In 1995-96, I was honored to be the Project Veterinarian for the Gray Wolf Reintroduction Program. Over a two-year period we captured wolves in Canada and relocated 66 wolves into Yellowstone Park and central Idaho. It was awesome having touched and handled every one of those wolves. I have since handled hundreds of captive and free-ranging wolves and they continuously teach me how to work with feral dogs. They have also taught me how to understand dogs. (You can handle wolves with me in my courses at California Wolf Center every January and at Wolf Haven International every November. See my Seminar Schedule.)
During the wolf reintroduction, wolves were transported in crates I had specially designed. Both ends could open to facilitate releasing each wolf. There is a photograph from one of the releases that always seems to surprise me (I was not there at the time.) The biologists had opened both ends of a crate and were trying to get the wolf to run out by threatening it with a snare pole. The wolf was quite displeased, snarling with glaring white teeth and was quite intimidating.
So is this an aggressive wolf? Most people would say that it definitely is! But what is really happening here? Who is being the aggressive one in the photo- the wolf or the biologist? If the person backed away, would that wolf chase after him and try to attack the rest of the people? Not likely. It would be good if the biologist backed away facing the wolf and kept the snare pole in front as a safety precaution, but that is not an aggressive wolf and it would not chase after the people.
The wolf in this case is merely trying to protect itself. It has been in a crate for over 24 hours and does not know his new surrounds. The best thing the biologist could have done would be to walk away and let the wolf look around and relax. It is far more likely to leave and it takes the fight out of it. With the biologist there, the wolf was facing the most significant threat and had no desire to explore outside the crate.
I often speak to university students majoring in wildlife biology. At times I ask them, “ How many of you have dogs or cats?” and about half or more of the students raise their hands. I then ask them,” How many of you think dogs and cats have feelings?” and about 75% of the students quickly raise their hands. We all know the guilt on a dog’s face after it gets into the garbage! Then I ask these wildlife students, “How many of you think wolves and mountain lions have feelings and only about ¼ of the students slowly raise their hands. They had to think about it a bit. That is not something that is talked about among wildlife professionals. Why would dogs and cats have feelings and not wolves or mountain lions? It is a double standard that has developed because few professionals discuss this and because the professional culture really does not want this perspective in their circles.
Wednesday (2/24/10): A Double Standard in How We View Aggressive Dogs.