Lies About Wolf Behavior

Lies About Wolf Behavior

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Sam Basso
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Lately, I’ve been reading articles and hearing from behaviorists that say there is no such thing as rank order in the wolf pack, or saying there is no rank order in domestic dogs, or both. This is being promoted by animal rights activists, operant conditioning/ clicker trainer advocates, veterinary organizations, and anti-Cesar Millan groups. There is a politically correct school of dog training out there now that advocates calming techniques and “purely positive”, meaning mostly treat (food) / toy training, and denigrating any kind of management or corrections at all in animal training. Now, the latest is to claim that there is no pack related rank order behaviors of any sort between members of a wolf pack. This stuff is hogwash.

The current experts in wolf behavior agree that wolves kept in captivity form more rigid rank hierarchies. A behavior can’t spontaneously happen unless that behavior is programmed into that animal. Wolves in the wild, not compressed into a fixed space, and not stressed by drought, famine, or overpopulation, will behave like a benevolent family, and such behaviors will be less readily observable, if at all… except within sexes of male and female. Males have their own rank order and females have their own, and they live in an almost parallel universe regarding these relationships. Wolves that are stressed in the wild have been known to attack and kill rival packs or intruding lone wolves and even kill domestic dogs in their territory.

Dominance and aggression in the pack are directly linked to sexual breeding rights within the pack. A behavioral pattern cannot express itself if it isn’t already programmed into the animal. The fullest expression of these drives is in the wild animal, meaning the wolf, which is why we see such a rigid peck order when wolves are in captivity. Wolves normally would not work with a human to hunt, though some people have trained wolves to act like hunting dogs. Wolves won’t playfully retrieve balls. A wolf could never do police work. They won’t do any of these protection tasks if it was a human they were confronting, but they will do it to a trespassing wolf that is not part of their pack. Aggression is focused on interspecific competition, but isn’t infraspecific aggression. A wolf doesn’t see a human as a competitor.

In the wolf pack there is a peck order, but to the casual observer it is subdued. It becomes more pronounced during breeding times and during times of stress, such as when food or territory is limited. Yet, almost always, behavioral control of the subordinate pack members is settled by the breeding pair if there is a conflict, the dominant (alpha) male or female, with some posturing and a snarl or snaps of the teeth, and sometimes by some outright punishment, just like we see it between the dogs in our own homes. Submissive wolves are also known to slink on by the dominant ones, and go into flight especially after such a confrontation. The most common outright display is of the dominant male or female on top of another wolf, with the one on the bottom submissively rolling over onto its back. When a male has taken on a new mate, he does a lot more assertive behaviors with the rest of the pack, as well as a lot more urine scent marking around his territory. The alpha female also regularly disciplines her pups. Not all females accept other females, nor males accepting other males… and some pack members are driven away by aggression within the pack.

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