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How Do Wolves Communicate? (3 Ways)

Wolves are powerful predators that live in packs and they play a key role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. They also have various ways of communicating with each other, ranging from sounds to body movements. If you’ve ever wondered why wolves howl and if they are howling at the moon, read on to learn about how wolves communicate and more!

How do wolves communicate?

Wolves use three main communication methods:

  1. Sound – A wolf will howl, bark, growl, or whimper to communicate various emotions.
  2. Scent – They will also use their sense of smell to communicate with chemical messages, such as pheromones, to determine if a female is ready for mating. Wolves also use scent marking with urination to mark the boundaries of their territories.
  3. Body language –Their body language is also useful to communicate within the pack. For example, wolves will stand tall and carry their tails up high to show dominance. They can also use facial expressions, such as baring their teeth and having their ears up straight when they are angry.

What are wolves communicating when they howl?

Wolves can communicate various things when they howl. It’s a quick way to get a message across a far distance to help other members of their pack identify their location. They will also howl to provide warnings about predators, assemble their pack, or identify where prey are positioned.

Sometimes you might hear wolves howling together in a chorus. This is a way to help strengthen the bonds between members in a pack. Pack life is important to wolves since it helps them hunt for larger prey, defend their territories, and care for their young.

Do wolves howl at the moon?

No, wolves will howl at night even when there is no full moon out. Howling is the best way for them to communicate across long distances, especially when they have a large territory.

The myth that wolves howl at the moon probably emerged because ancient people were more likely to venture out at night when there was a full moon so they could see better. This means they were more aware of the howls on nights with full moons.

What do the sounds of wolves mean?

Different sound vocalizations of wolves communicate different things. Besides howling, wolves will commonly bark, whine, and growl. Scientists believe the barking either indicates the beginning of a chase, a sign of excitement, or is a call of alarm. Whines are usually used by adult females when they are at the den and are believed to be a sound of affection. Growling is a sign of aggression and is used to establish dominance or pose a threat.

image by Raed Mansour via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

How do wolves show submission?

Wolves have two ways of showing submission, through active and passive behaviors. Active submission occurs through contact where wolves crouch, lick muzzles, or tuck their tails. These behaviors begin when they are pups and will continue into adulthood when showing signs of intimacy. Subordinate wolves will also show these behaviors in front of the alpha.

Passive submission usually occurs when a subordinate wolf lays on its back or side to expose their vulnerable abdomen or chest to the dominant wolf. The less dominant wolf will roll onto their back to show they accept another wolf’s authority, which usually occurs before a fight breaks out. This helps keep hierarchy roles in packs and prevents members from fighting among themselves.

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How do wolves show fear?

Frightened wolves will try to make their body look small. They will also flatten their ears against their head and tuck their tails between their legs. Sometimes you might also see them arch their back and bark out of fear.

If they are suspicious of a situation, they will narrow their eyes and pull back their eyes. They will also point their tails straight outwards and parallel to the ground if they suspect danger.

How do you know a wolf is happy?

Similar to dogs, happy wolves will wag their tails. They will also have their tongues lolled out. If the wold holds their tail high and wags it, it’s a sign they are in a playful mood. They will also dance around, frolic, or bow by placing the front of their body down to the ground, with their rear high.

How do wolves imprint?

Generally, wolves will adopt their parent’s social behaviors and ways of communicating. However, if there are no parents around when they are young, they can sometimes imprint to animals of other species. Imprinting occurs when a wolf forms a close bond with another animal, leading to behavioral changes.

Wolves are known to imprint with dogs easily since they are already closely related in behaviors. The wolf can end up adopting similar communication patterns to dogs. For example, they might start barking more to communicate different things.

How do you know a wolf is about to attack?

If you ever encounter a wolf, it’s useful to know how they’ll communicate they are about to attack. In general, hunting wolves will be tense and have their tail pointed straight out.

You may see them growling, baring their teeth, howling, or raising their hackles if they are about to attack. Their hackles are the hairs running along their spines. If you notice behaviors like this, don’t turn your back on the wolf or run. Instead, slowly back away so you don’t alarm the wolf.


Wolves have various forms of communicating, including sound, scent, and body language. These forms of communication are useful to help them thrive in their pack life and co-exist or coordinate with other wolves. Watching their facial expressions and how their tails and ears are positioned can help you identify if a wolf is happy, fearful, or ready to attack.