Oct 25

The Wild in the Wolf

Recently we introduced one of our trainers Liz to Sikko, an Arctic Gray Wolf. Sikko has other trainers, but this was his first free-contact session with Liz. We held off introducing Liz to Sikko for a little while because he can be challenging and it takes him longer to be comfortable with people in his personal space. For those of you that think that wolves are just like dogs, Sikko is a perfect example of why that's not the case.

Sikko is a very dominant wolf. He wants to make sure that everyone in his environment understands he's in charge. If you attempted to dominate a wolf, particularly one like Sikko, that wolf would probably feel obligated to put you in your place, which could involve aggression. That's how wolves communicate. That's why we are not a part of the wolves' packs and one of the reasons why we use all positive reinforcement. When Sikko met Liz, even though he had seen her on the other side of the fence before, he felt the need to exhibit dominance.

He ran right up to her with his ears pricked forward, his tail high in the air, and his hackles (the hairs on his back and shoulders) raised. This is behavior that you would see a wolf exhibiting to another wolf to show dominance, and if the other wolf did not submit or back down, the dominant wolf might become aggressive. Since Sikko was behaving so intensely, Liz averted her gaze, to show him she wasn't challenging him. She fed him, to show him she was positive and sent him back to the other trainer. He started to go, paused and looked back at her, then went to the other trainer.

This shows us that Liz will have to work at monitoring Sikko's behavior, reinforcing him through the fence for being calm and not exhibiting dominant body language. She will also keep her introduction sessions short and rewarding. Over time, Sikko will learn that he doesn't need to posture at Liz.

If he decides he is not threatened by Liz being in his space, and understands that she is a positive part of his life, then we can continue on this course. Using positive reinforcement, we can show them we are a source of reinforcement and not a threat to the pack. However, that does not mean all wolves automatically want to share their space with humans just because they are hand raised.

Wolves are individuals with personalities, and more importantly, they are all wild animals. We always remember that when we work with them. Some show more affection then others, but at the end of the day they still live in wolf packs, not human packs.