Wolf Pups Start Exploring The World While Deaf and Blind

From time to time an abstract so perfectly describes a paper that there is little point in reading much more. The study below belongs to that category. The author was interested to know if the assumption that wolves and dogs undergo sensory development at the same time was true or not. Surprised that such a bare bones comparison hadn’t been done before.

It seems that the assumption was true, what is different is that wolves start exploring their environment 2 weeks earlier; while still blind and deaf. Dogs pups first develop olfaction and hearing before they start to move about.

A Comparison of the Sensory Development of Wolves (Canis lupus lupus) and Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)

Little is known about the development of the sensory systems of wolves. The timing of sensory development in wolves is usually extrapolated from studies on dogs, since they are members of the same species. However, early developmental differences between these two subspecies have already been identified. For example, wolves tend to approach and investigate objects in their environment 2 wk before dogs. These changes in developmental timing may play an important role in the behavioral differences between adult wolves and dogs. The purpose of this study is to compare the development of the sensory systems in wolves and dogs.

Responses of seven wolf pups and 43 dog pups to familiar and novel olfactory, auditory, and visual stimuli were tested weekly from 2–7 wk of age. Eleven wolf pups were also observed for orientation towards auditory and visual stimuli during 2-h sessions, 5 d a week, from 2–8 wk of age. These observations were supplemented by the daily records of caretakers.

The results suggest that wolves and dogs both develop olfaction by 2 wk, audition by 4 wk, and vision by 6 wk on average, despite the 2-wk shift in their ability to explore. This means that when wolves begin to explore at 2 wk, they are blind and deaf, and must rely primarily on their sense of smell. Thus, there is a significant alteration of how these subspecies experience their environment during the critical period of socialization. These findings lead to an alternative explanation for the difference in dogs’ and wolves’ abilities to form interspecies social attachments, such as those with humans.



Lord, K. (2012). A Comparison of the Sensory Development of Wolves (Canis lupus lupus) and Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)
Ethology DOI: 10.1111/eth.12044


7 thoughts on “Wolf Pups Start Exploring The World While Deaf and Blind

  1. I love the science that you find, it’s just fascinating. Thanks for doing the review of the literature for the rest of us to enjoy.

  2. Dog pups have their eyes open at 2 weeks, probably also wolves, although they cannot see much, they are not blind! Audition develops in the week after the eyes open.

  3. This may vary by breed of dog. My pups (Tibetan dokhyi) start exploring the whelping box long before their eyes open, even establishing a communal “latrine” at the end of the box farthest from their sleeping spot. But this is a primitive breed: single annual estrus, intact pack instincts. They also start vocalizing before their eyes open…

  4. Does this study surprise you? It seems like it should be expected since the wolves need a heightened development of their senses far more than dogs, just by the fact they have a riskier survival in the wild.

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