Most wolf and/or wolf hybrid pet owners do not realize the potential dangers of having such animals as pets. Most of them assume that keeping or training them from their young age is enough to make them domestic as the normal dogs.
The aim of this article, inspired by Dr. Karen Becker, is to make wolf or wolf hybrid lovers aware that there might be a safety issue related to keeping such as a pet.
A wolf and a dog have very similar features and maybe that is why people tend to assume that as much as a dog can be domesticated so would a wolf. This is a dangerous assumption because one must also be aware that genetically they are not similar despite the looks. The behavior of wolves is wild, it is instinctive, it is a natural trait in them. Or one may say they are wired that way from very early age. Their social coping mechanisms or the way they grow to interact with the environment is very different from that of a dog.
One reason why it is dangerous to assume wolves and domestic dogs are similar is how their “sensories” develop at their early age. These sensory systems, e.g. smell, sight, sound, etc start to develop within 4 weeks. A study was conducted by a biologist Kathryn Lord of the University of Massachusetts Amherst to find the differences of early socialization development in a young wolf and puppy.
Wolves And Dogs Differ In Socialization Habits At 2 to 4 Weeks
The study showed that wolf pups develop more of their sensory capabilities than canine puppies in the same time period of 2 to 4 weeks. The study was conducted on wolf and canine puppies from 2 to 7 weeks from birth. It was discovered that in 6 six weeks both groups fully developed their sense of smell, sound, sight and could walk. The sense of smell developed by the second week, hearing developed by the fourth week while the sight developed by the sixth week in both groups. All these developed at the same time except for the ability to walk.
The wolf pups started walking in 2 weeks while they could only smell while the canine puppies started walking after 4 weeks when they could smell and hear. It is this realization that explains the difference in behavior of wolves and dogs. Full development for wolf pups occurred within 6 weeks while for canine pups occurred 2 weeks after. Therefore the wolves develop more senses in the critical period of socialization than dogs because they can walk in the first 2 weeks and thus develop more “sensory” experiences from their environment earlier than the dogs. This has a huge impact on the behavior of both groups of animals.
Here is why the ability of the wolf pups to walk earlier than the dog puppies has so much bearing in their behavior – at 2 weeks old both groups were oblivious of their environment however the dog puppies could only move enough to nurse while their counterparts had a more significant advantage! They could stand, walk, climb and explore their environment and more importantly, in the process they are subjected to different stimuli and thus create a knowledge base and develop more senses. The advantage the dog puppies don’t have at this stage.
The biologist Kathryn Lord explains it this way – “When wolf pups first start to hear, they are frightened of the new sounds initially, and when they first start to see they are also initially afraid of new visual stimuli. As each sense engages, wolf pups experience a new round of sensory shocks that dog puppies do not.” Clearly the ability to walk gives the wolf pups more chance to develop more “sensory” experiences than the dog puppies.
Such stimuli will “help” the wolf pups to experience fear and to learn to live in fear, a necessary element for their survival in the wild. However this would be a disadvantage to the pet or wolf lover! It is a disadvantage in that it is very likely that the young wolf would be already in a “fearing mode” by the time maybe it gets trained to be domestic.
To alleviate the problem it is necessary to have the wolf pup experience human touch and smell between 2-4 weeks. If it gets treated like a dog puppy which normally experiences the human touch and smell at 4-8 weeks, then it would be too late. It is already wild because it is during the socialization period that each species has the ability to form attachments to other species, in particular humans.
As Kathryn Lord puts it – “The data help to explain why, if you want to socialize a dog with a human or a horse, all you need is 90 minutes to introduce them between the ages of four and eight weeks. After that, a dog will not be afraid of humans or whatever else you introduced. Of course, to build a real relationship takes more time. But with a wolf pup, achieving even close to the same fear reduction requires 24-hour contact starting before age three weeks, and even then you won’t get the same attachment or lack of fear.”
In conclusion, it is not a good idea to have a wolf or wolf hybrid as a pet because it is unpredictable in behavior and may attack anything that it develops fear from. The study has shown that with the wolf pup’s critical socialization period it develops fear early on and in that time that it should be familiarized with human touch and smell to develop friendly attachment towards humans. But since most people assume it is the same as a dog the familiarization is introduced in 4 to 8 weeks. But by that time the wolf pup would already be almost past its socialization period. And continues to feel fear towards humans making it dangerous to be kept as a pet!
A wolf pet or wolf hybrid pet comes with great responsibility and if one feels strongly about keeping it as a pet must apply due diligence. Find out how it was raised and by who. Understanding behavior of different species plays a critical part in trying to domesticate animals to make them pets. There are cases where dogs can also be aggressive and attain pack mentality as wolves. Therefore caution and due diligence must be applied when keeping pets, especially wolf or wolf-hybrid pet.
Taylor Ohman, Staff Veterinarian, Gulport Veterinarian, An Animal Hospital in Gulfport, FL 33707, 1.727.384.4413