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Season of Grumpiness - Seasonal Behavior Changes

Each fall as the days get a little bit shorter and the temperatures begin to drop we start seeing a little more grumpiness from usually sweet, docile wolfdogs. Some become less obedient or much more rebellious while others get downright snarky, possessive of everything, growly or begin to show teeth.  On the other end of the spectrum in some cases they will become super loving and social to us.  This is what is known as Seasonal Behavior Changes.  Some also refer to it as Seasonal Aggression and most often people throw around the term Winter Wolf Syndrome, but it is not a syndrome at all.  It is a behavior driven by hormonal changes and fluctuations. It can affect any wolf or wolfdog but more often we see it affecting the high contents and pures the most.  It is also important to understand that this is not a wolfdog “trait” and not every wolf or wolfdog will display this kind of behavior.  The reason we see it predominately in the highs and pures in captivity is these animals have inherited the wolf reproductive cycle.  


Most male domestic dogs are able to breed year round, but the male wolf, the high contents  and some mid contents are not reproductively viable year round.  From June through September testosterone is at its lowest levels in the male wolf and wolfdog.  In October we begin to see an increase in testosterone and the males become very attentive to the females.  By December through March the levels are at their highest and their behavior may fluctuate with the levels of testosterone and the amount of viable sperm.  This is the peak of the “Winter Wolf” season of grumpiness.  In April the levels begin to once again drop and by June they are close to their lowest levels.  In the Spring just prior to the birth of puppies prolactin is secreted to induce paternal behavior and it hits its peak in late June.    From June through September they are at their most amicable.  Each fall the hormone decreases at about the same time the testosterone begins to increase and we begin to see the testiness begin again.


The female wolf has an annual reproductive cycle as opposed to most dog breeds that go through estrus or heat twice a year.  She will go into estrus in Jan-March depending on the animal’s location or latitude.  The gestation period on average is 62-63 days and they give birth in late March through May.  Fluctuating levels of estrogen, progesterone and prolactin also affect the female’s behavior throughout the cycle.  They can get testier, but the females can also become clingier or more affectionate to those that they are highly bonded to.


Jekyll & Hyde
We get a lot of calls from people saying their wolfdog just “turned on them”.  Most of these calls start coming in each November. It is not some sort of Jekyll and Hyde split personality but a slight grumpiness beginning as they near sexual maturity somewhere between 2 and 4 years old and then each winter after that.  Most wolfdogs become sexually mature at 22 months or more, but in some cases it can happen as early as 10 months for both the male and female and you can see some testiness begin that early but it is rare in high contents.


Some of the signs of Seasonal Behavior Changes are: 

  • A formerly sweet, lovable animal will start to shy away from you when you try to give it attention or completely ignore you.

  • It might begin to lift its lip at you or show its teeth.

  • It might growl at you

  •  It might be more headstrong or defiant.

  • Some will greet you at the gate with stiff body language (head up, ears forward, tail up and an intense look in the eye), others will strut around with extreme authority.

  • Animals that have demonstrated excellent obedience training might be less willing to obey

  • May have a heightened prey drive

  • May become more possessive and might “guard” you away from possessions like a bone, a favorite toy or a mate or might not allow you into the enclosure at all.

  • They might become more same-sex aggressive

  • Some females can become more affectionate or clingy with one person yet much more snarky with someone else.


Some of the more dangerous displays may be:

  • A more intense growl with hackles up

  • An extreme focus that you can’t break

  • A slow stalk towards you followed by a challenge

  • The animal can go from standing next to you being petted to standing with his paws on your shoulders, teeth barred and growling from his rear end

  • Increase in same sex aggression

  • A full blown attack


How to stop the devil dog:

  • Be prepared for it. No matter how sweet and lovable your animal is the rest of the year always be prepared for the worst. Just because you have an excellent rapport doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t happen to you.

  • Remain vigilant

  • Alter all animals that are not part of a planned breeding program

  • Avoid going into a habitat alone

  • Have something with you for protection such as a bite stick or shovel or pooper scooper to protect yourself. It is not to be used as a weapon to hit them with, but an extension of your arm to bite at to gain you that extra time to get out of the pen.


Does altering Help?

There are no absolutes when it comes to season behavioral changes.  Many times if you alter the animal before it is sexually mature you can avoid the seasonal behavior fluctuations altogether. But if you wait and they start to exhibit the behaviors it can sometimes be too late as it becomes a learned behavior. In many cases, it can help you gain your loveable companion back.

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