The Eyes of a Wolf

firefox-grayWhen visitors to our home were introduced to our wolf/dog hybrid, there were normally two things that they would comment on when meeting him for the first time.   Usually people were struck by the unusual colour of his coat, which was a bristly combination of tawny brown, dark brown and grey guard hairs.  The second most popular feature commented on were his eyes, which were a yellow-amber colour and quite striking, even from a distance.

Foolish myths abound about the evil eyes of a wolf and how they glow and must surely be the eyes of the Devil and so on and so on. Luckily most people recognize these myths for what they are... superstitious nonsense.

However, the eyes of a wolf are special in many ways and can reveal many things.  Emotions, fleeting reactions and even intentions are reflected in subtle changes in the size of the pupil and in the muscles that control the eyes of a wolf.

In a pack environment, the "situational personality" of each wolf is revealed in the eyes as it would be with a group of dogs or other highly evolved species.  For example; in humans, sometimes a direct stare can suggest a threat or a confrontation, as is the case with wolves. If the direct stare of a wolf is lengthy and not combined with other body gestures such as a bow or slight wag of the tail it usually infers an aggressive mood or intention.

In both wolves and humans the act of looking away and avoiding a direct confrontational stare is a friendly or submissive gesture, i.e. unchallenging, while an open-mouthed, innocent gaze can often signal playful and frolicsome behaviour.

It is true that a wolf's eyes glow in the dark and this is due to a light reflecting layer in their eyes called the TAPETUM LUCIDUM that most likely assists and furthers their ability to see at night. A carnivore's eyes are also usually extremely sensitive to movements, while colour perception and visual acuity may not be as highly developed as in humans. Use of the eyes in a social context, however, is virtually identical in man and wolf.

In my direct interactions with pure-blood, semi-wild wolves, I have rarely been stared at for more than a few seconds by any one wolf in particular.

Rarely will one wolf make direct eye contact with another wolf, wild or captive, or a human being unless the intention is to threaten or possibly to play.

More often than not, a wolf will tactfully avoid eye contact but still manage to follow your every movement while you are in its vicinity. When you make eye contact it may look away submissively, or even close its eyes in a relaxed catlike fashion (not ignoring you but displaying simply that it is at ease in your presence).

Some wolves, like the big cats at the zoo, will instead look right through you as though you don't exist. This fixed look of apparent passive indifference is an example of how eye contact is a clear indicator of status and a regulator of social distance.

Research seems to indicate that a more submissive, dependent or fearful wolf (or human being for that matter) makes more eye contact than does a wolf or a human being who is more self-assured and is of a higher status or rank.

Both wolf and man have the eyes set in front of the face, a distinct characteristic of a hunter, (a predator), that searches its field of vision for prey. On the other hand, prey species have an almost 360 degree visual capability afforded by their wide-set eyes, which allows them to detect a stalking predator very effectively.

Just as in man, a wolf's eyes convey many emotions and can speak volumes about intentions or mood at any given moment. A wolf s' eyes are not evil but they are a useful tool for helping them to communicate and survive.


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