Socialization and Medical Care
Wolves at Wolf Park are socialized for a number of reasons. They make better display animals because they are not afraid of the public and will interact in front of visitors. They are better research animals because their behavior is not interrupted by the presence of researchers and students. General maintenance and medical care is not only easier and simpler to perform, but it can be made interesting, even pleasurable for the animals. We can also enrich the lives of captive wolves in ways which would otherwise not be possible, like the simple task of taking a wolf out for a walk, or allowing some of them to run in the bison field.
Pups are bottle raised from a very early age by both men and women (figure 62). Exposure to adult canines is kept to a minimum (a mistake made by many hybrid owners is to allow the adult animals in the family to raise the pups; the pups bond to the canines, and grow up fearful of people). Detailed notes are taken of the pups development to help assess their growth and health (figure 63). Subtle changes in amount of formula consumed or weight gain can be a guide to impending illness. The wolves are trained to accept restraint for medical situations such as drawing blood (figure 64). The pups are also introduced to the vet (figure 65) so they are comfortable with him as adults.
The whole process is started when the pups are only 12-14 days old. There is a critical period for socialization which is closed in wolves by about 21 days. Pups who have not been isolated from adult wolves by that age will almost never allow themselves to be freely handled. Pups taken before about 12 days of age do not seem to benefits from this extra early socialization, and the stress on the mother can be increased dramatically. By about two weeks, most socialized female wolves are not obviously stressed by the removal of the pups from the den, especially if she can still detect their presence nearby.
The process of socialization is a 24 hour a day task. It involves both men and woman and visits from adult wolves. If the pups are only given exposure to a few people, or just men or just women, as they mature, they will develop fear of what they have not experienced early on. The more people who visit them also increases the degree of socialization. Training is started from a very early age as well. Not chewing on people is one of the first things they are taught. Consistency is extremely important so all people who even just visit the pups for a brief time are instructed and supervised so they do not teach the pups any bad habits (like chewing off shoelaces).
The pups environment early on is kept very stable. People come to them, the pups are not brought to people. The pups are slowly introduced to new things a few at a time. Some people have made the mistake of forcing a pup to experience situations which were fearful. The result often creates shyness and fear for that situation, person, place, etc.
Most wolf pups also go through a series of shy stages. This has also been documented in dogs. When a pup is in a shy stage, the best way to handle it is to give the pup a place to retreat, not force anything new on it, and heavily reward any interaction or positive response. In one case at Wolf Park, two shy puppies were trained using a dog, that they liked a lot, to run up to the fence whenever they saw a school buss load of children. Within a few days, the pups had associated children with the dog well enough that they would run up to the fence and greet even if the dog was not present.
It is critical from an early age to get them well accustomed to people. It is also very important to give them plenty of exposure and social contact with people through their first year. However, any time that the social contact with new people is curtailed, a wolf may quickly lose it’s ability to accept strangers. Many either become shy or even aggressive if the constant exposure to new people is not maintained. With some animals, no matter what you do, you end up fighting a loosing battle and must be resigned to having an animal which can have only very limited contact with people.
With wolves, socialization and training are fully integrated for wolves are constantly training people and modifying their behavior as well as yours. Socialization and training are something which never stops.
Quality of Life
Social Testing & Predation
|Socialization & Medical Care
Are Wolves and Hybrids Trainable?
Legislation & Health Care
Why Have A Wolf or Wolfdog?