherwise, a crash was almost certain.
It doesn’t take me long to figure out that lady luck isn’t going to bless me with a group of galloping wolves today. These wolves are traveling single file, and there are layers and layers of tracks on top of tracks, meaning my most accurate hypothesis is not going to be a specific number but a bunch of wolves instead. I know I am going to receive a butt-chewing from my mentor, but trying to look on the bright side, I figure if he makes me do a hundred push-ups with my pack on for not getting the answer right, it will at least warm me up. Rationalizing that there is no need to prolong the inevitable, I set off down the trail to report the bad news to my mentor.
I had traveled far enough without finding my mentor to start wondering if he had decided to leave me out here on my own. It wouldn’t have been much of a surprise if he had because he’d chosen to do so a few times before as a way of testing my ability to remain calm and get myself out of a precarious situation. On one particular occasion, we had driven over thirty kilometers from the base where we both lived and then had trekked another ten more into the wild when my mentor told me he needed to relieve himself. With that, he left me where I was and disappeared behind a stand of trees. Everything my mentor did was fast, including what he was doing then, so after about fifteen minutes when he hadn’t reappeared, I became a little concerned and went looking for him. Behind the stand of trees, I did not find my mentor, but I did find a note tacked to one of the low hanging branches. It said, “See you back home.” At least he thought enough to pull that one on me during the summer!
“What did you find out?” I hear as I about jump out of my skin. The man has an uncanny way of materializing out of nowhere, and I had still not gotten used to it. Watching him step out from behind a spruce tree, I answer, “I tried my best, sir, but I can’t tell you exactly how many. They were trotting in a single file line, and there were tracks covering up tracks everywhere! But, I do know because of that, it has to be more than you can shake a stick at.” I give it to him straight. Heck, I’m so cold I figure, what is a little more misery going to do to me?
“So, approximately how many wolves do you figure you would be shaking that stick at?” he asks as he snaps a small branch off the tree he’s standing next to. Pruning the branch until it’s bare, he hands it to me and asks, ”What’s your best guess?” This doesn’t help me a bit. History has proven to me that when my mentor gives me permission to guess at something, it’s like navigating through a minefield. Some answers provide clear passage while others blow up in my face. Geez, how can someone be so good at torture? “My best guess would be six to eight wolves, sir.” Now it’s time to find out if I live or die.
“Good guess. There are actually eight of them, and they’re headed northwest of our location on a hunt,” he replies, grinning. Well, at least I’m not going to die from something other than the cold, but, before I can celebrate, I surprise myself and ask him, “How in the world did you figure that out?” I’m amazed at both my brazenness for asking a master of the wild how he knows what he knows and the fact that he did know what he knew! I can definitely chalk this one up to a self-inflicted wound.
“Follow me, and I’ll show you,” he chuckles as he turns and leads me to where the wolves’ tracks slow to a stop at the edge of a frozen pond. There he shows me where the wolves have split up in their attempt to find a crossing that will not require them to walk across the treacherous ice. Four of the wolves went north while four of them went south. The tracks laid by each individual wolf were spread apart just enough to count them accurately. I shake my head. Doubting the capabilities of my mentor was as foolish as trying to stop a charging moose with a snowball. He was never in the wild—he was the wild.
“Don’t look so amazed, kid. Nature will always provide you with what you seek. If you ever want to master the wild, you will have to accept this and trust in her ways. When you do learn to trust her, you won’t need to guess anymore because she will reveal the answers to all the questions you ask.” He pauses for a few moments while I think about what he has said. Then he goes on, “Like you, the tracks told me there was a bunch of wolves headed somewhere. When I realized that, I remembered nature’s lessons about wolf behavior. At this time of year, when a bunch of wolves travel together, they are looking for something to kill and eat. What are they looking to kill and eat? The large animals that hang out in the lower valleys during winter. Where is such a valley? Nature made one approximately six klicks northwest from here. Knowing this landscape, I knew the wolves would have to slow down for one reason or another, so I headed northwest and that’s when I discovered this beaver pond and the split tracks.” It doesn’t matter that he told me not to be amazed because I can’t help but feel I am in the presence of one of the most incredible humans on earth. His ability to retain nature’s lessons and then use them to problem-solve any situation still baffles me even though I have witnessed it a hundred times over.
“Why is it important that we know how many wolves there are and what they’re up to?” he continues. I know this answer. I had observed wolves many times in the past, and I knew that a large kill would not be totally consumed by these eight wolves. I respond with, “In a survival situation in the wild, it is crucial to know where any source of water or food may be obtained. If this were a large group of wolves, we would know they were hunting large game and if we were to follow this group, we may come across the remains of any successful kill they make. Because the animal they may kill will most likely be very large, the wolves will not consume everything and any- thing leftover could possibly feed us for days if needed.” I feel good about my answer, and I wait for the praise that always came sparingly but was wanted as much as a man dying of thirst wants water. My mentor shifts his pack and stamps his snowshoes while he stares at me. He lets what is probably only a few minutes pass, but it is long enough for me to start doubting my answer. I nervously start stamping my own snowshoes and shifting my pack as well.
“So, kid. What if it had turned out those were wild dog tracks we were following and not wolves? Would your answer be any different?” he probes, stopping to stamp his snowshoes and shift his pack. He stands there with his hands on his hips waiting for my answer. The sun has dropped over the horizon, and the last orange rays backlight the man who has been and would be the biggest influence in my life. Making him proud of me will last more than this moment. It will last and sustain me for a lifetime. Picturing in my mind the time my lead sled dog Ranger gave chase to a large elk that had wandered into our backyard, I answer, “No sir. Dogs are wolves at heart, and they behave like wolves. I would have let their tracks lead me to food.”
My mentor playfully cuffs me on the side of my head, and smiling, he says, “Well, lucky for us, we won’t have to follow those dogs tonight. Let’s build a fire and heat up the food we brought.”
My answer was correct that day and is still correct now. Dogs are wolves at heart, and they behave like wolves. There’s no need to guess anymore.
I learned many lessons during the years I spent with my mentor in the Alaskan wild. In all of them, I learned to trust nature and her ways and like my mentor said, she has always provided the answers to the many complex questions I have asked her. In the process, she has exposed my human frailty in contrast to her sovereign presence, my obvious naivety when compared to her all-knowing percipience and my demanding arrogance in opposition to her humble servility. She has been the master teacher, and she has made her presence known all throughout my life.
In writing this book, I relied upon the lessons my mentor and nature both taught me so that I may attempt to mentor you. I did not rely upon the teaching of others as they were not needed. Nature gave rise to wolves and dogs and bound them together with the everlasting thread of instinct; nature has passed this knowledge on to me. In the following chapters, I have done my best to share this knowledge in hopes that, like me, you will come to embrace the wild in your dog and the grace and the peace that is breathed into its acceptance.
Praise for the Book
"This book is a delightful blend of memoir and insights into wild and domestic animal alike, and is highly recommended for canine owners who seek more animal psychology than the usual 'how to train your dog' book offers." ~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
"This book was well worth the read and should be on the list of all current and future dog owners who want to have a healthy understanding of the 'wild in their dog'." ~ Judy
"I highly recommend this book to all current dog owners and future dog owners. You and your invited guests to your home will appreciate you Embracing the Wild in Your Dog!" ~ Amanda Gowen
"Once you start Embracing the Wild in Your Dog, you will find it hard to put down! In his first book, Bryan Bailey skillfully intertwines stories about the real world knowledge he gained while working alongside his mentor in the Alaskan wilderness with informative material that helps dog owners understand what drives the behavior of the domestic dog." ~ Reader
"Bryan Bailey has written an excellent book that helps you understand the driving force within every dog (their wild side)." ~ Acmcgaha
"I highly recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in genuinely understanding canine behavior." ~ Cynthia Sue Larson
By Lynda Dickson
This book recounts the author's experience of growing up in the Alaskan wild under the tutelage of his mentor, a Special Forces survival instructor who taught him to understand how nature and the wolf contribute to the behavior of dogs. The author's upbringing had a direct impact on his philosophy on dog training, which is based on the tenet that dogs are really wolves and behave as wild animals. This belief is reinforced by the author's personal accounts of tragic events caused by dog owners who treat their pets as humans and expect them to behave like humans.
I found this book very interesting because it supports my husband's approach to training our dog - and he was the best-behaved dog I have ever seen. I also enjoyed the great photos and quotes at the beginning of each chapter. However, I have one suggestion for the author: hyperlink the footnotes. I also would like to have learned more about the author's training techniques, but I can understand that each case is individual. Interested readers can visit the author's ProTrain Memphis website to find out more about his training programs.
One thing is certain. After reading this book, you will never look at your dog the same again. "You will come to know the wolf in your dog."
Interview With the Author
Bryan Bailey joins me today to discuss his book, Embracing the Wild in Your Dog.
For what age group do you recommend your book, Bryan?
Sixteen and up.
What sparked the idea for this book?
Listening to the words, "that makes perfect sense" or "I wish I would have known about this before ... " from thousands of clients whose relationship with their dog would have been improved or been saved had they known about the wolf in their dog. Like the vast majority of dog owners, they did not know and because of such, their humanistic approach to solving their dog’s problems were wasted on a creature that isn’t the least bit human.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
There were two extremely difficult parts to write in this book. Writing about the passing of my mentor 44 years ago in the chapter titled "The Path of Two Prints" opened an old wound that I discovered had obviously not healed. After writing each chapter in my book, my wife, Kira, would ask me to read the chapter to her. I was not able to read "The Path of Two Prints" to her. Another difficult part was writing the chapter titled, "Difficult Decisions". It is an extremely emotional chapter, from start to end, that challenges every aspect of human sensibilities. It is a chapter that will stay with you for a very long time.
Too true. How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I truly hope the book enlightens them the way the message contained within enlightened me. No one can love a dog as much as I do, because I love them for what they really are and not for what they aren’t. There is an old questions that asks, "Which devil is worse, the one you know or the one you don’t know?" You may personally be afraid of wolves or even hate them, but at least knowing your dog has some wolf in it is better than not knowing at all. As I write in the chapter titled "The Path of Three Prints", "not knowing the wolf in our dogs has left us hurt, woefully confused, and without answers when our dogs act out in ways we don’t understand." Understanding why your dog behaves the way it does is always the first step in correcting the problem.
How long did it take you to write this book?
What is your writing routine?
No middle ground. Either completely locked in for hours or completely spontaneous.
How did you get your book published?
I tried to publish my book through a small publishing company, but when they proved to be inadequate at fulfilling their obligations, I backed out and decided to self-publish and, even though it was a tough transition, I feel it was well worth it.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
WRITE! There will never be a perfect time to start writing a book and even though you think you’ve done your homework, your book will never be perfectly written. I spent months preparing to write my book. I had stacks of reference material and an outline to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and I never looked at either once I started my book. As soon as I gave it a heartbeat, it took on its own life. Just write.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love hiking in the wild with my wife and our dogs. I love traveling the globe and exploring remote places. I love mentoring other dog owners and watching how their lives change for the better. I love sitting with my wife in the swing on our porch watching tugs push their loads down the Mississippi river as she and I dream of our next adventure.
Sounds wonderful! What does your family think of your writing?
They are my biggest fans and supporters. They always think much higher of my work than I do.
Fantastic! Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I was raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, during the 1960s to the early 70s. It was an absolutely unbelievable experience, and I write about some of it in my book. The years I spent exploring the Alaskan wild with my mentor were the years that shaped who I am today.
Silly question because I've read the book, but please let our readers know: Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
Absolutely! Without those experiences, my book would have never been written.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
Too much so. There were more than a few times that I was caught by my teachers reading a book in class that had nothing to do with that particular class!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I still don’t consider myself as a writer, so I guess I never realized it. I always knew I had a few books in me, but it took the prodding of my wife to get this first one out. However, I must admit I have fallen in love with writing and I am currently busy on my next book.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
Do you hear from you readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
So far, the readers love the book in that it is a revelation they weren’t expecting, but are comforted by.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
Many more books on dogs, wolves, nature and life.
Thank you for taking the time to stop by today. Best of luck with your future projects.
About the Author
Raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, Bryan Bailey grew to appreciate the wildness of the land and its abundant wildlife. In particular, he developed a fondness for the gray wolves that roamed the vast mountain ranges and forests near his home. Under the guidance of a Special Forces Survival Instructor, he spent years studying the social interactions of wolves in their packs and discovered that, beyond obvious physical similarities, there were also behavioral similarities between the wolves and the sled dogs that were his family's pets.
Today, with over thirty years of education and experience studying wolves and other predators, Bryan has become a Master at understanding how nature has influenced the inner workings of the canine mind. Taking his cue from nature, Bryan utilizes her lesson plan to shape the behaviors in our dogs that are necessary for them to conform to our human existence. By doing this, and accepting the dog for the domestic wolf that it is, Bryan produces a dog that responds to his owner's commands with not only steadfast reliability, but with the spirit and vitality of the wolf.
Bryan is currently busy writing his second book, The Hammer - Understanding Canine Aggression. He hopes the book will educate readers about the most dominant tool in the wolf and dog's bag of survival equipment - Aggression (The Hammer). This tool has allowed for ingestion, digestion, reproduction and survival by wolves for thousands of years in a very hostile and competitive world and it was passed to our dogs. Its use by our dogs is often misinterpreted and misunderstood and this has led to an increase in avoidable attacks to dog owners and their children.
Bryan and his wife, Kira, live on the banks of the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee, with their children, dogs and cats. Together they own ProTrain Memphis and Taming the Wild.