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The Wolf within your Dog

Dogs evolved from wolves over 12,000 years ago, but we can still witness wolf behaviors in our domesticated dogs today. Each of the below behaviors evolved due to their ability to strengthen the pack and increase survival. There are no known behaviors found in wolves that cannot also be found in domestic dogs what may differ is the frequency, intensity and in the context in which the behavior is expressed. Those differences expressed can also differ depending on the breed and or breed type of dog. You can say through the domestication process the behaviors have been watered down in domestic dogs, in some breeds more than others.

Belonging to a Pack

Belonging to a pack is a deep rooted need for a dog, even if the pack is one person and a dog. Dogs need structure and hierarchy to give them reassurance. They instinctively look to the pack leader to give them direction. If the human does not take a leadership role, the dog will assume this position since that is what his biology tells him he must do. You can reassure a dog within your pack by praising good behaviors with plenty of "good boy" and "good girl"s. This helps relieve stress and lets them know their pack structure is stable.

Prey Drive

All canines are predators and have a certain degree of prey drive, some much more than others depending on the type of canine. Prey Drive: meaning they will give chase to things that run, for example small animals. Once this drive(predatory/prey drive) is triggered via fast movement and the wolf gives chase, what once may have started out as only a chase initially can fast become a situation where the object becomes something to then kill. Wolves, were built to be efficient predators and survivors, this predatorial instinct and drive is WELL developed and extremely strong/intense. Which is but one reason wolves are not pets!

Dominancy Issues

In the wild wolves have a hierarchy and each one has a rank, each wolf has the instinct, drive, and incentive to climb the social ladder of rank. Meaning they will eventually want to become the dominant leader in the pack, not every wolf however manages to do this and a more dominant alpha leader may thwart attempts by a subordinate wolf. This does not mean the current dominating leader cannot and is not challenged, and even taken out permanently (killed) or driven out, by other subordinate wolves once they no longer are strong enough to maintain their alpha leader status. *Wolves will continuously test each other starting as young puppies,and this continues throughout their lives. What may look like play to us, may be in all actuality a test of leadership, or weakness.


Wolves in the wild are inherently shy creatures, this will serve to help keep them safe from potential dangers such as hunters in the wild. After around 14-16 weeks the window of opportunity for a pups socialization to others is already starting to close. Meaning anything they come upon not socialized to prior they become wary of and shy away from. In captive situations to help with this issue, and so that wolves are comfortable in a captive situation and not stressed, pups are socialized to as many people as is possible such as veterinarians, young people, old people, doorways, umbrellas, different clothing such as winter jackets and mittens, hats, tractors, and other machinery, etc, otherwise the pups as adults will view such things as something to be suspicious of, and may even freak out in fear over.


Wolves are intelligent, and so curious they like to take things literally apart to see how they work. By the time pups are approx. 3 monthsof age they are destroying anything and everything they can get their paws and teeth on. You cannot train this behavior out of a wolf pup like owners do with domestic dogs, and it would be wrong to try to. In the wild parents and the other family members *adults* within the pack allow the pups to explore and experience, they are allowed to grab anything they want and chew it up if they want to. Wolf Pups are allowed to get away with alot more than any domestic dog pup is allowed to in a domestic living environment, this is apart of growing up as a wolf, and is completely normal behavior. Everything a wolf does is with intensity and exaggeration.

Circling before Lying Down

Some dogs turn several times and scratch at their bed before finally lying down. In the wild, these actions help clear brush and unearth the cool soil for a comfortable place to sleep. It can also clear away sharp sticks or gather in leaves for a soft bedding.

Group Puppy Rearing

In wolves, only the alpha female and male mate and have puppies. Other females in the pack take on a very important role of assisting in the care of the young. This incudes looking after the pups and producing milk even though they did not birth the litter. This behavior can be seen today when puppies are brought into a home where there is a female dog. It is not unusual for an unspayed female to try to nurse the puppies and possibly produce milk. This wolf behavior was passed down because it is an essential part of pack survival and ensures the greatest chance of survival for the puppies.


Dogs are vocal. Whether it is barking or howling, dogs are communicating. For wolves, howling is a very important means of communicating their location, a call to gather the pack, and also as a warning to other pack members of danger. Males will even show off their howling abilities in order to attract a mate. A domestic dog might howl if there is a sound of danger, like another dog or siren. Sometimes, certain notes or pitches will trigger a howl as it once did in his wolf ancestors. Hunting dogs might howl as a way of signaling prey for his handler.

Marking Territory

Dogs are highly scent driven, and marking territory, especially for alpha dogs, is a way of establishing rank. Marking with urine and stools communicate to other wolf packs when they have crossed into another wolf's boundary. Dogs still do this today in their own yards, on walks, and even in the house. A dog that urinates in the house without medical reason may need help with understanding his role in the pack. If there are multiple dogs in the house, there may be a conflict of who has the alpha role. A good human pack leader will communicate that the human is the top dog and therefor marking is unnecessary.


As undesirable of a behavior as it is, digging is a very important trait passed on from wolves. As a means of catching prey, a wolf or dog might dig to catch an underground rodent. Digging can be a way to keep cool or warm, depending on the weather. A hole dug in the cool earth under the shade of a tree can be a way for an outdoor dog to keep cool. Likewise, a deep hole dug in the winter can create a barricade against wind and the elements. Pregnant wolves will dig a hole, known as a den, where can have her puppies and keep them safe. The most familiar reason for digging though is to bury their kill so that it is safe from scavengers like other wolves, animals, and birds. Today's dog commonly digs to burn off energy or as a means of escaping a fenced yard. A good routine of going for walks can help eliminate the need to dig.

Hoarding Toys

That squeak plush animal may be just a toy to you, but for your dog, that represents prey and territory. When a dog is shaking a toy, that is wolf behavior of the kill and the squeaks of the toy are the cries of the kill. With this is mind, it might make sense if your dog was to gather his toys and bones and keep them together in a safe place. A favorite place for dogs to hoard toys is in their crate, as this represents their den. A hoard, or cache, can be very important to a dog, and disturbing it may cause anxiety. Some dogs may even feel the need to defend it.

Scratching & Scraping

Scraping is a dog dominant behavior and it is done by both male and females. The dog will scratch his front legs like a bull or kick his back legs in a backwards motion after going to the bathroom. It is thought that this motion releases a wolf or dog's individual scent from glands in his paw pads and is a way of marking territory. The scratch marks act as visual markers for other wolves and help establish hierarchy within the pack. The backwards kicking also spreads the feces over a wider area, thus increasing the range of the marker and territory.

Scent Rolling

Scent rolling is an important behavior for survival in wolves and can still be seen in today's modern dog. A wolf or dog will rub the side of his face, neck, and body against a dead animal or feces from another wolf or dog. He will most likely repeat rubbing on both sides of his body. This action has a two fold purpose. First, it transfers his sent to the dead animal and thus marks it as his territory. Most importantly, it also transfers the scent of the animal on to the wolf. This acts as a camouflage and will mask his wolf smell and make it easier to hunt prey.

According to geneticists, science has determined that dogs are indeed related to the gray wolf and are genetically 98.8 percent identical to their ancestors. By learning more about wolves, you can gain a deeper understanding of your own dog's behaviors and create a healthier and happier pack.