Some dog lovers assume that they can keep wolfs or cross them with dogs to keep them as pets for as long as they train them from young age. However this is a potentially dangerous assumption because wolves are not genetically sociable as dogs.
This is not an obvious fact since in most respects wolves look physically the same as dogs and also have behavioral similarities that may make one believe that they can be kept as pets for as long as they have been trained. Dr. Karen Becker wrote an article (March 27, 2013) regarding this and below are a few points worth noting from the article.
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. Wolfs are behaviorally 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.
The Different Socialization Patterns Of Wolf And Canine Pups
In this study it was discovered that wolf pups socialization time frame was from 2-6 weeks of age and the canine pups from 4-8 weeks of age. The study was conducted on infant wolves and dogs from 2 to 7 weeks. Both groups were exposed and living under similar environment of sound, smell and scenery. The wolf pups were found to develop their socialization coping mechanisms faster than the canine pups and not only that they started walking 2 weeks before the dog puppies could. It is this difference that explains why wolves would behave differently as compared to dogs.
The wolves start to experience and socialize with their environment very early on, which is a skill they nurture and grow for their survival instincts. Further they develop more within the the critical four week period needed for socialization as compared to dogs. However both groups were also found to develop their ability to smell, hear and see at 2 weeks, 4 weeks and 6 weeks of age, respectively. The major difference is the wolf pups started their critical period of socialization at two weeks by being able walk (and smell). Dog puppies could only smell and not walk.
Though it may not seem obvious why the ability to walk has a huge bearing on the difference in behavior of these species, it is important to realize that walking adds another dimension of learning and acclimatization. And also this happens well within the critical four week period needed for socialization while the dog puppies develop this ability late in the period. The wolf pups were, very early in their infant lives, exposed to numerous stimuli to make more sense of their environment and thereby develop a skill to understand their surroundings from limited senses, i.e. they could only smell at the time! An opportunity that the dog puppies did not have however they could only move enough to nurse!
As Kathryn Lord puts it “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.” Notice that this means the wolf pups get to have additional “sensory” experiences that dog puppies don’t experience with that critical 4-week socialization period.
When we say an animal is wild we mean it attacks sometimes without explanation or is unfriendly and dangerous, in other words it is not tamable. It normally reacts this way because of fear towards something it has not formed attachment to. This fear, in the case of the wolf pups, develops in their first 2 to 4 weeks as they get exposed to different stimuli like smell, touch, sound, etc. It is also in this period, the socialization period, that it has the ability to form attachment to other species. Therefore this is the perfect time to introduce human touch and smell if the intention is to try to tame it. For canine puppies, it is within 4 to 8 weeks which when a wolf is assumed to be the same as a dog, it is too late to introduce the human touch and smell. It is past its attachment phase!
Kathryn Lord, the evolutionary biologist who conducted the study, says “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.”
It is not advisable to have a wolf or wolf hybrid as a pet. Though there is undeniable similar genetic make-up between a wolf and a dog, humans have made assumptions about the wolf’s maturation process and think is similar to a dog’s. It is this assumption that makes making a wolf or its hybrid dangerous because the study as explained above shows that a wolf and a dog mature differently in the critical 4-week period needed for socialization. The wolf develops faster than a dog and by the time the dog is ready to be familiarized with a human for socialization a wolf would have passed that stage and having developed fear towards a human. And as we know animals attack when in fear!
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.
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