Close Encounters of the Canine Kind
By: Paul Koch
Let me begin by saying that I myself have never owned a dog, or much less interacted with one for more than an hour period before I went to Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in Ramah, New Mexico. However, that never halted my fascination for this species and my desire to understand what they were trying to say. When you are shoved (sometimes literally) into an enclosure with an innately wild animal, the only way to learn how to coexist and become friends is to acknowledge what the other has to say. Now, as a highly social animal, wolves have developed a plethora of cues, signals and behaviours for communication to promote relationships and cooperation within their packs. Additionally, the analytical skills they rely on to target adequate prey and execute flawless hunting as a group gives wolves a particular edge in reading our gestures as well. This gives rise to a fairly unique opportunity for two species to break the barriers of communication between them, which was an integral part in the domestication of dogs (a natural descendant of wolves).
In this blog post, I will help to aid you in breaking this barrier, as I had to do to interact with these animals on a daily basis. It is by no means difficult to read their basic behaviours, but applying them to the situation at hand to understand them is the real challenge.
You should now click this link for a montage of footage I took as a caretaker at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, illustrating the behaviours and techniques I had to learn to interact with these incredible animals:
* I suggest watching the duration I say in the bold section headers, and then returning to the blog to read, while switching back to the video when I reference certain times*
Romeo, the Red Fox (0 to 1:10):
If you are thinking, “Wait a second, I thought this was a wolf sanctuary. That is not a wolf,” then, shut up. We made an exception for Romeo. I thought I would start with something . . . well . . . absolutely and undeniably adorable. The green pinata we gave Romeo here is filled with treats, but we did not expect him to struggle so much getting them out!
– (0:16) After he finishes displaying exploration behaviour, circling and sniffing the object in a gleeful mood (ears back), he starts to nip at it to manipulate and investigate the object .
– (0:19) Further testing to object, he displaces it, but retreats fearfully to ensure it is not dangerous .
– (0:30) Now he knows the object is not dangerous and safely assumes it is food, and begins to attempt to dig a hole to cache it
*SPOILERS* He does not succeed .
– (0:50) By the way, THAT is what the fox says . They kind of sound like one of those doggy chew toys . . . even when they are happy, but he clearly is not in this situation.
– (0:54) Mo (his caretaker) tried to open the pinata for him, but Romeo immediately moved it to the other side of the enclosure to protect it. The whipping of the tail back and forth is a message to Mo, saying, “Back off, I will become aggressive,” to which Mo replies with, “I am going to pet you.” Ah, Mo . . . He wasn’t the brightest guy, but he had a heart of gold !
– (1:02) With the evil Mo defeated with his mighty teeth, Romeo returns to his prize to resume his attempts to cache it . . . He still does not succeed .
Westeros 5 (1:12 to 1:27):
This is the Westeros 5 Pack, named so because there is 5 of them and they were named by George R.R. Martin, a huge supporter of the sanctuary. Each individual’s distance, movement and posture actually tells us something about their level of comfort around the person in the enclosure with them (me).
– (1:11 to 1:26) Ghost is the one laying down closest to me: he shows absolute comfort, based on his proximity to me, his decision to lay down without the ability to make a quick escape and even the fact that he can take his eyes and ears off me without any fear .
– Let’s watch that clip again, but this time, focus on Lady (the on to the right of Ghost). She does not mind being close to me, nor turning her back on me. When she did, her pace did not quicken to indicate she did not fear the risks of not being able to watch me. However, her tail posture says otherwise. As soon as she turns around to leave, her tail immediately tucks to the left (1:14). This means that she is feeling anxious. Now, this is where context and reading all of an animal’s body language comes into play. Judging by her comfort towards me and lack of fear in turning away, the anxiousness was directed to whatever she was leaving the vicinity to investigate.
– Play through numero 3! Go back to 1:12 and watch Nymeria (to the left of Ghost). When you see any canine that is panting but it is clearly not heat related, it means they are actually in a playful or joyous mood. At 1:23 Nymeria watches both of her sisters walk off to investigate something and then follows Lady over with a bit of a skip in her step when she thinks it will be interesting
– All right, these two are boring. Brienne is the furthest one on the left while Arya is the one that investigates to the back right of the enclosure at 1:17. These two are quite uncomfortable with me. Brienne, for example, stands a very far distance and checks on me periodically to ensure I haven’t moved at all, which are not always nervous behaviours, but I know her well enough to deduce this. Arya is distanced, but you can also see at 1:18 when she no longer has eyes on me, her tail tucks beneath her tummy. I am sure all dog owners know this one. Basically, her tail tucks under to protect her most vulnerable spot on her body–her anus.
That is right, we are not even 2 minutes in. This blog is going to be a lot more than 2 pages, so strap in! I promise you will learn a lot of interesting things, though.
Westeros 5 Feeding Numero Uno (1:27 to 2:22):
Here you can see my lovely farmers tan, but try to focus on the wild animals, please. These guys are fed many different raw foods, but usually chicken.
– 1:30 to 1:33 You can see Lady in the distance give me a little head bob as soon as she sees me grab the food. It is pretty neat, but they will usually tell you where to throw it to increase their chances of getting it over their siblings. This is, of course, self-serving, because it is equivalent to the seagulls on Finding Nemo, screaming, “MINE, MINE, MINE!”
– 1:36 Ghost is pacing back and forth because he wants more food to add to his pile. This is something Ghost does every feeding. His siblings are little piggies, while he savours his food. If you do not believe me, I will show you a clip later to prove it.
– 1:38 Lady notices Ghost piling up on food and thinks, “Well, if he won’t eat it, I’ll add it to my pile!” Yeah, no. Ghost’s tail instantly goes up in a dominant NOT aggressive stance with a little vocal huff to kind of say, “Don’t try anything, I am your superior.” At 1:40 we see Lady slink away with her tail between her legs, submissive and fearful.
– 1:53 A little lick of the lips from Ghost to say, “I want it,” but the chicken was not destined for him and he knows it! Look at the tails in this interaction. At 1:53 exactly it is a perfect view of Brienne’s tail, down and to the right. This is actually a different meaning than down and to the left! Down to the right tail posture means she is curious and interesting, not anxious. Ghost on this exchange keeps his tail low, no aggressive, no dominance while Brienne’s is straight out to indicate she is serious and wants him to let her have it (an erect tail means that the individual is issuing a command or request, depending on rank).
– 2:06 More invaders of Ghost’s precious food pile . . . I love how they always wait until his back is turned. Such opportune timing–like they are hunting as scavengers!
– 2:16 “Paul . . . they stole my damn food again. Now can I have more?” Notice the hanging mouth, kind of like panting again? In this case it is probably more indicative of salivating because he is hungry, as opposed to heat or glee.
Westeros 5 Howl Numero Uno (2:23 to 3:23):
Howls are a very interesting type of vocal communication. The common misconception is that wolves howl at the moon, but, given what you already know about communcation, it is obvious that makes absolutely no sense. The second misconception is that wolves only use howling to convey position and vocally mark territories; it is true, but that is not its only use. At the sanctuary these animals howl daily, yet they never move from their position, so what is the purpose? The answer is circadian rhythms and just general information sharing! When the sun goes up, just like a rooster, a wolf will howl. When the sun goes down, another howl. When it is feeding time, howl. Someone goes for a walk, well, you get it.
– Sometimes you can discern the content of the howl by how the animals react to it. For example, this is clearly not a group howl where all of them to mark a circadian rhythm. No, the howl is travelling through the sanctuary and works its way up to Westeros 5 like “gossip” being -passed around the popular kids.
– Who responds to the howl is equally important. 2:26 Arya (with the underbite) responds to the howl–notice the tail position? Down to the right . . . something interesting has happened in the sanctuary. 2:33 She calls Ghost over with eye contact, ears to the side and a wagging tail side to side. In a dog that is a friendly, or happy gesture. In a wolf, it is quite the opposite. Whatever the howl relayed, it has made her angry or jealous, and she is telling Ghost that she wants to respond.
– 2:35 Ghost immediately wags his tail in the same way, as if giving permission, and then Arya runs over to Westeros 4 (yes, they are all related. And yes, they are also named after Game of Thrones characters).
– 2:48 Freeze frame this moment, because it is a good one. Just look at the contrasting behaviours in the 4 visible members of Westeros 5 here! Arya is being aggressively dominant to Westeros 4, Lady has her tailed tucked as if she is scared, Ghost just really does not care about any of it, but Nymeria in the back right . . . looked at what she is doing! When Arya started acting dominant, Nymeria instantly just turned around and showed her rump to Westeros 4 and just stands there, like, “Want a piece of this? Bring it on.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is how a wolf taunts and provokes playing. In this context, she is basically mocking them, because she knows they cannot get her through the fence.
– 2:53 and on Anyway, judging by the aggressive behaviour of Arya, the affectionate behaviour of the two females in Westeros 4 (licking the teeth of the male, Shaggydog) and the competitive behaviour (snarling and stern posture) from the other male, Summer, the howl had something to do with Shaggydog.
My best guess is that someone both packs know was placed in the one-acre. The one-acre is basically the recreational area that only leash-trained animals can go to. Shaggydog, the male receiving all the attention is the only leash-trained individual in both packs.
Westeros 5 Howl Numero Dos (3:24 to 4:03):
This time, Westeros 5 are the ones who start a howl (namely Ghost).
– 3:25 Howl tone tells a lot, too. Every individual has a different howl, of course, but once you know their baseline you can hear the frequency changes. Ghost and Nymeria here are just saying, “Hello,” to someone they are endearing to. You even hear a little howl in return between 3:41 and 3:45 when Nymeria is licking Ghost’s teeth affectionately
– 3:48 This time, Westeros 4 stirs up trouble out of jealousy, it seems (who knows, in this instance). There is the trademark “helicopter tail” to show a combination of aggression and dominance . . . something you never want to see from a wild wolf directed at you.
Cinder Howl (4:04 to 4:30):
I mentioned how pitch changes the meaning of the howl. Here, we have a group howl at the sanctuary for food time, if I recall. At the time of this recording, Cinder was the newest member to the sanctuary and had only been there for about a month. Listen to how faint and unconfident Cinder’s howl is, coupled by the way he slinks around his enclosure.
– 4:15 His head and back are in a very low posture to suggest he is not feeling dominant, or perhaps in control. It is likely that he does not feel like he is a member of the pack yet, so instead, he just gives a few yips.
Westeros 5 Feeding Numero Dos (4:31 to 5:20):
I added this clip because I thought it was a neat illustration of how their experience, personality and rank depicted where they would eat their food! Before I go on, can any of you guess the rank of each member in the pack? Ghost, Arya, Nymeria, Brienne and Lady. You will likely be surprised who the Alphas are. Actually, I am not even going to tell you yet. Just keep thinking about it. Remember, there are 2 Alphas, 1 Beta, 1 Mid-ranking member and 1 Omega (lowest rank) in this pack.
– 4:31 Brienne is munching in a corner with her food, probably because she does not feel comfortable with her sides exposed
– I am going to ignore Nymeria for now, running away from the scene of a crime, looking to scavenge more food . . .
– 4:38 Ghost eats here almost every single day. Right up against a tree, alone. Why?
– 4:52 Here we have Arya (right) and Lady (left) enjoying a meal together. Clearly there is a lot of trust between these two; they do not feel there is any danger in stealing from each other, but what is the advantage of grouping together?
– 5:08 Finally, there is Nymeria. She made off with one of Ghost’s pieces of chicken while he was not looking. Looking at that guilty little mug . . .
All right, let’s look at another feeding clip. Try to spot the differences, or what has remained the same. Both could be used to explain the behaviours seen.
Westeros 5 Feeding Numero Dos Cont. (5:21 to 7:35):
– 5:22 First we have Arya in Brienne’s precious corner (you just barely see Nymeria taunting Westeros 4 behind her; she is a little shit disturber, that one–she is boasting that they got their food first)
– 5:35 Next we have Ghost in the exact same spot. Look at that tail! This is the only time you will ever see Ghost exhibit any fear and it is because he knows Nymeria is coming for his food.
– 6:30 Here is Brienne and Lady eating together. There is Nymeria still roaming around. I find it hilarious how both Brienne and Lady quickly finish their meals the second they see here coming.
– 6:47 Back to Ghost who sees the cavalry coming, but thankfully has all of his food already in his mouth.
So, what was the same? What was different? Arya took the corner spot, for starters. I do not think this was out of discomfort, like Brienne, but just based on where I threw the food. However, Brienne’s reaction to this was to pair up with Lady, instead. A common factor here is that Lady is always eating with another pack member. Ghost, of course, is always in his same spot near his special caching tree that literally his entire pack knows about. Then there is Nymeria who spent the day pissing off Westeros 4 and trying to steal food.
Ready for the big reveal? You should have easily guessed that Ghost is the male Alpha . . . you know . . . because he is the only male AND the most confident individual. The rest may surprise you.
Lady is the other Alpha
Arya is the Beta
Nymeria is the mid-rank
Brienne is the Omega
Lady seems very cautious and always reliant on the pack, but caution is very important to a pack. However, the reason she does not seem like an Alpha is because she is about 3 years older than the rest of the pack. She does not have the energy to keep up and be as aggressive and dominant, but was still the Alpha from before (Sadly, her pack challenged her position shortly after I left and Lady is no longer with us). Still, you can see that the pack has a lot of respect and trust her, thus, protecting her from Nymeria’s greed.
Arya is to be expected. She is now the Alpha of Westeros 5 with Lady gone.
Nymeria is a little demon, but she is not in a position of power. After all, if she were, she would not have to steal all of the food. She would just make the other pack members submit.
Brienne should have also been a predictable Omega. She is very fearful and is usually the last to eat.
Westeros 5, Ghost Defending Food (7:35 to 9:04)
By now you notice this little feud between Ghost and Nymeria is long standing. Ghost just wants to savour his food, while Nymeria is eager to eat as much as she possibly can.
– 7:35 Ghost is pacing in front of me asking for more food to add to the giant pile he already has behind him . . . Of course, Nymeria is the first to notice 7:56
– 8:08 The steal attempt, but Ghost was quick enough to grab the food first, showing a dominant raise of the tail!
– 8:22 Ghost flashes a couple snarls at Nymeria as she walks past. This is often a sign of dominance and a warning, not necessarily aggression (however, I am pretty sure he was irritated based on how many times he tells her to back off). Look closely at Nymeria’s tail, as well. It starts erect, straight outward, asking a request, and then she raises it in a dominant posture. If memory serves me right, this is because Brienne, the Omega, was eating in her little corner, so Nymeria switched targets.
– 8:31 Here is where I can tell Ghost is a bit agitated by Nymeria. Poor Lady was just wandering around to try to find an eating buddy (what with the little menace running around stealing from everyone), but Ghost still snarls at her with a warning. Yee of little faith.
– 8:40 That is an interesting thing to note. To us, it does not seem like Nymeria was even going for an attempt or even communicating with Ghost on that little pass by, but that is not necessarily true. Wolves always approach one another from the side as a more friendly gesture. If you pay attention to every clip where you saw Ghost act dominantly to his pack members on approach, he always charged straight at them while the lower ranking pack members were travelling from his side.
That is a very important thing to consider with wolves. If ever you encounter one, if you need to approach for whatever reason, approach from the side. Walking in a straight line directly at thing is a sign of aggressive or dominance. I ruined a few relationships like that, myself.
– 8:56 I never noticed that one before, actually, but right behind Ghost you can see Lady (in front) and Nymeria (in the back) have a little interaction. Lady gives Nymeria a dominant tail raise despite not having any food of her own, but it almost looks like she is telling her to back off Ghost’s food. Sometimes we see what we want to see, though.
Westeros 5, Ghost the Foodie (9:05 to 9:28):
Honestly, I only put this in to prove just how much Ghost loves to enjoy his food. I mean, think about it. Licking and eating in this manner as a wild animal . . . why would they ever do that? It is all about acquiring as much energy as possible to survive. Even in captivity, with ensured meals on a near daily basis, the majority of the animals still eat as if it may be their last meal in a week. Yeah, and then you have Ghost.
– I want someone to love me the way Ghost loves food. ; ] While laying down and with his weird ears, it is difficult to detect the usual cues associated with joy or happiness. However, the licking of his lips, raising of the eyebrows and squinting of the eyes every so often all show he is having the time of his life.
– 9:10 Pretty much the only thing to report behaviour wise here is that tiny teeth bare at Lady walking by. Like most visual communications, the message differs with how pronounced the display is. So, as opposed to him saying, “I will murder you if you steal my food,” like in in the previous clip, he is saying, “Don’t touch this, I am really enjoying it.”
– By the way, those ravens you hear are just as much a threat to Ghost as Nymeria.
Ravens and wolves could be considered symbiotic species. Most people acknowledge that as scavengers, ravens benefit from wolves by eating their kills. What is often overlooked is the fact that wolves also use ravens to locate their prey and hunt. Many times, ravens will circle sick or old individuals in herd, much like a buzzard. These are also the animals wolves will target in their hunt, so they can use ravens to locate and target weaker prey. At a wolf kill site, ravens and wolves do not cycle out, but will usually feed together at the same time. It is as if they are sharing their meal. At the sanctuary, this held true. Wolves who were given food and did not rely on ravens in the slightest would set portions aside for the ravens to eat. Well . . . one made piles of food to lure them down and eat them, but I think that wolf just wanted to play. Ghost has the misfortune of having his little piles misconceived as an offering to the ravens, so he is extra cautious around them.
Westeros 5, Nymeria Eating (9:29 to 9:43):
This is another clip I added just for the heck of it. Do you see the way Nymeria has positioned this incredibly boney piece of food in her mouth? That is so she can use her carnassials, a specialized pairing of two teeth designed for breaking bones, to chew away and make the most of it. Though, so gives up at the end there.
Westeros 5, Feeding POV (9:44 to 10:19):
You are probably tired of seeing these guys feed by now, but there are still a few things I want to show you.
– 9:46 If you recall, I had said these animals will usually give you a little head bob to show you where they want you to put the food (lowering of the head like this is also a submissive gesture as a plea). Here we have Arya doing this will the little side step, but I keep asking her to come take it from my hand to build more trust. She is too afraid, sadly, indicated by the tucked tail and nervous movements.
– 9:49 Ghost is tired of waiting and just says, “Fine, I’ll take it.”
– 10:02 It looks like Nymeria is retreating from me here, but in actuality, she is just fat. There is no fear while taking the food or turning her back on me (tail remains the same, skipping movement shows more excitement than anything else), she is just in a rush because she wants to eat as quickly as possible to steal from everyone else.
– 10:11 Oh, shit! Wait, am I allowed to swear in this? Oh well, I am not deleting that. Anyway, the Omega (Brienne) just displayed dominance to the second in command Beta (Arya) with a tail raise! Respect. If I did not know any better, I would say her fear and hesitation around me from not taking the food earlier weakened her packs confidence a little. Quite frankly, that is the only time I had ever seen Brienne show any dominance to any animal, non-human or human.
Westeros 5, Ghost Treat (10:20 to 10:40):
Ghost and I were BFFs by the end of the summer. Starting off, I just conditioned him to approach and sniff my hand to receive a treat, giving him praise. The tone of your voice matters a lot. Just like in people, most animals use vocal pitch and frequency to reflect emotion or change the meaning. It just so happens in canines, identical to us, high tones are more submissive and friendly. Keep in mind that the situation is important. Using a high tone in a situation of fear or when issuing a command will just be perceived as a submission to them, not a dominant command. The same works for your dog at home, as I am sure you have noticed.
– 10:29 Like I previously said, Ghost is a bit difficult to read because of his strange ears, but his message is crystal clear in this instance. Ears to the side like this is a friendly or happy gesture–one he gives to his fellow pack members upon greeting them as well.
– 10:38 You cannot really see his tail until this point, but you may notice it is down and to the right. Do you remember what that means? I am not going to tell you again, so figure it out! Just kidding. You would just scroll up to find it, anyway, which is cheating. Anyway, it means he is curious and interested. His tail was like that before he turned to Arya, so I doubt it was directed at her. He is probably just intrigued by the treat I gave him, what with his love of a good meal.
– 10:40 You may notice here that Ghost’s tail raises to the right even further when he looks in the direction of another enclosure. Again, this reflects the intensity of the feeling, which is probably just cumulative from the previous interest and his new focus.
Westeros 5, Ghost and Arya–Happy as Clams (10:41 to 11:00):
I put this in my little montage because it was incredibly weird and I have no idea what is going on. Arya is the easy on in this situation. I was sitting on that rock before I took the video and she is just replacing my scent with great satisfaction (ear movement to sides and back upon rubbing motion). She is probably satisfying an itch, as well, hence the happiness.
No, Ghost is the weird one here (no surprise).
– 10:53 What the heck is with that tail raise during his stretch? I mean, look at that face. That stretch must have been incredible, because he is literally smiling. Of course, the ears support that, too. However, that tail raise is such a mystery to me. I suppose it could be a request to me of some sort, but it continues even when he looks away from me. Is this ritualization? It kind of seems like ritualization.
Westeros 5, Ghost and his Rocks (11:01 to 11:24):
This area is Ghost’s territory within the enclosure. Each member claims a region as their own, which is why it was also interesting that Arya was the one to replace my scent in the previous clip. Maybe the tail raise was to ask her not to do that again? I have no idea.
– 11:02 After I put my scent on the rocks again, I had these three investigating it. Ghost seemed to be the only one curious about it, though (tail down and to the right). It was quite interesting to watch him trail the scent right to me and give me that look 11:23, like, “I know it was you.”
This picture is evidence of how much he loves those rocks.
Westeros 5, Ghost Scent Rub (11:32 to 11:55):
As a contrast to Arya’s scent replacement, you can see Ghost hear scent rubbing. Replacement, as it suggests, is to overwrite a scent, where as rubbing is to bask and enjoy a scent that is pleasant to them. You can tell the difference by what they brush against the scent: their “cape” (abundance of fur around their neck), or their muzzle. The canine muzzle has olfactory receptors all over it– using this, canines smell not just with their nose, but the entirety of the muzzle. If they brush their muzzle against a scent, it is like spraying perfume up the human nostrils. Don’t try that at home.
Westeros 5, Awkward Moment (11:56 to 12:12):
Sometimes we forget that wild animals are not without error. This adorable video is to remind you they are. I spoke of people using their pitch to send different messages, to their dog. Well, one thing that passes with dogs but not with wolves is way too high of a pitch.
– 12:01 During a howl, one of the members makes a pitch that no longer even resembled a howl. Kind of like when your voice cracks while singing “My Heart will Go On”, and then you remember you are not Celine Dion. This little slip made the howl actually resemble the sound prey would make, which left them all looking around in confusion wondering what the Hell just happened.
– 12:03 I like to think you can hear the individual who messed up give a couple apologetic whimpers.
Oh, and if you are wondering why Westeros 5 is filled with strange individuals, here is a picture of their dad.
His name is Rudy. Any further questions?
Westeros 4, Shaggydog Pest Problem (12:14 to 13:10):
Ready to finally see a larger variety of wolves? Well, I am afraid these ones aren’t much different. This is Westeros 4, siblings of Westeros 5. In this pack there is Shaggydog (3 legs), Summer (largest), Jon Snow (who knows nothing) and Shae (the smallest).
– 12:27 Flies are a huge irritation for wolves. Here you see a mighty battle between a 3-legged wolf and one persistent fly who keeps landing on him. The wolf snaps away to catch it, but the fly is too quick and lands. Shaggydog responds with a shiver throughout his entire body to knock the fly off. You know, most people would not look twice at that, but it is incredible how they can do that. Watch how he starts with his head and runs the shiver perfectly down his body, all the way to his tail. Could you imagine having that amount of control over your muscles?
– 12:34 It kind of looks like he got the fly there, but there were probably more. The fighting never ends . . .
– 12:53 Instead of wasting effort, he does something interesting. We put bug spray on objects all over the enclosure for them to scent roll in to solve their bug problem. I did not capture it, but Shae (the wolf on the ground) was scent rolling in the plants behind her prior to this video. Shaggydog notices she has some on her and starts to rub on her to get it on himself, before finally switching over to the plants at 13:08
Zeus, Scent rolling (13:11 to 14:10):
Scent rolling has many applications in wild canines. Sometimes it is to erase their own scent or take on the scent of a prey item for hunting purposes, or sometimes they like a scent and instead of shoving their face in it, they coat themselves on it to parade around and show it off. This video is of the latter with Zeus; easily the most enthusiastic scent roller I have seen. I loaded the ground with bug spray right before this and he could not get enough of it.
Nakota and Silva, Silva Scent Rubbing (14:11 to 14:32)
Of course, scent rolling and scent rubbing are different, as well. Scent rubbing, like we saw in Ghost, is more to enjoy a scent than to apply it to themselves. Silva here, who also has 3 legs, has a scent she finds enticing on her forearm. Before you start questioning if we take a leg off of all the animals at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, Shaggydog and Silva are the only two. Shaggydog lost a leg to something called Valley Fever, while Silva’s was removed from the wolf breeder she was rescued from to hide the fact that she had a clubbed foot. Moving along, instead of sniffing the scent like you would expect, she instead uses her entire muzzle to enjoy it more.
At the end there at 14:30, you see Nakota running around with food in his mouth. In the wild, wolves will show off their kills to the rest of the pack. Dogs will even do this from time to time with their bones. I am sure you dog owners have given your dog a bone, only for them to bury it or hide it away, and then bring it back to you a few days later to display it like a trophy.
Jaeger and Luna, Luna Food Display (14:33 to 15:00):
– 14:35.47 This is just a small glimpse, but hopefully you catch it. Jaeger here is enjoying a nice meaty bone, while Luna approaches from the side. Jaeger flashes her his teeth, and then licks them (less of a warning and more of a urgent request). So, he is saying, “This is mine and I want to keep it.”
– 14:41 Luna responds with a dominant raise of the tail, which persists until Jaeger leaves to go do something else (investigating a plant). Meaning she did not appreciate his sass and issued a command to give it to her. Women, am I right, Jaeger?
– 14:53 That right there is a victory dance and a food display to celebrate her victory. Go Feminism!
Zari, Feeding and Human-Wolf Interactions (15:01 to 16:14):
Zari is a funny one. Zari is a princess, primadonna type. She likes thing in a very particular way and she has little patience when it comes to things she wants. Her tail was actually bitten off by another wolf, so some behaviours are difficult to read with her. However, I think her pawing and “happy dance” says it all here. She has very strange mannerisms, but they made her extremely entertaining to watch, especially with her caretaker, Mo. You remember Mo; also the caretaker for Romeo the red fox and, well, prone to making odd decisions. Mo was like the comic relief at the sanctuary.
– 15:10 Dog owners have probably all witnessed this behaviour before. Pawing is a begging behaviour, where an individual will point out or touch what they really want. The happy dance is just eagerness, of course. Mo insists on hand feeding her through the fence instead of leaving her with the bowl to eat at her own pace, but I think she secretly likes being served her meal like royalty.
– 16:08 What do I even say about this? First and foremost, that was stupid. She was not trying to harm Mo, but common sense would dictate she would mistake a finger for food if it was presented to her while she was anticipating more food. Unfortunately, Mo never had much common sense. The myth that dogs are colour blind is only partially true. They see in wavelengths of blues and greens. Anything outside that range just blurs together, so a finger and meat are the same colour to them.
– 16:13 Now this is hilarious. Zari now realized there is no more food and feels a bit taunted. I love how she makes direct eye contact with Mo and pees right there on the spot, as if to say, “Who’s the bitch now?”
Singing Trio, Crystal Defending the Omega (16:14 to 16:46):
These little guys are called New Guinea singing dogs. They are a very rare wild canine that is a descendant of the Australian dingo. They were later domesticated to make the Shiba Inu. The woman here is Crystal, the Assistant Director of Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary and the person I learned most, if not all of what I know about canine behaviour from.
– 16:15 Princess, the one on the right behind Crystal, is the Omega. In packs, the Omega always goes last in every activity. Eating, social interactions and in this case, petting. Crystal is giving Princess a lot more attention than the other pack members, so Reeba, on the left, is trying to get to her to submit her to the order. However, Crystal keeps her isolated and protects her.
– 16:20 Crystal picks up on this quickly, based on Reeba’s eye contact and movements, as well as Princess’ submissive ear posture (or perhaps joy from being pet and receiving attention). In return, Crystal tries to make Reeba submit instead to show her that she is the one making the decisions. She does this by hovering over her. This is a very dominant thing to, as posture is important in canine communication. That is why the Alpha will always appear stern and tall when submitting lower ranking members, while those members often drop to their back or lower their heads/bodies to leave them vulnerable.
– 16:21 Reeba, as an Alpha, gives a little alarm howl when Crystal tries to submit her. It is kind of an aggressive vocal communication, similar to yelling in humans. She even attempts a little nip at Crystal at 16:23.
– 16:34 A little bit of affectionate kisses there. I am not sure if that was a huff, or a sneeze. A huff may mean she is still a bit angry from Crystal trying to submit her, but it could have easily just been a sneeze from something in Crystal’s hair.
– 16:28 The other fellow here is Bono. Yes, we named a singing dog Bono. That retreat right there was not out of fear, but was in response to the howling around the sanctuary. The topic must have been something that concerned him.
That is another interesting thing. Different canine species appear to understand each other’s vocal communications. In group howls, they all participate, and when one species starts a howl, all species will pass it along. At 16:32.50 to 16:33.50, if you listen carefully, you can hear Bono in the background “howling” as well. Except a New Guinea singing dog howl sounds more like someone gargling water, or a Spanish roll of the tongue. Those were terrible similes, but you heard the noise, so, you get it. The other howl in the sanctuary to pay attention to is at 16:37. That is what a wolf’s alarm howl sounds like. It reflects agitation, discomfort or negative feelings and is meant as a warning to whomever it is directed at.
Dustypup and Gypsy, Other Forms of Communication (16:47 to 17:05):
Okay, first thing to note is that these two are dogs. Almost everything I have said before does not apply to them. A raised tail in your dog does not mean they are being dominant, a wagging tail is not aggression, etc. Dustypup (Husky) and Gypsy (Malamute) are still feral dogs, though, so they do not socialize well with people.
– 16:56 What I wanted you to take away from this clip is that sometimes communication is not about vocalization, or visual cues, but can be as simple as eye contact relative to a situation. Dustypup and Gypsy have a relationship where neither is dominant and neither is submissive. This removes the need to show any of those signs when making a request. Here you see Gypsy walk forward, turn and just make eye contact with Dustypup. The moment Dustypup notices, he follows her without hesitation. Gypsy asked him to come with her and he agreed, both without the necessity to form a hierarchy. THIS is how wolves and dogs differ in the most fundamental way. Dogs have been selectively bred to obey and be submissive.
Argo and Cheyenne, Play date or Fight to the Death? (17:06 to 17:50):
Play date. I am not trying to trick you. Obviously just a play date.
– 17:06 Can you guess why they are hippity hopping? If you guessed dominance, that is correct. Most interactions are a matter of dominance, even in play. Kind of like how games like Monopoly or Mario Party are designed to ensure that competitive behaviour will not be absent. Cheyenne (the white one), is trying to submit Argo (the gray one) by literally being above him. This is why at 17:09, she even succeeds in getting her head on top of him and pressing his head down.
– 17:19 Aside from the more obvious tail positions that I have beaten to death in this post, this one is probably the most interesting. It is not so much the position, but what Cheyenne is trying to say by having her tail on Argo’s back. “I am still above you!”
– 17:35 Cheyenne is a bit of a baby, by the way, and a sore loser. As soon as Argo won and got her by the nape, something Cheyenne did many times to Argo in this clip, she gave a little pain yelp to get him off. I often compared Cheyenne to a soccer player. She will take the pain when she is winning, but if she starts to lose, better drop to the ground from a tap like your advisory close-lined your ass.
– 17:41 Not much to say here. As soon as Cheyenne cried wolf . . . HAH . . . She pretended to be distracted/interested in something else: me. Friendly sniffs, licks and investigating behaviour until the end of the clip.
Lucian, The Face of Love (17:50 to 18:13):
Lucian is one of our most high-maintenance animals. Not dangerous, but unpredictable. That being said, he is very lovey when he wants to be. In this clip of him interacting with his caretaker, Sumitra, you can see his ears go back and tail become erect 17:53 because she is asking for affection.
– 18:04 Aptly named header, am I right? Eye contact and posture say it all, “That’s the spot.”
– 18:11 Even after his itch was satisfied, his ears stayed down and he gave a little flick of the tongue. In the wolf world, that is a thank you.
Argo, Argo’s Tube Time (18:14 to 18:54):
Here is Argo again, sitting in his tub that is usually filled with water. However, he was getting in the habit of peeing in the water, and then splashing the water on the caretaker, so that had to stop. It seems because he always associates the tub with cleaning himself, when he stopped putting water in, he still climbed in the tub to clean himself with his tongue. I felt bad for him, so I filled up his tub at 18:44. Notice what he does with his tail? As he leaves he has his tail straight outward. I am not sure why, but it was likely directed to whatever was holding his attention as he got out. Probably Cheyenne doing something he did not want her doing.
Dakota, Dakota the Omnivore? (18:55 to 19:35):
Yeah, no. Wolves will typically only eat plants to fill a gap in their diet–acquire a mineral or nutrient they are not getting in their prey. It is definitely a taste they are not accustomed to, considering all of the times Dakota here tried to get the taste out of his mouth. Also, when he licks his muzzle like that at 19:21, it is likely in response to the pollen. He was nibbling on ragweed, a very pollen heavy plant. The smell was probably intoxicating on his muzzle.
Zeus, First Feeding (19:36 to 20:19):
Zeus arrived while I was working at the sanctuary. Due to this, he was not comfortable in his enclosure, being around too many people, or even around the other wolves. This is the first of four feeding clips to show his progression. In fact, this was the first time I fed him. What you should pay attention to is his right ear and tail position. Tail is down and to the right–he likes the food–though he has never tried it before, it has him interesting. The right ear never leaves my position. Watch as he turns his head to munch on the food and use his carnassials, the ear rotates to ensure it is always pointed at me. In other words, he was not nervous, but he wanted to make sure he was never vulnerable.
Zeus, First Sub-Enclosure Feeding (20:20 to 21:03):
Training a wolf to be comfortable in a sub-enclosure is incredibly difficult, but a necessary evil. To transport these individuals, they must be trained to be able to go into the sub-enclosure so we do not have to resort to a capture. However, a wolf will not willingly enter a tight area they can be trapped in. It goes against their very nature; they always need an exit strategy. To make Zeus comfortable, I had to start feeding him inside this area as motivation to come inside.
– 20:29 Tail position is down and to the right. He is interested in the food and makes a fairly quick approach after analyzing the situation, focusing on the door to make sure he can get the food without it closing. When he knows he can do this successfully, there is almost no hesitation.
– 20:57 I now switch to the side with the door to show him I will not make any effort to close it. He is a lot slower in the approach this time and stretches out his entire body to reach the food without even giving me the opportunity to trap him. Smart boy.
Zeus, Second Sub-Enclosure Feeding (21:04 to 21:36):
This is the next day. He has already caught on to how to get the food, so I moved the food further into the sub-enclosure to make him enter.
– 21:10 Zeus waits very impatiently for me to leave the vicinity of the door before entering.
– 21:22 Now as he starts getting to the further pieces, he positions himself in a way where he can keep his eyes on me and block the door
– 21:30 I am still off camera, but I moved a couple feet closer to the food for this last piece, which is quite far in the back of the sub-enclosure. His hesitation increases a lot; you can see the careful footing when entering to always ensure he can get in and out quickly.
Zeus, Final Sub-Enclosure Feeding (21:37 to 22:10):
This video was recorded on my final day at the sanctuary after being his caretaker for a month. You will be happy to hear Zeus was leash-trained in this time and is perfectly comfortable in the sub-enclosure. Do you see the contrast in behaviour?
– 21:42 Zeus is no longer concerned with me being near the door. In fact, he does not even mind if I stand over him in what would be considered a dominant posture. His tail posture no longer suggest the food in new or interesting, so his motivation is no longer taste, but necessity. The time interval for him to get the food is greatly reduced and he does not keep his eyes or ears on me, or even the door. This is all with the food now being as far back in the sub-enclosure as it can be.
– 21:49 I can sit even a foot away from the food and it will not affect his approach. He even takes the time to explore the other farther pieces before taking one. This is the only time his tail indicates curiosity.
– 22:07 This time when I lean forward and show place my arms in this position, he does look my way and exhibit similar behaviours as the previous feedings (low head for nervousness, eyes on me and arced body to protect the door), but it was for the piece in the very back corner of the sub-enclosure. : ]
Well, that is all, folks. Hopefully you learned a thing or two about wolf behaviour, though I doubt any of you (save for Dezene) bothered to read all of this. My reference for all of this behaviour is Crystal, the Assistant Director, but I can attach a document that lists all of these behaviours.
Thanks for reading.