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Wolf Puppies Are Adorable, Then Comes the Call of the Wild (nytimes.com)
198 points by 101carl 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 147 comments

When wolves got reintroduced to Idaho, a few hillbillies went up into the primitive area and stole some pups, and they circulated around as pets. My buddy had one, and it scared the shit out of me. It was 130lbs of killing machine. They could tell it to kill anything, and it would do it. Their neighbor's dog had been biting them, so it was the first to go. Then they'd set it on foxes, which is could run down with ease. But the only person that wolf had respect for was the father, who was 6'4" and would pick it up and slam it whenever it misbehaved. Eventually, it started trying to beat up on the kids to move up the pecking order, and it had to be shot.

So only get a wolf if you can stomach putting a bullet in its head after it brutalizes your kids.

You can do some google searches about wolves as pets and it's fascinating. Domesticated dogs adjust quite readily to a pack pecking order. Wolves will with a lot of training, but they never stop trying for the top spot. It's a constant battle.

Also, if their pack leader looks sick or injured, the wolf will take that a signal to make a move for top spot. I've heard of owners twisting an ankle and hobbling around and the wolf starts looking at them very differently.

Finally, they have a very strong prey instinct. Stories about the wolf being exposed to children and not taking an eye off them. Practically waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

That's not to say wolves can't be pets, but it take a ton of time and constant vigilance to keep their instincts in check.

"That's not to say wolves can't be pets […]"

Is it just me, because everything you've just said seems to suggest that wolves can't be pets.

Exactly. Wolves should never be pets. Dogs evolved to be easily domesticated and dog breeders have continued to favor those traits.

I'm really against most types of exotic pet. Large cats need a lot of room, as do wolves. There are many cases of exotic pets turning on their owners. It's really unfair to the animals.

Unless you really know what you're doing and have a significant amount of time to invest, avoid exotic pets. They can be very dangerous and turn on you. Humans have spent a lot of time domesticating the animals we keep today.

Depends on your perspective with regard to the rearing of pets.

It’s probably just not very appropriate according to your particular personality, and perhaps slightly offensive to typical sensibilities.

But there’s something admirable about a companion that requires a degree of vigilance, and expects domination in exchange for honest respect. In a sense that sort of presence does you the favor of keeping you sharp for your own sake, according to the rules of the harsh world that produced its kind.

It’s a somewhat clear contrast worth tuning into, to consider what uncivilized nature requires from a predator, as compared to what genteel society rewards.

Could it be a pet in some suburban cul de sac? Nah, but a tract of hemmed-in, woodland terrain might work, such that ordinary folk are protected from it’s advanced husbandry requirements, both by remoteness, and possibly some engineered physical barriers.

Would it still be a pet, if you offer it free movement within a zone larger than it’s natural range? Yes, but only by fostering conditioned dependence, which is what being a pet owner is really about anyway. Pets are not peers, but sometimes they believe themselves to be.

Might just be me, but I feel like if you have some animal with you that'll kill you or your kids the second it gets a chance that it falls closer towards "prisoner" rather than "pet"

The word prison implies punishment, which is not always a component of domination.

Pet is a more open term, and represents the concept of an enjoyable living possession, retained without enslavement.

Enforcing submission may carry the possibility of punishment, but an equitable game can be achieved, even amid power differential.

Is the animal’s environment engaging and enjoyable, yet perhaps limited? Then congratulations, it’s your pet.

If you lived in a rural area without kids and had tons of patience and a capacity for personal risk, then I don't see the problem really. But anything outside of that seems reckless and dangerous and any person doing that which results in any harm should be held personally responsible.

I guess it depends on how you define "pet". You can keep wolves as companion animals, but it requires a very different skill set compared to domesticated dogs.

I'm curious—do people get "pet" wolves spayed/neutered? Because that basically sounds like the behaviour of non-neutered cats; it goes away completely when their gonads do.

What kind of vet is going to neuter a "pet" wolf?

Simply tranquilize it, with a dart if necessary, and snip snip.

I didn't say it wasn't possible, just that no reputable vet will do it if wolves are not legal as pets.

> Domesticated dogs adjust quite readily to a pack pecking order. Wolves will with a lot of training, but they never stop trying for the top spot. It's a constant battle.

This makes sense, and it makes me wonder if an even more 'subservient' human creature should be, or is being (unintentionally) created. Individually, the wolf is greater than the dog. However, a pack of dogs could easily take down a wolf. Wolves are to dogs as the Heroes[0] are to us. Collectivization is not a strategy for 100 years but for 10,000 years. Are we today just going through the painful process of a genetic local anesthesia towards domestication?

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_Heroic_Age

I doubt it.

Slavery, including slavery where attempts to breed slaves for particular traits has existed in various forms, and there doesn’t appear to be a situation like dogs where people live to serve.

Our social conditioning is strong enough that I would guess that it slows down genetic changes. Why bother with eugenics when marketing works just fine?

> if their pack leader looks sick or injured

So, basically, if I'm sick instead of my dogs taking it as an opportunity to spend all day in bed with me sleeping, my wolf is going to look at as an opportunity to take me out? Great.

this is awful. that person was absolutely reckless and horrible.

That's a horrible story that made me feel sad.

It got shot rather than alternatives because the humans in charge were hillbillies, per the beginning of the story? Sucks all around, though, regardless.

Your story clearly indicates this has nothing to do with it being a wolf. It happened to have a body that was capable of killing, yes. But the owner picked it up and slammed it whenever it misbehaved, and the owner actively encouraged it to kill things.

If your parents did that, you would do the same thing.

You see this kind of prejudice against pitbulls too. They're some of the sweetest dogs.

>Your story clearly indicates this has nothing to do with it being a wolf

How do you figure that? The entire article basically talked about how you can never domesticate a wolf.

Do you believe that if you can't domesticate an animal, that it's inherently and randomly violent? Every single one, in all cases?

People live with tigers. You'd never say that they were domesticated. The majority of the time, this works fine. you only hear about cases where they turn on their owner, which is rare.

I've spent a long time thinking about this question, and it seems like the ultimate truth is that we humans are uncomfortable with anything that can possibly threaten us. If we can't win in a fistfight, we classify it as subhuman.

We don't really classify dogs as subhuman. We treat them like family. We love them. They love us.

If you think back to when gay people were oppressed, and are still being oppressed in Uganda (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2W41pvvZs0), the rhetoric against them is pretty similar to the type of thing you'd say to convince you that wolves are randomly and uncontrollably violent. It's at least an interesting coincidence.

It's not fair to label them. "Only get a wolf if you can stomach putting a bullet in its head after it brutalizes your kids." Are you sure it makes no difference in how you raise them? The article seems to support this.

Again, the specific wolf matters. But there are certainly wolves that don't have a high adrenaline response, meaning they are genetically predisposed to being nicer. They're not dogs, but they're not mindlessly violent.

It's important to realize that the comments in this post suffer from selection bias. Obviously, if you make a post about how wolves become nasty, you're going to get ten thousand stories about all the wolves anyone has ever seen that were remotely nasty.

I have no experience with wolves. I don't know one way or the other. Maybe you're right, and literally all of them will bite your kids. But almost no one here is speaking from first-hand experience, except this top comment. And that wolf owner was more interested in having a killing machine than having a new member of their family. It's important to be actively skeptical in that context.

So, there you go. I've tried to be thorough and intellectually gratifying. I will say that I've been teetering on leaving HN lately because no one seems to be willing to engage with controversial ideas anymore -- they want to shout them down. I try not to generalize like that, because HN isn't a single entity, but there are a variety of ways to stomp on intellectual curiosity without breaking the rules. Maybe if I just attach that disclaimer to the bottom of all my long comments, things will turn out differently.

> Do you believe that if you can't domesticate an animal, that it's inherently and randomly violent?

The wolf in the story wasn’t randomly violent. It was vying for a better spot in its pack’s hierarchy. It was exhibiting ambition. Unless you’re willing to be seen as an equal by an ambitious animal willing to rationally dispense violence to obtain its short-term goals, you don’t want a wolf. You want a nice, subservient dog whose competitive instincts vis-à-vis humans have been bred out.

The wolf biting the children may be related to being raised in an environment that included brutally murdering other animals at the owner's whim. We can't know whether that matters.

> We can't know whether that matters

Not from this anecdote, but there is research on the topic.

Studying puppies at 3, 4 and 5 weeks of age: “compared to wolves, dogs tended to display more communicative signals that could potentially facilitate social interactions, such as distress vocalization, tail wagging, and gazing at the humans’ face. In contrast to dog puppies, wolf pups showed aggressive behavior toward a familiar experimenter and also seemed to be more prone to avoidance. [1]”

Approach avoidance through biting and other behaviours are discussed in the same paper’s “discussion” section.

Later, they find wolves are worse at yielding to humans, keeping eye contact, sensing changes in vocal intonation or context when multiple people enter the room, et cetera [2].

[1] http://real.mtak.hu/3680/1/1075597.pdf

[2] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168159113...

You could say the same thing about introverts. (I promise that's a genuinely thoughtful point, not an offhand dismissal.)

Research into the question of whether wolves are different will discover that wolves are different.

I appreciate the cite, but it isn't evidence that wolves will maul children just because they're ambitious. Maybe they do; maybe you're right. All we can say for certain is that we don't know.

I think you could make the same points about lions, yet there is evidence of lions loving their owners and treating them with the same emotional bonds as a family member.

> it isn't evidence that wolves will maul children just because they're ambitious

I agree, the research doesn’t say this. It says wolves offer a lower tolerance for making mistakes, a higher cost when things go wrong and fewer aids (e.g. picking up on intonation, instinctive subservience) to help you along.

You can do it. (Our ancestors did.) You’ll just have an animal vying for your seat in the pack, because it honestly thinks (warning: anthropomorphising) it can do a better job than your weak, debilitated ass in promoting the survival of its pack. Which it sees as much as its as much as it is yours. If someone is okay with that, fine. But understand the risks, that lots of people who thought they understood the risks didn’t, and that the worst-case outcome involves your animal killing someone’s kid or having to be put down because of your hubris.

Ah, I didn't mean to give the impression that owning a wolf would be a good idea. It's certainly perilous, just like living with a tiger.

I just think they can love you in their own way. If someone wants to explore the question, and they're doing so safely and only risking themselves, then it's probably no one else's business.

On the other hand, it's hard to imagine how that could be done safely, so I concede. Thanks for the interesting debate.

> I just think they can love you in their own way.

Yes. In the same way your sociopath childhood friend might love you. They will prioritize you over others (probably because you're known and they can anticipate your behavior), and use you or allow you to use them when they think it is beneficial. Don't expect sacrifice or compassionate understanding though, and don't expect your feelings to have much weight beyond how they affect your attitude towards them (or how you can affect the attitudes of others).

Are you basing any of this off of experience?

I had two indoor outdoor cats, neither of which were neutered. I couldn't bring myself to do that to them. To my surprise, I found that none of the stereotypes were true, at least with one of them. He was the sweetest, most caring thing. He didn't care to assert dominance, he didn't try to fight, he didn't spray. He didn't do any of the things that people said cats will do unless neutered.

After an experience like that, you start to think differently about the world, and about people's unqualified opinions.

The fact is, you can't know. You are (and feel free to correct me) speaking based on no experience. I think there's at least one wolf in the world that would surprise you and defy your stereotypes.

But yes, you're probably correct in the general case.

>I just think they can love you in their own way.

Usually it's not a good idea to anthropomorphize wild animals.

> Do you believe that if you can't domesticate an animal, that it's inherently and randomly violent? Every single one, in all cases?

domestication is determined by a collection of genetic features that essentially stunt an animal's physical development as a juvenile, and it's not environmentally-instilled (or at least, not for the most part). you can treat a chimp or a bear like a pet from the day it's born, but one day it's almost invariably going to cause serious damage. people treat this as a proxy battle for racism but it's not even slightly controversial science.


i would also recommend reading about the effort to domesticate silver foxes. it was doable in about fifty years via culling of aggressive foxes, allowing the friendlier (ie, more juvenile) foxes to survive and breed.

>Do you believe that if you can't domesticate an animal, that it's inherently and randomly violent?

Depending on the animal, but yes.

>People live with tigers.

We're talking about wolves.

>we humans are uncomfortable with anything that can possibly threaten us.

Maybe. In general one should have a healthy amount of respect for wild animals.

>And that wolf owner was more interested in having a killing machine than having a new member of their family.

You're drawing lots of conclusions from an online, off-hand remark.

>"Only get a wolf if you can stomach putting a bullet in its head after it brutalizes your kids."

No. The right answer is: never get a wolf to keep as a pet. This person you're talking about was acting unethically by having a pet wolf.

You get my upvote for your last two paragraphs, and because you shouldn't be voted to oblivion simply for disagreement.

As for your comment further up the chain: No, pitbulls are not sweet. Pitbulls are unpredictable monsters. Where I live, they are prohibited, and for good reason.

> No, pitbulls are not sweet. Pitbulls are unpredictable monsters.

Do you have any direct experience with a well-loved, housebroken pitbull? In all my experiences with the breed, the only thing they're aggressive about is snuggling. /anecdata

Yes I have. She was sweet as sweet can be. But I never got to trust her.

They are bred for fighting. Not all that bright, and with fuses that are known to blow without apparent reason. Too many cases of owners suddenly attacked and maimed.

It's an American thing which has spread to the rest of us. Thirty years ago, we never saw these muscle- and fighterbreeds. I don't believe we were the poorer for it.

> It's an American thing which has spread to the rest of us. Thirty years ago, we never saw these muscle- and fighterbreeds. I don't believe we were the poorer for it.

Pitbulls as a general category have been around for hundreds of years and originated in Europe.


The same species if you ignore thousands of years of human breeding. And racism, WTF?

I've never seen this argument before, so I would be interested if you could expand on your point

> The prejudice against certain breeds of "dog," or against "wolves," is no different from racism.

Jesus Christ.

Pretty much. Imagine what it would be like to be born a wolf or a pitbull. If nature is stronger than nurture, what does that say about our own species? How likely is it that it's impossible to shape a wolf? Dogs came from them. It has to start somewhere; it's not a step function.

It's difficult to explore the question, though.

> something is deeply different in dog genes, or in how and when those genes become active, and scientists are trying to determine exactly what it is

Darwin famously observed in the first chapter of On the Origin of Species that not one of our domestic animals can be named which has not in some country drooping ears.

Darwin himself attributed it to "muscle misuse", the rationale being that domestic animals are not frequently enough on high alert, but genetic causes are more likely.

The bizarre (and still running) experiment of Dmitry Belyaev who has been raising wild silver foxes for over 60 years to turn them into a domestic species by selecting the friendliest individuals at each generation seems to show that domestic characteristics, including droopy ears, appear "naturally" during this process, hinting at a genetic cause.

Which genes is a tough question, but there are several programs looking for them.

Not one of our domestic animals can be named which has not in some country drooping ears.

Neither cats nor horses have drooping ears, except for ones that have serious birth defects or mutations.

AFAIK cats aren't domesticated. It's more that we have a deal with them. They moved in on their own when they realised humans provide shelter if you hunt their pests.

They aren't as domesticated as dogs, that's for certain, but you can't just take a bobcat or other small wild cat kitten and expect it to be a good pet that won't try to attack you when it gets older. Even the more exotic breeds of housecat like the Savannah (crossbred with wild servals) have behavior issues. Housecats have been domesticated to the degree that they continue to act kittenish in adulthood.

We've never prized docility in horses the way we do in other "pets"; in most cases, we've either bred them to be easily-spooked speed monsters (race horses; courier horses), or angry muscular bulls (war horses.)

And there has never really been any kind of long-term eugenics project for cats; they mostly domesticated themselves, which had different results. There are no "work cats" that we've selectively bred with other "work cats" to improve their demeanour; there are purebred cats, but they're basically assholes and we basically don't care. (Why this is, I'll never know.)

Docility is much prized in horses. I've owned ex-racehorses, a Percheron war horse, an ex-police horse, and a big quiet warmblood. They're all "docile"; they'll accept training and won't bite or attack without serious provocation.

Horses have been bred to be larger and more docile. The natural size for horses is a large pony.

It's unclear how this started. Przewalski's horse, the last remaining feral horse breed, is not the genetic ancestor of the modern horse, but a diverging line.

(Horses are somewhat different in the Americas than in Europe and Asia. They're not native. Feral horses in the Americas are descended from ones brought over from Europe by early Spanish conquerers. Amusingly, the pedigrees are known; the Spanish expeditions were Government operations and there's surviving paperwork. Most were good Andalusians.)

> They're all "docile"; they'll accept training and won't bite or attack without serious provocation.

I guess I'm using "docility" a bit differently. There are two somewhat different commonly-used meanings, and it'd be helpful if they were different words:

• the animals everyone tends to commonly use the word "domesticated" for, which usually have specifically eusocial behaviours, like coming and laying down beside a human. Dogs are the central example; but numerous animals, from ferrets to hamsters to pigeons, are actually like this.

• the animals that aren't afraid of humans, and will tolerate their presence, and maybe learn skills from them. Horses, cows, sheep, chickens, etc. Farmers and breeders call these species "domesticated" (compared to their wild cousins), but they're not called that by lay-people. "Able to be livestock" might be what the average person would call these. (Oddly, some common "pets", like guinea pigs, are actually more in this category.)

One of the major differences, in my mind, is that the animals everyone calls domesticated, like being around humans enough that—if raised in a human environment—they'll often defend their human "family member" against their own kind. But this is not a behaviour you see with the technically-domesticated species; a wolf, or a fox, or a cow, might defend its territory if it's feeling territorial, but it won't specifically defend you, even if you raised it. It knows humans are a sometimes-helpful thing, but its instincts haven't been hacked enough to consider them "kin."

I'm not actually sure where horses fall on this measure, having not had much personal experience with them. Your input?


Also, fitting into neither category, there are a few extremely-intelligent species that, by this measure, we might call "domesticated" without having had much human-mediated human interaction at all. Corvids and chimpanzees both understand human social behaviour well enough to "befriend" individual humans, but this doesn't translate to them having a default-positive association with humans in general.

Also, under this distinction, I'd say that most wild animals that have assumed a "city habitat" like raccoons, skunks, squirrels, increasingly foxes in Britain, etc. are "technically domesticated." They're pretty much as docile if raised as pets as a horse or a cow would be. Definitely less unpredictable than a "pet" monkey. These species are doing the same thing cats did to get where they are; they just haven't spent as many generations evolving under the constraints cats have yet.

There are lots of books about horse behavior. It's been studied pretty throughly. Most horses are willing to socialize with humans. They're not submissive in the way that dogs are, though. Once you understand some horse body language (see "Talking with Horses", by Henry Blake) they're much more willing to socialize. Horses are flight animals, herbivores, and herd animals, and their behavior comes from that. Dogs are pack animals and carnivores. Different mindset.

(My current horse is possessive of me. I recently turned him out in an arena with another horse he likes, and the two played around a bit. Then the other horse came up to visit me. My horse ran over, ears pinned back and teeth bared, to chase the other horse away. But he wasn't "defending" me; the other horse wasn't a threat and my horse knew that. He was just showing the other horse that I was his human.)

> Dogs are pack animals and carnivores.

I was of the understanding dogs, our friends, are omnivores.

From wikipedia:

Unlike obligate carnivores, dogs can adapt to a wide-ranging diet, and are not dependent on meat-specific protein nor a very high level of protein in order to fulfil their basic dietary requirements. Dogs will healthily digest a variety of foods, including vegetables and grains, and can consume a large proportion of these in their diet, however all-meat diets are not recommended for dogs due to their lack of calcium and iron.[14] Comparing dogs and wolves, dogs have adaptations in genes involved in starch digestion that contribute to an increased ability to thrive on a starch-rich diet.[18]


Horses are very much domesticated. It was probably very difficult, requiring many generations of breeding.

By comparison, zebras are very hard to work with.

http://theconversation.com/why-zebra-refused-to-be-saddled-w... "In many ways, zebra appear very like horses (or ponies, given their size). Yet underlying differences in behaviour have meant that while horses and donkeys have been successfully domesticated, the zebra remains predominantly wild... Horses were initially kept as a food animal."

Of course there are "work cats". Most large barns will have a few, for rodent control. You want them big and tough enough to take on a rat. Working cats should be fed about half what they need, so they stick around but have to hunt. Once they've cleared the barn area of rodents, they'll expand their hunting territory to find food.

(The problem is keeping cat fans from feeding the working cats. The cat people got out of control at the Stanford barn years ago, and the cats got fat and lazy. The overweight cats had to be traded out for more useful semi-feral cats.)

Those aren't really "working" animals in the sense of having been bred and trained to tasks that are substantially different than wild behavior. They're just following their instincts, which happen to be beneficial to humans in this case.

>We've never prized docility in horses the way we do in other "pets"; in most cases, we've either bred them to be easily-spooked speed monsters (race horses; courier horses), or angry muscular bulls (war horses.)

Draft horses and other working horses beg to differ.

They're generally calm and docile, and don't spook easily. Especially draft horses working in cities, they're gentle giants, because they have to be when working on traffic and noise. Police horses too.

As for cats, they don't give you the unconditional love that you get from a dog. They need to respect you first.

The police horse thing is about 20% breeding, 80% training. I owned a former San Jose police horse for years. Big AQHA quarter horse. He was fine with traffic and crowds. But the first time he saw cattle, he lost it, snorting and prancing away. I was laughing; quarter horses are supposed to have "cow sense" bred in. This urban workhorse had never seen cattle.

Draft horses (for which there's of course rather less call these days...) are well-built and docile: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draft_horse

They're adorable, real gentle giants who'll love you instantly if you happen to have a carrot or an apple.

Scottish Folds?

Mutation, followed by a silly/stupid breeding program.

"Not one of our domestic animals can be named which has not in some country drooping ears."

It feels disingenuous to exclude breeds based on mutation / selective breeding, as the quote refers to the effects of breeding on domesticated animals, which are by definition going to be mutations of other species.


This episode of radiolab goes into some theories about the process of fox domestication and hypothesizes that something similar might have occurred in humans.

I don't remember it in enough detail to summarize, but it's a fascinating listen.

It seems more likely to me that this has a human psychological cause, not a genetic cause.

I suggest that - if humans associate e.g. droopy ears with being more friendly, this creates a positive feedback loop whereby those animals with droopy ears receive more positive interactions, show less fear and are modestly more likely to be selected by Belyaev's research for breeding, all other things being equal. Human bias has become a "selection pressure".

This has no implication within genetics, neither genetics of the foxes nor genetics of the humans: it could simply be (increasingly) customary in society including Belyaev's. So, I strongly doubt any genetic cause.

IIRC there’s an ongoing breeding program a Russian researcher is conducting with foxes - explicitly breeding the friendliest individuals.

In addition to the ears drooping, others morphological differences manifested - the friendliest animals had distinct coat patterns, curlier tails, and then later generations additionally showed shortened legs, tail, snout, upper jaw, and widened skull.

They're also dealing with a genetic bottleneck. As they repeatedly select for a given trait, they can inadvertently select for traits that are correlated /in their original sample population/, which may not be correlated universally.

That is, with a small enough sample, if it just so happened the nicest cubs had (some traits) in common, you can easily end up exaggerating those traits in later generations.

The Russian study is heavily inbred. They only ever had a maximum of 2000 foxes - now bred for a few dozen generations.

Similar traits show up when other species are domesticated.

It's been theorized that this has to do with the neural crest, which is an embryonic structure that the adrenal medulla develops out of. The adrenal medulla produces hormones involved in stress and fear, and so an animal with a less active adrenal medulla would probably be more amenable to domestication.

Several other things also develop out of the embryonic crest, so it could be that which ties together domestication and those various other traits that seem to go with it across many species.

That is an interesting reversal of the causality, though if selection is involved, there would be a genetic change in either case, so sorting out the cause could be difficult.

Do people see droopy ears as more friendly? I guess it indicates that the animal is not particularly alert, and so unlikely to be on the verge of aggression.

Perhaps people today think droopy ears are more friendly just because (for example) the first domesticated animals happened by chance to have droopy ears.

My first thought was, for sure, the foxes you mentioned. But on the note of no domestic animals avoid some examples of drooping ears, while I'm sure you could find supporting cases, that does not seem to be the norm for horses nor cats. And opposite that, elephants seem to have drooping ears. While the claim might be valid, it feels weak.

One factor that affects the horse is that humans use ear position to assess a horse's mental state. Most trainers teach riders to pay attention to whether a horse's ears are forward, pinned back, etc. Humans therefore may actively select horses with upright ears.

Also, they aren't predators

> The bizarre (and still running) experiment of Dmitry Belyaev who has been raising wild silver foxes [...]

What do you find bizarre about it?

How do horses fit into this?

They edit: ~~aren't~~ are barely domesticated. They are useful already in their wild form. They can be "broken" to recognize a dominate rider as their herd leader, but they have to always be tied or corralled. People are trained on how to approach horses, not vice-versa. Never approach a horse from behind.

Domesticating seems like a fuzzy concept here, in the way it's being discussed. For, as dog owners, we too (well, the more.. principled ones) are trained in how to approach a pup -- or a 'misbehaving' adult dog -- and how to train/discipline the dog in turn.

As someone who has owned a pregnant mare, and observed (and been involved where appropriate) in the birthing, raising, and, with time, subsequent breaking of the foal, I think horses may be born in a more 'wild' form--- but only in the loose, as-it-were sense of the word.

This all said, domestication should probably be discussed in a way that's wholly specific to a species since, with the horse-dog comparison, it goes without saying that their cognitive development, experience, functional relation to humans, and genetics (unlike the wolf/dog in this regard, a premise of the article) differ in such profound ways.

Yes, but I mean to a far lesser degree than a dog. You get utility very quickly with a horse for very little trait selection. For example, you can get this far (no traits selected, completely wild, not feral) with a never-domesticated Przewalski's https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovUGagVGiZ4

This is discussed at some length in the article, which draws parallels to domestic dog behavior and Williams syndrome.

Alaskan Malamutes are apparently more closely related to wolves than domesticated dogs. I used to breed them, and while they're beautiful animals, I wouldn't recommend them as a pet. Unless you have a sled that needs pulling, that is. I've since moved on to Rottweilers and have a new found appreciation for domesticated dogs. A malamute, especially in the presence of other malamutes, will always see you as an "other". Training a malamute is a battle of wills. Whereas a domesticated dog extends it's pack to include you. It may not accept you as it's leader at first, but the potential is there with training. I never got the impression that any malamute I've owned ever saw me as their leader, even after extensive training. Just my experience, though.

I made the mistake of getting a Malamute puppy, sight-unseen, from a breeder who dropped him off one December day. The first year was fine. It was an incredibly handsome dog and a good companion on hikes.

Sometime during the second year his independent nature became more and more pronounced. He also began to be more assertive around other dogs, sometimes even treating them as prey (it attacked one of my parents smaller dogs on a couple of occasions). Dog parks were a no-go and late-night walks became routine.

No amount of professional training could curb his instincts. I went as far as taking him to a trainer who specialized in working with aggressive breeds. No change.

Then one day he bit my dad out of the blue. My dad was petting him and suddenly stopped and the dog wheeled around and bit my dad on the wrist – I guess indignant that my dad had stopped showing him attention. It was bad enough that my dad had to go to the hospital.

By chance, I was able to find a home for the dog, a retired man who had worked with both Malamutes and wolves. He took him to his ranch and we kept in contact for about a year after. The man a couple of times said that the dog was one of the most feral-minded Malamutes he had ever come across and exhibited traits of a dog that had been raised for fighting.

It was a terrible experience. I really cared for the dog in spite of his tendencies. I learned a lot from him about the importance of breed selection and the perils of living with an un-vetted animal. Many years later, I now own a mixed-breed Newfounland / Golden Retriever rescued from a high-kill shelter. He is the polar opposite of the Malamute behavior-wise (still very handsome, though). I couldn't be happier.

As a former "kotzebue" mal owner, I completely understand your story. We had a golden before, and when we got our mal, we really didn't know what we were in for.

It was actually odd, in that my parents, being from India, saw big dogs as "security" animals, so didn't spare the rod with the golden initially, and had to unlearn the tough love quickly through the obedience classes with him because he thrived on affection. But with the mal... that girl brought back the mantra, "a dog is a dog. people are people".

Oddly once we made that shift, it was a breeze. Giving her medicine or brushing her teeth were still a chore, but less scary. The only thing was this -- make a decision and commit. You want to take her food? You damn well better walk over it and, despite any teeth or growling, take it. No half-efforts. And dominance wasn't yelling or hitting or screaming. Everything was presence.

We've had many dogs since, none arctic breeds, but it's changed my view on dogs. Every one is calm, well behaved and trained. But we stopped "obedience" training since the mal. Dog, be dog. Walk on the leash. Know sit and down. Try and master "come" but don't stray far in general. Enjoy your safe-space in the yard/crate/bed. Come for affection when you want it. Leave when you don't and that's OK.

I can't imagine a wolf...

I identify with this story massively.

Particularly the attitude towards dogs. Dog is dog human is human and everyone is happier for knowing their place.

Dogs get babied a lot in the US and get very confused as to their role.

We get gushing admiration of how well 'trained' our dogs are. The dirty secret is they've had barely any conscious training from us, it is an attitude, energy, "I'm the leader here" approach that they respect and understand.

Dogs will train dogs too, if you have one older, well behaved dog the others will copy.

This goes very far, the copying, we had a new puppy who's only other dog to copy in the house was old and had gone deaf thus he didn't bark at random noises, even thunder and lightning he barely reacted to, walking past other barking dogs etc., no probs - he couldn't hear them!

The puppy copied this - she could hear of course but she saw the I didn't react, the older dog didn't react and we calmly continued thus that was what she did.

The older dog has now passed away (aged 16!) and she is the oldest dog aged 2 now, we have a 1 year old rescue we just got from the hurricanes here in Houston and he whilst skittish at first from mistreatment by humans (had to dock his tail someone had put a rubber band round it and cut the blood flow off, regrow all fur from mange) he picked up the way to act from the older dog and from us.

A third 'generation' displaying the behaviour started by a dog dead a year.

My German shep learned to stop chewing shoes this way.

Nothing we did could get him to stop - it was intolerable. One weekend we went to visit a friend of ours that owned an older shep (actually a cousin of our shep's, from the same breeder.)

My dog went for one of the owner's shoes. The older dog gave him a nip on the muzzle, and that was the end of it. He never again, even after we came home, went after a shoe.

I have a Golden. I always have a Golden. He's a working dog and he was trained by the Golden I had before, who was trained by the Golden I had before, etc.

When they start to get old and hip trouble is setting in, I get a new one and the old one teaches the puppy. I've done this for years, though my first weren't working dogs. It's always a Golden and only a Golden. I've never had any other type of dog.

It's neat to watch the pup learn from the older dog. They have retained a number of behavioral characteristics over the years. I'm not sure if it is breeding or nurturing.

How old have your Golden’s typically lived? I’ve got a almost 11 year old (got her at 6 weeks) that doesn’t show any signs of giving up yet. My only complaint with her is that she has been food aggressive and she’s not a big fan of small children. We’ve never had her bite anyone but she shows her teeth sometimes. I never thought a Golden could exhibit wolf like expressions... all that said I love this dog more than just about anything in this world and I hate to think I will probably only have her for a few more years at most.

10 to 12 years.

My parents got a Malamute puppy and he could be left unleashed without any issues until he was about 1.5 - 2 years old. Then the instincts kicked in and he would hunt after anything that moved, so that they had to start using a leash to prevent him from running off all the time.

At the time they lived in the country and had a hiking area directly behind the house. My father would just put a leash on the dog and then let him lead the way around the mountain. He mentioned that it felt like a good experience for both of them, since he managed to see new parts of the mountain, due to the dog guiding him off the trail every now and then, and the dog was happy to lead. However, things went a bit south after my father had to leave for several months and it was my mother's turn to look after the dog. He would just pull her behind him like a sled and she had no control whatsoever over the dog.

Eventually, she went to a dog trainer with him, which improved things significantly, so that she was at least able to walk the dog without being dragged behind him. However, everything went out the window as soon as he smelled some kind of dead animal, or when he saw a deer or porcupine. Nevertheless, there were no major incidents with the dog, apart from some growling when you were trying to get him off an animal carcass.

It was definitely a much more difficult dog to handle compared to other domesticated breeds I've had or met so far, but at the same time he provided some of the most unique experiences I've had with a dog whenever you would hike with him through the mountains.

It depends on the dog and its previous experiences. I know a case of a malamute rescued in the street with signs of being abused (probably kidnapped to be used in dog fights). Turned to be a wonderfully loyal dog.

Do you know if German Shepherd share this closeness to wolves? I've met some really well behaved GS, but then I've met others with more wild like behaviors.

I used to own a beautiful GS, the first year he was like any other dog, he was really intelligent, playful, obedient.

I used to train him every day, so I was shocked when he started to misbehave, he wouldn't listen to other family members other than me, he would even growl at them. When I arrived home he would get exited, but instead of coming near for me to pet him, he would go around the yard, over and over. It came to a point where it was dangerous to have him around the family, so I had to took him to a shelter, that was really sad. I used to think a well trained dog will never be a problem, maybe he needed a more specialized training program.

They are not. The modern GSD is only about a century old, but is a standardization of three foundational breeds of working farm dogs that have been around for ages.

Aggressive does not work well with herding - they're surrounded by prey all day.

Looks like you just had bad luck.

Malamute-wolf hybrids were popular for a while, not sure if they were banned or what

If you like the look of Wolves, there is a breed you can look into - Československý Ovčák. It was created by then Czechoslovakia last century by breeding Carpathian Wolves with German Shephard. I think the original intent was to use it in the military. From what I’ve seen they’re surprisingly timid, but a bit stubborn. My friend just got one(below) and it is adorable. 4 months old or so and she’s already tearing around with my 2 year old Vizsla, who is pretty rowdy. I think they can be quite pricey though.


My grandpa had a Vizsla... She believed she was my nanny.

I was raised along Jackelyne, a belgian shepherd that believed she was my bodyguard. We have plenty of stories of people running, climbing to trees...


Of course you know those stories better than me. BTW, why do you assume they were innocent victims?

Did you never have a dog as a child? Children raised with dogs will naturally befriend the dog, and the dog might take the role as protector.

No assholery there.

There is also the "lupo italiano" (italian wolf)


Is it a dog or a wolf? Can the two species interbreed?

Dogs and wolves are fully interfertile. Their suites of behaviours and adaptations are very different but they can be and often are considered one species.

Huh, wow, I didn't know that. I knew they're very close, but I thought they wouldn't be able to interbreed, since they're different species. Interesting.

I think "same species is defined as inter-fertile", which is what I learned in school, might be a bit of an oversimplification. IIRC, even dogs and coyotes can breed together as well and their children (and great^n-grandchildren) are fertile, however dogs and coyotes are not considered the same species.

Both belong to the same species.

just a note: as with all wolf-looking dogs, the biggest risk is unscrupulous breeders who will sell you something much more ... shall we say "authentic" than just a big friendly dog with some wolf phenotypes. buyer beware.

There's also a risk of people mistaking it for a wolf and shooting it. I have a dog that looks very similar to a Coyote from a distance, and I sometimes fear him being mistaken. Luckily he is very much a territory dog and never leaves the property, but there are "neighborhood" dogs, especially in the rural areas that could easily be mistaken. Generally you'll see this happen with people who have sheep or cattle they are trying to protect the calves of, shoot Coyotes or wolves.

Really interesting question, but to tread on constructive criticism in the age of struggling journalism: it started off great with a focused thesis, but maybe should have ended there.

>When They Grow Up >And what are socialized wolves like when they grow up, once the mysterious genetic machinery of the dog and wolf direct them on their separate ways?

This is the title of the last section, after some suspense from stating the answers were seen as a "long shot."

Left without anything to say, the author departed the title of the last section and talked about the play pens, the interns, how much the author likes wolves, and the ethical considerations of raising animals in captivity, etc.

I'm not annoyed with, or trying to pick on, this article in particular, or saying it is bad. But I would be interested in higher info/topic and info/words ratios on interesting topics.

In other words, what did I learn about the 'call of the wild?' Well apparently, the answers are a long shot away. And it was a let-down to read through, because the question is so interesting.

Or maybe I'm not reading the right publications?

I agree. skimming down the article again, I feel about half way through the article starts to go down tangents (which are interesting points but maybe better covered in a book). it seemed like the premise was given that dogs are evolved from wolves so why do they behave so differently. at the end of the article I felt like the content did stray a bit from the reason the title got my attention.

that being said, I feel like the NYTimes in general is a strong news institution. perhaps this piece was more of a feature article given so many images were included and the video. and people love dogs so much maybe the editor(s) decided it was worth the cost to publish the story even though the researchers' answers are inconclusive so far.

so I agree with your critique of the article going off topic and so making the headline feel a bit misleading in the end. but I still strongly support the journalism that the NYTimes does (based on other articles read) and the need for strong investigative journalism in the news in general.

This is an essay, and as such it has the freedom of using some literary flourish, including rhetorical questions.

The question was the motivation for visiting that farm, and the author does recount his interactions with the wolves there. They just weren't terribly exciting.

A complete account of what the scientific literature or other second-hand sources have to say on the question wouldn't fit with the personal style of the article. That's why we only get the bottom line in the last graph:

Then he said what all wolf specialists say: That even though wolf pups look like dogs, they are not, that keeping a wolf or a wolf-dog hybrid as a pet is a terrible idea.

Regarding your quest for higher info/word ratios, I'll start by saying that the term information is somewhat ill-defined. In an article such as this, it may appear at first that the information content is low.

See this example:

The humans were still groggy from a night with little sleep. Pups at that age wake up every few hours to whine and paw any warm body within reach.

The first sentence adds nothing to your understanding of wolves that isn't also included in the second. As a wildlife enthusiast scanning the article for "wolf facts", you wouldn't highlight the first sentence, and you'll probably regard it as useless human-interest fluff.

But what that's missing is that this article isn't (just) about wolves. It's about human/wolf relations as well, and specifically about the group of people working with wolves.

And regarding those, we learn, for example, that these university researchers don't hesitate to get their hands dirty, and are willing to spend sleepless night for their research.

Journalism such as it's practiced at the New York Times isn't intended to prepare you for a face-to-snout with a wild wolf. They aim broad rather than deep. And all the extra information in this essay touches on any number of topics that are much more likely to be relevant to real-world decisions (including votes), such as the morality of zoos, research funding, or genetics.

Sure, it's like I said in my comment that I'm not saying the article is bad, and I'm fine with you enjoying the meandering style. But for me I was more interested in the main topic, so it felt like a little bit of a bait and switch.

Actually, what I said was maybe it should have stayed more focused, or, maybe I'm reading the wrong publications.

I didn't say I wanted to read scholarly articles, either.

I think there is maybe a little bit of a void in journalism here? I find sometimes bloggers fill this space with the ability to chime in efficiently.

This reminds me of some program I watched. They took wolves raised by people and dogs, and then, separately, placed the animal in near reach of food that was in a cage. The dogs eventually realized they could not get to the food and looked at people for help. The wolves never sought human intervention and continued trying to get at the food on their own.

Dogs are better than humans because they can obviously see past the fact that humans look nothing like dogs and still accept humans in their "pack". Even cats seem to have the control when playing with humans to not scratch too deep by which I assume they accept humans in their group as well.

Humans aren't worse about this; pet owners also anthropomorphize the hell out of their pets.

It's not that dogs can "see past" the fact that humans aren't dogs. They can't tell that humans aren't dogs at all. In fact, if an animal is non-aggressive domesticated dogs are often just friendly with it.

I saw that too but I can't recall what it was Nature of Things on CBC perhaps or maybe NOVA on PBS.

The two were OK up to a point but at a certain age the wolf dramatically changed compared to the puppy; it was uncontrollable.

> at a certain age the wolf dramatically changed compared to the puppy

That's a good way to put it.


In Northern Ontario there are quite a few people that have half or three quarter wolves, usually crossed with German shephards. I absolutely love them but I would not want one of these unless I lived by myself and in the bush somewhere, these are not your average dog. Super nice animals though.

And if you've lived in places where dog packs roam then you know that even in regular dog breeds the wild animal is just under the surface, all it takes is the right (or wrong) environment to bring that out.

I've always remembered this imgur post regarding hybrids whenever the topic is brought up. https://imgur.com/gallery/TqaTE Seems to be a volatile mixture to deal with.

That post is very good and should be enough to discourage anybody but the most dedicated people.

A few years back, I was waiting for the bus at the Calgary airport and saw a guy with what I thought was a big husky. He was waiting for the same bus, and it was going to be a while so we started talking. I lead with, "Nice dog" and he responded, "That's not a dog. That's a wolf."

I was a bit incredulous. He explained that he bred dogs for security. After losing a few of his dogs to coyotes, he wanted tougher animals. He managed to acquire a couple wolf pups, raised them and bred them with with mastiffs to make them bigger and more controllable.

The wolves were impossible to keep entirely under control, and even the wolf dogs were hard. They're big, strong and wild. Under normal circumstances, they weren't too bad but when excited, they could not be stopped. Like, if you took a group of them on a walk down to the river, it would not be possible to keep them from running to the water once it was in sight. The "big husky" he was bringing on the bus was apparently one of those, though he assured me that she was manageable alone.

It was a rather incredible story. Coming from anybody else I wouldn't have believed it, but the man was covered in scars and was missing a bite out of his nose. The bus was the north crosstown, which would have taken him around the edge of the city.

Interesting, but they are missing half the genetic story. Being around us changed wolf genes to turn them into dogs. But being around wolves also changed our genes. The humans that could best interact with wolves/dogs had an evolutionary advantage. We dont think wolf pups are cute because they look like our own babies. We protect them becausd at a primal level we know them a valuable survival tool.

The ability to look at a wild animal and see it as more than a threat or food surely had some role in our development. Wolves may have been our firat step towards the domestication of livestock or possibly farming.

Don't most humans find most baby mammals cute? We could speculate maybe there's some evolutionary reason that mammal babies are cute to other mammals (for which they are not prey animals).


Maybe us finding them all cute comes from our adaptation to find puppies cute. Our willingness to protect baby mammals might have first appeared re wolves, then allowing us to start domesticating others too.

My neighbor, when I was young, had a half Siberian Husky half Timber Wolf. While a very independent animal, he was very good around people. He was free to roam our neighborhood and our canyon and he let strangers pet him (though with an air of indifference). He was surprisingly large. One late and dark night, I got dropped off at my house by a friend. As soon as the car left, I saw a large shadowed creature near me. I thought I was about to have an unpleasant bear encounter. Then "Wolfie" sauntered passed me on his way home. He ignored my verbal chastising him for scaring me :)

I helped rescue 13 wolf husky pups (genetically confirmed) from a situation where the owner was getting evicted and animal control was coming the next day. Because the rabbies vaccine isn’t proven to work on wolves, I was told they’d be euthanized.

I was a ‘cat person’ before that. The brother and sister we kept (and fixed asap) are super intelligent, friendly adorable and yes, a little wild. Im fortunate enough to live in the mtns where I hike them 2 miles every day, rain snow or shine. Our couch looks like it was attacked by wolves...

I’ve met a lot of people with hybrids now and everyone more or less reports the same thing. Caring for them requires something in between caring for dog and caring for human child... They need strong boundaries and lots of love.

Whereas cats are just different sized versions of their wild varieties. Their small size making it "cute" when they attack you from around a corner.

A friend of mine went into a barn to pick up a streetcat that had lodged there to bring it into the house for the Canadian winter (-40 C forecast that night).

There was nothing 'cute' about what he looked like when he got back, it looked like he had been turned into hamburger, nearly lost an eye. Do not underestimate cats in attack mode.

I had to help a friend give a cat a bath once. It literally turned into a cylinder of pure muscle that I could barely control. Plenty of scratches and blood.

Even well cared for, domestic, gentle-natured cats can turn quite vicious when they don't want something to happen to them. We run that gauntlet every three weeks or so when our two needs their claws trimmed.

You just have to sit on them ... At least that worked for us ;) Our cat just yielded (protesting but not fighting) in this position. I'm sure you're aware but make sure you're just trimming the dead nail part.

Cats haven't had their genes messed with by humans for nearly as long as dogs have. In a few millenia, cats will be as varied in appearance as dogs.

California no longer allows keeping half-wolves as domestic pets. I have a friend who had a half-wolf, half-husky when that was still allowed. She's an endurance rider and runner, and wanted an animal that could keep up. She says she never allowed the animal alone with her daughter until the daughter was bigger than the animal.

You really have to be a competent animal trainer to keep one of those.

The Philosopher and The Wolf [1]is a good story about raising a wolf. The author ends up having to take the wolf everywhere with him, and running several miles a day with it to tire it out.

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5590168-the-philosopher-...

I knew someone with a what they claimed was a half coyote half dog mix. It was energetic then it grew up and quite the backyard hunter (which added some credence to the half coyote claim.)

It also became hard to control and somewhat erratic. After a couple biting instances, the last being pretty severe it was decided to put the dog down as it was dangerous to children and the other dogs in the house.

There's a theory (I don't know to what extent, if any, it has corroborated or discredited) that dogs and humans share a common history of being infantilized versions of wolves and apes, respectively. Thus we place less emphasis on social hierarchy and are more open to new things (which is true of young wolves and chimps, but stops after adolescence.)


This just in, wolves != dogs

Wolves, dogs, and coyotes are all the same species and can produce viable, fertile offspring when interbred with one another.

"Wolf," "dog," and "coyote" are just social constructs.

"Wolf," "dog," and "coyote" are just social constructs.

Given the immense body of data saying otherwise, it is my hope that your post is the most ignorant thing I’ll read today.

See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitry_Belyayev_(zoologist)

Several generations of selective breeding was enough to produce tame foxes.

I find dog genetics fascinating. Wolves are fairly uniform in appearance, but dogs comes in fantastically different shapes and sizes. Yet they can still interbreed.

There's actually a fair amount of variation within each wolf species, and even within a single pack.

I wonder if wolves have been raised in tandem with dogs, which some zoos do with their tour animals have had any success. Or if the natural inclination of the wolf is to prove alpha status, though perhaps it would be less so if they were the opposite sex and you let the dog initiate human contact.

The alpha thing has been soundly disproven.

In some animal groups, yes (like humans); but as far as I know, not in wolves. There may be some challenging views, but it is far from disproven entirely. Some of the anecdotes people have shared with "tame" wolves seem to back the idea of a pecking order.

Quite the opposite - the wolves was where it was disproven most thoroughly, by observation of packs in the wild (and noticing that they're nothing like packs in captivity).

Soundly disproven for domesticated dogs, not wolves.

Somewhat related: CBC documentary on Pit Bulls.


One wonders about the "Born Free" story.

Ironically, linked to from the very same page: "Genes for Skin Color Rebut Dated Notions of Race, Researchers Say"


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