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[This information was originally produced by Beverly Skinner, wildlife biologist at Innoko
National Wildlife Refuge (in west central Alaska), for radio broadcast on Public Radio stations
A couple of years ago, my family and I were out mushing when our dogs came to a halt, hair
standing on end and noses pointing up in the air. It was then we noticed the huge tracks in the
snow. Our dog's tracks were tiny in comparison and we have rather large sled dogs. What we
had found were wolf tracks, and our dogs were letting us know in their own way that they also
knew there were wolves in the area.
Wolves - much like dogs - have their own methods of communication. They use their eyes, ears,
mouths, tails, and fur to share information as well as their feelings. Although we rarely get the
opportunity to watch wolves interacting with each other, many of us have probably seen our
dogs communicating. Of course, since they were communicating in dog language, we may not
have understood the message.
I think everyone has seen a male dog urinating on a bush, tree or clump of grass. Wolves do the
same thing. It is called scent marking and it is a way of letting trespassers know they are in
someone else's area and they need to keep moving. This method of defending a territory from
outsiders is simple and safer than having to fight the intruders each time they cross over that
invisible line. Scent marking is a form of communication.
Another form of communication occurs when two strange wolves or dogs come face to face.
Each wants to appear larger than the other so they can avoid a fight. With every fight comes the
possibility of getting hurt, and a hurt wolf can't hunt. In order to appear larger, wolves will tense
their legs and the fur on their back stands up. Even their tail and ears will stand straight up.
Add to this show of largeness raised lips and a display of weapons or teeth, and most strangers
get the message and leave.
The form of wolf communication we are most familiar with, and the only one most people will
ever witness, is howling. Howling may occur day or night and allows pack members to locate
each other when they are separated. It also strengthens family ties before and after hunts, as well
as serving as a warning to outsiders to stay away. Many people find the sound of wolves howling
sad but I have always found it beautiful, and it is one of the many reasons we have picked
Alaska as our home.
For Alaska Naturally and the Innoko NWR, this is Beverly Skinner. Next time your dog bows
to you with front legs extended, hindquarters in the air, tail wagging, and grinning with a big
open smile - don't be alarmed. They aren't planning to attack you - they just want to play. Try
bowing back and see what happens.
Note: This is the MapCruzin.com archive of the FWS Arctic National Wildlife Refuge website. In December, 2001 FWS took this website offline, making it unavailable to the public. It includes 90 plus pages of information and many maps. As of 2006 the important information contained in this, the original "unsanitized" version of the FWS website, has yet to return to the internet, so we will continue to maintain it here as a permanent archive to help inform activists and concerned citizens. If you find any broken links, please report them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will attempt to make the repairs. January, 2008 update - A small part of the original information that was present in 2001 has made it back into the current ANWR website. There is also an archive that contains a small amount of the original information, but it is not readily available from the main website.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas
development on the Arctic Refuge’s
coastal plain: Historical overview and
issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National
17 January 2001. http://arctic.fws.gov/issues1.html
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