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Animal World

Wolf-Dogs: A Regal Pack of Love and Licks


One thing that wolves and wolf-dogs do is they lick you in the mouth. If they taste your saliva, they know if you’re a member of their pack. And they will never forget that, that chemical composition they know.

Welcome, harmonious viewers, to this edition of Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. Wolves inhabit the Northern Hemisphere in areas including the Arctic tundra, taiga, plains or steppes, savannas, and forests. Today we’re going to find out about a relative of the wolf, the wolf-dog. But before we begin, what exactly is a wolf-dog? A wolf-dog is the offspring of a pure wolf and a dog or another wolf-dog.

Naturally there are similarities and differences between wolf-dogs and their regal wolf parent. For example, wolf-dogs are generally heavier and taller than their wolf mother or father, but their color reflects their wolf heritage.

Coloring is one way to distinguish where a wolf/wolves originated from. Usually the white wolf is going to be in a colder climate with more snow because they need to camouflage; so that’s more the Arctic wolf. And then you also see Timber wolves, and they’re going to be able to blend into a more forested environment. As you can see with Soren, you can barely see him in the trees there, because he blends in so well. And he’s part Timber wolf.

And the coloring on a wolf-dog is very significant. They almost always have golden eyes, although some dogs have golden eyes as well. And they always have a black nose; they never have any other coloration in the nose, like some other dogs will have different colors to their noses.

What about the black coat?

Oh, yes. The black coat is a remarkable adaptation. And they start off as black, and in this case, with Cloud, she’s what we call a black phase, and she will eventually turn completely gray. Her mom’s completely gray, and she started out again as a black phase, completely black.

That’s amazing.

How can we tell a wolf-dog from a dog? For starters, a dog normally holds his tail in the air. But what does a wolf-dog do?

Like on Soren, his tail goes completely straight down. So a straight down tail is one of the tell-tale marks. As you breed dogs out of wolves, you'll always get a curly tail; and the further you get from a wolf, the curlier the tail.

As you can see, wolves have very long, elongated snouts. Short noses are more like (Pit) Bulls, Terriers, Labradors, Chows, Chihuahuas; and they all have very curly tails. So a short nose, and curly tail is very, very far away from a wolf. And a dog that looks like a wolf, you can look for fur in the ears, yellow eyes, the size of the canines, the shape of the snout, and then the tail is also a giveaway.

In addition to all that, they also have an additional gland. On the top of the tail about four inches down, they usually have a diamond coloration. And it's a secretor. What it allows them to do is mark their territory without lifting their leg. Because in the wild to lift your leg to mark something makes you very vulnerable, so wolves have developed this gland on the back of their tail that allows them to just whip their tail around the bush as they go by to mark their territory.

Wolves live together in groups called packs with two to 30 members, with an average pack size being 10 wolves. Wolves are very family oriented and they have a hierarchical social structure. This system helps to reduce conflict and promote order. At the bottom of the hierarchy are the happy wolf pups, whose status allows them to have social freedom and many privileges. All members of the pack take responsibility in caring for the babies. Wolf-dogs also follow this model.

One thing that we love to watch is when we have a baby. And it’s rare to get a baby wolf or wolf-dog, because most people get them and they’re okay for a few months and they can handle them until they mature. And wolves take about three years to mature, but by a year old, they can be a good hundred pounds.

So most people relinquish them. We’ve gotten some of ours from pounds, actually from just being left out in the wild. But one thing that we love is when we do get babies, which is rare like I said, and to watch how they form the social structure, their families. And they immediately incorporate babies into their families. And there’s an uncle who watches over them. And then there’s usually what we used to call alpha males and alpha females; those are the more dominant ones, but they’re not aggressively dominant. They just know that there's an order and they are so protective of the baby. It's just wonderful to see. If she’s running around by the stairs, one will lie across the stairs so she doesn't go falling down. It’s really remarkable.

Although wolves are often thought to be aggressive, they are actually docile and prefer harmony, integration and peaceful relationships.

Wolves are extremely non-aggressive. And there're just so many myths about them; I mean fairy tales and all kinds of stories, and we effectively extinguished them from the lower 48 states.

And it’s just so fortunate that we have reintroduced them now to several states. But wolves have never attacked humans and have never been aggressive with them. There might be some wolves who will be avoidant of humans, and rightfully so. But they’ll find their ways to make sure that they don’t have contact, whenever possible.

But as you can see with these guys and girls that we have here, they want to interact. They’re social beings, and they really want to have interactions with us even though they just met you. And you see how they came up and just want to be acknowledged, and they can tell so quickly when someone has good intentions. And they’re very loving and very social.

Given their affectionate nature, wolf-dogs get along well with many other animals.

One of the things that we just love to see is the interspecies relationships. Just like human beings have relationships with dogs and cats and other species, these animals do too. And they love each other. I am so thrilled to dispel the myths about wolves and wolf-dogs and coyotes. Our coyotes love our wolves, and they get along so well together. I mean, (I) just love seeing those kinds of relationships. And also the important thing is that wolves are gentle, soulful creatures that really are just so intelligent and so social. It's so important for them to have family and to recognize the importance of family.

There is a wonderful story about a timber wolf mix wolf-dog called Shana, who was honored with the Shining World Hero Award in 2007 by Supreme Master Ching Hai for her amazing rescue of her human companions during a severe ice storm. The unexpected storm occurred around 7 PM when Mr. and Mrs. Fertig, both 82 years old, were at the Enchanted Forest Wildlife Sanctuary in Alden, New York, USA, a refuge which they founded, caring for injured birds.

The Enchanted Forest Wildlife Sanctuary is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. While walking back to their house, only 60 meters away, the extreme weather caused trees to fall around the Fertigs and they became trapped in a small alley between the Sanctuary’s buildings.

Sensing the enormous danger that her caregivers were in, as they were not able to move the large branches or climb over the fallen trees, Shana, who was outside the house, began digging under the trees through dirt, branches, snow and ice. It took Shana many hours of tunneling to get from the back porch of the residence to where Mr. and Mrs. Fertig were standing.

However after reaching them, Shana realized that her human companions were very reluctant to go through the tunnel she had created, especially Mr. Fertig. Knowing the seriousness of the situation, Shana waited no longer and pulled Mrs. Fertig onto her back, with Mr. Fertig quickly grabbing on to his wife's ankles to follow her and Shana. Slowly, Shana managed to pull her friends through the tunnel until they finally emerged at the house at 2 AM.

As there was no heat or light in the home due to a power outage caused by the storm, Shana kept the Fertigs warm with her body heat until the morning when the fire department arrived following calls from the Fertig’s neighbors who were concerned for their safety as they had not heard from them.

Despite the touching tale we’ve just recounted, it should be emphasized that wolf-dogs are not like normal canines, as they are wild beings, and experts caution not to adopt them as animal companions.

Shelters can’t adopt out anything that has wolf content in them. And people for whatever reason want to have some wolf, some part of the wild. We're so divorced from the wild in our everyday lives. We don’t realize that we could go out into nature and be part of the wild and not have to own a piece of it.

The most important message I hope that people get is the importance of keeping our ecosystems intact. And making sure that we as humans don’t interfere too much, or hopefully it’s not too late already. But to allow wild animals to be free, and when we can’t because they’ve been bred in captivity, to make sure that they get to live out their lives in a reasonable environment.

In closing, the wolf-dog is a fantastic animal with many admirable traits and a big heart.

May humanity always be kind to wolf-dogs and all other animals as they always wish us the very best. Gentle viewers, thank you for joining us on Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. May our love and compassion forever expand and encompass our entire global family.