."If you talk to animals,
they will talk with you 
and you will know each other. 

If you do not talk to them,
 you will not know them, 
and what you do not know
you will fear. 

What one fears,
one destroys."

Chief Dan George



Our focus is on the ethical and responsible ownership of wolfdogs; therefore this site deals primarily with wolfdogs. However, the information on this page is NOT limited to wolfdogs, but can and should be applied to all canids. Knowledge of canid behavior and responsibility are a must in the ownership of all canines.

This page does NOT comprehensively cover all aspects of canid behavior. Rather, it provides a little bit of information about many different aspects of behavior. If you see something that should be elaborated upon or that may be better clarified, please e-mail me at Gwragedd Annwn.

Wolfdogs need more care and attention than many other dogs as they are much more social animals. This page is dedicated to making your raising and understanding of a wolfdog easier. Pure wolves have an average life span of 16-20 years. Wolfdogs should have a life span of 12-18 years approximately. They are generally one-owner animals and are hard to place in another home; therefore, if for any reason you cannot keep an animal for this long, you should not get a wd.

Reading & Understanding Canids

Many of the behavior traits and body movements or positionings can be applied universally to all canids. The problems many may encounter when reading a canid are when the specific breed has been genetically or surgically altered to such an extent that the animal can no longer communicate through traditional methods: ear positioning, tail positioning, , raised hackles, etc.  For example, the ears may be too long to stand, or the tail may have been cropped, or the coat may be so short that it fails to indicate that hackles are up--all of which can cause problems in humans being able to accurately read the animal.

The body language below specifically targets wolves, but as dogs are descended from wolves--some quite recently--the language applies to all canids. Again, some breeds have been genetically or surgically altered, thus the animals in said breeds are unable to communicate effectively. However, after learning wolf behavior, you may see that many dogs exhibit similar behavior.

Because they are such social animals, wolves have a fairly sophisticated communication system--in both body language and verbal language. They use their whole bodies when communicating. To successfully read a canid, a person must collectively assess the canine's complete body language: head position, tail position, eye contact, ear position, hackles, etc. The figures below illustrate tail positioning (Fig. 1) and facial expressions (Fig. 2).  Below the figures is a comprehensive discussion of tail, ear, and body positionings.

Figure 1: Wolf's Expressive Tail Positionings

Adapted from the works of L. David Mech, Barry Lopez, L. Partignani & Ricordi

Figure 2: Wolf's Facial Expressions

Adapted from the works of L. David Mech, Erik Zimen, L. Partignani & Ricordi


The following is a synopsis of some positionings in combination. We have provided these so that you can more easily see how the different placements of ear, lip, tail, etc. are mutually inclusive and must be considered collectively:

As mentioned before, ALL body and facial positions must be observed collectively. Watching ear position without noting the full facial features, the position of the tail, and the body stance will provide you with less than half the picture. Look at the behavior and positions holistically and you will better understand and more effectively communicate with your canid.

Social Hierarchy of a Wolf Pack

North American Wolves are extremely social animals and live in groups called packs. The packs can vary in size, usually according to the abundance or dearth of prey.  For example, the wolf packs of Alaska's Denali National Park--preying primarily on moose--can number into the twenties; but in Minnesota wolf packs typically number under ten. However, North American wolf packs consist primarily of the alpha mating pair and their offspring or relatives, for the most part. In fact, they are similar to the extended family structure of man.

North American wolves have a rigid social structure that is based on a dominance hierarchy. An alpha (dominant) pair lead the pack, but neither the male nor the female is necessarily the top leader. In his book Of Wolves and Men , Barry Lopez contends that the alpha male is at the top of the male hierarchy, and the alpha female is at the top of the female hierarchy. But they work in tandem, deciding where and when to move; where, when, and what to hunt. However, during the breeding season (spring) the alpha female is responsible for choosing the den site, thus determining where the pack will live for the next couple of months. Both alphas are almost always involved in the hunts--with the exception of the time during the birthing of the pups and for a few weeks thereafter. The female will generally stay with the pups in the den (or near the den area) for their first three weeks. The alpha male and other pack members will bring food back for the female and then for the pups as they get older.

Next in the hierarchy is the beta of the pack. The beta can be male or female. In some cases the beta will also breed. One of the documentaries on the Discovery Channel recorded an instance when an alpha male had lost his mate and had allowed the beta male to breed with the new alpha female. But a female beta breeding along with female alpha is not a common event and usually occurs only when food is in abundance.

The rest of the members of the pack are the subordinates; these members are subordinate to the leaders (and to the beta, if one is present in the pack) and are dominant over those younger than them: the juveniles and pups. A mini dominance hierarchy can also be found within this group, as well as within the juvenile/pup group. But there is one difference between these groups: the subordinates will form their mini hierarchy according to sex; the pups will form their hierarchy without regard for the sex of the individuals.

In some packs, there is one male or female wolf called the "omega". This wolf lives on the fringes of the wolf society and is usually the last to eat, sometimes going without if food is scarce. This wolf will also be likely to travel outside and a little off from the rest of the pack, trailing at a distance. Lopez makes one interesting observation when he discusses the omega being a displaced alpha or beta: "If he was once dominant and abused animals from that position, he will likely be abused in turn. If he was benevolent as an alpha animal, he will be treated kindly."

One more word before I end this section. I want to include a brief "lesson" that Lopez mentioned with regard to momma wolf teaching her young pups and the level of intelligence that was displayed:

Would that human parents maintained as much control of their children--and that human children listened so well . . . .

Establishing Dominance (Alpha Status)

Have you ever seen a canine that ran from its owners when it got loose? Have you seen owners chasing their pets down the street because the animals won't come to the owners? Have you seen owners give their pets commands, which the pets in turn ignore? And have you seen these same owners do nothing about their pets ignoring their commands? These are owners who failed to establish dominance over their canids. To successfully train your canid, you MUST be dominant over the animal, regardless of what breed of canid it is or how big or small it is.

Your pet may try to be the dominant one. You MUST deter this behavior; you need to be dominant--in fact, the animal needs to be raised thinking that ALL humans are dominant. This will assist in deterring biting and aggression.

The following training tips should prove helpful in asserting dominance over your canid:

To eliminate confusion, be consistent in your rules and commands. The canid will remember. The more you establish your dominance in their lives (not necessarily by following the guidelines mentioned above, but more by winning their trust and confidence, earning their respect for your authority, building up their confidence in your ability to protect them as they are pups, etc.), the more willing they are to live by your rules. This does not guarantee that they will always obey you, however. It just creates a stronger desire within the canid to please you rather than to do what it wants to do.  Positive reinforcement of desired behavior will also further your attempts to maintain alpha status over your canid.


Socialization can deter biting and make it safer for you to take your animal out in public without worrying over a mishap with your animal that can get you sued or result in your animal losing its life. Socialization is important in the training of a wolfdog (all dogs, actually), but not for the reasons some may think.

Contrary to the myths, wolves and wolfdogs are not aggressive animals. They are generally timid and try to avoid strangers, frequently out of distrust. This is a natural instinct seen in wolves and some higher percentage wolfdogs--though lower percents and average dogs exhibit this behavior according to the individual animal and to the history of it. The wolfdogs trust has to be earned. As a pup moving to a new home, he will probably be extremely skittish for the first week or two, maybe even three weeks because his whole lifestyle has been usurped by another. It is important that you spend a lot of quality time with him during this transition.

Once you, as an owner, have won the trust of your wolfdog puppy, you should then focus on socializing him to others by taking him to various places with you. Take him everywhere you can: to parks, to work (if possible), to the store and the fast food restaurants, to parties (if possible), to schools, etc. When he meets people, let them pet him and love on him. This helps him to realize that people are something good and fun and not something to be afraid of.

Socialization can play a large role in getting the wolfdog to overcome his hesitance and shyness around people. This socialization also helps in eliminating any aggression that he may grow into. Unsocialized large canines (wolfdogs and regular dogs) can be dangerous.

Unfortunately you will likely encounter a few idiots out there while socializing and training your animal: children who throw things at the animal, neighbors who may pick on the animal, children's friends who may frighten or hurt the animal, idiots who come running up to your animal uninvited or who just have no clue about proper canine treatment (or even proper human treatment). These are the people you must protect yourself and your animal against. Wolfdogs are HIGHLY intelligent and have memories like elephants (only a slight exaggeration). If a child or adult hurts him, he WILL remember. Do NOT let such a person be alone with your animal ever again!


Wolves and wolfdogs are HIGHLY social. They NEED contact--physical, emotional, and mental. They cannot be raised as back yard dogs who get attention for only 10-20 minutes a day. You must integrate them into your life/pack. This is all part of the socialization and the respect they will have for you as alphas).

Many of the problems with large canids, including wolfdogs, are as a result of owners who fail to understand canid behavior and who neither train nor socialize their animals.  These are EXTREMELY important issues in raising a healthy and controllable canid. But the final and most important issue to successfully integrating a large canid into your home is an understanding of the animal. We hope that this page helps to provide instruction to those who wish to incorporate a large canine into their homes--be it a Wolfdog, a Malamute, an Akita, a Husky, a German Shepherd, a Mastiff . . . .


Lopez, Barry Holstun.  1978.  Of Wolves and Men.  Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

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