Wolves and Wolfdogs: Social Testing & Predation

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Wolves and Wolfdogs: Social Testing & Predation

Post by Blightwolf » Fri Jul 30, 2010 1:53 pm

Notification To Visitor: Following the series of my previous topics exploring wolf/wolfdog/human relations - All About Wolfdogs: Info & Guide and Canine Identification: Wolves, Dogs & Wolfdogs - Wolves and Wolfdogs: Social Testing & Predation serves as an additional project to provide an extensive overview about the most common "problematic" behaviors expressed by wolves and wolfdogs - social testing and predation. These behaviors cannot be interpreted as "behavioral issues" or "misbehavior", for they are natural ways for wolves and wolfdogs to decode their own communication and manners of social interaction, but in situations where social testing and predation is displayed by wolves and wolfdogs in human company and presence, these particular demeanors can form outbreaks of dominance and aggression, both of being potentially hazardous to human life and health.

This topic's purpose is to decipher social testing and predation in an educational fashion, to explain the causes and reasons as of when and why they occur in the first place, and what can be done on humans' behalves to avoid and crop out the behaviors before they present themselves during wolf/human encounters.

Disclaimer: Just like the other two threads, this topic also adheres, promotes and supports responsible wolf and hybrid ownership only.

Neither WolfQuest nor the creator of this thread (Blightwolf) endorse or encourage buying, importing, exporting, selling, raising, breeding, or owning wolves or wolfdogs.

Social Testing

What does social testing mean?

Wolves are social hunters that live in cohesive family units known as packs. Due to hierarchies which slightly differ from the similar, functioning pack establishments created in the wild, captive wolves can also be categorized as "social opportunists", meaning that they actively test each other for superiority and dominance - juvenile wolves particularly are keen to take advantage of any situation which might enable them to become dominant over another pack member.

Social testing is one of the qualities in domestic dogs inherited from the wild ancestors which humans have modified significantly. Dogs rarely challenge their owners' authority or try to dominate them once they have accepted the owner's status as the "pack leader" or the member which represents the highest, maximum dominance within the "pack". With a wolf, that position, no matter how concrete, may still be up for debate. A hybrid is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes - wolfdogs are more probable to challenge their owners during specific periods, such as mating season, and adolescence.

In contrast to many misconceptions, adult wolfdogs do not frequently compete for dominance with their handlers - young hybrids, however, are actively pursuing to receive a better "social rank" and position in the pack's hierarchy. Social testing is not as evident in low and midrange hybrids as it is in high contents, which are technically wolves. It is important to suppress social testing through proper training - it can develop into dominant aggression.
Encouraging wolfdogs to exhibit powerful social testing is a strictly dangerous and risky maneuver and is strongly discouraged.

When and why does social testing occur?

Houseraised wolves and high content wolfdogs are open for the chance to thwart a dominant pack member from its position, including a human, however, social testing generally occurs under certain circumstances such as:

1. The animal is maturing hormonally and is testing and achieving dominance over other canine pack members
2. The animal is fence-fighting with a non-pack member and, already highly aroused, redirects aggression on a person in the enclosure
3. The animal has a history of aggression and has learned to challenge people
4. The animal becomes overstimulated during an excited greeting and "boils over" to an aggressive state
5. The animal is kept in an inadequately small pen leading to boredom and excitability, and/or is not worked with, socialized and trained adequately
6. The owner trips and falls and is suddenly and conspicuously vulnerable
7. The owner develops a fear of the animal and acts conspicuously vulnerable or afraid
8. The owner rewards aggression in the animal or allows aggressive behaviors to continue unabated
9. The owner fails to understand and compensate for seasonal aggression; this is especially common for males (of both species)
10. The owner triggers a critical reaction by trying to force the animal to do something, or puts the animal into a situation where the animal becomes defensive

Wolves and high content hybrids should be taught to greet visitors in a controlled manner - overexcitement upon greeting, such as tripping over the guest and performing a salute which involves nuzzling, shoving and scratching the visitor when they are on the ground, may lead to considerable aggression and teach the wolf very bad habits.

Wolves and hybrids often display aggravated, dominant and anxious behavior during winter months - hormonal activity when mating season arrives arises the core of competitive and dominant instincts in wolves thus making them more socially "aggressive" and therefore more prone for overstimulated social testing which can evolve into a possibly hazardous behavior towards human contacts. Many captive wolves and high content wolfdogs become aggressive and challenging as mating season makes the wolves' hormones perform backflips.

It has been observed that if hormonal activity is removed or reduced through neutering, wolves and hybrids become less agitated and remain in a far more docile and manageable state during mating season. Based on this reason, neutering is recommended for both privately owned wolves and high content wolf mixes.

Can social testing be viewed as a form of play?

Social testing is perceived by many owners, handlers and breeders as "play", however, playful behavior is clearly distinct from social testing. Social testing should not be allowed nor it should be mistaken as harmless play. A wolf's body language changes drastically in the process of testing the dominance of its social subject (human) - they can raise their tails, stand tall and tower over the subject, nibble the subject's skin or clothes, and claw or scratch the subject. When wolves are testing each other, they perform such actions as jaw-sparring ("fencing" with their jaws wide open), ride-ups (jumping or climbing on the shoulders or back of another wolf, trying to pin it down) and paw smacks (batting the other wolf's face and muzzle using front paws).


What is predation and how wolves express it?

Predation is another word used to describe wolves' hunting and predatory behavior. Wolves express predation when they spot or notice something which's movement, scent or appearance reminds them of available prey items - risk groups that can be fixed as the targets of wolves' and hybrids' predation include young children (kids, by being mobile, small-sized and loud, trigger prey drive and hunting instincts in wolves because they appear vulnerable and prey-like) and small domestic animals, such as cats, rodents and birds. Wolves also exhibit predation towards livestock (cattle, sheep) and farm animals (pigs, horses, goats).

When confronted by a prey item, wolves stare at it intensively, using a very solemn gaze, their bodies might "freeze" momentarily, their ears are in alert position, they bow, lay low against the ground, flatten their ears, raise their tails and stalk and chase their prey. They do not growl or bristle their hackles, for these are social actions and are not directed towards prey animals/items/objects during hunting.

Wolves can also use predatory behaviors on humans. When predatory behavior is displayed in the company of a child or children, it is most likely active hunting behavior, for children resemble prey, but when a wolf confronts an adult human in a predatory way, humans have not corresponded to the warning signal a wolf has given to them, causing the wolf to search for an opening to run in and bite. In these cases, humans have failed to interpret the wolf's behavior correctly, have done something to upset or frighten the animal, or are smelling or appearing like prey.

Why wolves connect children to predation?

Generally speaking, it is not a safe idea to have children in a close proximity to wolves, or keep wolves in the presence of children. Only a handful of wolves and hybrids are "tame" enough to be exposed to a child, but only under very controlled and closely monitored situations and circumstances.

Children are constantly moving, they are small in size and make moaning and whining noises - the same noises as a prey animal in distress would make. Not all wolves, exclusively the ones which have been extremely intensively socialized and trained to tolerate children in a non-predatory way, view children as prey, but most wolves see them as vulnerable and weak, prey-like items.

Wolves, in some extreme and rare cases, can regard children as releasers for the care-giving behavior shown to puppies. But even if it would seem like that a wolf would completely accept a child and treat it as an innocent pup, it can very quickly change its mind and decide that a child is prey after all.

The safest way for child/wolf interaction and to prevent direct contact due to the fact that most wolves treat kids as prey, is to have a physical barrier (a fence) between a child and a wolf. If a wolf is presented in a child's company, the situation has to be watched over by several responsible adults, including the wolf's handler/owner, and the wolf should be leashed during the encounter.

For further reading and information, visit:

Wolf Ownership: A Great Responsibility

Canine Identification: Wolves, Dogs & Wolfdogs
Last edited by Blightwolf on Sat Jul 31, 2010 3:45 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Wolves and Wolfdogs: Social Testing & Predation

Post by wq47 HawkTail » Fri Jul 30, 2010 2:51 pm

Thank you for the information, Blightwolf.
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Re: Wolves and Wolfdogs: Social Testing & Predation

Post by Blightwolf » Sat Jul 31, 2010 9:33 am

Some, or most people probably are not aware of these behaviors exhibited by wolves and wolfdogs, so hopefully this topic will educate people a little bit more about the lupine behavior. ;)

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Re: Wolves and Wolfdogs: Social Testing & Predation

Post by Whippersnapper » Wed Aug 04, 2010 11:48 am

I wish my aunt's neighbors would read this.

Whenever she takes her wolf hybrid to the park down the road from her house, he often attempts to 'Mount' other dogs. She has tried to tell the owners of the dog that her hybrid is only expressing a show of dominace (Wouldn't it obvious when the wolf hybrid does it to the same gender?) but I suppose the hybrid doing so during mating season dosent help.

Thank you for posting this; it explained quite a bit.

My original voice is thrown
Why won't the voices let me speak for my own?
On the outside I'm grinning like a Cheshire Cat
But on the inside I'm being tormented like a traumatized rat

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