Wolves aren’t dogs. There’s no other way to put it. And let’s face it, in most books that have anything to do with werewolves, they aren’t wolves either. In fact, fictional werewolves have as much to do with real wolves and wolves have to do with dogs. Fictional werewolves are mostly based on legends such as the loup-garou or are seemingly more out of control men that happen to go big and furry and form into strict hierarchical groups that for some reason hate women and homosexuals.
I wrote my book, the Lone Prospect, and formed my werewolves because I was tired of seeing these same tired, angsty, cursed werewolves that had nothing to do with actual wolves. After researching the different and very diverse origins of werewolves and their types, I started digging into wolves themselves and based my werewolves on actual anecdotal and scientific wolf behavior.
Wolves DO NOT like humans.
Of all the apex predators in the animal kingdom, wolves are the ones that have adapted to our presence the least. Coyotes accept us happily. Bears tolerate us and root in our garbage. Wolves hide out in their forest and are okay with our roads and that’s about it. (In fact, some wolves in Russia like to run up and down the highways for fun scaring all rational human beings as they howl.) As much as humans are afraid of wolves, wolves are equally afraid of humans. Wolves are shy. Like humans, they have a fight or flight instinct and unlike ours, theirs is geared to flight first, fight second. Unless a wolf is sick, they are highly unlikely to attack a human. A sick wolf is like any animal, out of control and looking to defend itself.
Because of this, wolves don’t domesticate. They aren’t pets. And they would prefer to stay as far away from us strange smelling two legged animals as possible. (There are a few exceptions.) If a human wants to interact with a wolf, they have to learn the wolf’s language and be accepted by the wolf. Because the wolf isn’t going to do it the other way around. Even if bred with a domesticated dog, a wolfdog prefers the companionship of their human and their human only and needs several square miles of land to roam about in as their instincts to hunt kick in.
Wolves are HUNTERS. PERIOD.
In domesticated dogs, we have all types, guard dogs, bird dogs, scent hounds, dogs who like running, deer hounds and big fluffy things that make big pillows. These dogs love us and we love them. Not so with wolves. Wolves do one thing very well. That’s hunt. Wolves are designed to track down and hunt prey in groups. In fact, the prey that they prefer, animals like deer, elk and moose, are much larger than they are and it is very difficult for a singular wolf to take them down alone.
Hunting for wolves is mostly an act of opportunity. They know how the animals in their territory move. They can find where their prey was and track it from there through scent. Then they work together using group tactics to kill the animal. Wolves don’t go and rip out the jugular of their prey. That’s the purview of action and horror movies. Real wolves bleed their prey out by attacking the front and hind end and scratching it until the animal tires and then they go for the belly, not the throat because the belly is where the good meat is. Contrary to popular belief, the largest animal doesn’t eat first either, the hungriest animal does.
Because they are wearing the prey animal down and trying to dodge horns and hooves, the wolves “tag team” their prey. Two or three will attack the animal while the others rest and watch. When one group of wolves is tired and the others are rested they’ll switch out. In fact, it is believed wolves are smart enough to form group attack tactics and remember them. Wolves know that it’s easier to see things from high up than lower down for instance and if there are ridges in their territory will look for their prey from there instead of in the gullies.
Like I said, wolves are smart. They are smart enough to know that once they get old and blind and maybe disabled that the humans also keep the easy meat penned up. Sheep and cattle are easy meat. And owners can ride horses, have fences and keep big dogs that are mean to scare the wolves away and the wolves will still be able to kill the sheep or cattle. Then the humans get angry and take to helicopters and kill the wolves. (Grimace.)
They also tend not to kill unnecessarily. Sure, you hear hunters complain about coming across a mostly uneaten wolf kill in the woods and how horrible it was that the wolf didn’t finish their food. This isn’t true! (In my opinion, the human hunter is jealous!) Wolves, like humans, are a species that actually save their food for later. Except, unlike humans, they don’t have big metal cold boxes to put it in. If the wolves kill something that’s too big to eat and it’s cold out, they’ll let the meat freeze and come back to it later. This is called cold caching.
Cold caching also helps other animals in the food chain from crows, to vultures, to the wandering coyote or even the bear that wakes up in the middle of winter and may need to eat to go back to sleep. This isn’t waste, but nature’s way of taking care of the entire ecosystem.
If I was going to put another shapeshifting species into the Heathens series, it’d be crows. In the wild, crows help wolves find prey and in return, wolves tear apart the bigger animal so that the crows can get smaller bits of meat. Animals can help each other, especially smart ones (like wolves and crows.)
Because their prey animals tend to be much bigger than they are, wolves live in groups that we call packs.
But the funny thing about packs is that wolf packs are actually FAMILIES.
Wolf packs are not in the wild groups of stranger wolves banding together to take down prey. No. Wolf packs are family units, a mother, a father and a bunch of siblings. Unlike dogs, wolves in the wild do not pack up with complete strangers. Dogs will group and form pack bonds with just about everybody, humans, different breeds, dogs they meet in the street. Not wolves. The only places that stranger wolves that aren’t related to each other live together is captivity. And as with most captivity situations, this changes things and is not good for the wolves. Only in captivity do wolves form groups with a strict hierarchy. Only in captivity will wolves kill their own pups. And only in captivity do males enter the den. None of this happens in the wild.
In the wild, wolf packs are wolf families that are all taking care of and learning from each other. There is no alpha, beta or omega. Mom makes the den for the puppies (and once she has them only she’s allowed inside.) Mom and dad teach the youngsters to hunt. And like all good parents, they allow their older children to lead the hunt in order for the older children to learn how. Then, when the older children leave they become “lone wolves” and may travel up to 800 miles in order to find a mate and create a new family group of their own. (And they may have to lure their mate away from their mate’s family pack and just like in humans, mom and dad don’t like this! They need the youngster to hunt, not leave! They’ll make the lone wolf work to get their mate.)
Mom and dad and all the siblings do an equal part of emotional labor in taking care of the family group. Everybody hunts. Everybody takes care of the puppies and everybody plays together. Mom is just as likely to be in charge as dad. In fact, if mom is mean then one of her daughters might kill her and take care of her youngest siblings herself.
While neighboring wolf packs may be in competition with each other, they are also like your friendly neighbors. Mom and dad wolves mark the territory by peeing on it together. The nearer packs do the same, and if food is scarce they may fight each other over it. If food is plentiful, they are friendly neighbors who like to shout at each other long distance by howling or may get together and exchange greetings, shout and have a big old party. “Hey, hey, haven’t seen you in a while, how are you doing? Any interesting smells?” But they don’t ‘hang’ out on a regular basis and they wouldn’t get along in a dog park!
Wolves and dogs may look similar and seemingly act similar. They are two different species that are wired to do extremely different things. By understanding the differences and knowing about them, humans can set aside their fear and figure out how to coexist peacefully. And you know, maybe hide the easy meat or not encroach on their territory by putting their cattle in national parks and keeping a few rams in the sheep flock.