Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you are undoubtedly aware that Season 7 of the hit HBO series Game of Thrones will begin airing this Sunday night.
Like many of you, we’re all excited for the show to start back up (I cannot wait to hear the first few notes of the theme song – chills will ensue).
But there is a very serious down side to the show coming back on. One that should strike a chord with all canine lovers.
I’m going to go ahead and issue a SPOILER ALERT, but that is just me being overly cautious. I don’t need your hate tweets. Besides, this only applies to those who aren’t caught up with the series – I don’t know anything that isn’t public knowledge.
And for the record, I have not read the books. I know; save your breath…
Impulse Pet Purchases: Dog Adoption Ain’t No Game
Every time Game of Thrones starts back up or George R. R. Martin releases a new book, people start flocking to breeders in an attempt to purchase their very own direwolf (Canis giganticus). I’ve worked in animal-care-related fields for most of my life, and I’ve seen this same phenomenon play out numerous times.
Pet stores sell out of baby ducks and rabbits every time Easter rolls around.
Clownfish became the aquarium trade’s best sellers right after Saving Nemo was released.
Bearded dragons became the hottest thing with scales after Disney released Holes.
Ferrets became really popular pets after the first Beastmaster movie came out.
And on, and on, and on.
Yet while some of these critters make decent pets (such as bearded dragons, for example), others are completely inappropriate for the average pet owner.
And this tendency for people to purchase animals for which they cannot adequately care infuriates me.
Within a month, most of these owners are back at the pet shop or a local shelter, trying to re-home their new pet. They didn’t do their research, didn’t know what they were getting into, and now can no longer bear the burden of caring for their new pet, which they should never have purchased in the first place.
I don’t mean to get all preachy, but I just cannot go another season without speaking out about this. So, let’s be clear:
Unless you have a direwolf on your house sigil, and you probably can’t care for one properly.
You’ll just have to settle for a husky, malamute or gerberian shepsky like a normal person.
Don’t believe me? Keep reading. You’ll see that most people who buy their own direwolf regret the decision.
The first thing you’ll notice upon meeting a mature direwolf is its incredible size.
Big direwolves are roughly pony-sized; some stand 4-feet-tall at the shoulder. That’s taller than some Lannisters. Their long fur – which helps to keep them comfortable while weathering the long, dark winters of the north — helps to emphasize their size even more. And yes, they shed worse than any German shepherd or Great Pyrenees does.
Although they have thinner legs than gray wolves (Canis lupus) or domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) do, direwolves are immensely heavy. There aren’t many documented weights for mature individuals, but they are certainly capable of reaching 400 pounds or more. That’s bigger than even the largest hounds.
Direwolves mature quickly, and most females can become pregnant by about 9 months of age. Males are typically a little older by the time they are ready to breed, as they must be able to defend themselves from the females they intend to court and breed.
And this is no joke — if you think your lady is cranky when she’s not in the mood, wait until you see an “unreceptive” direwolf.
Direwolf Population and Geographic Range
Most authorities suspect that direwolves are extinct in the wild, or nearly so. However, this is difficult to confirm.
The IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species does not have a page dedicated to direwolves, so their wild status is unclear (and for the record, while the IUCN does publish pages about a variety of dragons, none of them are of the flying and fire-breathing variety).
Others believe that a handful of direwolves still roam the forests north of the wall, but they are almost certainly extinct south of Castle Black. There have recently been reports of a lone direwolf traveling through the Riverlands, but (shockingly) this animal has yet to be photographed.
Sounds kinda bigfooty to me.
Acquiring Your Direwolf: Using a Reputable Breeder
Because direwolves are likely extinct, you’ll be forced to acquire yours from one of the breeders who works with the species.
However, you should always be sure to avoid unscrupulous, puppy-mill-type direwolf breeders, as they tend to produce animals with health problems and poor temperaments (which is not an insignificant consideration for a dog that grows to the size of a lion).
As when purchasing any other dog from a breeder, you’ll want to meet the parents if possible. This means that you should try to find a breeder within driving distance. Try not to show fear when meeting the direwolf dam or sire – they can sense it. And for heaven’s sake, don’t run if you get spooked. That’ll end badly.
Because none of the major breeders are cutting us a check, we won’t be mentioning any by name. Just Google “direwolf breeder”. You’ll get plenty of completely legitimate search results, I promise.
House Breaking Your Direwolf
Because they hail from cave-dwelling ancestors, most direwolves learn the dos and don’ts of poops and pees pretty quickly, and house breaking rarely requires extraordinary effort on your part. However, as you won’t want to begin your day by stepping into a direwolf-sized pile of poo, you’ll want to be sure your pet understands proper popping protocol.
Most dog trainers recommend using only positive reinforcement when house breaking your dog, and this is doubly true when house breaking a direwolf. Smacking a direwolf with a rolled up newspaper or trying to push his nose into a pee spot is not a good idea.
Direwolves are proud animals, who feel shame whenever they have an accident – they don’t need you making them feel worse.
Do note that direwolf urine is particularly pungent, so standard pet-odor eliminators are worthless. You’ll likely need to burn whatever has been peed upon. For puppies, this means you’ll probably be having a few bonfires every week or so. We suggest making the most of this event and turning each burning into a small feast to celebrate with the neighborhood (don’t forget to bring plenty of ale and wine). No reason to waste a good bonfire, right?
You’ll also need to bring an XL garbage bag along with you on walks to contain your pet’s poop (we recommend the extra hefty size), rather than cute little plastic bags normal dog owners use.
Are you ready to haul 10-pound bags of poop with you on a daily basis? This will be a regular occurrence for any direwolf owner. On second thought, you may need a wheelbarrow as well.
Feeding Your Direwolf: Direwolf Nutrition 101
Direwolves typically have ravenous appetites, and they can eat more than you’d expect. Most dogs require about 30 Calories per pound of body weight per day (give or take). This means that a full frown direwolf will require roughly 12,000 Calories a day, assuming they aren’t pregnant, lactating, or defending your castle from the frozen undead. In such cases, they’d need even more food.
This essentially means giving your new direwolfling a 20-pound turkey for dinner. Every night. Lemon cakes won’t cut it for these big beasts.
Maybe you can afford this, Rockefeller; but I’d have to seek financing from the Iron Bank to foot this kind of bill.
Of course, you can feed your direwolf just about any common protein, including lamb, goat, beef, fish, venison or the odd wildling. Don’t worry about de-boning or cleaning their dinner, as direwolves chomp through even the largest bones with ease, and the innards provide valuable vitamins and minerals.
Direwolves readily take pre-killed prey, but they do appreciate having the chance to hunt every once in a while. This also provides them with a bit of exercise. Besides, if you don’t allow your direwolf to hunt deer or elk on a regular basis, they’ll likely enlist neighborhood dogs, form a giant man-killing wolf pack and start chasing pedestrians through your neighborhood, which is frowned upon by most Home Owner Associations.
Few owners will over feed their direwolf, and that’s a good thing, as obesity can lead to diabetes. You don’t want to start jabbing a direwolf with an insulin needle. That too, would end badly.
Training and Socializing Your Direwolf
Proper socialization and training is important for Cane Corsos, mastiffs and other large breeds, but it reaches a whole new level of significance when you are talking about direwolves. But before you trot on down to the local dog park, you’ll need a good dog leash.
In truth, leashes simply provide a convienent method for your direwolf to drag you around the countryside, but they are required under the King’s law, just like they are for regular old domestic pups (few municipalities distinguish between domestic dogs and direwolves).
Don’t skimp on the leash (or collar), either. Retractable leashes are not a great idea for large dogs, and they are completely absurd for direwolves. In fact, direwolves will snap most leashes without breaking a sweat. Instead, you’ll want to use thick chain, similar to the kind ships use to tether their anchors. This one would probably work, although will all collars, some slight fitting adjustments may be required.
Now that you have a leashed direwolf, you can head to the dog park. Realize that even as a young pup, your direwolf is more likely to eat hurt someone else’s dog than the opposite, so be vigilant. Direwolves are less likely to tussle with dogs who show an appropriate amount of respect and deference, as they’re easily offended by boisterous or obnoxious dogs.
Obviously, this means keeping Chihuahuas completely out of your direwolf’s sight.
Come to think of it, you’ll also want to keep your direwolf on a short leash around antagonistic adolescents, particularly those who happen to be royalty.
Toys for Your Direwolf
Direwolves aren’t as playful as many other canines – they tend to spend their time reflecting on life and keeping tabs of those who’ve wronged them, rather than doing things for your amusement.
Throw a tennis ball for your direwolf and he’ll just stare at you with disdain. He will most definitely not have this reaction:
However, like all canines, direwolves do have a well-developed instinct to chew. Feeding your direwolf whole prey will help satisfy this to a large extent (most direwolves have a penchant for deer femurs).
However, it is always better to be safe than sorry, and you’ll want to provide your direpup with a super-tough chew toy. You don’t want your direwolf deciding to express his chewing instinct on your furniture or kitchen cabinets, unless you are going for a distressed look. A very, very distressed look.
You can also go the DIY route when it comes to making adequate chew toys for your direwolf. For example, old car tires make great chew toys. They are about the right size and will usually last for a day or two before being completely destroyed.
Don’t worry about the toxins in the rubber; direwolves have cast-iron stomachs. And a used car tire is probably cleaner than your average wildling, so don’t sweat it.
Don’t worry about obstructions either. Direwolf stomach acid can neutralize salt-encrusted iron, so rubber won’t be a problem. At any rate, direwolves can poop out something the size of a grapefruit without straining, so intestinal obstruction just isn’t something to worry about.
Other acceptable chew toys for direwolves include old couches, mannequins, and the garments of slain enemies.
Accommodations for Your Direwolf: Finding the Perfect Dog House
Direwolves aren’t especially prone to separation anxiety. The way they see it, you should be anxious when they aren’t around, rather than the opposite. What do they need you for anyway?
However, you’ll still need a place in which you can contain your direwolf when you aren’t around and you’ll want to provide your new pet with a comfortable sleeping spot. This means you’ll need to buy a suitable kennel and a comfortable dog bed.
However, most direwolves will quickly destroy even the very best kennel available – we actually recommend using a shark cage instead. You’ll want to select the strongest model you can find, although you may be able to construct your own if you have the requisite welding skills.
As for a bed, you’ll want to go with something in the queen or California-king range. Memory foam mattresses provide additional value, as direwolves may suffer from arthritis as they age.
The Bottom Line: Direwolves Do Not Make Good Pets
Look, I get the appeal. Direwolves are ridiculously awesome animals and I’d love to have one of my own.
But, because I cannot care for one properly, I will not get one (and that’s the only reason obviously).
I’d encourage those of you considering purchasing your own direwolf to take a cold, hard look in the mirror and come to terms with the fact that you probably can’t care for a direwolf either, unless you are a member of the Stark household. Even then, odds of you or your direwolf leading a long and happy life aren’t too likely.
Just enjoy them on TV and get a regular dog. It will be better for everyone involved.
I appreciate you coming along on this goofy little satirical journey.
In truth, direwolves would be the coolest pets this side of tiger sharks, if only they were real (wait…are they?). And they’d give a whole new meaning to the term “protection dog.” But they’d still be entirely too big for most people and downright dangerous if poorly trained.
However, direwolf fans may want to consider adopting a dog from our list of wolf-like looking dog breeds – they sure are gorgeous!
So, it is probably best that they are fictional. Enjoy the show this week, folks!
(Game of Thrones photos courtesy of HBO)