Wolves are very social animals living in packs numbering typically 6 to 7 members. In winter, however, they are organized into larger packs which may stand, in exceptional cases up to 20 or even 30 individuals. Pack with more than 25 individuals is very rare. Pack can also rise or fadeout during the year, some only temporarily, others permanently. In the pack is a strict hierarchy in which each member have a fixed position. But we must not confuse the wolf pack with a military unit, it is not so simple. Structure of a wolf pack is dynamic and may vary depending on many factors.
Hierarchy of a wolf pack and the individual ranks are dividing in the earliest beginning of the development of young wolf pups. Wolf pups, when feeding and playing daily games, they already clearly demonstrate who is on top and who on the contrary the bottom. Every individual has some kind of innate behavior, which dominates over all other characteristics such as fearfulness, shyness, assertiveness, fearlessness, etc. Although these distinctive characteristics are forming hierarchical position of individuals in the pack, the true reason and nature of why this or that wolf will become the alpha or omega, is known only by wolves themselves. Rank order is established and maintained through a series of ritualized fights and posturing best described as ritual bluffing. As Jim Dutcher wrote: “Each wolf knows its place in the pack and place all the other wolves as well. Without this hierarchy, the pack would broke up. Within the system, wolves may compete with each other, but they never contest the system as such.” Wolves prefer psychological warfare to physical confrontations, meaning that high-ranking status is based more on personality or attitude than on size or physical strength. Rank, who holds it, and how it is enforced varies widely between packs and between individual animals. In large packs full of easygoing wolves, or in a group of juvenile wolves, rank order may shift almost constantly, or even be circular (e.g., animal A dominates animal B, who dominates animal C, who dominates animal A)(wolfcountry.net).
Loss of rank can happen gradually or suddenly. An older wolf may simply choose to give way when an ambitious challenger presents itself, yielding its position without bloodshed. On the other hand, the challenged individual may choose to fight back, with varying degrees of intensity. While the majority of wolf aggression is non-damaging and ritualized, a high-stakes fight can easily result in injury for either or both parties. The loser of such a confrontation is frequently chased away from the pack or, rarely, may be killed as other aggressive wolves contribute to the insurgency. This kind of dominance encounter is more common in the winter months, when mating occurs (wolfcountry.net).
If a wolf somehow lost it's pack (if the pack is killed, if he is moved by human ect.) it is almost similar to death. Wolves are highly social animals, and needs a company of another creature, at best his own pack, at worst a company of human. If a wolf suddenly became alone, he is doomed to starvation, psychological distress and final death.
In a wolf pack it is normal that only an alpha-male with an alpha-female can mate. It is held under the control of the size of the pack, because too many wolves, especially pups, are a greater disadvantage. Many mouths to feed and few hunters could result in that everyone will suffer from hunger. Instead, everyone is wholly dedicated to the few alpha pair’s pups, thereby ensuring that they will grow up strong and will be the great advantage for the pack.
Wolf is a very complex and psychically complicated being and wolf’s character is not an exception. His nature has many faces. On the one hand, wolf can be cruel and harsh in feeding rituals and in demonstrating his position in the pack (which is virtually every wolf, except very submissive omega), on the other hand, wolf is kind, loyal, affectionate, playful, friendly, caring and loving.. Taking care for a small wolf pups, the wounded and oppressed and seeking to maintain a pleasant atmosphere in the pack. For wolves are very important their mutual emotional ties. Regardless of the teasing, oppressed omega, or mutual skirmish, their love to each other is boundless and their souls linked into a single mind and heart, culminating in the alpha wolf. If some member would pass away (especially alpha), it is very likely, that pack will disrupt and slowly disappear.
Although law of the pack is hard, none of the wolves really mean their aggressive or dominant behavior in the bad way. Most important for every member is a general welfare of the pack.
An Alpha wolf is a wolf with the highest responsibility, with the highest decision-making rules and all the other powers and authority – it is the leader. “The alpha pair has the greatest amount of social freedom among all the pack members, but they are not “leaders” in the human sense of the term. The alphas do not give the other wolves orders; rather, they simply have the most freedom in choosing where to go, what to do, and when to do it. The rest of the pack usually follows (wolfcountry.net).” Alpha has the task of caring for the general safety of the pack, determine and approve various hierarchical positions of other members. When hunting he can determine the hunted animals and can also stop the hunt itself. He decides on the order of wolves in the feeding ritual, while he always eats first. Alpha is bright, confident and calm. Wears the head and tail high and lifting his leg when urinating, which other wolves never do. In the howling ritual his head is always higher than the others. Any irregularity, such as if other wolf has his head higher then him, is understood as an offense to his authority, which he significantly do not tolerate. He is constantly on the alert and unceasingly watches over the others. Position of alpha male has nothing to do with age, size, strength or aggression. It is determined by the laws, which knows only the wolves themselves. Alpha male and female have reproductive role in the pack. He has a very stable position.
The beta wolves are very little known in comparison with clearly defined positions alpha and omega. Their role in the pack is unclear. Beta is hierarchically second in the wolf pack, right after the alpha. He has broadly similar powers and authority, only minimally reduced with respect to more dominant position of alpha wolf. He is allowed to eat together with an alpha wolf, and is recognized as the deputy leader of the pack. If alpha dies or has been injured in any way, his role assumes with the highest probability beta. Beta may has a role of a occasionally pacifier, often trying to defend individual members (such as omega) before more dominant individuals. Furthermore, they may also has occasional role of educators / teachers and caregivers of wolf pups, or wounded members of the pack. Beta maintains and seeks the common good, peace and balanced atmosphere in the pack. He has a relatively stable position.
Wolves in the middle rung of the pack between the beta and omega have very unstable position. For this reason, they are often very assertive and bold. They constantly need to prove their superiority and dominance in order to consolidate the already precarious position in the pack. They constantly defend their position, as it can change from day to another. On the one hand they‘re trying not to be the omega male, and on the other hand, they would like to progress in the hierarchical ranking of pack. They have a special role in pack as an infantry, who practice hunting tactics of the pack, prosecute and chase the prey. They are the driving force behind the pack.
Position of omega wolf is very difficult. Omega is the lowest in the hierarchical ladder, which entails considerable injustice in the form of numerous everyday expressions of superiority and some form of bullying by other dominant members of the pack, and even from the wolf pups, which have special status in the pack. Occasional biting, forcing omega to lay on the ground, frequent humiliation and other expressions of dominance from the other wolves are the inconveniences that omega wolf must endure during the normal day. He often walk and howl in much lower position than all the others, with tail pulled between his legs. He often has to perform an act of subordination, consisting of laying on his back and weakly whining. Although omega wolf is the least recognized, he is also a very beloved member of the pack. He maintains a pleasant and joyful atmosphere, detract from everyday worries of entire pack, provokes and encourages the games. He is an essential part of the pack, without which it would not work.
Wolf pups are like little miracles for the pack. They have a special status, which does not include any of previous mentioned posts. Being a wolf puppy is considerable privilege. Puppies must of course respect the principles of subordination of alpha and beta, but they may eat first and there is taken a special and careful care of them. Food which is too stiff for them to eat is predigest and thrown up by older members of the pack, often by beta. Wolf puppies are socially higher situated then omega. Their main aim is to eat, grow up fast and learn knowledge from the older wolves, so they will be able to survive the cruel winter.