A little information on what I have learned about the communication of wolf hybrids, and how it may relate to Canis lupus lupus and other sub species the Grey Wolf.
I have an natural interest in wolves from childhood and I have also done some research on wolves, some at school, some at home. I hope to one day get the chance to launch an in depth study on the communication of grey wolves by howling. By nature, I also get into the psychology of dogs. This led me to keeping a howling log of a pack of combined Alaskan Malamutes and wolfdog's. This log became extensive, and detailed as i mapped out the phases of the moon related to the times, durations, triggers, types of, and initiators of the howls.
Scope of this article-
I will try to explain in detail for those of you who have a good imagination and haven't had the good fortune of "feeling" a pack howl and what all that howling is all about. Hearing is one thing, but you can also feel the emotion with a little understanding of the structure of howling.
You wont find alot of any real factual hard data here yet. This is just kind of my beginning hypothesis on the possible reasoning of the wolfdog's and malamutes, and try to untwine some of the basic structures and mechanism of the howl itself. To include the data of the records I have kept, I will first have to create a sizable report. One noticeable trait that is already becoming apparent is the frequencies of howls is not always at its peak during full moon times. Some other things that are obvious is that there are different types of howls, and different types of triggers that entice the others to join in and create a song, or howl. Anyway, If your enjoy wolf howling, then you may find some good reading here.
What is Howling?
Howling is an ancient form of animal communication. First of all let me define animal. The world consists of plants and animals and inanimate objects, each of which have their own distinct cycles. People are animals, bacteria are animals, amoeba are animals, monkeys are animals, wolves are animals. Trees are plants, grass is a plant, algae is a plant, moss and lichens are plants. Howling is a form of animal communication. Just about every form of animal can communicate in one way or another. Howling is some kind of sophisticated form of age old family communication, going clear back to neanderthal times and possibly even before that. Wolf pack howling is older than the English language itself, much much older. Wolves are not the only animal that howls. Primates howl, there is a group of monkeys called howler monkeys,and sometimes people even howl.
Why do wolves howl?
Wolves and ancient Nordic breeds of dogs howl not only because the act still pulls very strongly on their instinct, but also because they understand it well, and it provides them with fulfillment. Contrary to popular belief, they don't howl at a full moon. They may howl at a full moon however, but the full moon is not the deciding factor. I am in the middle of an ongoing study of the relation of the moon phase, moon position, howling duration, howling frequency, vs. time of day and natural disturbances. I am trying to crack the code so to speak as to how howling may relate to the cycle of the moon. All of this information will greatly aid and benefit me when I have the benefit of studying a true wild pack of wolves. I do realize something that the moon offers a wild pack of wolves that I can't simulate here at home. That is the simple fact that the moonlight offers a superb night hunting opportunity which will most likely play a big factor on the howling of a wild wolf pack to join up and call out to alert of prey.
Why do dogs Howl?
The reason dogs howl is because they are direct descendants of wolves. Dogs are known to be sub-species of wolves. They may not exactly look like wolves but they are ancestors of wolves, and as wolves were their sole breeding stock. In essence they are wolves, just not the pure species of Canis lupus that we are all familiar with. Dogs actual species name is Canis lupus familiaris. Canis lupus familiaris has changed its appearance from its distant ancestor Canis lupus lupus, but it's top level DNA structure is still intact. Instinct is still there, but immediate family memory of the wild wolf type behaviour has been lost. Alot of the habitual traits passed on from generation to generation have diminished greatly as well. Dogs still have the instinct to howl, but they don't know what the howl is all about. Dogs just know it feels good to howl, or it feels right. Some dogs when howling get slightly depressed because they are not sure what they are howling at, or why they are howling, they just know that it seems right to howl along with a passing by siren. Other dogs, ones with closer relationship to the wolf, will howl at night just by pure instinct or some other natural trigger such as prey drive, no siren needed. Those dogs usually have a strong prey drive and are usually the hunter type dogs, but the main reason is that they have carried the instinct well. Possibly because the genes that control this instinct have remained wholly intact and unaltered.
The study of my pack...
I study my pack by carefully listening to every single howl. Lately, over the last 5 moons I have been logging every howl. I have been recording every detail as to what might have caused it, what the moon stats were, and everything else about the howl that you could imagine, including the outdoor temperature, and who initiated the howl, right down to the last detail. I have designed an elaborate spreadsheet for logging the data that for the most part is automated eliminating alot of the work. I will get up, turn the TV down, poke an ear to the window, whatever it takes but will NEVER interrupt them by opening a curtain, making a peep, opening the door, or window, as anything ever so slight will make them snap back toothier conscience and they will come to a dead halt from right in the middle of there song. This is not a very nice thing to do, it is sort of like interrupting Andreas Bocelli in the middle of his song by turning off his microphone. Also, I have been making more audio recordings now and then and will post alot of those here and in other ares of this site.
The Howling... What's in a howl?
First of all, my wolfdog's don't howl at sirens like dogs usually do. One reason is because we are in the country. being more than 15 miles to the nearest city, the sirens are at the very least a mile from the homestead, and usually at least 5 miles. However, when sirens go by on rare occasion, I never once heard the pack howl at or for them. There is a few factors that do dictate an impending(involuntary) solo howl, and a couple other factors that invite a voluntary solo howl. All solo howls are usually either intended to invite the pack to voluntary join in or otherwise involuntary arouse or invoke the pack to join in. In the former case it is actually expected that the pack will follow, so they will continue until they arouse the pack to join in or until they realize that the pack decides not to join in. They have an instinctual yearning for this type of bonding.
Another aspect that I more recently realized about the effects of howling is that the howling is at unique frequencies. These frequencies all seem to be at resonance* and vibrate items as an opera singer would shatter glass. I am a firm believer in this phenomenon now but have never witnessed anyone actually shatter a glass. Well I may have seen it on that's incredible or Ripley's when I was a kid, but not for sure. And of course I have seen it on commercials but who believes commercials? The way I first started to grasp this concept is when I started to mimic the dogs. I Heard strange things in my head such as bone vibration, ears vibrating, and if you put your front teeth together gently they will even start to audibly vibrate if and when you hit the right frequencies. Alot of the times that I tried this was when I was in the kitchen after the pack would howl. (I was sort of teaching myself the right tones and frequencies. I always wanted to initiate a howl, this is something much more difficult than it would seem with some dog packs. It took a couple years to get them to respond to me, and this was only because a new dog, chilly was very receptive to talking with me in his language.) When this certain frequency was attained, I would hear the hanging pots and pans resonating long after the howling had stopped, like when you bang a gong. Many many times I have heard this. It all clicked one day when Chilly was inside the house and the pack started howling outside. He couldn't resist joining in, and what happened after that was a new revelation for me. The dishes fell down off the drying rack. I later realized that what is happening is alot deeper than just communication. It must be a deep feeling for them when they vibrate each others bones in their family bonding rituals with their age old language. Is your jaw dropped yet? It was a great revelation. So not only is this howl a form of communication, singing, bonding, self fulfillment, sharing, family pack preservation, mental stimulation, all of which you will learn about here in a minute, but it is also a physical feeling or impact that even makes the bones of the body dance in resonance. WOW. There is alot to this. It is a very sophisticated language that can be used in many ways!
*Definition- Resonance ; [n] a vibration of large amplitude produced by a relatively small vibration near the same frequency of vibration as the natural frequency of the resonating system
Alaskan Malamutes and wolf hybrids usually will not bark they would rather howl as its the language of there choice. An exception to this rule is Kobuk who has maybe 5 percent shepard in him at most, and Timbre and Nikita who seldomly let a few sharp bark sounding chatters before a howl only to copy Kobuk knowing it's a bold thing to do and thereby showing a little dominance.
There are different tones, with the different tones being expelled during the different types of howls. That's how they seem to interpret what's going on when a pack member starts to howl. Howling is a different kind of conversation that doesn't have to consist of exact specific phrases(like the specific words in a language) just for a pack member to understand,it's all in the voice tones. Consider it a song and a meaning, two birds with one stone. It takes on a life of its own that is communicating, but not like words going back and forth as in human conversation. Furthermore, there's life on the words, soul, they each reveal there internal emotional feelings and current mood at the same time and getting whatever message across that pertains to a particular type of howl. It seems it's the type of howl that is the message, and the excitement expressed by the ones who are sending the message being the severity of the issue being communicated, and the song that's carrying the type and severity on it being the life blood of each partaker on top or within the message. What I mean by severity is how much attention is required incase the howling is an alert of impending danger, or if it is just an expression of emotion. Remember the message is determined by the type of howl, and the severity determined by the gusto and excitement of the one who is doing the telling, then the rest joining in to respond to share their feelings and to elaborate. The response is most likely to tell the others how they feel about it. The Immediate response has its message too. The response dictates as to what direction the communal howl will go. If its protesting at a stranger, after they all size up each others reactions, then they they all howl in a certain way. If it is howling at the wind or to make their mark on this world then they howl in another way, etc...
example.. there's a coyote walking down the road, one of the pack(the sentry) spots it, then the under the breath wuff wuff is emitted from the sentry. The rest of the pack will lift their heads and perk their ears, and peer at the sentry to size up a reaction. Then they all go on alert to this very stealthy low decibel alert sound then immediately search and spot the coyote in the area.(if they don't see it, they still know what is going on and continue to look for the intruder). The whole pack has eyes on it usually by then. Timbres favorite thing to do is to initiate the howl, in this case the "passerby howl"(a coyote or stranger not posing any threat, just passing by) which I recognize by the sounds being a certain way, sort of a barkish kind of howl, with real sounds of protest. The rest of the pack saw the coyote too, but Timbre was the one who was the sentry and knows exactly what is going on, so she will be the one to communicate the message out loud so she initiates the corresponding type of howl with a certain amount of excitement pertaining to the severity of the problem. Now the rest of the pack, before Timbre started to howl, already basically knew what type of howl was coming, they didn't have to process the thought, they were ready. The pack just turned an ear to how elevated or severe Timbres response was.(this all happened within the first few seconds, the pack was still trying to figure out what was going because they were sleeping). She may do this barkish type protest a couple times, then the pack replies with there response. If they all thought it was a threat it would be a very excited howl of the "Intruder" type in which Timbre would escalate it further according to the packs response. On the other hand, If the pack thought it no threat but just a good reason to howl, they would have no real anxious excitement in there howl, just a true singing howl meaning they just wanted a good reason to sing along and join in for the sake of rejoicing in the rewarding heartfelt bond of pack life and for being well alive. Usually all protest alerts end up with this kind of howl. That was a two step communication from Timbre to the pack then back to Timbre. So now what does timbre do, she figures, ok they're not as excited as to go thru the fence to intercept the coyote kind of excitement, instead Timbre Knows they're now just singing, and she then seconds them, and de-escalates the momentum into a singing howl, by now ignoring the coyote, covering the 3rd leg of communication, then the 4th is the pack comes back with the singing knowing its truly ok to ignore this coyote and the green light to sing by then. This all happens in less than10seconds, Timbre, pack, Timbre, pack, then the initiation is done, then the singing ensues for about 60 seconds in rejoice. Had the coyote been in the yard as a threat, it would have been the initial under the breath wuf wuf, then timbre giving a blatant woooofff, and if the pack saw the coyote a complete chaotic barking sounding howl would ensue, and if they realized the coyote was heading away from the yard, then they would turn to some singing. There is a form of communication in there, not just singing or barking for fun. That should explain the initial from Timbre, then the packs response in severity, then timbre will escalate or de-escalate from there which should explain the severity part. Now the last part is the Soul and life blood. As you noticed there was just a communication by the dogs, but who said they had to sing, that's there good mood and thankfulness for being alive, eagerness to partake in family bonding, response to the tugging on their instinct strings, and expression of thanks that cause the singing to be good, or really good. So there are a few parts to it, the alert, the message, the packs response and eagerness to respond, and the life expression that they decide to share every time there is a reason to howl, no matter what type of howl it started out being. Either way, they each can decipher how each pack mate is doing by each his own response and I guarantee that each of them listen to all other members at once and each his own has an assumption, right then within seconds of all other pack mates attitude, mood, and emotion, and each his willingness-to-pursue if threatening within the first few seconds. The only time you hear a good howl is when all are in good spirits, a while after a well earned meal, and it is really quiet and dark, no disturbances of any kind, even animals, when they have that perfect time to go back into the wild in an involuntary daydream.
There is a couple types of howling that I recognize and I will try to explain the differences as best I can.
The types of howls...
One type I call Instinct or "Instinctual Howling". Instinct howling can be determined by when one animal, for no apparent reason, during a complete silent moment with no other humanly recognizable sound being emitted starts off with a Wuu Wuu. Then again but increasing the pitch after a brief wait, then into a full blown heartfelt transcension in which the pack will almost always obligingly join in. In this case, the howler did not wait for another dog to kick in, they just knew it felt right, and were in another world at the time! That came from instinct, nowhere else, nothing evoked it but a dream, or emotion. Sometimes they will be sitting at the edge of their enclosure, eyes and ears alert looking out for some long distant ancestor, as if to be staring into yonder, of course being dark outside, very innocent looking, but as if they are expecting someone or something. I do realize that alot of times the wolfdog may just be hearing something very faint that I cant hear, but other times, it must be just instinct. Instinctual howls turn out to be the most rewarding kind to witness and hear. They are extremely beautiful howls and you can feel alot of emotion when you listen to them.
Another type of howl is when they are provoked by strangers, a kind of "Protective Howl" or "Protest Howl" . Its also the only kind you really hear during the day also. I might add they will rarely howl during the day, and if they do, it is almost always sunset or dusk. Usually the protective howl is directed at somebody walking by on the road or when one of the pack spots a coyote in the field. This protective howl is more barkish sounding, alot of loud protests, not a whole lot of singing but the whole pack will sing slightly to each other, maybe indicating that its not even singing at all, maybe it just sounds so beautiful and hits us in the gut as humans that maybe we just decipher it as singing. When people sing they are just expressing emotion too. So we almost get to the root of singing here. Expression of emotion, whether protest or love.
Another type I call Communal or "Social Howl". During a social howl a pack member will see something in the field, think they saw something, hear something, think they heard something, or sense that the pack is antsy and ready to howl so they will let out an initiation howl. Then they will do it again but increasing the pitch after a brief wait trying to get a lead singer of the pack to kick in so they can raise the whole choir. Sometimes they will have to try very hard. Have you heard of the expression "never cry wolf"? Well if the initiator does this all the time then it will have a hard time getting the pack to kick in. If they do it in moderation they become quite adept at invoking the feelings of the whole pack, and in turn the whole pack tend to nurture this kind of behaviour by obligingly joining in for the bonding experience and because of instincts got the better half of them. This type of howl comes from the desire to maintain and strengthen the family bond and to be a valid contributing member of the family, or pack. Alot of times when the social howl initiator wants to initiate this type of howl, they will get up and shake off and walk to the other side of the pen and just sit and look out, then the rest of the pack will sense something is going on. This is the time you see them getting excited and all get up, yawn, bow, shake off. Some of the youngens then lay back down because they don't sense what is happening yet. Then after all is quiet, some watching, most laying back down, the initiator initiates in stealth, as if they are shy to do it when all the family is watching. Social howls are another type of beautiful sounding howls, but they don't quite match the Instinctual Howl.
Who initiates the howls?
Only the alphas, or high ranking individuals will usually initiate a howl. Aniak(female) would never initiate a howl. I don't remember Odin initiating and howls either, but his two sons do even though he holds a higher rank than then. The two sons are testing their place in the pack, so it is not all that uncommon, and these two have become quite vocal, and the best male howlers in the pack. As far as the girls, when Nikita was in heat, Mini would initiate. When Mini was healing from surgery, Nikita would initiate. Nikita and Mini alternate between being the alpha female of the pack. Other times Timbre will initiate a howl, but usually the protective howl type. Sometimes she will cry wolf and try quite often, and in the past she started to get to the point where they wouldn't always follow her lead. She learned better, and is very successful at initiating now. Timbre was the omega(last in line before Aniak was born), so it gave her much fulfillment to be able to achieve this feat. Mini will alot of times initiate a social howl. Kobuk lately has been initiating social howls.But with his barkish behaviour, he is teaching Chilly bad habits, and even Wily. Wily will at times actually give out an Instinctual howl, and as I had mentioned before, since to me he is Aly reincarnate, it just makes me wonder even that much more, since Instinctual howls are extremely rare, and Aly was the one of the rare few that ever felt comfortable enough to do these type of howls, and that was when she knew she was going to pass on. Chilly is the chewbacca of the pack. He is extremely vocal! he will talk to me, I can get him to woo woo, etc.. Chilly will even howl for me rarely. After i got him to do this, he would feel bold enough to try to initiate the pack, and a few times i have heard him successfully do this. At this point, the pack is comfortable backing an initiation from Nikita, Mini, Kobuk, Timbre, Wily, Chilly, and in that order. Odin could probably initiate a howl, but since his howl is more toned to the whine type which he learned from Rajah his protege, he doesn't seem to try to initiate. I might add, Rajah taught them all how to howl, and this was before Wily and Chilly was born. When Rajah would howl, he had a whiny tone, but alot of times would hit the right notes. It was his eagerness to howl that gave the pack the strength to overcome their shyness to sing out to the night.
I hope I didn't confuse anybody too much...
Hopefully more on this at a later time.
Researchers and guests feel free to comment for questions or a re-explanation of any certain portion of this document,if you would like to add something, or if you feel that I am misinterpreting anything. I would like to know how this subject interests you as well.
*Note, I am not finished yet on this article. This subject is a great undertaking to encompass the language of another species and compress it down to an easily understood form. In essence, I am translating one language to another, but this is no ordinary language. Albeit, it is a very intriguing language.