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   By Christina Ann Merkl

Wolf Education Program Coordinator 

           As humans many of us think of communicating only in the sense of talking or writing to each other, but how do wolves “converse” with each other?  Even though they cannot talk or write in the sense that we do, wolves communicate in several effective ways.      

wolf com 2      Wolves use what we call “body language” to convey the rules of the pack, which is very organized. The first rule says that the pack is made up of leaders and followers (sound familiar?) the pack leaders are the male parent and the female parent – usually the father and mother of the other pack members. They are likely to be the oldest, strongest, largest and most intelligent wolves of the pack. They are known as the “Alpha” wolves or the “breeding pair” of the pack and are usually the only members of the pack to produce pups.        

    Any wolf can become an Alpha/Breeding Wolf. However, to do so, it must first find an unoccupied territory and a member of the opposite sex with which to mate. Or, more rarely, it moves into a pack with a missing alpha and takes its place, or perhaps kills another alpha and usurps its mate        

    The alpha male and female are dominant or in charge of the pack. To communicate this dominance, the lead pair carries their tails high and stand tall. Less dominant wolves exhibit submissive behavior by holding their tails down and often lower their bodies while pawing at the higher ranking wolves             There are two levels of submissive behavior: active and passive. Active submission is a contact activity in which signs of inferiority are evident such as crouching, muzzle licking and tail tucking. The behaviors typical of active submission are first used by pups to elicit regurgitation in adults. These behaviors are retained into adulthood by the subordinate wolves, where they function as a gesture of intimacy and the acceptance of the differentiation of the roles that are involved          

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  Passive submission is shown when a subordinate wolf lays on its back or side, thus exposing the vulnerable ventral side of its chest and abdomen to the more dominant wolf. The subordinate wolf may also abduct its rear leg to allow for anogenital inspection by the dominant wolf. If two wolves have a disagreement, they may show their teeth and growl at each other. Both wolves try to look as fierce as they can. Usually the less dominant wolf, the subordinate one, gives up before the fight begins. To show that it accepts the other wolf’s authority, it rolls over on its back.         

   Reactions to this behavior may range from tolerance (the dominant wolf standing over the submissive wolf) to mortal attack, particularly in the case of a trespassing wolf. Following the dominance rules usually keeps the wolves in a pack from fighting amongst themselves and hurting each other          

  Wolves convey much with their bodies as well. If they are angry, they will stick their ears straight up and bare their teeth. A wolf who is suspicious of something will pull its ears back and squints. Fear is often shown by flattening the ears against the head. Where a wolf who wants to play, dances and bows gracefully (called the play bow)            

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Wolves also have a very good sense of smell, about 100 times better than humans. They use this sense also, for communication in a variety of ways. Wolves mark their territories with urine and scats, a behavior called scent marking. When wolves from outside the pack smell these scents, they know that the area is already occupied. It is likely that pack members can recognize the identity of a pack mate by its urine, which is useful when entering a new territory or when pack members become separated. Dominant animals may scent mark through urination every two minutes        

index    Wolves will also use urine to scent mark food cashes that have been exhausted. By marking an empty cache, the animal will not waste time digging for food that isn’t there         

   Wolves use their sense of smell to communicate through chemical messages. These chemical messages between members of the same species are known as “pheromones”. Sources of pheromones in wolves include glands on the toes, rail, eyes, anus, genetalia and skin. For example: a male is able to identify a female in estrus by compounds (pheromones) present in her urine and copulation will only be attempted during this time.     

wolf com       Of course, their sense of smell also tells them when food or enemies are near.           

    Have you ever heard a wolf howl? They’re not howling at the moon they are communicating. They call any time of day, but they are most easily heard in the evening when the wind dies sown and wolves are most active. Wolves’ vocalizations can be separated into 4 categories: Barking, whimpering, growling and howling. Sounds created by the wolf may actually be a combination of sounds such as a bark-howl or growl-bark        

    Barking is also used as a warning. A mother may bark to her pups when she senses danger, or a bark or bark howl may be used to show aggression in defense of pack or territory          

  Whimpering may be used by a mother to indicate her willingness to nurse her young. It is also used to indicate “I give Up” if they are in a submissive position and another wolf is dominating them     

       Growling is used as a warning. A wolf may growl at intruding wolves or predators, or to indicate dominance         

wolf com 5   Howling is the one form of communication used by wolves that is intended for long distance. A defensive howl is used to keep the pack together and strangers away, to stand their ground and protect young pups that cannot yet travel from danger, and to protect kill sites. A social howl is used to locate one another, rally together and possibly just for fun          

  Can you think of ways that we communicate without using words?                                                                        

                               HOW DO WOLVES SAY “HELLO”?           

            Have you seen dogs greet their owners, bark at strangers or roll over when another dog approaches? Then you already know something about how wolves communicate. WOLVES USE 3 DIFFERENT LANGUAGES

1.     SOUND – howls, barks, whimpers and growls

2.     SPECIAL SCENTS – Scat, Urine and pheromones

3.    BODY LANGUAGE – body positions and movements and facial expressions.                                             

Wolf Communication 1