We have been taking glimpses into wild wolf society to help us understand dog instinctive behavior (both good and bad) that we observe in our pets. We find fascinating organization and rigid structure in wild wolf society, with swift, consistent, fair discipline and clearly drawn lines of leadership, support, and boundaries. The importance of coordinated participation from every wolf pack rank in the hunt, territorial fights, and really all other times, help us to understand the roles of dogs with different personalities, how they seek to interact with us and with other animals, and the kind of leadership and boundaries that your domestic dog expects from you — without which he is miserable!
A wolf’s sense of smell is at least 20 times stronger than ours (and so is that of your domestic dog). A wild wolf’s hearing is more than 40 times better. So the scent of a wolf pack that is trespassing is picked up by the pack that owns the land even if they are hours away from the trespassers. The wind carries scents and sounds.
Territorial fights are rare among rival wolf packs. Nine times out of ten, the trespassing wolf pack flees when the wild wolf pack who owns that land shows up. Even if the owning pack consists of only three wild wolves and the rival wolf pack consists of nine, the trespassers will still run. The landowner is the winner.
If the trespassers refuse to leave, then the male alpha leaders will begin a fight. The wolf pack members on both sides will stare as they look on to see who will win. (Mares do the same thing when stallions fight.)
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The two alpha leaders rarely decide to draw blood on one another. It is more so a question of who raises his head the highest, or the first one to be pinned down on his back has lost.
Sometimes during the fight, in a clever ploy, a wild wolf on the side of the defending wolf pack will cross over to the other pack and steal a couple of adolescents. The leader of the trespassers will look at the theft, and thus lose the fight because of the distractions. The victor alpha leader will not allow the adolescents to return. They will become part of his wolf pack.
After a fight, the victors remark their borders. They completely drench the borders with such potent scent that it would make human eyes water. They groom and lick every bit of the new members to remove the scent of the old wolf pack, and then they rub their own scent on them.
Contrary to popular belief, much communication between rival wolf packs is simply that — communication — and not a challenge or threat. The alpha leaders constantly howl back and forth to each other about such things as how that year has been for them, if the pack is well or if they have had hard times, their victories, how much stronger the pack has grown, and such.
Wild wolves also howl friendly greetings to their relatives. For example, an adolescent female may cross over to a rival wolf pack and become a part of it, never to return to her birth pack. Still, those in her birth wolf pack will howl news and salutations to her. Relatives can cross territorial borders for a visit if first given an invitation; without invitation, though, the visitor would be fought for breaching the border. Her own pack would attack her, too, because that is against wolf law.
Rival wolf packs always respect each other, and their respective alpha leaders honor the position of the other as the leader of the pack. They acknowledge the achievements and activities of the other wolf pack.
Sometimes a wolf pack is more led by its female alpha than a male alpha leader. There is no sexist attitude in the world of animals. She will scratch the ground and lift her leg to remind the trespassers of the proper border. Only the alpha pair lifts legs to mark. All of the other members (male or female) squat. If a territorial dispute should erupt when one of the wolf packs is female led, the dispute might be settled by a voice contest (howling) instead of an actual battle in which the pregnant leader could not participate.
So as you see, territorial fights are not all that common among wild wolf packs, and when they do occur, bloodshed is rare because things are normally worked out another way. Wild wolf society is replete with rules that apply to all wolf packs and which lend stability to their members.