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Wolves have a place in the human imagination as fierce and frightening creatures. But when interacting with people, wolves are actually gentle, shy โ€“ and wonderful animals for animal-assisted therapy.

Malibu Beach Recovery Centers has partnered with a wolf and wolf dog rescue organization to offer clients wolf therapy. By interacting with these often misunderstood animals, clients discover new ways of connecting, gain insights into their own behavior by observing the behavior of animals, and learn to open up and trust.

Wolves and Wolf Dogs Kept as Pets

Most of the wolves and wolf dogs that are part of the wolf therapy program come from difficult backgrounds. As puppies, dogs and wolves have a lot in common โ€“ cute, playful and affectionate. Yet as adults, wolves and wolf hybrids (wolves bred with dogs such as German Shepherds, Malamutes and Huskies) have very different personalities and behaviors than your typical pet dog.

While adult dogs remain eager to please, wolves can’t be as easily tamed. Territorial and pack-oriented, wolves walk or run 100 miles a day in the wild, and don’t really care about pleasing their owners, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Yet that doesn’t stop some people from wanting to keep a wolf, or a wolf dog, as a pet. As cute wolf puppies mature into surly “teens,” many of these animals end up either abandoned or chained up and neglected because they are seen as uncontrollable, according to wolf and wolf dog rescue organizations. Some end up being confiscated and euthanized. The lucky ones end up in sanctuaries. In sanctuaries, the animals are cared for, fed properly and exercised.

Animal-Assisted Therapy Helps with Healing

Animal-assisted therapy is a well-accepted form of treatment for addiction and dual disorders. Research has shown that working with animals helps to reduce stress and anxiety, build social skills and alleviate depression.

By interacting with animals, individuals in recovery gain insights into why people behave or react to circumstances in certain ways. Through the bonds that people forge with animals, individuals experience the process of forming a relationship based on mutual trust.

The wolves and wolf dogs used in animal-assisted therapy at Malibu Beach Recovery Centers have been carefully selected, socialized and trained by experts at Wolf Connection, a nonprofit wolf rescue organization with a large ranch outside Los Angeles where the wolves live. In addition to their work with individuals in alcohol and drug rehab, the wolves are used for many types of therapeutic programs, including programs for children and teens in the juvenile court and foster care system, people with eating disorders and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

When they first meet the wolves, people tend to be nervous, hesitant and a bit scared. The wolves aren’t particularly that interested or friendly at first either. But overtime, through carefully supervised interactions and hikes in the wolves’ natural habitat, the humans and wolves get more comfortable and playful with one another.

Working with wolves allows people to set aside their past mistakes or regrets, and form a friendship with the wolf or wolf dog based on the here and now. Clients see that the wolves have moved beyond what has happened to them, making it easier to see that they too can live a happy and satisfying life in recovery.

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