Canine Instincts – Prey Drive

“In all predators the prey drive follows an inevitable sequence: Search (orient, eye); Stalk; Chase; Bite (grab-bite, kill-bite); Dissect; Consume. In wolves, the prey drive is complete and balanced, as it utilizes the whole range from search to kill, ending in the consumption of the prey.

In different breeds of dog certain steps of these five have been amplified or reduced by human-controlled selective breeding for various purposes. The “search” aspect of the prey drive, for example, is most valuable in detection dogs such as bloodhounds and beagles. The “eye-stalk” is a strong component of the behaviors used by herding dogs. The “chase” is seen most clearly in racing dogs such as Greyhounds and Lurchers, while the “grab-bite” and “kill-bite” are valuable in the training of terriers.

In many breeds of dog, prey drive is so strong that the chance to satisfy the drive is its own reward, and extrinsic reinforcers are not required to compel the dog to perform the behavior.”

– Wikipedia (Prey Drive)

As I was researching instinctual human behavior for the DireWolf Guardians Philosophy of Dog Training book coming out soon from DireWolf Publishing, I found this Wikipedia article on inherited instincts in dogs. Apparently, human instincts are much too controversial to make a consistent list of instincts passed down genetically in Homo sapiens, but researchers and scientists identified one human instinct in common, namely that people are congenitally afraid of snakes and spiders. Even infants as young as 3 months old show this fear. The thought is that the fear of snakes and spiders evolved as a way for humans to survive through the ages, so we have developed a strong aversion to them that lingers in our genetic make-up even now. 

In dogs, however, there is wide-spread consensus that the species Canis is hard-wired for prey drive, or hunting instinct. That makes sense as dogs come from wolves that are built to be quite effective super predators. However, what I found fascinating and novel in my own limited understanding of the intricacies of prey drive were the five distinct aspects of prey drive that appear to be inherited separately: search, stalk, chase, bite, dissect, and consume. 

The fact that certain dogs have more or less of these particular five pieces of the puzzle that come together to form the dog’s hunting instinct directly correlates to the idea that each of these are inherited separately and can be selected for or against in breeding. The sight-hounds clearly exhibit a superior chase instinct that is combined with their body type to produce swift runners. The Border Collie and its famous stare harken to an ability to tease out the stalking part of prey drive in dogs. The Malinois and other  protection breeds have been perfected the bite portion. The Blood Hound appears to have perfected the searching aspect of the hunt.

If it is possible to deliberately and specifically breed for a certain aspect of the prey drive instinct in the canine, would it then stand to reason that it could also be possible to deliberately and specifically breed against a certain aspect of the hunting instinct? Furthermore, could one breed against all of these instinctive traits in the domesticated dog, further pushing man’s best friend to evolve further away from its wild ancestral roots?

The Dire Wolf Project aims to find out. We do deliberately and systematically crossbreed to working dog breeds on occasions that require the breed to become more genetically diverse as well as to add certain health, temperament, and/or appearance traits that are currently lacking in the breed that are needed in order to move closer to our ultimate goals. But, through each crossbreed that enters the breed, we immediately and actively begin doing to work to breed against the working dog traits that make up the instincts found in the canine species. 

What do you think? Can it be done? Have you ever known a dog of any breed to be completely void of all prey drive instincts? What are your thoughts on if it would be beneficial for a dog to lose most of its prey drive instincts?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Jennifer Stoeckl is the co-founder of the Dire Wolf Project, founder of the DireWolf Guardians American Alsatian Dog Training Program, and owner/operator of DireWolf Dogs of Vallecito. She lives in the beautiful inland northwest among the Ponderosa pine forests with her pack of American Alsatian dogs. 

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Loss is Never Easy

Today, the American Alsatian Facebook page received a detailed negative review of the breed from a former prominent member of our American Alsatian Owners group. The painful review reminded me of how very difficult it can be to stand firm on clear principles in spite of how others may feel about them. It is never easy to hear negative feedback from someone who feels hurt regarding a particularly deep wound.

The remembrance of that person’s pain dropped a dark shadow on an otherwise peaceful day. The pain and disappointment a person feels when their dog must pass much too soon does not always fade easily. It can take time to quell the anger inside that one feels for the beloved furry friend no longer sitting by one’s side. I, myself, have felt this deep cut of the heart many times as a breeder and I sympathize in earnest with the owner as he works to stitch the pieces of his heart back together.

Although this particular review tore at my spirit, it also presented an opportunity for me to stand back and reflect on the big picture; why the Dire Wolf Project is here and why we do what we do. In the following paragraphs, I would like to address some of the concerns in today’s review and reflect on my own responsibility within the breed to help owners understand the reasons behind our work so that they can clearly share the Dire Wolf Project’s vision with others should it be warranted.

First of all, the American Alsatian dog owner described a concern that the Dire Wolf Project does not share accurate health statistics and actively covers up prominent health issues in order to hide the truth from its members and potential owners. This particular concern has been touted by many others outside of the breed, especially from those frequenting dog groups on various social media sites. It is not a new concern, but hearing it from an American Alsatian owner is disheartening and means that we have not done enough within our own groups to harbor transparency and honesty. I take full responsibility for this, as I have single-handedly kept the health database over all of these years, working with Lois, our founder, to make sure it is accurate and honest as we can possibly be. The hallmark of our breeding program is working to eliminate health issues within the breed and we cannot do that it we are not accurate and honest in our reporting of the health issues that have plagued the breed. I know that I have been as honest as I can be, never intending to neglect any health issue, however, it has been pointed out that one must trust us in order to believe in the health database that has been put together. Perhaps an oversight committee within the group might help pull in others to make sure that my eyes aren’t the only ones monitoring the health database.


American Alsatian DireWolf Dog, Florin, hopping through the snow on a winter’s day.

This leads another concern presented in the review that denotes the idea that the breeders within the Dire Wolf Project do not adequately health test our dogs. They namely feel that without formal third-party hip/elbow scoring data at two years old on each and every dog bred within the program  that breeders cannot possibly know if we are breeding bad hips and/or elbows. They also want formal third-party proof of eye and heart health, as well. This belief stems from a false understanding of the difference between health prevention model breeding as opposed to health elimination model breeding. I wrote an entire book devoted to explaining the fundamental difference between the two and why Dire Wolf Project breeders are health elimination model breeders, but I must also admit that we could do a much better job of depicting the differences and reiterating them on a more consistent basis within our groups and on our sites. Unfortunately, most of our writings on the subject have been buried on the various Facebook group sites over the years. The good news is that since the Dire Wolf Project’s recent website update, we now have the opportunity to blog/archive our writings so that we can refer to them going forward, which I will be working on doing over the next year and beyond. 

A further concern from the review had to do with inherited temperament, since his dog was found to possess all of the symptoms of rage syndrome. The point was raised that because we crossbreed on working stock that our dogs could not possibly have a consistent non-working dog temperament. Again, this is a concern I also hear in dog chat groups, but to hear it from an owner is disappointing. Particularly unnerving was the idea that the owner mistakingly had that we promote our dog breed as having a set non-working dog temperament that we do not remotely live up to. The knowledge that an owner shares this concern with those who do not know our breed also means that in some degree, we have not been able to clearly educate our owners that the inherited temperament in our dogs is not yet consistent, especially those crossbred dogs that enter the breed. Although it is written in many places scattered around the Internet and we regularly write about the differences our dogs pose in inherited temperament, the message has not been able to reach every owner. It is not our intention to deceive. If some owners are under a fantastical notion that American Alsatian dogs somehow transcend dogdom and do not possess typical dog personalities, we must work to remedy that notion, yet continue to be as truthful as possible. While many of our dogs do, indeed, fit the non-working standards of our inherited temperament ideals, some do not. In particular, those dogs closest to a most recent outcross. 


American Alsatian DireWolf Dog, Cotton Candy, looking happy in the snow.

The third major concern presented by the reviewer was the fact that many of our American Alsatian dogs do not yet resemble wolves in any way. This is one of the biggest concerns shared by outsiders about the breed. It is usually mentioned by those opposed to the Dire Wolf Project that American Alsatian dog breeders have had thirty years to get it right and haven’t yet done so. The reviewer chose to take the concern a step further, though, and comment on the fact that the cost commitment for purchasing an American Alsatian DireWolf Dog is much higher than the looks warrant. As I interpret it, the malcontent seems to come from the fact that many of our dogs simply look like mutts of no consequence. Perhaps the reviewer feels that many people may be drawn in by the marketing of the project instead of seeing the reality that our dogs are simply mixed breeds without serious focus, evident by the amount of time that has passed with no real progress made on the overall looks within the breed.

Humans are definitely swayed by a beautiful look and the wolf has captured our hearts with beauty and grace embodied by the wild spirit of nature’s majestic world. As an owner, it must be hard to wait year after year, following the project’s slow pace. I can surely admire that concern as I, myself, have complained loudly at the snail’s crawl we seem to achieve. But, that is another one of those aspects that we cannot compromise on for the integrity of the breed itself depends upon our dedication to health and temperament before any other outward appearance feature of the breed. Reversing a 15,000 year old domestication process in outward appearance, while continuing to shift toward a large non-working dog breed as a whole is not an easy process. I find myself lamenting on the fact that we haven’t done a good enough job in this area of educating our owners on that fact. 

Too often we choose, instead, to relish in the cute pictures and videos of the American Alsatian dogs shared on our social media groups. And yet, reflecting on the loss of this owner’s trust that the Dire Wolf Project is working toward superior health and temperament in the prehistoric wild wolf causes me deep sorrow. In this person’s mind, we failed to honor our agreement with him and for that my heart aches to turn back time and give him the information and support he needed. 


American Alsatian DireWolf Dogs, Cotton Candy and Florin, running through the snow.

I am fully aware that no one can please everyone, but this review comes at a time of particular bitter loss for me. A dear friend and breeding colleague suddenly left the Dire Wolf Project to breed on her own. She was one of my closest friends and not being able to share my heart’s biggest passion with her has been harder than I could have imagined. Having to say good-bye to such a friendship is a loss I was not prepared to handle and I am shocked at my heart’s lingering sadness. The memories we shared, even recently, seem so very distant and dream-like. Now, I must conjure up the courage to write her formal letters of separation on behalf of the Dire Wolf Project. It feels so permanent and final. Perhaps that is how the reviewer felt when he decided to leave the breed’s depths and no longer share his life with us. Losing a beloved dog is hard, but losing family is even tougher. Each time an owner leaves the Dire Wolf Project and feels enough concern over our practices that they must write as detailed a negative review as was written today I feel like a part of my family has passed on before I have had a chance to explain how much I love them. 

Loss is never easy. Letting go of loved ones takes time and courage to face another day without them. Perhaps American Alsatian owners do not realize just how much Dire Wolf Project breeders care for the families that touch our lives. Take it from me. Each negative review; each American Alsatian owner that leaves our groups dissatisfied; each breeder that learns our unique ways and departs from us with a heart full of confusion and mistrust are mourned. Your lives mean more to us than you know. Your pain is our sorrow. Your heartache is our heartbreak. 

Jennifer Stoeckl is the co-founder of the Dire Wolf Project, founder of the DireWolf Guardians American Alsatian Dog Training Program, and owner/operator of DireWolf Dogs of Vallecito. She lives in the beautiful inland northwest among the Ponderosa pine forests with her pack of American Alsatian dogs. 

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Breeding Strongbred Dogs is COMPLETELY Different than Breeding Purebreds

Breeding a NEW breed of dog means a breeder must ‘outcross’ to get desired results, select pups that can get the breeder to the ‘blue print’ of what she is looking for, then ‘INTERBREED’ to keep it.

  • Written by: Lois Schwarz
  • Breeding a NEW breed of dog means a breeder must ‘outcross’ to get desired results, select pups that can get the breeder to the ‘blue print’ of what she is looking for, then ‘INTERBREED’ to keep it.
  • It’s like starting from scratch baking a cake. You have a particular taste in mind and you have to add or subtract ingredients until you finally get everything in the right order, consistency and cooking times down pat. You have to know which flavors overpower other flavors and how much flour to add so that it is not TOO much or TOO LITTLE.
  • When breeding purebreds all you have to do is to buy a male and female that you feel will beget offspring that represent the Blueprints of the breed.
  • There is a second part and that is the character, attitude and traits of the breed. These things are unseen and hard to breed for if you are new to breeding animals and some people don’t care for the character traits of a particular breed so they make babies that do not have the 300 year instincts that were purposefully bred into that particular breed. This is the tough stuff to breed for and like I just said, many do not know how to breed for character traits of their breed.
  • So, when I am breeding my dogs (from scratch) I have a whole bunch of things to look for in one of my pups. I am not JUST breeding dogs for people or for profit, I am on a quest to beget the perfect DIRE WOLF that match the dimensions of the prehistoric Dire Wolf bones.
  • I breed FOR MYSELF because I need to get another pup with the genes that will become the final look as well as be that laid back companion dog that everyone can get along with.
  • Since I have been doing this for over 30 yrs, I have dogs with a lot of the stuff I need, I just need to tweek it here and there now. So you will see me breed a bitch one time, then put her up for sale. Why? Because I have the pup I need and I need to now, move on to the next generation to get closer to my goal.
  • Sometimes I get a bitch that has EVERYTHING I need… 30 yrs of stuff I have been saving in one bitch. Do I just breed her once? Nope. What I do is I breed her to a large variety of males with different things and I keep a pup out of every breeding. So, when you see me breeding a bitch 4 or 5 times, you might pay attention to which males I am breeding her with, and which pups.
  • I am choosing. Those of you that have been following me for a very long time can see the transformation coming together.
  • Next I will ‘INBREED’ those pups together keeping a strong genetic string on the Bitch or Sires side of the gene pool. I will be getting rid of the long coat, the heavy undercoat, the brown eyes, the down ears.. TWEAKING the stock and right before your eyes, you will see the DIRE WOLF EMERGE.
  • So do not compare me to a ‘BREEDER’ that breeds purebreds because that is not what I am doing. Do not place me in the ‘PUPPYMILL’ category because you will be wrong there also. I BREED FOR MYSELF and when I get to my goal, you will find me keeping my dogs and only breeding every now and then to continue having the dogs I love so very much. I will have achieved my goal. I have already gotten there; I am now just trying to perfect the outcome in my litters and then I shall be done. Remember that I breed for myself first. If I did not want a pup, I would not breed. If you did not want one of my pups, I would not breed.
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Companion Dog vs Working Dog

Many training facilities will tell you that you must teach engagement with your puppy. Engagement training is when the puppy learns to keep focus on its handler for an extended period of time. The more focused the puppy can be on the handler, the longer the puppy is able to remain engaged and focused. However, many training facilities are also not aware of the vast differences in the training needs of a large breed working puppy as opposed to a large breed companion dog, such as the American Alsatian DireWolf Dog.

  • Written by: Jennifer Stoeckl
  • Many training facilities will tell you that you must teach engagement with your puppy. Engagement training is when the puppy learns to keep focus on its handler for an extended period of time. The more focused the puppy can be on the handler, the longer the puppy is able to remain engaged and focused. However, many training facilities are also not aware of the vast differences in the training needs of a large breed working puppy as opposed to a large breed companion dog, such as the American Alsatian DireWolf Dog.
  • Working puppies have active minds and can flutter from an exciting leaf chase to stalking a butterfly to picking up a stick and proudly prancing around the park. This type of puppy has an active mind that is easily distracted and constantly thinking of activities that lead it away from the task at hand, namely learning basic obedience and heel work in the presence of distractions. When teaching this type of puppy to focus, one must specifically practice engagement training to redirect the puppy back to the handler for the duration of the training session; never allowing the puppy’s mind to wander to other things and working to keep puppy engaged. Focusing on the handler for a longer and longer time-frame is the goal until the puppy can maintain consistent engagement for the duration of the lesson. It is for this reason that the handler must learn to remain engaging to the puppy. A good trainer will utilize interesting play (tug, ball, Frisbee), praise, and high-value food rewards to actively redirect the puppy time and again until sustained engagement is the result. If engagement is not specifically taught, the working puppy may learn that it is okay to be distracted by the buzzing bumble bee or the family passing by with the skipping child and the stroller. Distractions are a hindrance to progress in puppy training. Working to teach puppy to remain engaged with the handler even when distractions are present will greatly aid the ability of your puppy as you both progress with further training.
  • The above is how most puppies learn to stay focused on the handler and the training work at hand. But, we have found that our large breed companion puppies is not of the same mind. Having specifically bred out all or most working dog behaviors in our dogs over the last thirty years, the American Alsatian DireWolf Dog puppy is not typically easily distracted by the passing leaf or the bumbling bee. American Alsatian puppies naturally seek engagement with their owners and remain engaged with them for long periods of time, even with distractions. In fact, American Alsatian DireWolf Dog puppies would rather interact with their owners than following the unknown child skipping down the lane. Instead, they may sleep on your shoes, lean on your leg, look up at your for direction and support, happily flop over on their bellies for a timeout belly rub, or look adoringly in your eyes while you shift your fingers through their soft, fluffy coat.
  • When training an American Alsatian DireWolf Dog puppy, one does not have to work so hard to keep puppy engaged. Instead, a trainer does have to work harder at getting puppy to perform tasks. You see, working puppies tend to give behaviors in quick succession flipping through all of the possible behaviors they have learned in a trial and error fashion until they hit upon the one behavior that gets the mark and reward. But, our calmer, less motivated and energetic puppies take time to think through what you are asking of them. They are not quick and snappy and they aren’t distractable, but they will, given respect for thinking time, come to the right behavior with less repetition.
  • That being said, American Alsatian DireWolf Dogs also learn by watching. An American Alsatian DireWolf Dog learns a great deal by watching the movements of the squirrel climb up the tree that chatters at them from the branches above. So, if your goal is socialization training, large breed companion dogs such as American Alsatian puppies, require time to learn by watching the world around them. Build in some time for your puppy to be able to people or dog watch. You can rest assured that even though they are physically looking at the life all around them, they also remain attuned to your every move and will immediately re-engage with you if you move. So, sit with them in silent solitude, breath, and take in the wonders of life all around. It is an opportunity to quietly engage with your beautiful American Alsatian dog as you experience the same moment together.
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Understanding Current Events: Euthanasia

Standing near the cold metal table, my fingers shook as they ran gently through the soft fur of my best friend of the last two years. She lay still on her side with her eyes closed taking shallow, quiet breaths as the vet set the needle full of tramadol into the IV and steadily pushed the clear fluid through the tube traveling into her veins. Within minutes, my dear friend’s breathing slowed as warm tears tracked down my cheeks. As her last breath lingered in the air, the vet placed a kind hand on mine and looked into my eyes with the sorrow that only years of experience in the vet industry can give. No words were spoken, but in that moment, I knew my broken heart, as painful and deep as my sorrow was then, would eventually mend as this vet understood all too well. I closed my tear-stained eyes turning away from the vet’s touching concern, grazed the sides of my sweet dog’s cooling cheeks, and hoped that my friend’s life had not been in vain. I did not know how I walked from the cold, sterile room to the front desk and I did not remember paying for the last vet visit I would make, but when the clerk handed me a card that simply read “Tina” with a large black paw print in the middle, the sorrow I felt suddenly consumed me as the life we had shared together for those years flashed into my mind. Uncontrollable sobbing washed over me as silent concern and caring support emanated from each one present in the waiting room that day. Even now, as I write about this tragic moment, the memories are hard to recall. Each sentence I have written in this sorrow-filled tale was accompanied by loving tears for a beloved dog who left us much too soon.

Over the last few months, we learned that three puppies in the Buck/Sela litter had congenital kidney malformation. Two of those precious pups were given a last tender touch as their lives were extinguished by a skilled veterinarian in order to save them from a lifelong, pain-filled existence. The remaining puppy, Enoch, is in the loving care of her owner with the hope that she will live a full life with one functioning kidney. Two other puppies in the litter were tested for high BUN and creatinine levels, as well as both parents. All four were within normal range. Three other pups from the litter were not formally tested, but do not present with any issues of concern at this time.

I know very well what it is like to lose a dear furry friend, I have had to say good-bye to a few in my breeding career. My sympathies are with those who had to make the ultimate sacrifice. This report is not intended in any way to diminish their memories, belittle the sad experience, or grudge up further pain. Instead, I would like to shed light on what has happened, why it may have happened, and what we now plan to do about it.

A question was raised a day ago about why the project would keep Lone Star and Vespa (Buck/Sela) for breeding when three of their siblings had malformed kidneys. The question implies that it might be a risk of increasing the chance of seeing further kidney issues if those related puppies were bred. The question also implies that perhaps it is unethical to breed dogs whose siblings showed kidney malformation if it would indeed increase the risk of further kidney problems. These would be legitimate concerns, if it weren’t for two fundamental things:
1. We do not yet know if these three cases of congenital kidney malformation were actually genetic in nature.

2. Genetics doesn’t work that way.

Let’s look at both of these important points separately.

Three puppies from the same litter with the same congenital issue is not a coincidence. It is completely reasonable to assume that something genetic is awry. However, the reason we do not yet know with certainty if these three cases were actually genetic in nature is because there are many factors that could have contributed to their underdevelopment. First of all, it could have been an unexplained trauma event during the in-utero development of these puppies that may have caused the issue. Lois says that she fed bone meal to Sela during her pregnancy. Now, Lois normally does this, but Sela was the first of Lois’s females to receive gardener’s bone meal in her diet. Unknowingly, Lois picked up bone meal from the local garden center because it said 100% bone meal not realizing that manufacturers do not have to share that they add fertilizer and chemical stabilizers to the bone meal mix because it isn’t intended to be consumed by animals. Gardener’s bone meal is considered “mild to moderately” toxic by the Pet Poison Helpline. Since mother’s pass on what they consume to their puppies, if Sela received too much of this, perhaps this caused a blockage in the systems of these three puppies during their development causing their kidneys to mature incorrectly or atrophy or malfunction and shut down thereby withering instead of growing properly. According to Banfield Pet Hospital, “bone meal can become a large cement-like bowling ball foreign body in the stomach.” Could it have been that particular bone meal fed to Sela that produced these issues in the little puppy fetuses? We do not know, but it is something significant enough to cause us to doubt whether the kidney issues in these puppies was truly genetic in nature or not, especially when this has not occurred with the parents nor the immediate ancestry.

But, let’s assume for a moment that the puppies with kidney malformation/underdevelopment is a result of a genetic condition. That is, after all, a viable cause. Would breeding health siblings from the Buck/Sela litter increase the risk of a higher chance of kidney malformation in their offspring? Along with that, is it unethical to breed a perfectly healthy individual whose siblings have had a serious genetic health condition? There are many who believe it is highly unethical. But, the other side of the coin is this… what if we breed the sibling without kidney issues and there are no puppies with malformed kidneys? Would that also be unethical? What if we decided not to breed any of the siblings and they would not have produced kidney issues? Then, we have lost valuable genetic diversity in our breed for no reason. Losing genetic material is a big deal in a small breed as it causes a serious decline in genetic diversity, which raises inbreeding levels, litter size declines, and healthy immunity diminishes. The significant loss of genetic diversity far outweighs the slim possibility that a perfectly healthy sibling specifically bred to a dog that is also perfectly healthy would produce a puppy with a kidney defect. There are major consequences to eliminating entire lines from a small population and we do everything possible to prevent such a bottleneck effect. Furthermore, if breeders never bred any puppies from any litter where siblings had a congenital health issue, hardly anyone would be breeding because eventually fewer and fewer dogs would be able to be bred until there were no more lines left where a genetic issue wasn’t present in at least one puppy from any one litter.

That being said, breeding carrier dogs is actually a legitimate way to eradicate health issues from a line without losing valuable genetic diversity. Some call it “breeding up”. Others call it “trial mating”. Lois calls it “going through the looking glass” and without DNA testing it is the only way to find out for sure where and how the disease manifests in the lines in order to get rid of it. This idea is not some crackpot, backyard breeder’s excuse for justifying the breeding of dogs with health issues. We have an extremely important mission as breeders to eradicate disease and we must do so without delay and we cannot be swayed from what we know is right simply because people without the understanding of how to do it are upset by what they perceive is wrong.

Furthermore, Genetic disease doesn’t work the way many seem to think it works, namely, “if I don’t breed any dogs with ill health or their siblings, then I will eliminate the ill health.” Genetics doesn’t work that way. This is because complex genetic diseases are recessive and there is ALWAYS a risk of producing a genetic health issue. Anyone who says otherwise is lying to you. No one can breed generation after generation with no genetic health issues unless that person knows exactly where those complex recessive health issues are found on the dog’s genome. No one knows, so it can’t be done. Remember this: all dogs carry the genes for all genetic diseases, some carry more of them than others. Currently, geneticists only know of around 172 monogenic health issues using DNA analysis. We know that in the American Alsatian dog breed we only carry 1 of those 172 monogenic health issues, which we are actively working to eliminate without losing valuable genetic material in the process. But, there are a great many more diseases that cannot be detected. Kidney issues is one of those.

So, at some point in time, a health issue will arise in every breed with every breeder. More often than not, it will be when the breeder least expects it. This was exactly the case with these three puppies with kidney issues. Parents were blood tested clear and no kidney issues run in that line. So, how did it all of a sudden get there? We do not know. We cannot know. No one can. So, moving forward we must make sure not to breed a pup with a kidney defect, breed only healthy puppies, strive to keep as much genetic material from the line as we can while monitoring the puppies closely from the dogs that do go on to breed.

If you recall, early in spring 2019, it was found that Kilo (Finnegan/Black Swan) had a clot of connective tissue in her spinal cord called fibrocartilaginous embolism. Her legs, bowels, and bladder were affected before she healed. The neurologist said that her blood vessels would need to reroute in order to recover, which they eventually did. Through all of this, Kilo and her owner bonded as best friends. Recently, now, there has been another incident which is completely unrelated to the one described above. Kilo has shown a significant behavioral issue, much like the one that appeared with her full brother, Talisker in 2017. It appears that just as with Talisker, Kilo has had several episodes where she becomes suddenly unexplainably aggressive. Her owner shares that when this occurs, she appears to not be in her right mind. When she comes to, she appears to have no understanding of what just occurred and is very contrite and confused in her appearance. As always, Kilo remains the owner’s best friend and confidant and apart from these bizarre behaviors, she is the perfect dog and so loving and sweet. The owner has tried professional trainers to no avail. Everyone involved now agrees that this is perhaps something neurological in nature and not something that can ever be trained against. Unfortunately, Kilo has bitten her owners and attacked their other dog. We talked about rehoming, but the thought of Kilo possibly harming another isn’t really an option. At this point, Kilo’s owner, along with full knowledge and agreement from Lois and myself, has decided to do what is most humane for Kilo and her family and allow her to pass on in peace. Her owner is extremely distraught by this and does not wish to be bombarded with questions or thoughts of concern or sympathy. She is not ready and would like her privacy. Please respect her wishes.

I would like to speak a bit about this, if I may. First of all, within the philosophy of the strongbred dog breeding concept, it is understood that periodic and systematic crossbreeding is necessary at strategic moments in the life of the breed in order to renew genetic diversity and reintroduce hybrid vigor. Since we have a very rare breed with few breeding specimens, it is necessary to crossbreed more regularly than other more populated breeds would require. In so doing, there is a concept called “outbreeding depression” that can occur, which is the idea that a moment of lower health/vitality can appear in the generations following the cross. In this case, when Lois introduced the Irish Wolfhound, she found that some of the puppies coming directly from this cross were sometimes bold, confrontational, and aggressive. On September 30, 2013, Lois openly admitted the following on the American Alsatian owners Facebook group, “Some of the pups from Rainier x Ahwna are showing some dominant bullying behavior.” The further away from this cross, the less this occurred. It is Lois’s professional opinion that in Talisker’s and Kilo’s cases, a lingering bit of this innate aggressive swing in temperament was found. It is important to note that when a cross happens, it is critical to choose the best pups to go on to breed. In the case of both Saigon and Pearl, full sisters to the aforementioned dogs, that were kept for breeding, Lois never saw any indication of whatever this issue is that appeared to have affected Talisker and Kilo.

Unfortunately, no one could have predicted that the Irish Wolfhound would bring such dominant, aggressive behavior. My aunt breeds purebred Irish Wolfhound’s and is high ranking in the Irish Wolfhound Club of America. She is studying to be an AKC judge for the breed. She has never mentioned this to occur in the breed and only speaks highly of the gentle giant nature of the largest dog breed. Vetstreet describes typical Irish Wolfhound behavior this way, “His great size notwithstanding, the Wolfhound is known for his quiet manners and gentle nature. This alert and courageous dog would defend his family with his life, and does not tend to be aggressive.” AKC agrees and states, “The calm, dignified, and kindly Irish Wolfhound is the tallest of all AKC breeds. Once fearless big-game hunters capable of dispatching a wolf in single combat, Wolfhounds today are the most serene and agreeable of companions.” So, either Lois received the only Irish Wolfhound to bring dominant aggressive temperaments, or there is something in some of the Irish Wolfhound lines that have a propensity toward this type of behavior. If breeders spoke openly to the public about what they faced or owners shared their difficulties in a more public arena, perhaps we could know the truth. But as it is, we can only know what we have experienced. Lois worked diligently to eradicate any indication of aggressive tendencies and both Talisker and Kilo did not show this as puppies. Only when they became adults was this behavior manifested. She could not have predicted it. But she did the right thing once it was known. She shared these stories with the group. She bravely spoke the truth to the group the moment she noticed it in 2013. She specifically chose those puppies for their owners and Kilo’s owner maintains that other than these bouts of aggression, she was the greatest dog and perfect for her in every way. They shared so many memories and these moments will be very hard to erase. The pain of this tragic time may linger for some time yet. It breaks my heart to see this turn of events, but we can work together as a group to support one another. That is the best of who we are as a family.

Not only that, but at the same time, we have lost our precious Nyomi in such a sudden way to an extremely aggressive cancer. All of these tragic events by themselves are very emotional and stressful. But, on top of all of this, Lois discovered that the wrong pup found its way to the wrong family for more than a week. Fixing the egregious mix-up as well as dealing with all of the loss in the same moment has taken its toll on Lois, and, it appears, others in the group. It has been quite devastating to Lois. But, she was already planning on retiring, she just didn’t know how she could. These events gave her no choice but to step back immediately from her online position. She has archived her Facebook groups and will remain off of the Internet until further notice. She loves you all dearly, but must take care of herself now. She has diligently worked for over 30 years, most of this time all alone, to bring the breed to where it is today. She is tired and weary to the bone. Her mother is aging and requires a lot of her time, which she is happy to give. So, Amey and myself are working now to come up with a plan forward. The Dire Wolf Project is not ending. It will just need some adjustments to meet the Lois’s needs at this time. We will reveal the plan as soon as we can. In the meantime, please stay tuned. You are in our thoughts and prayers. You are friends and family. We love you all so very dearly. Thank you very much for your continued support of our work. It is an honor to have you all with us. God bless.

Jennifer Stoeckl is the co-founder of the Dire Wolf Project, founder of the DireWolf Guardians American Alsatian Dog Training Program, and owner/operator of DireWolf Dogs of Vallecito. She lives in the beautiful inland northwest among the Ponderosa pine forests with her pack of American Alsatian dogs.

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