Saturday, October 21, 2017

Call Of The Wild: What Makes Dogs and Wolves Different

I love dogs. I am a dog person. I love the idea of wolves. I love wolf iconography, whether it be the rock band Los Lobos, the blues giant Howlin Wolf, Stephen King's fiercely protective if somewhat dim character Wolf in The Talisman, or George R.R. Martin's Stark sigils and loyal direwolves. However it's not that easy to be a wolf person because wolves do not like or trust people. They are after all wild animals. They are not designed to be around people. Although the wolf's danger to humans and cattle is often overstated, it's usually a bad idea to raise a wolf or even a wolf-dog hybrid in your home. Wolves are predators. Wolves are more intelligent than dogs, stronger and more aggressive. Wolves are skittish and unpredictable around humans.

Dogs and wolves share so many characteristics that they are usually considered to be the same species. Humans have had dogs as pets and working animals for at least 14,000 years. Dogs are the first animal that humans domesticated. Did humans change some of the more docile wolves into dogs over time? Or are dogs and wolves descended from some extinct common ancestor? Dogs need time to learn the rules of being a dog before they are ready to leave their mother. How does this work for wolves? What makes an animal shy, skittish and potentially dangerous? Is it nature or nurture? Are the canid genes associated with fear or introversion the same as those in humans? Watch the video below the fold to get some answers to these questions.

NICOLET, Quebec — I’m sitting in an outdoor pen with four puppies chewing my fingers, biting my hat and hair, peeing all over me in their excitement. At eight weeks old, they are two feet from nose to tail and must weigh seven or eight pounds. They growl and snap over possession of a much-chewed piece of deer skin. They lick my face like I’m a long-lost friend, or a newfound toy. They are just like dogs, but not quite. They are wolves. When they are full-grown at around 100 pounds, their jaws will be strong enough to crack moose bones.

But because these wolves have been around humans since they were blind, deaf and unable to stand, they will still allow people to be near them, to do veterinary exams, to scratch them behind the ears — if all goes well. Yet even the humans who raised them must take precautions. If one of the people who has bottle-fed and mothered the wolves practically since birth is injured or feels sick, she won’t enter their pen to prevent a predatory reaction.

No one will run to make one of these wolves chase him for fun. No one will pretend to chase the wolf. Every experienced wolf caretaker will stay alert. Because if there’s one thing all wolf and dog specialists I’ve talked to over the years agree on, it is this: No matter how you raise a wolf, you can’t turn it into a dog. As close as wolf and dog are — some scientists classify them as the same species — there are differences. Physically, wolves’ jaws are more powerful. They breed only once a year, not twice, as dogs do. And behaviorally, wolf handlers say, their predatory instincts are easily triggered compared to those of dogs. They are more independent and possessive of food or other items. Much research suggests they take more care of their young. And they never get close to that Labrador retriever “I-love-all-humans” level of friendliness. As much as popular dog trainers and pet food makers promote the inner wolf in our dogs, they are not the same.

I wanted to have some firsthand experience of the animals I write about, to look wolves in the eye, so to speak. But only metaphorically. As I was emphatically told in a training session before going into an enclosure with adult wolves, the one thing you definitely do not do is look them in the eye.


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