thank you so much for explaining wolf dominance behavior! I'm so sick people like "dominance means they beat each other up all the time" and then someone going "no that's not right wolves don't have dominance at all!" and I can never articulate why both those ideas are wrong but you did it so well! Do you know more good resources about how wolf dominance actually works?
You’re welcome, I’m glad it helps! Yeah I think the debate has gone to 2 extremes now and neither extreme is helpful when looking at actual dominance based interactions.
Here’s some of the models of pack structure that have been theorised:
Some of these are more updated than others and there’s still a lot of variation within these structures. The model that’s pretty much debunked is A. No one uses terms like Beta, Gamma, Omega anymore (and our guests sometimes do and it drives us nuts). The most basic and updated wolf pack model is that of a family group: a breeding female and male and their offspring.
But not every pack is like this. Kanti, Bicho and Fiona are siblings, but Bicho usually will defer to Kanti and Fiona and get in trouble for doing things Kanti doesn’t want him doing (howling, ambushing Fiona, being a pest ect.). Kanti and Bicho both defer to Fiona but I have seen Fiona defer to Kanti or Bicho. And Kanti gets in trouble from Fiona from time to time as well. So they’re really all over the place.
Bicho deferring by pawing at Kanti, who is posturing over him. Bicho often uses very exaggerated submissive gestures to annoy Kanti enough to move him away from whatever resource there is. He is the master of Obnoxious Submission.
Also it’s important to remember that, in play, dominance structures are usually completely thrown out. So sometimes you’ll see a dominant wolf self-handicap and flop on the ground and throw out submissive gestures at a submissive wolf who will “dominate” that wolf. It’s hilarious. Good wolf jokes!
Despite Kanti and Bicho often deferring to her, Fiona is IT in this game of Wolf and Hounds where one wolf will be chased and harassed by the other wolves and then the game will switch with another wolf being “it”.
In order to simplify things as much as possible (even though it’s a lot more complex): When looking at wolf pack structure the dominant wolf or the “alpha” wolf - which generally will be a male and a female - is the animal with the most social freedom. These wolves do not defer to anyone and they do not need to “enforce” their position. It’s continually reinforced through body posturing, which is then responded to with reciprocal submission from other wolves.
Also these dominant wolves are not necessarily going to eat first, howl first or get any other privileges other than being allowed to breed. Their offspring will naturally defer to them and then disperse once they grow up so as not to cause conflict.
@koryos wrote up a great run-down of different canid pack models which can be found here: http://www.koryoswrites.com/nonfiction/dominance-behavior-in-canids/
I also recommend reading the papers linked to the article.
Hope that helps!