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Do Wolves Imprint? (They Can Sometimes)

Wolf imprinting is possible if the wolf stays with another species from its very birth, although full imprinting is unlikely to happen.

Even when a wolf imprints to a degree, it still has the awareness that it’s a different species than the animal they’ve imprinted on.

Some people decide to raise wolves on their own without the wolf having any contact with its mother or its clan. This is when imprinting is possible. Wolves that imprint will struggle to connect with their own species if they meet other wolves, which will usually happen when they grow up.

Do Wolves Imprint

Wolves imprinting with dogs is much more common than wolves imprinting with humans – which is still possible but only to a degree. That’s because wolves and dogs are very similar as a species, so a wolf will take certain characteristics from dogs such as behavior and their communication patterns.

1. What Is Imprinting?

Imprinting is the act of forming a close bond with someone to such an extent that the animal or creature that imprints on the other animal takes up some behaviors or adapts to their lifestyle.

Imprinting was initially a myth, something that was only possible in stories. For example, in many novels and movies, werewolves imprint on other creatures such as humans as they form close bonds with them, and it’s something they can’t resist. It’s the way how they are able to find soulmates.

However, in real life, imprinting is also present, although it’s not as strong as described in movies or novels. In real life, it is confined mostly to the act of accepting and taking in various social cues and rules, and taking up the behavior of the animal that’s imprinted on.

For example, imprinting was very closely observed in The Twilight Saga, although the imprinting, in that case, was much more complete than what it is in reality.

This imprinting is only possible to a certain extent, and it depends heavily on how compatible and similar the two species are. For instance, wolves will imprint on dogs much more accurately and closely than they would imprint on humans.

Imprinting is commonly visible with dogs that are left without their parents and are cared for by humans from their birth. With little to no contact with other dogs, these dogs that imprint don’t know how to interact with other dogs, because they have accustomed themselves to having humans as their company. This means they might have issues with socialization for the rest of their lives.

Most of the time, imprinting is essentially forming a close bond that happens almost suddenly or instantly.

Read More: How do Wolves Mark their Mates?

2. How Do Wolves Imprint on Someone?

Wolves will imprint on someone from an early age, as they will start to accept their rules and behavior as a norm, and hold them in very high esteem.

When we talk about imprinting, we often mean it in such a way that wolves or dogs adore us very much and that they are spoilt. However, true imprinting is different. It happens from a necessity where imprinted wolves have no other choice but to accept this.

However, complete imprinting is near impossible if wolves imprint on humans. They are still aware that they’re a different species to us, although humans and wolves have similar social structures, which is more easily understandable to them.

If wolves imprint on dogs, however, the imprinting will be much more complete. That’s primarily because dogs and wolves are two very similar species, so wolves are able to understand and befriend dogs faster. In some cases, they’ll take up their behaviors and even their communication means, so they might start barking.

Imprinting for wolves is almost never complete, though. It depends on how close the two imprinted species are, and on the individual animal that’s imprinted.

3. Do Wolves Imprint on their Mother?

Wolves will primarily imprint on their parents, which is called filial imprinting. This type of imprinting is natural and happens at a very early age, and it results in wolves taking up their parents’ social behaviors and more.

This behavior was initially observed with birds all the way back in 1516. Konrad Lorenz, the Austrian zoologist, confirmed this theory in the 20th century. He used geese to conduct an experiment to determine whether baby geese would imprint on their parents or not

The study found that geese would reach a critical period at 13-16 hours after birth where the baby geese would imprint on the first animal that they would be exposed to at that period. When Konrad Lorenz exposed himself to them, he found that the baby geese started following them and taking up his behaviors, which was proof to him of imprinting.

He also found that animals have the capacity to imprint on inanimate objects if there are no other animals around them during the critical period.

It is believed that wolves also follow the same patterns as geese, although it’s unclear what the “critical period” for the wolves is. The imprinting of wolves might not be as complete and comprehensive as that of geese that were seen in this experiment. There might never be full imprinting, but there will be some patterns that wolves will form during imprinting.

The primary animal that wolves will imprint on is thus its parents; if there are no parents around during the critical period, then the wolf will imprint on an animal or object that is close to it during that time.

Read More: Can Wolves Bark like Dogs?


To conclude, wolves do imprint, but only to a certain extent. The act of imprinting is forming a close bond with another animal at a very early age, which results in some behavioral changes for the wolves. The notion of imprinting is almost never fully complete as wolves have an awareness that they’re a different species when they imprint on other species.

Normally, they would imprint on their parents but if they’re not present during the imprinting period, wolves will imprint to other animals or objects that are around at that time.

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