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On wolves

I started this thinking that Rosemary Sutcliff's picture of Cub, the wolfcub raised by Marcus and Esca, was really too rosy and doglike. I finished it thinking that it's more accurate than I'd originally thought, though there are some holes.

Cub is brought to Marcus as a very young pup: his eyes are open and he has teeth but he's not very mobile and he's not weaned. This adds up quite neatly to suggest he is about 15 days old when Esca takes him from his den in, say March of the year after Marcus is wounded.

As the key socialisation period for wolf cubs ends around 19 days (much earlier than dogs) he is the right age to become - well, as socialised as a wolf is ever likely to become, anyway. So he has a relatively good opportunity to integrate into a human household.

During the period covered by the book, Cub is a juvenile wolf. Wolves don't start hunting until they are about a year old, and as cubs, tend to behave in a more doglike manner than adult wolves, though they are still very active and need a lot of exercise and can be rough (as Marcipor found out when his toe got bitten, which is book canon).

Although Marcus thinks that Cub is fully grown the spring after he got him, Marcus is wrong : Cub may look adult, but he's got at least another year before he is physically mature, and that's why he still behaves like a puppy (at least, when greeting Marcus, his Mum). It's not surprising that Cub comes rushing home when Marcus takes his collar off: Cub isn't old enough at just over a year old to live on his own and still needs help from (and is closely bonded to) his family.

Wolves bond very strongly with their families and don't handle change well. When Cub does his appeasing puppy wagging thing with Marcus, from Cub's point of view he is greeting his Mum. You would not expect Cub to greet other humans as enthusiastically, and in fact, he doesn't.

Marcus is Cub's special human being. Cub is also prepared to take food from Esca, Cottia, and, when Marcus is about and Cub is feeling relaxed and confident, Sassticca. When Marcus, Esca and Cottia all go away and leave Cub in Calleva, he pines and almost starves himself to death. This is pretty unusual behaviour for a dog (a grieving dog may skip a few meals, but won't generally starve himself), but is apparently very typical of wolves and is one of the many reasons that they make terrible pets. Wolves need and expect to be with their family most of the time.

What sort of wolf would Cub have been? Could he be a wolf-dog?
Cub would be a British gray wolf, and British wolves are three centuries dead - more specifically, Cub is supposed to be a wolf from the Calleva area, and there have been no wolves in central-south England for at least five hundred years. British wolves were probably quite similar to wolves in the rest of Europe, but we can't be sure. Even when canid bones are found, it's often hard to tell if they are wolves or dogs, unless they are unusually well preserved.

British wolves lived on a relatively small island, isolated over a long period from other wolf populations, but with an awful lot of people and dogs. If Cub doesn't behave like a typical European wolf, then maybe that's because British wolves were not typical European wolves. It's an argument that would be hard to disprove.

Genetic tests have shown that modern wolves in Bulgaria have interbred with feral dogs (wolves are the same species as dogs, just a different subspecies). So, Sutcliff's fictional idea of a wolf and dog population that interbreeds fairly regularly is possible. It seems to be more typical for wolves, in most of the places where you get wolves, to eat dogs than mate with them, but presumably that depends on the size and temperament of the dog. During the Roman period, there are several references to Britain as a source of particularly impressive hunting dogs (though whether interbreeding with wolves would have produced a better working hunting dog is open to question, as wolves are typically shy and not very obedient).

One thing that supports the idea that Cub is a wolf-dog is that he is described as 'brindle'.  Brindle is a quite specific colour pattern (like a tabby cat) and so far as I can find out, it does not normally appear in wolves, only in dogs.

What might happen to Cub?
Adult pet wolves tend to be quite challenging and risky for people to be around at close quarters. This causes people to start talking about 'alphas' and 'dominance'. David Mech, who did the original study that came up with that idea, has since decided that isn't how wolves work in the wild. However, the reasons may not seem that important if you happen to own a pet wolf and have to deal with difficult adult behaviour - because there is no way that a pet wolf can behave the way that his genetics says he should.

Once he is fully adult, the natural thing for a wolf to do is to find a territory and a mate and start having cubs to form a pack of their own. For modern pet wolves, this is a major problem, because modern pet wolves have no hunting skills, little idea how to interact with other wolves and don't have a spare 16 square miles to live in. They haven't had the practice to do well in the wild, and they aren't genetically predisposed to remain eternal puppies, like dogs.

Unlike modern pet wolves, Cub has probably spent a fair bit of his time hunting, he's canonically well socialised with other canids, and he lives in a place where there is plentiful wolf habitat, and territories which regularly become available (due to regular wolf hunts). So: possibilities:

1) he slips away to find a mate. This is likely to be bad news for the sheep and small children of the Calleva area once he gets hungry, because Cub isn't scared of people and is used to thinking of them as a food source.

2) Esca realises that Cub hasn't worked out as a dog and kills him before he eats someone. Oh! the angst!

3) Cub actually does eat a baby or someone's beloved dog, and Marcus has to kill him (because, let's face it, Marcus would not spot the problem before it happened). Even more angst!

4) if Cub is a wolf-dog who has ended up with mostly dog genes (this can happen with second generation crosses, even if both parents look and behave like wolves and the pup looks like a wolf) - then he might just manage to actually become a dog, if a rather shy one with separation anxiety issues that needs a lot of exercise.

This still isn't necessarily a happy-ever-after though. Because Cub has been removed from his mother before he should have been, he may still have health issues - for example, he might go blind early because he's not had the right sort of milk.

Further reading
International Wolf Centre : http://www.wolf.org
Wolf / wolfdog sanctuary: http://www.missionwolf.com/
Article from Wild Sentry on wolf domestication: http://cf.nwf.org/wildlife/pdfs/canyouturnawolfintoadog.pdf
Wolf Park : http://www.wolfpark.org/
Comparative Social Cognition: From wolf and dog to humans: http://psyc.queensu.ca/ccbr/Vol2/Kubinyi.html
Wolf-to-dog transition had little to do with humans, ancient skull suggests (Evidence for multiple evolutionary wolf domestication events worldwide over a long period) http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/12/18/wolf-to-dog-transition-had-little-to-do-with-humans-ancient-skull-suggests/

Book :Roger Abrantes: the evolution of canine social behaviour
Book: Raymond & Lorna Coppinger : Dogs : a startling new understanding of canine origin, behaviour and evolution.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
6th Jul, 2011 22:12 (UTC)
This is a great analysis! I am hoping against hope for option #4.
7th Jul, 2011 18:56 (UTC)
I'm sort of hoping for 4, but it does rather limit Marcus & Esca's future adventures if they can't go off anywhere without poor Cub breaking his heart!
7th Jul, 2011 22:32 (UTC)
I don't think book Marcus and Esca really are the adventuring types at that point, so perhaps that's okay. (But there's a reason I tend to add Cottia back into movieverse but not Cub.)
8th Jul, 2011 08:46 (UTC)
I have tended to write an unholy and random mashup between book and movie, so I suppose I could just leave Cub out, but I somehow felt the need to work him out...

They are awful young to just settle down and never do anything else! Even if it does takes them a few years to get the farm on its feet.
8th Jul, 2011 13:16 (UTC)
Things just wouldn't feel like proper Sutcliff book!fic to me if there isn't at least a hound or two somewhere underfoot in the background, even if not an actual named character like Cub or Cabal or Dog...
8th Jul, 2011 18:01 (UTC)
IDK, Roman lifespans were pretty short. :-/ With most people dying by ~50 (and younger on farms), if they want to do any farming (and have babies with Cottia, maybe), early 20s is not a bad time to settle down. I tend to think movie!Marcus is early 30s and movie!Esca mid-20s, so that goes double for him. If they adventure too much, there isn't going to be any settling down, which is fine if you want to go that direction. I just think happy gay (or OT3) farmers needs to happen early if it's going to happen.

(The life expectancy for women on Roman-British farms was dismal. Yay, childbirth? I'd have to look it up again, but I think the infant mortality rate at the sites I read about was about 75%. But not really a whole lot better LE for men--under 30 and 40ish, respectively.)

I try not to think about the life expectancies too hard, and I am totally fudging them in my OT3 story, because I don't want them all to die so young. :-/

Anyway, given that the majority of people in the ancient world did settle young and spend their lives in manual labor--yeah, these are adventure novel protagonists, but I don't think it's out of the question that they'd have had enough of adventuring and want to lead a quieter life (although both Romans and book did rather romanticize farming: see life expectancies).
8th Jul, 2011 18:39 (UTC)
OK, I have SO MANY thoughts on that topic that I think I will try to write it all up as a separate post at some point rather than try to cram them all into a hasty comment.

One day I may even write a fic rather than researching it and wittering about my reasoning :-D
8th Jul, 2011 18:43 (UTC)
Looking forward to it!
7th Jul, 2011 03:55 (UTC)
Oh, I'm so glad I saw hedgebird mention the existence of this post -- great stuff! Have you also seen this Hungarian study from 2001 - 2003 comparing wolf and dog pups taken from their mothers at less than one week of age and given the same intense one-on-one human socialization?
7th Jul, 2011 19:35 (UTC)
It sounds familiar - I think I may have read a precis or something, but I hadn't come across this fuller version, thank you! I will add it to my links.

I guess how applicable it is to Cub depends on how separate a species you want British wolves of the Roman period to be. For example, the stuff about barking could be explained by him being a wolf-dog. Though actually, with the barking thing, I wondered about breed as well. I can't remember the last time my greyhound barked. And my lurcher's barking fits the wolf pattern better than the dog one (ie, it's a rare warning/protest).

It must be hard to do comparative studies when so many things that one thinks of as 'typical dog' are things that individual dogs or breeds don't do! You'd need a big sample, I think.
7th Jul, 2011 22:33 (UTC)
Barking tendencies vary hugely between dog breeds, but are also affected by training.

(I am trying to remember if I have ever heard a North American wolfdog bark...)
7th Jul, 2011 22:37 (UTC)
There was a television documentary sometime...last year, I think? that spent a bit of time with the folks involved in that study -- there's a transcript online, that might perhaps have been one of the things you saw.

And oh yes, I've seen such huge variations in vocalization patterns just from my dogs. The akita cross was very very quiet in general, and only barked on very rare occasions, much like your lurcher from the sound of it -- if his kids got a little out of hand in a ticklefight, for instance, he'd put himself bodily between them to break it up and issue a single stern woof. The malamute "talked" constantly and would occasionally give a brief howl, but barking just was not his normal thing. I taught him to speak on cue, but he wouldn't due it without edible motivation and even then he sometimes seemed to have trouble remembering how to form the sound properly, there'd be a few goofy-sounding windup attempts before he got it right... The pibble's a moderate barker for protest, intruder warning, or play; but the elkhound, oh, he'd happily bark up a storm at the slightest excuse...not too surprising he had such a knack for it, given they way they still hunt with those dogs in the Nordic countries.
8th Jul, 2011 07:57 (UTC)
Barkiest dog I have fostered so far I think would be the corgi x JRT. She loved the sound of her own voice and would yell like your elkhound! not sure if that's the Corgi or the JRT or both.

The collie crosses have mostly been protective/warning barkers, and so was my boxer foster...

Your malamute sounds like my greyhound : enormous number of noises made, but none of them anything like a bark!
8th Jul, 2011 13:38 (UTC)
*nods* The akita mix was Very Very Serious about patrolling his territory and blocking entry to anyone not given permission to enter, but seemed to have no drive whatsoever to warn intruders away vocally: people or strange dogs could come right up to the fence and you'd hear nary a peep, but if anyone he didn't recognize as family tried to come through the gate without our OK, he would be on them in a silent flash.

As for the noisy elkie, heh...I hung out on a breed mailing list for years after I plucked him out of the shelter, because they've got a lot of quirks that are different from the Asian primitive-spitz types or Arctic sledding breeds. One of the regulars lived in one of the Scandinavian countries, I can't recall which, and her family hunted with their dogs, and IIRC their national breed club required field trials to certify a dog's working ability before breeding them? I'm fuzzy on the specifics now, but I will never forget her description of the field trials -- one of the tests apparently involves the dog demonstrating that he can keep up the barking for at least an hour, "in case it's an easy moose".

(And hee, does your greyhound carry out two-way conversations with people, too?)
8th Jul, 2011 18:45 (UTC)
Two way conversations? Definitely. I'm convinced she thinks that she is communicating with me in my own language. I can understand why she thinks this:

Mollydog : Eeee ow wowwwoooaaaai? Wawo owowo.
Me : Is it walk time already?
Mollydog : Awaa OWWWW! Wa Ow!
Me : You want to go OW?
Mollydog: OW! OW! Eaa wowo awa owo OW!
Me: Oh all right, let me get my boots.
Mollydog: Eeeee? wawowo OOT? OW! OW! OW!

... or something along those lines. :-D
8th Jul, 2011 22:32 (UTC)
*howling with laughter*

The other dogs must think she is the BEST HUMAN TRAINER ever! XD
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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