Posts Tagged ‘tame wolf’

Keulemans wolf

Americans don’t like to admit it much, but the French intervened to help us win our independence. If they had not intervened, the entirety of British North America might have wound up like Ireland– constantly in rebellion and constantly being repressed.

When the French formally recognized America, they sent out trained soldiers to advise the rebels and to support their mission.

Among these officers were François Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de Chastellux and Charles Armand Tuffin, Marquis de la Rouërie. The Marquis de Chastellux was  major general who served as the main liaison between General Washington and Comte de Rochambeau, the commander who was in command of French forces in North America.  The Marquis de la Rouërie, referred to in American texts as “Colonel Armand,” was a French officer who came to North America in 1776 to assist in the rebellion. He would later return to France and as an ardent defender of the nobility,  he became one of the leaders of an armed rebellion against the 1st French Republic in Brittany and Maine.

Colonel Armand spent enough time in North America to become fully acquainted with our wildlife and customs, and while in service of the rebellion, he managed to take in a black wolf.

The Marquis de Chastellux, who was a leading public intellectual in France and a good friend of Thomas Jefferson, would later write about Colonel Armand’s pet wolf.  At the time, Chastellux was a renowned author, and he had been appointed to the Académie française in 1775. The Académie française is sort of the “guardian council” of the French language. It has final say about the correct usage of the French language.  When Chastellux returned to France, he wrote a memoir of his experiences in North America, and it is in his recollections that he mentions Colonel Armand bringing a pet wolf to Monticello:

The only stranger who visited us during our stay at Monticello, was Colonel Armand whom I have mentioned in my first Journal; he had been in France the preceding year with Colonel Laurens, but returned soon enough to be present at the siege of York, where he marched as a volunteer at the attack of the redoubts. His object in going to France, was to purchase clothing and accoutrements compleat for a regiment he had already commanded, but which had been so roughly handled in the campaigns to the southward, that it was necessary to form it anew: he made the advance of the necessaries to Congress, who engaged to provide men and horses. Charlotteville [Charlottesville] a rising little town situated in a valley two leagues from Monticello, being the quarter assigned for assembling this legion, Colonel Armand invited me to dine with him the next day, where Mr. Jefferson and I went, and found the legion under arms. It is to be composed of 200 horse and 150 foot. The horse was almost compleat and very well amounted; the infantry was still feeble, but the whole were well clothed, well armed, and made a very good appearance. We dined with Colonel Armand, all the officers of his regiment, and a wolf he amuses himself in bringing up, which is now ten months old, and is as familiar, mild, and gay as a young dog; he never quits his master, and has constantly the privilege of sharing his bed. It is to be wished that he may always answer so good an education, and not resume his natural character as he advances to maturity. He is not quite of the same kind with ours, his skin is almost black, and very glossy; he has nothing fierce about the head, so that were it.not for his upright ears, and pendent tail, one might readily take him for a dog. Perhaps he owes the singular advantage of not exhaling a bad smell, to the care which is taken taken of his toilet; for I remarked that the dogs were not in the least afraid of him, and that when they crossed his trace, they paid no attention to it (pg 46-48).

Travels in North-America, in the years 1780, 1781, and 1782, the Marquis de Chastellux (1786).

There is no mention of what happened to this black North American wolf that was as tame as any dog.

At ten months old, this wolf would still be less inclined to be testing its boundaries, so its behavior is not out of the ordinary.

There is no record that Colonel Armand brought his wolf back to France.

Maybe it ran off into the forest.

Maybe it became someone else’s pet.

Maybe it was bred to some farmer’s dogs.

We don’t know.

But humans have long been intrigued by wild dogs. One of the reasons why we have domestic dogs in the first place is because people were fascinated with wolves. It is this fascination that caused us to bring them into our societies in the first place.

And all over the world people have kept wolves. It is usually a poor decision.

But there always were wolves that don’t mind being dogs.

After all, a dog is a wolf that doesn’t mind being a dog, and those traits had to come from somewhere.







Read Full Post »

Stories of easily tamed wolves are not unique to North America. In 1866, a British colonel and big game hunter named Alexander Angus Airlie Kinloch–who was then  serving in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in Ladakh in northern India– managed to procure two black wolf pups that grew up to become very tame adults. He recounts the story about the tame wolves in his treatise on the big game animals called Large game shooting in Thibet, the Himalayas, and northern India (1885):

On the 5th June, 1866, I was encamped at the foot of the Lanak Pass, between the Tsomoriri Lake and Hanle, when one of my servants brought in a young Black Wolf apparently about three weeks old. He had procured it from some wandering Tartars, and informed me that they had another one. I at once recognized the value of my prize, and sent off a man to secure the other cub, which arrived next morning. I had only heard of one other Black Wolf having been met with by Englishmen, and that had been shot the previous year in the neighbourhood of the Mansarovara Lake. I was, therefore, particularly anxious to keep the young Wolves alive, and in this I was fortunately successful. Emptying a ‘kilta’ I converted it into a kennel for the cubs, which I fastened to opposite ends of the only dog chain I possessed. I made the middle of this fast to an iron tent peg, which was driven into the ground, and thus the little beasts were secured. They fed ravenously on raw meat, and before long became pretty tame. When I marched they were bundled chain and all into the ‘kilta,’ the lid of which was then tied on, and thus they journeyed to the next halting place, the ‘kilta’ being slung horizontally either to the pack saddle of a Yak, or behind a coolie’s shoulders. On camp being pitched they were taken out and pegged down. One night they managed to draw their peg, but they were fortunately discovered next morning, the chain having become entangled in a bush, about a mile from my tent. They accompanied me for more than two months, and before that time had become a good deal too large for their abode: they gnawed holes in it, and used to travel with their heads sticking out at opposite ends.

As I was quartered at Meerut, whither I had to return by the 15th of August, I was afraid that the heat of the plains would be too much for them ; so I left them in charge of a friend at the hill station of Kussowlie, near Simla, till the end of October, when I had them sent down to me. By this time they had immensely increased in size, but although they had not seen me for so long, they recognized me, and also my greyhound, of which they had previously been very fond. They soon became much attached to me, and would fawn on me like dogs, licking my face and hands; they were always, however, ready to growl and snap at a stranger. I took them down to Agra at the time of the great Durbar there, and used to let them loose in camp with my dogs, so tame had they become.

I presented them to the Zoological Society, and they reached the Regent’s Park gardens in safety: they lived there for eight or nine years, and produced several litters of cubs.

All the cubs were black, a fact which, I think goes far to prove that the Black Wolf is a separate species, or at any rate a permanent variety, and not a mere instance of melanism, as some naturalists have supposed (pg. 40).

Kinloch was simply wrong that the black wolves represented a unique species. It is simple melanism, but it is not clear if these wolves got their melanism through crossbreeding with domestic dogs, as is the case with modern black wolves in North America and Italy, or are black as the result of another mutation. In dogs, we have two forms of black. The most common– and the one that was transferred to modern wolves and coyotes– is called dominant black. It is very easily transmitted through a population–just because it is a simple dominant trait. The other is called recessive black, and it is pretty rare in domestic dogs. It has not been observed in any wild canids, and because it’s recessive, it is pretty difficult to get transmitted intergenerationally. These black wolves could have had an entirely different genetic basis for their color, but if it were dominant, it could be transmitted in a single population, which would give it the appearance that we were looking at a different species.

I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but despite all of this speculation that has gone on for centuries, the extensive nuclear DNA studies are suggesting that there is only one species of wolf– unless one counts the Ethiopian wolf as a wolf. However, it is more distantly related to the wolf than the golden jackal . Domestic dogs, dingoes, and New Guinea singing dogs are also part of this species. The s0-called red wolf is a recent hybrid between the coyote and the wolf, and the proposed Eastern wolf species is a wolf with some coyote ancestry. Although some Indian and Himalayan wolves have unique mtDNA sequences, genome-wide assays have not found any unique characteristics.In at least one nuclear DNA study,  Indian wolves were found to be closely related to domestic dogs, which probably means that their supposed uniqueness may exist only in their mtDNA, which reflects nothing more than an ancient matriline.

The newly discovered African wolf may be truly unique, but only its mtDNA has been examined. Nuclear DNA analysis might reveal it to be something unique, but it could just as easily turn out that it is part of this species.

There are many accounts of people taming wolves. The black coloration is usually mentioned as a prerequisite for taming, but it could be that black wolf pups were those most likely to be stolen and kept as pets.


NB: The Indian wolf I’m referring to in the post is Canis lupus pallipes, which is a smaller, primitive wolf subspecies. The wolves that Kinloch procured in northern India were likely Canis lupus chanco.  The pallipes wolf ranges from India to Israel and Turkey, and it may be an ancestor of the domestic dog. Some pallipes wolves in India have a unique mtDNA sequence, which has led to some speculation that that they are a distinct species.

As we have seen with East African black-backed jackals, possessing quite divergent mtDNA sequences is not necessarily indicative of unique species status.

See earlier posts

Read Full Post »

The Kentucky frontier wasn’t the only place that wolves were used as hunting dogs. Wolves were also commonly used as hunting dogs on the Pennsylvania frontier. They were also crossbred with “improved” Western dogs to make superior working animals, but the practice was largely discontinued when it was decided that every farm ought to have a “purebred” collie or shepherd.

Henry Wharton Shoemaker was a polymath of sorts.  He was a Columbia graduate, who worked on Wall Street and for the US foreign service before moving to Pennylvania to work as a newspaper publisher. He became well-versed in the folklore and local history of the mountainous regions of Central and Western Pennsylvania, and it is from his writings on this subjects that we can find out what the original settlers thought of different animals. He was an ardent conservationist, and he worked as writer for Gifford Pinchot’s campaigns for the US Senate and for governor of Pennsylvania.

His interests as an historian, conservationist, and folklorist brought him to write two volumes on the history of the extinct animals in Pennsylvania. One volume would cover wolves and “panthers” (the creatures also known as cougars/pumas/mountain lions/catamounts), and another would cover the other extirpated species.  These two volumes are often compiled into a single volume called Extinct Pennsylvania Animals, which is traditionally the name for the second volume. The second section of the first volume is called Wolf Days in Pennsylvania, and it was originally published in 1914.

Through his research and interviews with those who had first hand accounts with these animals, he found that the settlers believed that there were three kinds of wolf in Pennsylvania.  There was a large gray wolf and a large black wolf, but these appeared to breed true, even though it wasn’t unusual for a black wolf to whelp a gray pup. And there was a small brown wolf, which sounds suspiciously like an account of the existence of an eastern population of coyotes. I think the corpus of the evidence– particularly the genetic evidence–suggests that coyotes did exist in the East, but they were extirpated with the wolves.  As the larger wolves were removed from other parts of their range, the smaller coyotes were able to file back into the East again. (The so-called red wolf is largely a fictional animal.)

The settlers in Central and Western Pennsylvania considered the black wolf to be a separate species from the gray.  The gray and “small brown wolves” were easily killed, but the black ones were much more cunning and wary.  In what might sound like a contradiction, it was very common for these black wolves to be socialized to people and then used as hunting or working dogs.

Shoemaker writes:

As far as intelligence went, the black wolf was far the superior of the others. It was susceptible of domestication, and would have made the ideal hunting dog of Pennsylvania….Dr. W. J. McKnight, in his “Pioneer Outline history of Northwestern Pennsylvania,” states “the pioneer hunter would sometimes raise a wolf pup. This pup would be a dog in every sense of the word until about two years old, and then would be a wolf in all his acts.” Audubon in his “Quadrupeds of North America” says: “Once when we were traveling on foot not far from the Southern boundary of Kentucky, we fell in with a black wolf, following a man with his rifle on his shoulder. On speaking with him about this animal, he assured us that it was as tame and gentle as a dog, anr) that he had never met a dog that could trail a deer better. We were so much struck with this account and the noble appearance of the wolf, that we offered him one hundred dollars for it, but the owner said he would not part with it for any price.” What was the case in the West, was equally true in the Seven Mountains and in Clearfield and Jefferson Counties. One or two of the earliest hunters trained black wolves to act as hunting dogs and companions. These and wild black wolves bred with dogs owned by pioneers, producing a really worthy progeny. St. George Mivart has said “hybrids between the dog and the wolf have proved to be fertile, though for no long period.” The writer remembers that in his early boyhood about twenty years ago he saw several of these wolf-dogs. They were intelligent and kindly, and highly prized by their owners, farmers in some of the valleys adjacent, to the Seven Mountains. The craze for handsome sheep dogs or collies which struck the valleys about this time resulted in ending the breeding of the wolfish clogs, which to those not in sympathy with them, were technically mongrels, and they eventually disappeared. There are probably few of them now in existence. Their owners declared that they never showed the slightest tendency to revert to a wild state. In September, 1898, the writer visited a farmer, who tilled some back lots at the foot of the mountains on the South side of Brush Valley not far from Minnick’s Gap. This old fellow, Abe Royer by name, kept some turkeys, half wild, which were the result of his tame turkey hens crossing with wild gobblers which lived on the mountain back of his cabin. He had preserved several wild pigeons until 1895, to be used as “stool pigeons” in the event of the great flocks “returning.”

He also kept several wolf-dogs. These animals had dun and grey coloring not unlike collies, but had the shorter hair and longer legs of wolves. There was no trace of black in their coloring, although their owner stated that their grand-sire had been a black wolf which coupled with a shepherd bitch some ten years before when he was lumbering for Ario Pardee in High Valley. He said that neither turkeys nor dogs had the least inclination to revert to the savage proclivities of their ancestors. If the grey wolves and the brown wolves had any of the admirable characteristics of their black relatives, the old hunters sayeth not. “Crafty and mean” is the general verdict expressed about the grey wolves, “nasty like little cur dogs,” is the general run of remarks relative to the brown wolves. Doubtless these uncomplimentary characterizations are unjust to the animals, but they were certainly not up to the standard of the black wolves. If all are of one variety these attempts at specialization are hardly worth the time to read. At the same time it may show that color in animals has much to do with habitation, character and disposition. It may help to reveal the secret of why some men are blonde and others dark (pg. 24-25).

The black coloration in North American wolves is thought to have originated through crossbreeding with Native American dogs, but the dog ancestry in these wolves probably wouldn’t have been a high enough percentage to have affected their temperament. Modern black wolves are, for all intents and purposes, very much wolves.

The black coloration is a simple dominant trait, so it is possible that certain populations of wolf in the Eastern United States were consisted of almost of nothing but melanistic individuals. This dominant black trait in dogs, wolves, and coyotes comes from a mutation that controls the protein beta-defensin 3. This protein does regulate the amount of melanin that appears on the dog, wolf, or coyote’s coat, but it also is associated with immune response.  Having this particular mutation might provide the wolves with some advantages  in fighting off viral and bacterial infections, which may have been more common in the temperate and subtropical forests of North America.

I don’t think these black wolves were a different species at all, but for whatever reason, this particular type of wolf was easily domesticated. It may have been that this was a sort of intermediary animal that included the genetics of both wolves and domestic dogs, and there was some continual hybridization between the two forms. And that might be why these wolves were so easily domesticated.

It is possible that the black coloration could have been associated with a tendency toward domestication. A very similar finding was found with black deer mice, which were found to be more docile than the more common agouti deer mice.

But black deer mice have a different genetic basis than black wolves or dominant black dogs, so one should be careful about making generalizations from that study and trying to apply them to the tame wolves of the Pennsylvania.

These domesticated wolves appear to have been very much a part of life in America in the early days of settlement.  These settlers of the Pennsylvania mountains didn’t have access to the best lines of Western hunting dogs, so they improvised. They found that the black wolves were a good outcross to their curs and shepherds.

So here we have another account of modern people keeping wolves as working and hunting dogs.

See earlier posts

Read Full Post »

Woolpy and Ginsburg (1967) were able to tame adult wolves. These wolves became fully social to all people and would greet everyone with a gentle face bite, which may be an inherited greeting motor pattern in northern wolves.

It is often said that adult wolves cannot be tamed. The animals are just too emotionally reactive and fearful to ever accept human contact, so if a facility wants to have wolves that can be handled, it must take them from their mothers at an early age, usually said to be before they are three weeks old.

However, there have been those who have tamed adult wolves. The most notable attempts were done by Jerome Woolpy and Benson Ginsburg of the University of Chicago.  Their success in taming adult wolves was described in The American Zoologist in 1967, but it is still often said that adult wolves that have not been socialized to people as puppies are impossible to tame.

The issue is not that it is impossible.   The issue is that it requires some special housing equipment and lots of time and patience to do so.

It should be noted that even though Woolpy and Ginsburg were able to tame these adult wolves, it does not automatically follow that they became exactly like domestic dogs. Although these wolves became very friendly toward all people, it is unlikely that these wolves could be used to do much of the specialized work that we ask of domestic. However, it is inaccurate  to claim that it is impossible to tame an adult wolf.

Woolpy and Ginsburg based their 1967 paper on their experiences with seven wolves. Three were socialized as neonatal whelps and were in constant contact with people throughout their lives.  Three were socialized as young puppies and adolescents and then turned out with other wolves that had not been socialized, and one was an adult wolf that had received no human contact until it was five years old. All were able to become socialized to people, and those that were socialized as adults were friendly toward all people. However, those three that were socialized as puppies and then turned out with other wild wolves were not social toward people at all. These wolves had to be tamed in the same way as the five-year-old.

The authors describe their socialization of adult wolves as follows:

So adult wolves can be tamed. It just requires a lot of time and expertise (and a bit of courage).

Granted, this was a very low n study, and three of the wolves that were tamed as adults had initially been imprinted on people as very young puppy.

But one was tamed as a “middle-aged” adult that had no prior experience with people.

So it can be done.

I believe the researchers were able to repeat these results with other wolves, for these researchers worked extensively with captive wolf colonies.

Other researchers haven’t had so much luck.

And I think there is a very good reason for it.

At the time, it was assumed that the only way one could handle wolves was to be very rough with them. In much of the captive wolf husbandry literature, it discusses how important one must establish dominance over the wolves to deal with them. Some wolf experts and pseudo wolf experts like to use lots of physical force  and dominance displays in dealing with their charges. And those actions are just the ones used with the socialized wolves.

The unsocialized wolves are often netted and gripped with catch poles to vaccinate them and to tranquilize them for physical exams or transport to new facilities.

The use of these differing but harsher techniques on both socialized and unsocialized wolves doesn’t really endear the wolf to its care-takers.

If you read what Woolpy and Ginsburg actually did, there was none of this “I am the alpha wolf” mentality.  There was also no assumption that an adult wolf couldn’t learn to accept people as social partners.

They simply asked the wolf to be friends.

Of course, it took a while to ask the wolf the question.

But once the wolf understood what was being asked, it answered in the affirmative.


Now, I should warn that it is not a good idea for amateurs to catch wild wolves and coyotes and try these techniques.

Not only is ownership of these wild canids illegal in many states and municipalities, it is really not wise for amateurs who have very little experience to try to pet wild animals of any sort.


It should also be noted that all of these wolves were large hunting wolves from northern North America, and all had come from wild populations that had been historically persecuted.

All of these wolves had very strong fear reactions, which is one reason why the socialized wolf pups lost their friendliness to people when they were house with unsocialized wolves for an extended period of time.

It is unlikely that the ancestral wolves had such strong fear reactions, and therefore, it would have been easier for ancient hunter-gatherers to form relationships with them. Most wild dogs that are not heavily hunted are very curious about people, and it is likely that ancient wolves were much more likely to approach people out of curiosity than modern wolves are.

These wolves could have been socialized as adults. It should not be assumed, as some often do, that the original wolves that were domesticated were neonatal puppies. Adult wolves could have been tamed, even without the specialized techniques that Woolpy and Ginsburg used.

Read Full Post »

The following account comes from Stories of Animal Sagacity by William Henry Giles Kingston (1875):

Even a wolf, savage as that animal is, may, if caught young, and treated kindly, become tame.

A story is told of a wolf which showed a considerable amount of affection for its master. He had brought it up from a puppy, and it became as tame as the best-trained dog, obeying him in everything. Having frequently to leave home, and not being able to take the wolf with him, he sent it to a menagerie, where he knew it would be carefully looked after. At first the wolf was very unhappy, and evidently pined for its absent master. At length, resigning itself to its fate, it made friends with its keepers; and recovered its spirits.

Fully eighteen months had passed by, when its old master, returning home, paid a visit to the menagerie. Immediately he spoke, the wolf recognised his voice, and made strenuous efforts to get free. On being set at liberty, it sprang forward, and leaped up and caressed him like a dog. Its master, however, left it with its keepers, and three years passed away before he paid another visit to the menagerie. Notwithstanding this lapse of time, the wolf again recognised him, and exhibited the same marks of affection.

On its master again going away, the wolf became gloomy and desponding, and refused its food, so that fears were entertained for its life. It recovered its health, however, and though it suffered its keepers to approach, exhibited the savage disposition of its tribe towards all strangers.

The history of this wolf shows you that the fiercest tempers may be calmed by gentleness.

I must differ with the author here. It is likely that this particular wolf had some genetic tendencies that made it more disposed being more like a dog.

One should not use this particular account to make the case for keeping pet wolves. Pet wolves are for those who know how to handle large and powerful dogs that can be nervous and emotionally reactive.  Many wolves do not tolerate strangers and can be quite aggressive towards. Understanding canine prey drive is a definite necessity, because it is very easy to stimulate wolves into full-blown hunting behavior. This behavior can be stimulated by something as simple as a child crying. There are dogs that can have exactly the same reaction, but the behavior is generally more common in wolves.

Wolves also cannot be socialized to humans once they are 19 to 21 days of age. And for this socialization to take place, they must be bottle-fed. If reared on their mothers, they never learn to trust people.

Raising wolf pups in the presence of dogs can lead to them imprinting on dogs but not people.

Wolves are generally hard to make into dogs. They may be the same species, but just as a bulldog will never be a Labrador, a wolf will never be a golden retriever.

But that said, it is obvious to me that not all wolves have these hard to handle characteristics.

The one in the story above clearly had some characteristics that predisposed it to becoming very dog-like.

And it’s not the only one.

Adolph Murie kept a pet bitch wolf pup named Wags as part of his study of the Mt. McKinley wolves. Wags proved to be very much like a dog.

She was a very friendly animal that enjoyed playing with both dogs and children.

Wolves like these had to have been once common the wild populations. Centuries of relentless persecution probably selected against these characteristics, making these wolves far less numerous.

However, I’m fairly certain that some tamable wolves still exist. These are likely found in the regions where wolf persecution has never been all that common. As I have mentioned before, there are accounts of arctic wolf pups that have been socialized to humans while still nursing from their mothers.

It is likely that the first dogs came from wolves that could be socialized in this fashion, and they came from wolves that had a predisposition towards a kind of dog-like docility.

Just because wolves are hard to domesticate now doesn’t mean that it was always the case.

It had to have been very easy.

So easy that a caveman could do it.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: