By Dave & Deb Bouskill, on February 10, 2014

Wildlife encounters in Alberta

We just love dogs, and while visiting Alberta, Canada, on a recent trip, we certainly had many canine encounters. From nuzzling with beautiful wolfdogs to holding on for dear life while dog sledding with malamutes, our visit to Alberta certainly gave us our fill of hanging with the hounds. We also spent a portion of our adventure skijoring. If you’ve never heard of this sport, it is a bit like dogsledding, but instead of a team of dogs pulling a sleigh, the dogs are hooked up to people standing on cross-country skis.

I’ll admit, we were a bit nervous about this adventure. We hadn’t been on cross-country skis in at least six years, and we weren’t sure if we’d be able to stand while being pulled at full speed. But we were up for the challenge.

The fun began when we drove out to Spray Lake outside of Canmore. Here, we met our skijoring team from Mad Dogs and Englishmen Dog Sled Expeditions. It was a cold day and the lake was frozen solid, but a cold day is a perfect day for skijoring. The dogs are happiest when the weather dips below freezing.

We spent a few minutes getting used to cross-country skiing again while the guide and owner, Russell Donald, evaluated our skills. He chose dogs to suit our abilities, and, once we were ready to go, we got to know our dogs. Dave and I were hooked up to two dogs each. These puppies couldn’t wait to run. Both of us could feel their energy building as their excitement grew. We had to keep them on a short leash (literally!) while we connected our harnesses, but the second we were hooked up, the dogs sprinted off. The force nearly knocked us over.

Once we got going, it was a glorious feeling. We fed off the dogs’ high energy and felt giddy with excitement as we soared across the lake. It was easier than we expected and all our anxiety disappeared. 

Sure, we fell a lot and struggled to keep our balance, but that was part of the fun. Whenever we fell down, the dogs would turn their heads, giving us quizzical looks, and would wait for us to stand back up. One time, even Russell, the leader of the pack, fell down. This started a domino effect; Dave ran into him and I ran into Dave. Before we knew it, we all were down on the ground with huge grins on our faces. Still, we had to get up quickly, because the dogs get antsy and want to keep on pulling.

Overall, skijoring is invigorating, challenging, and pure entertainment. You don’t have to be a great skier or extremely athletic, as intermediate skills suffice. All you need is an appetite for adventure, a lot of enthusiasm, and a love for dogs.

Our day wasn’t over once the skijoring shenanigans on the lake were done. Afterward, we went on to a wolfdog rescue center, to learn more about those animals who weren’t lucky enough to be pulling visitors. The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary is a rescue center for abandoned or neglected wolfdogs near Canmore, Alberta, and is working hard to promote responsible wolfdog ownership and preserving wild wolves in their natural environment.

We didn’t know anything about wolfdogs before visiting the sanctuary, but while sitting in the open-air enclosure among the dogs, owner and operator Georgina De Caigny explained the difference between wolfdogs and wolves. Wolfdogs are a mixed breed of a dog and wolf. Sadly, many people feel that wolfdogs make for great pets, but they find out that they are very difficult to care for. (Wolfdogs have many traits of a wolf in their blood, making them difficult to train.) 

Viewfinder Tip: Travelers can schedule a visit to the wolfdog sanctuary, which is open year-round, Thursday through Monday.

The sanctuary rehabilitates these animals and finds them new homes. It’s a magical experience to sit outside with the dogs. If you are very still and quiet, some of the more tame dogs will approach and sniff your hand. As they get more comfortable, they nuzzle up to you and stick around for a treat. It was truly an enchanting experience to sit and watch the pack work together. Just like wolves, there are alpha dogs and more passive dogs. They all have a role in the pack.

Our visit to the wolfdog sanctuary, coupled with a skijoring adventure, gave us a greater appreciation of the wildlife and nature we encounter in our travels. For dog-lovers like us, Alberta is a great place to experience some of this wonder first-hand.

What’s your favorite way to encounter wildlife on your travels?