The wolf is considered as the largest predator of the family of dogs, but the fairy tale of the bad wolf is just a fairy tale. What you should know about him and how to behave correctly in an encounter is mentioned in this article.
The European grey wolf is native to Europe. It is neither to be seen as a cuddly toy nor as a man-eating beast, it is necessary to find a middle way in living together. Wolves learn from success and not success and pass on their skills to their offspring. We must therefore be careful not to teach them anything we do not want, such as climbing over fences or getting closer to people.
Family & Reproduction
While observing living wolves in captivity, the theory developed there would be an alpha-wolf, who leads the pack as a lead animal. So, also with our house-dogs, the dominance-hierarchy and alpha-theory still holds itself stubbornly. But free-living wolves are very social animals and live in family-associations. The parents, the yearlings (1 year old wolves) and the puppies usually form a pack. Accordingly, a pack of wolves exists with 5-12 animals.
In the mating season, from January until March, the female wolf is in heat. The male dog develops spermatogenesis (formation of sperm). The sex-act proceeds the same, as with the dogs. If the female wolf was covered, she gets 3-7 puppies on average after approx. 63 days. In the first weeks, she lives with them completely withdrawn in the throw-cave and is supplied with food by the male wolf.
After approx. 3-4 weeks, the female wolf leaves the cave more frequently. The puppies start to explore their surroundings. With 6-8 weeks, they move on the so-called Rendezvous place. This offers a safe retreat possibility and sufficiently place for first play and hunt attempts. Comparable with our living room, all wolves of the pack meet there and always come back there. The whole pack helps to raise the puppies. It even happens that other females become pseudo-pregnant in order to supply the little ones with milk if the mother cannot. After the hunt, the parents choke out a mash of food when the puppies nudge their cheeks.
The natural mortality rate of the puppies is about 50%. The survivors are old enough to feed themselves in the following year. As so-called yearlings they now help with the raising of the new offspring.
With approximately 2 years, they become sexually mature and migrate away, in order to found their own pack. Usually an area, approximately 50 km away from the parents’ district, is looked for.
Wolves live monogamously and normally stay together for a lifetime. In the nature, they usually become 8-10 years old, in the enclosure even 14 and older.
Wolves inhabit different habitats, in Europe mainly forests. It is important that they have a retreat where they are undisturbed. The size of the territory depends on the number of prey animals. The more food there is, the smaller is the area in which they live. In Europe the size usually ranges between 150-350km². This habitat is often shared with other predators, such as bears, foxes, lynxes, birds of prey, …. Partially, they even profit from it.
With the roaming through of the territory, wolves can put back up to 70km on the day, usually however only approximately 20km. In the laced trot, the endurance-runner holds around the 11km/h. With the hunt, they can become up to 55km/h fast. The wolf is also a good swimmer.
Food & Hunting
An adult wolf (approx. 45-50kg) needs about 3-6 kg of food per day, depending on its energy consumption. Mostly hoofed animals (cloven-hoofed game) are hunted, but also hares, small mammals, wild boars, insects, birds, fish, berries and fruits fall into the diet. In principle, they are omnivores who feed mainly on meat. The whole loot-animal is eaten together with fur, bones and inner organs. As loop eaters, they can eat up to 10kg at once, but then get along up to two weeks without food intake.
They hunt mostly alone or in pairs of two, but also in the pack. The hunted animals are predominantly young, old or weak. Because the wolf is an energy saver and looks for easy prey, in order to keep the danger to be injured during the hunt, as small as possible. They hunt mostly in the twilight or in the night, since they are usually least disturbed at this time.
According to the study “The Wolves of Isle Royale” by D.Mech, Isle Royale, USA, 131 of the 160 moose in the area were tracked down by the wolves. 77 of these moose were found and 54 escaped. Only 6 were killed, which speaks for a hunting success of 7.8% of the wolves. It was found out, that the hunting success varied between 4.5% and 10.8% depending on the wolf species.
The hunter takes 1500 deers per year on an area of 15000 hectares. A pack of wolves eats 400 deer per year on the same area.
Wolves contribute an important part to a healthy vegetation. If herbivores overgrow, the green cannot grow and trees die due to grazing damage, there will soon be too little food for them. The wolf regulates the population and thus helps to achieve an ecological balance.
After successful hunting, they retreat to a safe place where they can eat undisturbed. Some parts are brought to the waiting young wolves and puppies or buried. The remaining prey is eaten by other animals and scavengers. Often the wolves return later to eat the remains.
Farm animals in danger?
Farm animals, especially grazing sheep, represent only about 1% of the wolves’ food plan, as they are not the preferred prey. If you live in a wolf area, you have to think about the safet. This comprehensive topic can hardly be summarized in one paragraph, but that much can be revealed: Make it as difficult as possible for the wolf to get to your animals. The best would be safe fences (1.20cm high), an undermining protection (min. 30cm deep) and guard dogs as “bodyguards”. The wolf is very intelligent, observes and quickly learns where a spot is easy to pass. Therefore, herd protection measures must be implemented completely and flawlessly!
Since the wolf cannot distinguish between wild and farm animals, he does not know that the sheep “belong” to humans. In the herd he tears a sheep, which causes a hormone distribution, a self-rewarding behavior. The other sheep crowd together. The movement stimulus triggers the hunting instinct and sometimes the wolf kills several animals. If they were not disturbed by humans and cadavers were removed, they would come back to eat the animals. Other animals and scavengers would also benefit. The farm animals would not have died “unnecessarily”.
Human in danger?
Actually, the wolf only becomes a real danger when it has rabies or has learned not to be afraid of people through extreme habitat. This happens, for example, when they have been fed by humans as puppies or young wolves.
Encounter with a wolf
Human clearly does not fall into the wolf’s food plan. To calm you down, from today’s point of view, the wolf is hardly a danger for humans. Since wolves are rather shy they avoid any contact with humans and flee if they can. With much luck you can observe a wolf on a certain distance. Through human misbehaviour, such as feeding, artificial feeding, harassment, …, the wolf loses its shyness towards humans or gets scared and therefore attacks. Young wolves, in particular, are often curious and so they may approach.
Behaviour in case of wolf sighting:
- Never run away! Only prey runs away.
- Stay calm!
- Always look at the wolf.
- Take a photo and send it to the authorities later (because shepherds get support for herd protection measures if they live in a wolf area).
- Act loud, conspicuous, make yourself big, be present and clap your hands. A pipe can also be helpful to scare the wolf away.
- You can slowly walk backwards. Do not turn your back on the wolf.
- Should the wolf, contrary to expectations, follow you, continue to scare him and, in an emergency, e.g. throw a bunch of keys at him.
- If you meet a pack they are probably young animals on a discovery tour. Behave as with a wolf.
- If you see a wolf eating, slowly go back and don’t get closer.
- Never feed a wolf, avoid rubbish close to humans, do not leave animal food in front of your house to prevent wolves from getting used to humans.
Do you have a dog with you:
- Same behaviour as without a dog
- In most cases this situation is also harmless.
- Keep your darling with you on a short leash
- Do not let him run to the wolf, if it comes to a dangerous situation the dog my get hurt. (Wolves can see your dog as intruder or prey)
- In rare cases, the female wolf may be interested in your male dog during the mating season, you should get out of the situation and keep him close to you.
- Hunting dogs in the wolf area should be let off the leash as late as possible during the movement hunt, so that the wolves can retreat. Sweat dogs should be led on tow lines, as injured wild dogs may have already been taken as prey by wolves.
Children should also stay close to their parents and not run!
Differences to the dog
- Tail relatively straight hanging down, bushy, black tip of tail
- grey, brown, black, white in various shades
- light part around snout and throat, dark saddle line and light saddle stain
- ears relatively small, triangular and erect
- eye colour light brown to yellow
- gait: hind paws mostly in same track as front paws (Laced trot), constant speed
- long snout
- tail often raised, in various optics
- all colours and shades
- usually less clear fur-drawings
- ears usually clearly larger, often hanging
- eye mostly dark brown, green or blue
- running mostly unevenly, change of pace, walk to the side
- usually significantly shorter snout
They also differ in body language. Above all the typical howling, only a few dog breeds have that in their repertoire. It serves the wolves to communicate over long distances. They can hear the howling of the other wolfs 6-12km far away. It promotes the sense of communion; tells other packs that this territory is already occupied; tunes in to the hunt and signals the partner search to get contact to another lonely wolf. Wolves have a much more pronounced body language than dogs.
When wolves mate with dogs…
…wolf hybrids emerge. Dogs and wolves can mate with each other. This happens actually only when wanted by humans, because in nature females will always prefer male wolf. Male Wolfs should produce sperm the other way round exactly at the time when a female dog is in heat.
Especially in human care problems often occur. Their body language is usually difficult to interpret, which makes them unpredictable. They are neither dog nor wolf and can be very suspicious and jumpy. If they feel driven into a corner, they defend themselves. They like to dig and are masters at breaking out.
The wolf is a wild animal, you should always keep that in mind. If the genes mix, species protection is also an issue. Because the gene pool of the wolves becomes smaller, if “dog genes” mix themselves to it. It is therefore important not to release any wolf hybrids into the wild.
Photo source: Wolfcenter Dörverden
The wolf was almost exterminated and repressed for a long time, because it had a bad reputation. Today, the gray-wolf settles gradually again in Europe. It contributes to healthy vegetation and does not pose a direct threat to humans. Only a few points should be considered in wolf areas. It is important to enlighten, to inform and not to take fairy tales like “Little Red Riding Hood and the Bad Wolf” seriously.