How to: Join a Wolf PackShaun Ellis, founder of the Wolf and Dog Research and Education Centre offers his tips on how to join a wolf pack
“We think that we’re superior. We think we can walk into the wolf’s world and become their leader,” says Shaun Ellis, founder of the Wolf and Dog Research and Education Centre.
“But they have similar social positions to us and the same main emotions: loyalty, fear, anxiety – if you want to communicate with these animals, you have to become part of their family.”
Ellis did exactly that, spending two years living with a wild wolf pack in Idaho, USA. Here, he reveals how he earned respect within the group.
1 Gain their trust
“It sounds foolish, but get low and offer your throat to the wolf. Most people think that when a wolf rolls onto its back, it’s submitting to a superior animal, but it’s etiquette. The other wolf will clasp its teeth over the neck with no grip at all, answering the question, ‘Yes, you can trust me.’ The beta male – the enforcer who keeps discipline – once took my entire face in his mouth. A wolf’s bite pressure is over 1,500psi, twice as much as that of a German shepherd. Just when you think your skull will shatter, the wolf releases its grip. It knows what it’s doing.”
2 Learn to speak wolf
“Realise that whatever part of the wolf is nearest is the piece that’s communicating with you. The wolf is a complete communication vessel – it can speak to one wolf on the left and say something different to others on the right. Ear position is incredibly important. If they want to protect something, they use flattened ear position – like a wing – to guard it. The more I could do this, the better chance I got of eating what I was entitled to have. The problem was, with no ear flexibility I found myself like a child in a dining hall, elbows down, just covering the food.”
3 Know your place
“Wanting a drink one day, I was heading to the lake when the beta male dropped his ears, snarled and wouldn’t let me pass. He backed me into a hollowed tree. I thought, ‘This is it, I’ve pushed the boundaries, he’s waiting to finish me off with the pack.’ But after an hour, he let out a high-pitched whimper. Fearfully, I crept out. He took me to where I’d wanted to go and we drank side by side. As we did, he looked at a tree. Two metres up were giant scratch marks and beneath was a pile of scat. A bear had been hunting for food. It was a valuable lesson – wolves look after their own, and understand when to move and when to stand still.”
4 Get yourself a job
“Wolf hierarchy is more side by side than up and down – each animal is respected for what they can do. Let them forge a role for you. Of the three positions I held, one was as a back-up animal to others; another was a diffuser – a specialist role of calming others, which would have been learned from puppyhood. The greatest honour was helping raise a litter of pups. But I’ve never been able to hold the top position and never felt that I could.”
5 Go to wolf school
“One winter, the pack had been unsuccessful with our usual ambush technique. After a couple of weeks the decision-making female started to eat snow and ice, so we all mimicked her, knowing we were being educated. A day or so after that, we were able to catch an animal and eat. I was at a loss as to how it had been successful. Then one cold morning, as I watched the wolves, the only thing I could see was their breath clouding in the air. The female knew that by holding ice in our mouths, the prey wouldn’t be able to see our breath.”