Wolf Social Grooming

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Wolf Social Grooming

Post by Azalea » Sun Aug 02, 2009 10:25 pm

I know many other social animals regularly engage in social grooming. For some, especially monkeys and apes, it is a daily activity. The grooming behavior is used to not only keep members of the group clean and free of pests like ticks and the like, but it builds the social bonds between members.

My question is, do wolves engage social grooming? If so, to what extent? And what might trigger this behavior?
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by Blightwolf » Mon Aug 03, 2009 4:20 am

Social grooming in animals is known as allogrooming. In nature, dogs groom each other exclusively through licking and this behaviour is part of the process of sociability and trust. This behaviour is thought to act as a form of appeasement in most social animals and has a role in reducing tension and conflict among groups.


In The Wolf: The Ecology and Behaviorof an Endangered Species, by David Mech, it is written that the strongest impression wolves can make on an observer is how friendly they are. Adults are friendly toward each other and amiable towards pups. There is an innate good feeling happening between them. Research has shown us that it appears that this quality in the wolf's personality is related most directly to the animal's social nature. Indeed, probably the wolf's strongest personality trait is its capacity for making emotional attachments to other individuals. Such attachments must form quickly and firmly and they begin to develop when the wolves are just a few weeks old. The pups become distressed when away from familiar individuals and objects and are relieved when they are back near them. This ability to form emotional attachments to other individuals results in the formation of the pack, or family, as the unit of wolf society. When wolf pups are raised by human beings, this social tendency is especially noticeable. The animals usually become extremely attached to the humans and any dogs with which they have early or considerable contact.
Wolves are known being extremely social, and their family unit would not work out without the emotional bonds and attachments between pack members. Wolves have at least three recognised ways of social communication, Audible, Somatic (body language) and Olfactory (scenting and territory marking). Their social behavior is in its highest level when taking a mate; upon greeting, both wolves stand tensely shoulder to shoulder, with fur bristled, tails out and wagging, and ears erect as they venture a sniff of each others nose and muzzle. As they get to know each other better, there may be some play posturing, and then tail, genital, and anal sniffing. This progresses into romping, running, licking, and nuzzling, by which time the greeting phase fades and courtship begins. Courtship is a bonding phase where the wolves get to know each other intimately and a mutual emotional attachment develops. This bond often becomes so strong that the pair will become lifetime mates. However, unlike the romanticism anthropomorphized by human beings, lifetime relationships are more a thing of opportunity than an absolute. Many things can happen in the wilderness to push even the most mutually dedicated lovers apart; such as rivalry between wolves, injury, illness, or death. As courting progresses there comes playful attempts to mounting from the front or side, mutual licking of muzzle, candle, and genitals, parallel running which incorporates nuzzling under the other wolf's jaw or ear, and puppy the ears sideways while together.

Another form of highly-developed social behavior is a wolf taking care of their puppies. The den is a sacred place and the alpha female won't even allow her mate enter, although she may select an assistant from among the pack's other females to help her rear the pack puppies. Wolves love puppies and the entire pack eventually participates in their care. When the pups are born, they are tongue-groomed clean by the mother. The mom wolf will remain in the den for several days straight, licking and feeding the brood. Wolf pups are born quite strong and immediately begin competition with each other to reach mother's nipples. This struggle to suckle also establishes early social ranking. Puppies that die during or after birth are usually buried by the mother. Sometimes the mother will carry a dead puppy around in her mouth, showing the little corpse to the members of the pack. It has even been observed where pack members will take turns doing this until someone finally buries the dead puppy. In captivity dead puppies might be eaten, this behavior has never been observed in the wild.

When the pups are born the entire pack is filled with excitement. It is well documented how much adult wolves love puppies and how every pack member contributes to their care and education. The alpha female will not allow any other wolves to come around when she whelps, not even the alpha male. At a couple months of age mothers will move their puppies away from the den site to what some call a "rendezvous site." This area is usually less than an acre in size, is near water, and is a place for the pups to play, romp, harass lazy adults, and learn their initial skills.
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by Azalea » Mon Aug 03, 2009 5:45 am

That's interesting Embry, but I was already aware most of the communication, courting behavior and pup interaction. I didn't really see a strait answer in there.Maybe I missed it. My question was more about any regular grooming outside of a courting behavior. Thanks for the quotes though.
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by Blightwolf » Mon Aug 03, 2009 6:15 am

I tried my best with researching but those were the best results I could come up with. Other than the social grooming involved in the courtship period, I would have to say that wolves do not engage any particular allogrooming amongst each other, unlike animals such as horses and apes. Of course they will rub their heads under each other's chin, nuzzle, sniff each other's muzzles and lick the faces and ears of other wolves, but would that count as an actualy social grooming behavior. . . I do not know.

I hope you can find a better answerer for your question, but I am glad if you found my post useful. Good luck.
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by Azalea » Mon Aug 03, 2009 6:29 am

That was the conclusion I drew from my own research. Most website sources were pretty fuzzy about it, which it why I brought the question here. Thanks for the help though.

I'm hoping one of the staff/members that study or interact wth wolves regularly can get a full answer for me.
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by Blightwolf » Mon Aug 03, 2009 6:46 am

One thing I could add, though, that is the wolves social behavior linked to a certain emotion (such as happiness) or do they just do it out of normal habit while interacting with each other (like monkeys, apes, horses, dogs, cats - - - etc) or do they do it at all or just on rare occasions.
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by pawnee » Mon Aug 03, 2009 8:42 am

Nicely done Embry! This might be considerd grooming or simply cleaning...but mother wolf's will lick their puppies to stimulate their bowls.

If you read the IWC logs, when Aiden and Denali had an operation, the other wolves investigated it by sniffing and licking it where as the pups simply ignored it before.
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by Azalea » Mon Aug 03, 2009 4:26 pm

The mother licking pups to dry them after birth and to stimulate bowel movement might not be considered "social grooming" but it is something to think about.

As for the licking of wounds, I understand it that wolf saliva has been shown to reduce bacterial infection in wounds and accelerate tissue regeneration. So wolves would lick at an injured pack member to help them heal, but again it's not ritual allogrooming.


This sure it becoming an interesting discussion!
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by Blightwolf » Tue Aug 04, 2009 3:32 am

I think the only actual display of social grooming regarding wolves would be upon greet. Dogs and wolves greet each other in similar way, they wag their tails and sniff each other, but other than that, I don't think wolves engage any actual social grooming, apart from during mating season and having the pups.
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by pawnee » Tue Aug 04, 2009 9:49 am

that seems to be the case doesn't it? It seems animals that engage in grooming behaviours do so because they cannot do it themselves....like monkeys cannot groom their backs because they cannot reach them, where as I know dogs (or atleast my dog) just rolls around in the dirt....hmmm. It is a good disscussion though! :mrgreen:
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by Blightwolf » Tue Aug 04, 2009 9:59 am

Horses are also quite social, if you're around horses a lot you can see them grooming each other. But for canines, the term "social grooming" only takes place during their most social events, mating and giving birth to puppies. For wolves, the pack is the family, so naturally they develop emotional attachments to all of the pack members and they like to play and hang around with each other, but it doesn't seem like wolves would engage such behavior every day. It's in it's strongest level during mating season (when male and female begin the courtship phase) and when a pregnant female is about to have the pups and after the pups have entered the world.

This is very interesting indeed. ;)
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by Azalea » Tue Aug 04, 2009 12:27 pm

Yes, this does seem to be the case. Or at least, as far as those of us who cannot observe wolves regularly can take it. Thanks for the discussion everyone. I keep trying to come up with questions and ideas that will give us all some researching work to do and some food for thought.
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by Koa » Wed Aug 05, 2009 6:15 pm

This is quite interesting. The point of wolves socially grooming eachother never hit me until now. I'm quite surprised that they don't really 'socially' groom one another like apes, etc.
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by Blightwolf » Thu Aug 06, 2009 5:10 am

Regarding wolves, it really seems to be the case: they do not engage any specific social grooming. They do have family bonds and they are very attached and affectionate toward each pack member, but they don't constantly lick each other or so forth. Only during courtship and mating season you can witness allogrooming behavior, this is my conclusion.
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Re: Wolf Social Grooming

Post by Blightwolf » Sun Aug 09, 2009 9:17 am

I'm sorry if this is considered double-posting, but I found some more info related to social grooming and behavior.
Wolves have been known to wash mud from there coats in rivers and streams, wolves depend on thier thick coats in winter, so it is not surprising that they spend part of thier leisure time in grooming behavior. It is also likely that the grooming of other pack members helps reinforce the social bonds the tie the pack together. Two wolves will lick each others coats, nibbling gently with thier teeth to remove foreign matter. Reciprocal grooming is especially common during courtship. Injured wolves are intensely groomed by other pack members, providing both physical and mental comfort.


I think that revealed stuff a bit more; wolves practise social grooming during courtship, puppy time and taking care of injured members of the pack.
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