21 August 2023
When we see pictures of those adorable wolf puppies, we immediately think, “I want one!” But hold on, before you leap into the idea of adopting a wolf pup, there are some crucial factors you need to know. Wolves, despite their charm, make terrible pets. No matter how much you try to raise them like dogs, they remain wild animals at heart, wreaking havoc in homes and causing harm to themselves, other pets, and even humans. Owning a wolf as a pet can quickly turn into what many people describe as a “disaster.”
To understand why wolves make such challenging pets, we must delve into socialization and domestication. Socialization refers to how animals develop social bonds through interactions with others. Domestication, on the other hand, is an evolutionary process that involves genetic changes over many generations. These genetic modifications, inherent in domesticated species, make their young ones effortlessly socialize with other species. Dog puppies, for instance, learn to behave socially with humans almost instinctively just by being around us.
Although wolves can also be socialized somewhat, it’s an arduous process. It requires near-constant human contact from the time they are born until at least four months old. A socialized wolf is still not the same as a domesticated dog.
Wolf puppies exhibit ferocity and aggression as early as four weeks old, a stark contrast to dog puppies who have just begun to walk at that age. Wolves are much more agile than their dog counterparts, which raises an intriguing question – how did our ancestors manage to domesticate such fierce creatures?
Recent studies examining wolf and dog puppies have revealed a crucial difference in their early development. Wolves start walking and exploring at two weeks old, whereas dogs exhibit this behavior at four weeks old. This disparity marks the start of the “primary critical period of socialization,” during which young animals explore fearlessly and establish social bonds with other animals, including humans. Dogs and wolves eagerly explore their surroundings at the beginning of this period, gradually becoming more fearful of new experiences as the weeks progress. This critical period is of immense importance in forming social bonds in their lives.
One might wonder if this two-week timing difference significantly affects the development of wolves and dogs. Surprisingly, it does. For instance, when raising dog puppies, playing music in the background at three weeks old can help them get used to different sounds without instilling fear. However, doing the same with wolf puppies triggers fear and anxiety. The same reaction applies to the sound of a human voice.
Here’s the critical difference: although wolves and dogs start hearing at the same age, wolves have already entered the ‘critical period of socialization’ by then, making them more prone to fear new sounds. Wolf pups raised around humans since birth are familiar with the human scent, enabling them to associate the new sound of the human voice with something familiar and continue the ‘critical period of socialization’ without fear.
This subtle shift in timing may be the key to understanding the significant differences between wolves and domesticated dogs. Dog puppies can use their senses of smell, hearing, and sight before starting their ‘critical period of socialization,’ making it easier for them to form social bonds with humans. Any time spent with people between four and eight weeks provides a complete sensory experience for dogs. On the other hand, wolves receive this sensory information gradually, inhibited by fear, since they start the ‘critical period of socialization’ while still blind and deaf.
Despite all the hard work of socializing a wolf puppy, they will always remain more fearful of new things than a dog. Moreover, wolves exhibit other “wolfy” traits such as inquisitiveness, street-smarts, destructiveness, and potential danger to other household members, including pets, children, or even familiar adults. As much as we admire the cuteness of wolf pups, we must appreciate the immense companionship and ease that our domesticated dogs provide us. So next time a wolf pup picture on Instagram tempts you, extend your gratitude to your loving dog for being an easy-going and friendly companion in your life!