A Dog Is Not a Wolf—Is It?

Wolf And Dog

The question has popped up several times in discussions on social media, with one faction adamant that wolves and dogs have nothing or very little to do with one another. As a result, we should not make comparisons between them.

As to how similar and different wolves and dogs are, I gave a lecture, “Wolf and Dog— A Comparative Study,” for the first time at the UNAM, Cuautitlán, Mexico, on May 2, 2017, covering the topic from (of course) a strictly scientific point of view. Having been studying wolves, dogs, and related canids for almost all of my professional career, I’ve collected plenty of evidence to pass judgment on the question.

It’s essential for us, as true behavioral sciences students, to stick to facts and sound argumentation. Therefore, I will give you here some points to help you evaluate the debate about wolves and dogs that we’ve seen on the internet, one dominated by hidden political agendas, emotional outbursts, and old wives’ tales. These facts will help you conduct a debate based on the currently available evidence and form an informed opinion on the topic.

Let me remind you that the term ‘compare’ in science refers to the discovery of similarities and differences. Both are equally fascinating and may supply us with valuable knowledge.


The following is only a short sample of the many more comparative facts we have. Please see the reference list.

● The dog family, Canidae, diverged from other carnivore families 50 to 60 million years ago. The family, comprising 34 extant species, shows a wide range of chromosome morphologies. The diploid chromosome number varies from 2n=36 (mainly metacentric autosomes) in the red fox, Vulpes vulpes, to 2n:78 (with all autosomes being acrocentric) in the domestic dog and various wolf-like canids such as the gray wolf, Canis lupus lupus. The chromosomal rearrangements in the different species help us deduce the group’s phylogenetic history (Wayne et al. 1987). 

● Mitochondrial DNA sequences also reveal the Canidae’s evolution and the origins of the domestic dog (Wayne 1993). The results show that the domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris is an extremely close relative to the gray wolf, with as little as 0.2% variation in mitochondrial DNA sequence between the two. That contrasts with the 4% variation in mitochondrial sequences between gray wolves and their nearest wild relative, the coyote, Canis latrans

● Whole genome sequencing indicates that the dog (Canis lupus familiaris), the gray wolf (Canis lupus lupus), and the extinct Taymyr wolf diverged at around the same time 27,000–40,000 years ago (Callaway, 2015).

● Wolves and dogs differ by 0.2 to one percent, using the wolf-coyote time scale. That suggests they parted company about 135,000 years ago (based on samples from 140 dogs of 67 breeds and 162 wolves; see Robert Wayne, UCLA in Budiansky, S. 1999. The Atlantic Monthly; July 1999; The Truth About Dogs; Volume 284, No. 1; page 39-53).

● Canis lupus familiaris: 88% of its behavior is equal to the behavior of the Canis lupus lupus or slightly modified (Zimen, 1992; Feddersen-Petersen, 2004).

● Domestication seems to have caused a reduction in cooperative tendencies in dogs, mainly because of the significantly reduced cooperative breeding and hunting in dogs compared to wolves (Boitani & Ciucci, 1995; Coppinger & Coppinger, 2001; Kubinyi et al., 2007; Miklósi, 2007a; Range et al., 2009; Brauer et al., 2013).

● Unlike wolves, free-ranging dogs have a primarily promiscuous mating system (Daniels, 1983; Ghosh et al., 1984; Boitani et al., 1995; Pal et al., 1999; Pal, 2003). They rarely form monogamous pairs (for exceptions, see Gipson, 1983; Pal, 2005). Group members, other than their mother, rarely feed puppies (Macdonald & Carr, 1995; Boitani et al., 1995; Lord et al., 2013).

● Based on recordings of the social behavior of approximately 200 canines, including ritualized and non-ritualized forms of agonistic behaviors, play, and other affiliative behaviors, Feddersen-Petersen (2007) suggested that—contrasting to wolves—dogs have difficulties in cooperating even in a simple manner of just doing things together. 

● Dog puppies show higher levels of aggressive behavior than wolf cubs (Feddersen-Petersen, 1991).

● In general, the ranking order (hierarchy) is a lot steeper in dogs than in wolves, resulting in a considerable social distance between the high-ranking animal(s) and the rest of the group (Feddersen-Petersen 1991). 

In dogs, agonistic interactions often reach high aggression levels because dogs lack most strategies that wolves commonly use to solve conflicts, such as pacifying and inhibiting their opponents (Feddersen-Petersen 1991). 

● Studies of free-ranging dogs assessed hierarchies using the same behavioral patterns described for wolves, i.e., submissive gestures, dominance displays, and aggressive behavior (Cafazzo et al., 2010).

● As in wolves, submissive gestures had a higher directional frequency within dyads (van Hoof & Wensing, 1987; Cafazzo et al., 2010). 

● Results of studies suggest that the structure of the dog packs was relatively similar to that of wolf family packs, in which the ranking order is based on age, and males tend to dominate females within a given age class (van Hoof & Wensing, 1987; Mech, 1999; Packard, 2003).

● In small wolf family packs, both the breeding male and the breeding female share leadership (Mech, 2000). 

● However, in large wolf family packs containing multiple sexually mature individuals, the higher-ranking breeders usually lead movements during 60%–90% of travel time (Peterson et al., 2002), meaning that in a non-negligible minority of cases, subordinate offspring can also provide leadership.

● Leadership was shared among group members in the studied dog packs, although not equally (Bonanni et al., 2010). Although every dog of at least one year of age could sometimes behave as a leader, each pack contained a limited number of ‘habitual leaders’ (i.e., individuals who behaved more frequently as leaders than they behaved as followers).

● Old and high-ranking individuals mainly provide leadership in the studied population’s free-ranging dogs (note that age and rank are positively correlated). This pattern seems to be relatively similar to that found in wolf family packs, in which parents lead activities (Mech, 2000; Peterson et al., 2002).

● In dogs, but not wolves, high-ranking animals show more aggression than lower-ranking ones about monopolizing the food (Ritter et al., 2012). 

● Wolves are more tolerant than dogs during feeding competitions. Dogs develop a ‘steeper’ hierarchy that inhibits aggression directed towards higher-ranking group members (Ritter et al., 2012).

Conclusion: Wolf and dog are quite similar in anatomy and physiology as to behavior, in some aspects more than others. See also the video “A Dog Is Not a Wolf—Is It?”



Canid Phylogeny

Phylogeny of canid species: the wolf-like clade. The phylogenetic tree is based on 15 kb of exon and intron sequence. The tree shown was constructed using maximum parsimony as the optimality criterion and is the single most parsimonious tree. Species names are represented with corresponding illustrations. Divergence time, in millions of years (Myr), is indicated for three nodes (Figure from Nicole Stange-Thomann, adapted by Roger Abrantes).



Note: For comparison, humans (Homo sapiens) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) last shared a common ancestor ∼5-7 million years ago (Mya). The two species differ in DNA by ~4%. (Chen and Li 2001Brunet et al. 2002Varki, A., & Altheide, T. K. 2005). The complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) molecules of Homo and the common chimpanzee were sequenced. The nucleotide difference between the entire human and chimpanzee sequences is 8.9%. The difference between the control regions of the two sequences is 13.9% and 8.5% between the remaining portions of the sequences (Arnason et al. 1996).





Abrantes, R. (1997). The Evolution of Canine Social Behavior. Wakan Tanka Publishers. ISBN: 0-9660484-1-5.

Arnason U, Xu X, Gullberg A. (1996). Comparison between the complete mitochondrial DNA sequences of Homo and the common chimpanzee based on nonchimeric sequences. J Mol Evol. 1996 Feb;42(2):145-52. doi: 10.1007/BF02198840. PMID: 8919866.

Boitani L. (1983). Wolf and dog competition in Italy. Acta Zoologica Fennica. 1983;174:259-264.

Boitani, L. & Ciucci, P. (1995) Comparative social ecology of feral dogs and wolves, Ethology Ecology & Evolution, 7:1, 49-72, DOI: 10.1080/08927014.1995.9522969.

Boitani L., Ciucci P., Ortolani A. (2007). Behaviour and social ecology of free-ranging dogs. In: Jensen P., ed. The behavioural biology of dogs. Wallingford, UK: CAB International; 2007:147-165.

Bonanni R. (2008). Cooperation, leadership and numerical assessment of opponents in conflicts between groups of feral dogs. Italy: Ph.D. thesis, University of Parma; 2008.

Brunet, M., Guy, F., Pilbeam, D., Mackaye, H.T., Likius, A., Ahounta, D., Beauvilain, A., Blondel, C., Bocherens, H., Boisserie, J.R., et al. (2002). A new hominid from the Upper Miocene of Chad, Central Africa. Nature 418: 145-151.

Bräuer, J., Bös, M., Call, J., & Tomasello, M. (2013). Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) coordinate their actions in a problem-solving task. Animal cognition16(2), 273–285. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-012-0571

Callaway, E. (2015) Ancient wolf genome pushes back dawn of the dog. Nature. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature.2015.17607

Cafazzo S., Valsecchi P., Bonanni R., Natoli E. (2010). Dominance in relation to age, sex and competitive contexts in a group of free-ranging domestic dogs. Behav. Ecol. 2010;21:443-455.

Chen, F.C. and Li, W.H. (2001). Genomic divergences between humans and other hominoids and the effective population size of the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 68: 444-456.

Coppinger, R. & Coppinger, L. (2001). Dogs-A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution. Bibliovault OAI Repository, the University of Chicago Press. 

Daniels, T.J. (1983). The social organization of free-ranging urban dogs. II. estrous groups and the mating system, Applied Animal Ethology, Volume 10, Issue 4, 1983, ISSN 0304-3762, https://doi.org/10.1016/0304-3762(83)90185-2.

Feddersen-Petersen D. (1991). Verhaltensstörungen bei Hunden—Versuch ihrer Klassifizierung [Behavior disorders in dogs–study of their classification]. DTW. Deutsche tierarztliche Wochenschrift98(1), 15–19.

Feddersen-Petersen, D. (2004). Hundepsychologie. Sozialverhalten und Wesen. Emotionen und Individualität. 4. Auflage. Franckh-Kosmos. ISBN: 978-3-440-13785-7.

Feddersen-Petersen D.U. (2007) Social behaviour of dogs and related canids. In: Jensen P., ed. The behavioural biology of dogs. Wallingford, UK: CAB International; 2007:105-119.

Ghosh B., Choudhuri D.K., Pal B. (1984). Some aspects of sexual behaviour of stray dogs, Canis familiaris. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 1984:13:113-127.

Gipson P.S. (1983) Evaluations of behavior of feral dogs in interior Alaska, with control implications. Vertebrate Pest Control Manag. Mater. 4th Symp. Am. Soc. Testing Mater. 1983;4:285-294.

Kubinyi, E., Virányi, Z., Miklosi, A. (2007). Comparative Social Cognition: From wolf and dog to humans. Comparative Cognition & Behavior Reviews. 2. 10.3819/ccbr.2008.20002.

Lindblad-Toh, K., Wade, C.M., Mikkelsen, T.S., Karlsson, E.K. (2005) Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog. Nature 438(7069):803-819. DOI: 10.1038/nature04338. 

Lord K., Feinstein M., Smith B., Coppinger R. (2013). Variation in reproductive traits of members of the genus Canis with special attention to the domestic dog (Canis familiaris). Behav. Processes. 2013;92:131-142.

Macdonald D.W., Carr G.M. (1995). Variation in dog society: between resource dispersion and social flux. In: Serpell J., ed. The domestic dog: its evolution, behaviour and interactions with people. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1995:199-216.

Mech D. (1970). The Wolf: The Ecology and Behaviour of an Endangered Species. Garden City, NY: Natural History Press.

Mech L.D. (1999). Alpha status, dominance, and division of labor in wolf packs. Can. J. Zool. 1999;77:1196-1203.

Mech L.D. (2000). Leadership in wolf, Canis lupus, packs. Can. Field-Natural .2000;114:259-263.

Mech L. D., Boitani L. (2003). Wolf social ecology, in Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation, eds Mech L. D., Boitani L. (Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press; ), 1–35.

Miklosi, A. (2008). Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition. Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition. 1-304. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199295852.001.0001. 

Packard J.M. (2003). Wolf behavior: reproductive, social and intelligent. In: Mech L.D., Boitani L., eds. Wolves: behavior, ecology, and conservation. Chicago, IL, and London: University of Chicago Press; 2003:35-65.

Pal, S.K., Ghosh B., Roy S. (1998). Agonistic behaviour of free-ranging dogs (Canis familiaris) in relation to season, sex and age. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 1998;59:331-348.

Pal, S.K., Ghosh B., Roy S. (1999). Inter- and intrasexual behaviour of free-ranging dogs (Canis familiaris). Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 1999;62:267-278.

Pal, S.K. (2001). Population ecology of free-ranging urban dogs in West Bengal, India. Acta Theriol. 2001;46:69-78.

Pal, S.K. (2003). Reproductive behaviour of free-ranging rural dogs in West Bengal, India. Acta Theriol. 2003;48:271-281.

Pal, S.K. (2005). Parental care in free-ranging dogs, Canis familiaris. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 2005;90:31-47.

Peterson, O., Jacobs A.K., Drummer I.D., Mech L.D., Smith D.W. (2002). Leadership behavior in relation to dominance and reproductive status in gray wolves, Canis lupus. Can. J. Zool. 2002:80:1405-1412.

Range F., Horn L., Bugnyar T., Gajdon G. K., Huber L. (2009). Social attention in keas, dogs, and human children. Anim. Cogn. 12, 181–192. 10.1007/s10071-008-0181-0.

Range, F., & Virányi, Z. (2015). Tracking the evolutionary origins of dog-human cooperation: the “Canine Cooperation Hypothesis.” Frontiers in psychology5, 1582. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01582.

Ritter, C., Viranyi, Z., Range, F., (2012). Who is more tolerant? Cofeeding in pairs of pack-living dogs (Canis familiaris) and wolves (Canis lupus). Third International Canine Science Forum.

van Hoof J.A.R.A.M., Wensing J.A.B. (1987). Dominance and its behavioural measure in a captive wolf pack. In: Frank H.W., ed. Man and wolf. Dordrecht, Olanda (Netherlands): Junk Publishers; 1987:219-252.

Varki, A., & Altheide, T. K. (2005). Comparing the human and chimpanzee genomes: Searching for needles in a haystack. Comparing the Human and Chimpanzee Genomes: Searching for Needles in a Haystack; genome.cshlp.org. https://genome.cshlp.org/content/15/12/1746.full#ref-10.

Vilà, C., Savolainen, P., Maldonado, J. E., Amorim, I. R., Rice, J. E., Honeycutt, R. L., Crandall, K. A., Lundeberg, J., & Wayne, R. K. (1997). Multiple and Ancient Origins of the Domestic Dog. Science276(5319), 1687–1689. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2892656

Wayne R. K. (1993). Molecular evolution of the dog family. Trends in genetics : TIG9(6), 218–224. https://doi.org/10.1016/0168-9525(93)90122-x

Wayne, R. K., Geffen, E., Girman, D. J., Koepfli, K. P., Lau, L. M., & Marshall, C. R. (1997). Molecular Systematics of the Canidae. Systematic Biology46(4), 622–653. https://doi.org/10.2307/2413498.

Wayne, R. K., Nash, W. G., & O’Brien, S. J. (2008). Chromosomal evolution of the Canidae. Cytogenetics and Cell Genetics 1987, Vol. 44, No. 2-3 – Karger Publishers.

Zimen, E. (1992). Der Hund – Abstammung, Verhalten, Mensch und Hund. Goldmann, 1992. ISBN-10: 3442123976.



Featured Course of the Week

All About Puppies All About Puppies deals with everything you need to know about puppies: choice of a puppy, imprinting and socialization, creating good habits and preventing misbehavior, training and stimulating the puppy, house rules, and much more.

Featured Price: € 148.00 € 98.00

How Wolves Change Rivers

The Wolves Changed the Rivers (WolfByRonanDonovanNG).

In 1926, there were no wolves remaining in Yellowstone, the species’ former native home. Between 1977 and the re-introduction in 1995, we have reliable reports of wolves being seen throughout the park. Most of them were either lone wolves or pairs, probably only transiting. Finally, in 1995, grey wolf packs were reintroduced in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park and Idaho.

Before the extermination, the wolves living within the park belonged to the subspecies Northern Rocky Mountains wolf, Canis lupus irremotus. The reintroduced species of 1995 belong to the subspecies Mackenzie Valley wolf, Canis lupus occidentalis.

The reintroduction of the wolves produced a more significant impact on the biodiversity of the Yellowstone than anticipated.

The wolves’ predation on the elk population, until then unchallenged, produced a significant increase of new-growth in various plants. Aspen and willow trees, previously grazed by the elks more or less at will, got suddenly a chance to grow. With the presence of the wolves, the elks stopped venturing into deeper, and for them dangerous, thickets where they could easily be surprised. They began to avoid areas of low visibility, which would increase the chances of wolf attacks.

The elks began avoiding open regions such as valley bottoms, open meadows, and gorges, where they would be at a disadvantage in case of an attack from a wolf pack. William J. Ripple and Robert L. Bestcha dubbed this process top-down control. In ecology, top-down control denotes that top predators regulate the lower sections of the trophic pyramid. In other words: a top predator controls the structure or population dynamics of a particular ecosystem.

With new vegetation growing and expanding came subtle changes in the waterways running through the park. That had an impact on other species as well. Various bird species came back to Yellowstone national park with the increased number of trees. The beaver, previously extinct in the region, returned to the park. Their dams across the rivers attracted otters, muskrats, and reptiles.

Probably due to the wolves keeping the coyote populations at bay, the red fox got suddenly a chance to survive because the number of rabbits and mice grew considerably. The raven, always the wolf follower, came back to the park as well, now able to feed on the leftovers of the wolves.

The wolves changed the rivers in as much as they readdressed the lost balance within the region, one we had created when we exterminated them. With a better balance between predator and prey, top meat eaters and top grazers, came the possibility for other species to thrive. With the increased vegetation growth, erosion decreased, and the river banks stabilized.

Every time we produce drastic changes in nature, we interfere deeply with the whole eco-system.

Nature is indeed a beautiful act of balance.


References and further reading

Featured image: The wolves changed the rivers of the Yellowstone. Picture by photographer Ronan Donovan, NG.

Featured Course of the Week

All About Puppies All About Puppies deals with everything you need to know about puppies: choice of a puppy, imprinting and socialization, creating good habits and preventing misbehavior, training and stimulating the puppy, house rules, and much more.

Featured Price: € 148.00 € 98.00

Learn more in our course Ethology. Ethology studies the behavior of animals in their natural environment. It is fundamental knowledge for the dedicated student of animal behavior as well as for any competent animal trainer. Roger Abrantes wrote the textbook included in the online course as a beautiful flip page book. Learn ethology from a leading ethologist.

Ethology Course

The Wolf Within—The Truth About Why We Fear the Wolf


Our love-hate relationship with the wolf, the animal sharing a 15 thousand years ancestry with man’s best friend, the dog, suggests a deep conflict, one that is well hidden and maybe closer to each of us than we dare to admit. Are we hiding a skeleton in the closet? Why do we take great pains to understand and be good to our dogs while hunting the wolf mercilessly?

Back in time, there were no wolves or dogs, only Canis lupus perantiquus (my name), the common ancestor of Canis lupus lupusCanis lupus familiars, and 37 other subspecies. Humans, by then Homo sapiens sapiens, developed, not surprisingly, a particularly healthy relationship with this Canis lupus perantiquus. Both shared common interests, and humans were still just one of many species. The association was mutually beneficial and resulted in some humans favoring certain perantiquus and some perantiquus finding human company particularly rewarding.

Natural selection favors the fittest, and, as usual, species change over time. These changes can be so extensive that some species turn into new ones; others only into new subspecies. The Canis lupus perantiquus changed under the selective pressure from humans and their environment and became Canis lupus familiaris. In a sense, we created this subspecies and all its variations to serve and protect us.

Some species react strongly to stimuli they have not experienced for thousands of years, such as the scent of a predator. These alarming and life-saving key-stimuli remain in the species’ gene pool, a kind of genetic memory. It is unlikely that our fear of wolves stems from this kind of genetic memory; if we were that afraid of the wolf, we would never have gotten as close to it as we did. 

We were probably scared of the wolf in primitive times. Still, thousands of years of proximity and cooperation certainly changed that, as the least fearful members of both species found mutual benefits in the relationship. Back then, we can presume the wolves that were least afraid of humans and capable of cooperating had better chances of survival and propagating (and ultimately turned into dogs). Conversely, the humans that were least afraid of wolves and were better at cooperating were more successful hunters, therefore survived and propagated (and ultimately turned into dog owners). Thus, any modern excessive fear and hatred of the wolf make no sense from an evolutionary perspective, though they might from a psychological one. After all, we seem to fear what most resembles us—the enemy within!

Our fear and hatred of the wolf began long after the domestication, when humans took the first steps to distance themselves from nature, to enslave and exploit it—it happened when we invented agriculture. In the beginning, there was no war, only small-scale feuds provoked by a wolf occasionally capturing a domestic animal. The large-scale extermination of the wolf is not due to a single factor but to an intermingled combination of factors that include mythology, religious zeal, environmental changes, economic incentives, and a deep psychological scar, as we shall see.

Mythology, such as Grimm’s fairytales and Aesop’s fables, evokes the wolf as evil, untrustworthy, conniving, and cowardly, a greedy thief that will go to great lengths to devour a poor, little lamb, child, or older person. Tales of werewolves also exacerbated our fear and hatred of the wolf.

Religious convictions support our hatred of the wolf. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26-29). European farmers and American settlers were devout Christians, and they needed no more explicit incentive to declare war on all that crept upon the Earth. “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-29)—and the wolf became the ultimate target and symbol of their mission.

There is a clear association between the wolf and the wild, the wilderness and the untamed. As Burbank puts it, “The New World wilderness, where the Pilgrims found themselves, was a sinister adversary, home of tribal savages who practiced evil. The Puritans regarded the wilderness itself as a howling beast, a wolf inspired by the Devil. In their desolation, they sojourned and their journey reminded them that believers wandered in a world of sin, a spiritual wilderness replete with Godless enemies and insane beasts that wanted only to consume the righteous.” (Burbank 1990:80)

Farming and keeping domestic animals in enclosures combined with the wolf’s natural prey’s decimation forced the wolf to get closer to human settlements and feed upon the occasional livestock. Today, most wolves avoid livestock when they have enough wild prey, but the wolves of the 1800s faced extreme food shortages and preyed upon cattle and sheep. That wasn’t a problem for wealthy farmers. Even the smaller family farms could have survived the subsequent economic loss. Nevertheless, governments attempted to solve the supposed problem by creating bounties in return for a wolf’s head. Besides shooting them, wolf hunters used traps, poison, denning (excavating a den and killing the cubs), and biological warfare (infecting captive wolves with sarcoptic mange and releasing them into the wild)—so wolfing became a lucrative business.

Mythology, religious zeal, and the economy go a long way towards explaining the hatred but don’t explain everything. One thing is to control competition (it happens all the time in nature). Another is to embark on radical extermination and, what’s more, find pleasure in the practice of torture (such as setting wolves on fire, skinning them alive, hanging them, etc.). Such barbarism suggests the real reason for our hatred is well hidden and maybe closer to our hearts than we care to believe or dare to face.

As with all organisms, human evolution happens quietly and slowly unless some sudden, drastic environmental change prompts the selection of unusual traits. The human brain was the sudden, single, dramatic cause that provoked a major leap in the evolution of the species—and it was not an external cause; it came indeed from deep within us. The human brain enabled man to devise farming, science and technology, and ultimately an anthropocentric religion. Agriculture enabled us to multiply far beyond the average rate until then and colonize the entire world. Advancements in science and technology gave us the tools to subdue virtually all life on the planet—except perhaps for some bacteria and viruses. Religious convictions provided us with motive and momentum beyond all rationality.

There is a high price to pay when evolution equals revolution. The (relatively) fast adoption of dualism and a mechanistic view of the world forced us to part with holism and animism and left us with deep scars. To obey God, conquer the world and subdue all that crept upon our planet, we had to sever our connection with the natural, unruly, uncivilized world. To live up to the moral laws of Christianity, we had to go against our nature, denying who we were and our origins. We had to cover our tracks, oppress, suppress, forget all that reminded us of our holistic past. The wilderness in general and the wolf, in particular, reminded us of our true nature, the very same nature we despised. It became them and us. They were symbols of the unruly, the untamed, and we, the purveyors of God’s wishes and civilized order. They symbolized what we were, not what we wanted to be. We had to subdue our own wild side, a legacy from our ancestors for millions of years, which had proved highly efficient for survival, yet was despised and denied by the Holy Church. We were imprinted with religious zeal, which elicited the need to stifle the symbolic wild wolf inside each one of us—and we denied our origins, a strategy that was always only going to work on a short-term basis. A conflict of identity was inevitable, and the werewolf represents perhaps our struggle to switch from an organic to a mechanistic worldview.

While the dog represents what we aspire to be, the wolf stands for what we refuse to acknowledge as part of us. The dog symbolizes control, reminds us of our power, and is testimony to our ability to tame the wild. The wolf is our guilty conscience, for it reminds us of our humble origins, represents the freedom we gave up, the togetherness we abandoned.

Through his fables, Aesop created many myths detrimental to the wolf by depicting it with all the characteristics we despise most. Unknowingly, hence most ironically, in one uncharacteristic fable, he epitomizes our age-old conflict. In “The Dog and the Wolf,” the dog invites the starving wolf to live with him and his master, but when the wolf discovers that it involves being chained, the wolf replies, “Then good-bye to you Master Dog. Better starve free than be a fat slave.”

We became fat slaves by our own choice—and the wolf poignantly reminds us that there was a time when we had other options—and herein, the dog (wolf) lies buried.*

“Looking back, we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves—and the enemy was in us,” says Private Chris Taylor in Oliver Stone’s movie Platoon from 1986. Echoing Taylor, I’d say: we never fought the wolf, never the enemy, we fought ourselves—and the enemy within us. As long as we will remain in denial of our inheritance, the scar won’t heal, and the enemy will stay well entrenched within us—and so will we keep fighting the wolf.

Keep howling!



* “That’s where the dog lies buried,” means “that’s what lies behind.” This idiomatic expression exists in many languages, e.g. “da liegt der Hund begraben” (German), “siinä on koira haudattuna,” (Finish), “där är en hund begraven” (Swedish), but not in English. Most interestingly, the Swedish expression “att ana ugglor i mossen” (to suspect owls in the bog), meaning almost the same, comes from the Danish expression “der er ugler i mosen.” Originally, it wasn’t ugler, but ulver (wolves), which makes more sense since an owl in the bog is nothing scary. Since the two words in some spoken Danish dialects are difficult to distinguish from one another, it was mistranslated into Swedish, and the expression was re-introduced in Denmark with owls substituting wolves. The expression and its history were too good for me not to use in this article’s context. I hope native English speakers will regard it as a language enrichment rather than a nuisance.




Aesop’s Fables. https://www.aesopfables.com.

Bible, Genesis 1:26-29. https://biblia.com/bible/esv/genesis/1/26-29.

Burbank, J.C. (1990). Vanishing Lobo: The Mexican Wolf and the Southwest. Johnson Books. ASIN: B01K2KGV14. ‎

Fogleman, V.M. (1989). “American Attitudes Towards Wolves: A History of Misperception.” Environmental Review: ER, vol. 13, no. 1, 1989, pp. 63–94. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3984536.

Griffin, E. (2007). Blood sport: hunting in Britain since 1066. Yale University Press. p. 65. ISBN: 978-0-300-11628-1.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales. https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~spok/grimmtmp/.

McIntire, R. (1995). War Against the Wolf: America’s Campaign to Exterminate the Wolf. Voyageur Press. ISBN-10: 0896582647.

Westermarck, E.A. (2013). Christianity and Morals. Routledge. ISBN 9780203534472.

Woodward, I. (1979). The Werewolf Delusion. Paddington Press Ltd. ISBN: 0-448-23170-0.

The Wolf: Myth, Legend and Misconception”. Abundant Wildlife Society of North America. Archived from the original on 2013-09-25.

The Fear of Wolves: A Review of Wolf Attacks on Humans” (PDF). Norsk Institutt for Naturforskning.

Featured image: “The wilderness in general and the wolf in particular reminded us of our true nature, the very same nature we despised. So we never fought the wolf, never the enemy, we fought ourselves—and the enemy within us” (photo by Monty Sloan).

He Told Me a Story of Freedom and Eternity, Togetherness and Solitude

Roger Abrantes
Articles and Blogs, Free
Life, Love, Wolf
He Told Me A Story

I don’t have preferences. Life fascinates me, and I’ve been a student of life, as long as I remember. I have no favorite animal, as such. I have enjoyed equally the many days (and nights) I’ve spent studying dogs, horses, cats, ducks, bees, sea-horses, and wolves. All have taught me valuable lessons that I carry with me, within me.

I was only a boy, by then. It was a late-summer afternoon, and I had been exploring the forest and the mountain all day, like I always did, curious about all life forms, big and small. The creek behind the pines was not that large that time of the year, but its water, slowly running down the slope was crystal clear and deliciously cold. After filling my canteen, I raised my eyes, and there he was, just across me on the opposite bank. He looked at me, drank some water, then looked up again. I did the same. I didn’t feel any fear, though I should have, for they—the adults—told scary stories about this bloodthirsty and merciless beast.


I listened to my friend the wolf’s stories, stories I carry with me, within me, and made me what I am. (Photo by Monty Sloan from Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Indiana, USA.)

He looked at me with his deep eyes, and for a time we stood still, barely daring to breathe and break the magic—as if time had ended, and we were but memories of an era bygone. We looked at one another for a moment scarcely, one which remains imprinted on my mind, one that made me what I am. I don’t know what my eyes told him, though his glance told me a story of freedom and eternity, togetherness and solitude. I went home with my secret; and a strange, warm feeling like when one made a new friend, I reckoned, for I didn’t know, by then, how it felt to be in love. I never told my parents, my grandparents, or anyone. I knew he was in danger, and you don’t betray a friend, do you?

A few days later, maybe more, there was some commotion in the village. My grand-daddy and I went down to find out about the uproar. On the old market square, laying there on the ground, dirty and bloody—there, he was.

A farmer had shot him. His eyes were open and serene. They had lost the spark I guess is the gift of life, but they spoke to me, nonetheless. I held back the tears I felt were building up. Big boys don’t cry, and my friend the wolf didn’t cry, so I wouldn’t either. My grand-daddy grabbed my hand and led me away while I listened to my friend the wolf’s stories, stories I carry with me, within me, and made me what I am.

Photo by Monty Sloan. Artwork by Anton Antonsen.

Featured Course of the Week

All About Puppies All About Puppies deals with everything you need to know about puppies: choice of a puppy, imprinting and socialization, creating good habits and preventing misbehavior, training and stimulating the puppy, house rules, and much more.

Featured Price: € 148.00 € 98.00


Learn more in our course Ethology. Ethology studies the behavior of animals in their natural environment. It is fundamental knowledge for the dedicated student of animal behavior as well as for any competent animal trainer. Roger Abrantes wrote the textbook included in the online course as a beautiful flip page book. Learn ethology from a leading ethologist.

Ethology Course

Your Most Powerful Animal Training Tool

Your Most Powerful Training Tool (RogerAndSilas)

Your most powerful animal training tool is yourself. The featured picture shows this author in 1985 with Silas, the wolf cub. Notice the whistle hanging around my neck. I used it to produce a sound as a conditioned positive reinforcer (yes, the precursor of the click sound from the clicker). Silas preferred, though, my personal verbal reinforcer (dygtig)* because I always associated it with friendly body language and facial expressions. Thus, ‘dygtig’ meant acceptance. For wolves, more sensitive to social situations than dogs, being accepted is the ultimate social reinforcer; for the cubs, it is vital.

These were the first observations leading me to suspect that verbal and mechanic conditioned positive reinforcers had different applications. Parts of the verbal reinforcer (the body language and facial expression) do not require conditioning, Therefore, I later coined the term semi-conditioned reinforcer.

I’ll say without hesitation that our most powerful animal training tool is ourselves. If we control ourselves, our body language, our facial expressions, and the little that we say, we’ll achieve what we pretend and more.

Interacting with someone is not merely conditioning a series of behaviors—it is creating a relationship.

You can see me illustrating this in the DVD “The 20 Principles All Animal Trainers Must Know” shot by the Tawzers in Montana at a seminar I gave. Watch the trailer here. Also, explore the many resources on this site. Feel free to browse as you please, watch the free videos and read the free articles.

* “Dygtig” [ˈdøgdi] is a Danish word and means “clever.” It is, apparently, a good sound as a reinforcer, I discovered many years ago.

Featured image: Roger Abrantes in 1985 interacting with Silas, the wolf cub—creating a relationship.

Learn more in our course Ethology and Behaviorism. Based on Roger Abrantes’ book “Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism,” this online course explains and teaches you how to create a stable and balanced relationship with any animal. It analyses the way we interact with our animals, combines the best of ethology and behaviorism and comes up with an innovative, yet simple and efficient approach to animal training. A state-of-the-art online course in four lessons including videos, a beautiful flip-pages book, and quizzes.

Ethology Institute