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The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary is a nonprofit organization that takes in rescue wolfdogs, from the high content wolfdog to the low content wolfdog. These are wolfdogs who have been otherwise neglected, displaced, or abandoned.
Located an hour east of Banff, Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane, Alberta Canada offers visitor tours where it’s possible to walk through the sanctuary and even interact with the wolfdogs.
Along the way, a knowledgeable guide explains the differences between wolves, wolfdogs, and dogs, as well as why wolves are so important in the wild landscape.
If you’re spending time in the Canadian Rockies and were hoping to see a wolf, you’ll have to get extremely lucky. But, you can do the next best thing and interact with wolfdogs by adding a visit to Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary to your list of things to do near Banff National Park.
Meet the Wolfdogs at the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
If you’re someone who has dogs for pets, you may have looked at your cute, cuddly fur-baby and wondered how on Earth it’s possible this loveable little creature descended from wolves. Certainly, a lot of history and genetics have happened over a long period of time to where we now have everything from Italian Greyhounds (my babies!) to Labradoodles.
However, the wolfdog, by definition, is a hybrid between a domestic dog and a species of wolf.
These dogs fall into somewhat of a gray area. On the one hand, breeders sell (supposed) wolfdog puppies, while laws in many places classify them as a wild animal and/or prohibit them to be kept as pets.
The result is the need for a place like Yamnuska. Either owners are prevented from keeping their wolfdogs or realize their cute puppy has grown into a pet not suited to their lifestyle and/or is aloof and difficult to manage.
So, I was glad to have booked an interactive tour to learn more about wolves, wolfdogs, and dogs, not to mention, the opportunity to get up close with the wolfdogs themselves.
With Alberta’s open-expanse between Calgary and Banff in the foreground and the looming peaks of the Canadian Rockies in the background, we pulled into the long driveway leading to the sanctuary. Black wolf silhouette placards lined the fencing. The air was crisp but the sky was bright blue. Stepping out of the car, the wolfdogs welcomed us with their howls.
Entering the main office, we were greeted by a large malamute. She greeted us by wagging her tail and nuzzling into our legs. We later learned just how dog-like this is, but at the time we didn’t know if she was dog or wolfdog, just enormously friendly!
The tour began just through the other side of this building where the wolfdog enclosures came into view.
With a center walkway leading to other smaller pathways, we noticed packs of 2-4 wolfdogs in large open pens. Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary prides itself on having large 1-2 acre enclosures in a natural setting with carefully considered pack arrangements.
After going over a few dos and don’ts, the guide led us into a fenced-off pathway and into one of the enclosures with 3 high-content wolfdogs named Kuna, Zeus, and Nova. As our small group settled into a benched seating area, Kuna came to greet the guide while Zeus and Nova scattered to the far reaches of the enclosure.
Knowing how rare it is to spot a wolf in the wild, it was thrilling to see Kuna and the others in such close proximity!
The guide gave us a handful of treats and began to explain what was meant by high content wolfdog. Kuna lingered near the guide for a few moments, perhaps thinking about the treats in our hands, but then retreated back toward the other 2 wolfdogs. It was still enough time to admire her golden eyes, her long legs, and her coat of blended black, white, and golden brown hair.
The sanctuary uses a process called phenotyping to determine who much wolf or dog each wolfdog has in their blood. By observing physical features and behavior, a determination is made. So, high content wolfdogs look and act more like wolves than dogs.
I realized I’d never really noticed some of the truly distinctive features separating wolves from dogs, but as the guide explained it was easy to see the differences.
Their long legs set close together combined with a leaner frame were built for traveling long distances and speed. In addition, these wolfdogs were acting more like wolves, displaying their instinctive reaction to move away from people rather than seek them out for attention and affection.
Our guide walked up around the wolfdogs and tried to coax them closer with some treats. However, they weren’t interested and I was glad to see the guide respected their wishes.
In fact, all through our visit, the sanctuary proved itself to be a safe-haven for the wolfdogs and a place of education for the humans. The staff was incredibly caring and knowledgeable.
These are key signs your travel-animal experience is ethical and puts the animal’s interests first, above all else.
We gave Kuna, Zeus, and Nova their enclosure back and headed to another enclosure with 2 low-content wolfdogs named Loki and Nikki, and 1 upper mid content wolfdog named Rue. Not only were these wolfdogs more interested in us, Loki greeted us at the gate with his tail wagging, all but uttering the words “Hello” and “Welcome!”
Once again seated, the guide pointed out the differences between these wolfdogs, compared to the ones we had just left.
Loki clearly adored the spotlight and went down the line of visitors for treats, allowed us to pet him, and even shook paws with us. Rue was a bit more hesitant but did selectively make her way over to say hi and take a treat. She was gentle and had loving eyes, but we stayed within her comfort level and did not reach out to pet her unless she wanted it to happen.
Seeing Rue, who is more wolf, and Loki, who is more dog, side by side made it really easy to see the physical characteristics and the levels of trust with humans that defined each one.
Wolves have been hunted by humans for centuries teaching them to distrust and run from us. While dogs, on the other hand, have learned to stay close to humans. These instincts played out in front of us like a biology lesson.
As the tour wrapped up, we said our goodbyes to the wolfdogs. We were able to freely wander the open pathways past other enclosures. Each one had signs with the wolfdogs’ names and content levels. There were also fact signs to teach more about wolves and wolfdogs.
Toward the end of our visit, something stirred the wolfdogs and their howls echoed from all around the sanctuary. After all, dogs bark, but wolves howl. It couldn’t have been a more fitting finale to our up close, truly original wolfdog experience.
Planning Your Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary Visit
The sanctuary is open Thursday-Monday from 10 am – 5 pm.
If you’ve rented a car no need to join a guided tour from the Banff area. The scenic 1-hour drive is straightforward and mostly along the TransCanada Highway. If you’re heading to Yamnuska from Canmore, the drive is about 40 minutes.
There are 3 options for your visit. All money made from the tours and visitors goes toward caring for the wolfdogs.
The Sanctuary Walk is a self-guided walk along the open pathways of the sanctuary to view and read about the wolfdogs in their enclosures. No reservations needed.
The Intro Tour is a guided walk through the sanctuary with one of the wolfdog experts. Reservations are not required but large groups may want to confirm availability before making the drive.
The Interactive Tour (what I did) allows only 6 people per tour, so be sure to make advance reservations. An expert wolfdog caretaker will take you into the enclosures to learn and interact with the wolfdogs.
The sanctuary does have age restrictions for each tour so read the details of each visit option carefully. Either way, the wolfdog sanctuary is not right for children 5 and under.
After spending a few hours at Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, animal-lovers will not soon forget the wolfdogs’ golden eyes, instinctive howl, or what it feels like to get up close with nature’s closest genetic match to wolves in the wild.
Would you like to meet the wolfdogs at the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary?
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