Wolf Awareness is a non-profit Canadian organization dedicated to the conservation of wolves through research and public education about wolf ecology.


Date: 21st July 2017

Communication is a funny thing. It used to simply involve talking face to face. Then along came the telephone and communication took a giant leap as the “face to face” was no longer required. Today we are able to combine both by using technology such as “FaceTime” enabling us to communicate at great distances from the comfort of an easy chair. However communication can involve much more.

Wolves have always been adept at both local and long distance communication so let’s deal with vocal conversations first. To me, the howl of a wolf signifies wilderness and the wonderful rawness of nature at its best. It is thought that wolves use howling as a method of keeping track of other pack members as well as signifying “ownership” of their territory. Researchers have evidence that wolves have the ability to hear other wolf howls from six to nine km. distance.  That’s amazing long distance communication! However, that can’t be all of it. Wolves also appear to often join in group howls “just because” with each member choosing a slightly different key in which to sing. Even the young pups will join it with yaps and yowls as they attempt to imitate their elders.

Wolves howl to communicate over distance, and sometimes just to sing!

Vocalization, however isn’t the wolf’s only means of conveying information.  Body language plays a large, silent role in wolf communication. You can observe many of these clues by watching domestic dogs interact. Facial expressions, lip positions, ears forward or laid back and tails raised or tucked under all give other wolves a message about the disposition of the displaying wolf. To enhance these visual clues, fur of wolves varies having contrasting colours around the eyes, ears, mouth and tail tips. These make reading social messages much easier to discern.

Body language and facial expressions enable instant communication that can be silent.

Anyone who has had the joy of walking a dog knows scent marking is a large factor in canid communication. Urination is used by wolves to mark their territory. To humans, it’s amazing how much scent marking can be done on one trip around the block without having to “refuel”. Wolves and canids in general appear to favour objects that stand out – a tree stump, prominent bush or a large rock. The object of this activity is to get the sample up as high as possible. One possible explanation is that the odour will stand a better chance of being carried a greater distance in the breeze. The individual chemicals contained in the urine sample allow wolves to determine whether the wolves is a pack member, the gender, readiness to mate in females and more.
A final thought on communication that relates to scent marking and to the fact the wolves are carnivores is colour vision. Information gathered from work with captive wolves suggests that wolves appear to be able to see red, yellow, blue and green. This information is critical to both hunting and communication because being able to see the colour red is a definite aid in tracking a wounded animal and yellow is the colour of urine on snow.

And remember what your parents told you when you were young.  “Never Eat The Yellow Snow”.

-By W. H. “Hank” Halliday


KID’S ACTIVITY – What’s the message?

Click on the image pages below to print your own wolf body parts. Carefully cut out each drawing. Mix and match different heads and tails to show a) an aggressive wolf, b) a dominant wolf, c) a submissive wolf and d) a relaxed wolf. Have a friend guess at the emotion of each wolf. Have  you ever seen any of these postures in your dog? A neighbour’s dog?


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