I didn’t really even WANT to make a post about this.
The alpha-beta-omega model of wolf packs is dead in scientific literature, hammered into the ground, so to speak, and it’s been dead for over ten years. So why am I still hearing about it on TV and reading about it in articles? Why are popular dog trainers that encourage you to “be the alpha” still taken seriously?
I think the unfortunate truth is that the idea that there are strong and ferocious leaders in wolf packs and that you, too, can take on that role with your dog is just somehow appealing to people. Almost romantic, in the older sense of the word. And because of this, it makes money. It sells werewolf media. It sells dog training classes. Educational science channels that have no business promoting this false ideology keep it on board because it gets people watching.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty fed up with the whole thing.
Okay, let’s talk about dominance, particularly what the word even means, because popular media does a terrible job of explaining it.
Wolves display an extremely strict, complex social hierarchy within their packs - much of which is expressed through relatively advanced communication through body language. This strict social ranking is effective in promoting social unity and order, which, in turn, greatly increases their success and survival, and contrary to some perceptions, prevents conflict and aggression. In an established pack, rarely do problems escalate to a physical level.
[Photograph by spackman. Original body language chart source unknown via google images).]
"During the winter months, white phase Arctic fox have white coats that serve as camouflage against the vast stretches of snow and ice in their native Arctic region. When the seasons change, their coats change to a brown or blue-gray appearance that allows them to blend in with the summer’s landscape. Blue phase fox, more common in the species’ southern habitat range, remain charcoal-colored year round. Young of each color phase may occur in the same litter."
Raccoon Dog (Carnivora: Canidae: Nyctereutes procyonoides)
Often mistaken for a badger or a raccoon, the raccoon dog is actually more closely related to wild dogs. That being said, they act more like raccoons as they scavenge for berries along riverbanks. Raccoon dogs are often hunted as pests. Their luck in the illegal fur trade is no better, often attracting the attention of animal welfare groups. Their adaptability in the wild allows them to quickly become an unwelcome invasive species out of Asia. However, this sneaky trickster is well honoured in Japanese folklore as a master of disguise. Raccoon dog, or “Tanuki”, figurines are often places outside of Buddhist to bring good fortune by showing off a friendly smile.
While it might have a mane of sorts, the maned wolf is not a wolf. In fact, it’s not even a fox, even though it might look like a fox on stilts. Speaking of stilts, these guys are the tallest living canid, measuring up to 42 inches (106 cm) at the shoulder! Historically, the maned wolf was placed in the genera Canis and Vulpes (the wolves and foxes, respectively), because of superficial morphological similarities.
However, on further anatomical examination, and later, DNA analysis, the maned wolf was found to be unique in the genus Chrysocyon. There are no known extant or extinct species that come close to the maned wolf, though part of that is almost certainly due to a lack of fossilized remains - there may have been other members of the genus in the Pleistocene and Holocene that have not been found yet.
Currently, one of the most accepted theories on why the maned wolf is so unique is that it just happened to be the sole surviving species of its genus, during the Pleistocene (or Quaternary) extinction. That extinction event snuffed out all the large canids of South America, along with almost 3/4 of all the large mammals living at that time.
The diet of this species may lend a clue as to how it survived the mass extinction: it’s extremely omnivorous. While they search out and eat birds, small mammals, and reptiles, they also eat berries, leaves, fruits, and tubers, and spread the seeds of many plants. Their diet also lends the maned wolf its nickname - the Skunk Wolf. They produce pyrazines and other musky plant derivatives that they spray about to mark territory. In fact, the smell of the maned wolf enclosure at the Rotterdam Zoo set off a search for marijuana, before they discovered the true source!
Proceedings of the Scientific Meetings of the Zoologic Society of London. Part III (May-June), 1877.
Distributed across the entire northern hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to North Africa, Central America, and the Asiatic steppes, the Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes (Canidae) has the widest geographical range of any member of the order Carnivora.