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Submitted on
July 16, 2009
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Wolf Structure Notes by Falcolf Wolf Structure Notes by Falcolf
For :iconsilverglass19:

I couldn't express my thoughts through words, so I made a sort of tutorial thing. Much less stupid than that ancient drawing wolves tutorial I did a million years ago and the info here is correct, since it has my observations of actual living wolves in it from my time with the Northern Lights Pack in Golden. For two hours I was able to hike with two wolves off leash, Aspen and Tuk in the company of their handlers. I learned a lot!

Anyway, here are my anatomical notes for Silverglass and anyone else who wants to draw wolves.

Alrighty, onwards.


-I like to think of a wolf's paw as being sort of roughly spade shaped. They have four toes and a dew claw, which attaches at the fetlock. (The fetlock is basically an animal's wrist.) The two middle toes are longer than the two side toes. They also have a bit of a pad on the back of the front fetlock, but I don't know where this goes and most people don't notice it.

-Dew claws are like a wolf's thumb, but wolves can't use theirs for grasping like we can. The claw on the dew claw is quite long and sharp, because wolves often use these in combat.

-A wolf's normal claws are surprisingly long as well. I observed this when Wiley, the omega of Northern Lights, reared against the fence.

-Anatomically a wolf has huge paws bigger than a man's hand, with webbing between the toes which makes their paws into venerable snowshoes when walking on drifts.

-I draw a wolf's paw by starting with a sort of square, then dividing it into small triangle/circle thingies for the toes. I then, depending on angle, draw a line connecting the top of these to the fetlock. (This is a tendon, which runs from the knuckle in the toe into the fetlock/foot.) You can see this in the illustration. After that I clean up the rest of it. I suggest studying pictures of paws, because this is damn hard to explain.

-You can always see the marks of the claws in a wolf's paw print. If you can't see claw marks then it's not a canine but a feline, so DON'T FORGET THE CLAWS!!! Canines like wolves cannot retract their claws like a cat can, so their claws are always out!


-First of all, let's start with the fetlock joints. Fetlocks, as before mentioned, work the same as the human wrist, though with less degree of movement. A wolf can not turn its fetlock 360 degrees like we can. If it could, the fetlock would be too weak to sustain the force involved with life as a quadruped and would probably shatter from something so small as taking the animal's weight as it landed a jump. Wolves have fairly thick, strong fetlocks. I usually draw mine structurally as a circle, as shown in green above. The dew claw is attached near the fetlock.

-Wolves have extremely long, thin legs. You wouldn't think it, because most photos of wolves are taken of them with their full winter coats on, which hide a lot of their legs, but they do. If a wolf is in its summer coat it should look rather gangly and scrawny from the length of its legs and general scrawny physique. Wolves need their legs to be long, because these animals must be able to travel hundreds of kilometres and run nearly as fast as a racehorse. Combined with their shoulders, these elements are the main traits that distinguish a pure wolf from a dog. From the front a real, wild, proper wolf is very thin, rather like a cheetah. They hold their legs so close together that they nearly touch - as shown in my illustration. Dogs hold their legs fairly far apart, which is how most people ignorant of proper wolf anatomy draw wolves.

-A wolf's hindquarters doesn't have fetlocks. I draw these usually by using a triangle for the butt, a smaller triangle for the lower leg approaching the heel, a square for the heel, then the foot is another long triangle, almost a cylinder connecting to the paw. If you're new to drawing wolves though I'd just draw the skeleton then flesh it out. :)

-Shoulders...errr look at the drawing. They're hard to describe; note though that wolf shoulders don't stick out too much like a cat's and are mostly hidden by fluff. Note the direction of the fur in my drawing as well in this; I got that from studying the wolf Aspen up close. It's always best to use the real animal for reference.


-Wolves have rather narrow but deep chests, allowing them to have greater lung capacity than a dog. This of course is why a wolf can outrun and outdistance Fido and why they have such huge territories, which they patrol regularly. A wolf has to be extremely quick on its paws if it wants to catch a caribou, so that's why it needs such large lungs. Again, refer to the front angle drawing.


-In comparison to most dogs wolves have very small ears. These are set close to the head and are basically rounded triangles. They're thick and fuzzy and look like really soft polar fleece, like something you'd love to feel with your fingers. :heart: Ears are extremely important to wolves, because wolves use their ears to help convey expressions. Wolves can also swivol their ears to pinpoint sounds.

-The neck of a wolf has a lot of very thick fur, mainly to protect the throat. As with dogs or any predatory mammal, when a wolf is angry or scared the fur along its spine and especially its neck will bristle upwards - this fur is known as its hackles and is yet another way of conveying expression. It also makes the animal look scarier to rivals. ;)

-Cheek fluff doesn't exist. It's a thing animators created for characters like Balto and Todd. In actuality there is a high ridge of fur on either side of an animal's neck that runs runs along the groove of a wolf's throat. (See drawing.) I spent many years agonizing over cheek fluff, only to spend a few hours with Aspen the wolf and realize that it doesn't exist. This isn't to say you can't choose to draw it as a stylistic choice - that's your choice. I'm just saying that on real wolves it doesn't exist, so if you're going for something more realistic like me I wouldn't bother.

-A wolf's head is round in its most basic structural form. The skull rounds into the muzzle without much of a stop. Often, the tip of the lower jaw is not visible from a lot of angles, being covered by the jowl. Wolves have more refined, less bulky muscles than your common husky. Wolves have extremely powerful jaws which are strong enough to crush bone, with much of the musculature supporting these jaws in their head.

-When I was at Northern Lights, I asked the handler Casy how a wolf's tail differed from that of a dog. Basically, a wolf's tail NEVER curls like a dog's. I'm not talking about the spitz curl either - I'm talking about the normal I'm-a-stupid-friendly-mutt curl that all dogs have. A wolf's tail usually hangs loose when the wolf isn't using it for expression (a wolf's tail is much like a human's eyebrows and also shows rank by its position) and when a wolf's tail is raised up, it doesn't EVER do a sicle shape like a dog's might.

-I'm adding this part in because I think it's important. A wolf's gait is a LOT different to a dog's. Here's the comparison that Casy the handler gave me: "It's like a sports car against a model T. The wolf is the sports car and the dog is the model T. That's how big the difference is." From my own observations this is true. Wolves appear more to glide over the ground than anything else and their grace is unsurpassed to anything I have ever witnessed from the most puffed up show job on the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show thing. There's just no substituting the graceful floating trot of a wolf (much like an Arabian horse's) to the halting gait of a dog. A wolf's gait is pure predatory glory, from its easy long strided walk to its full out gallop.

-Wolves ALWAYS have a dark scent gland mark halfway down their tail. The tip is usually dark, or more rarely light.

Well, I hope this was helpful in some way. It was fueled by my own observations and that of wolf experts I've met. For anyone planning to write/draw a story featuring wolves I highly suggest Spirit of the Wolf which I believe is by Shaun Ellis. I also suggest finding a zoo with some wolves if you can, or if you can't find that, go watch a bunch of National Geographic and pause it to draw wolves in various positions - that helps a lot too. :aww: Youtube should have some good wolf footage. :)

Artistic observations by me while watching Aspen, Tuk & Wiley. Scientific stuff I learned from Shelley and Casy Black of Northern Lights Wildlife Wolf Centre in Golden, British Columbia, Canada.

BTW, obviously because this is a rough sketch reference, it is NOT perfect. Please do not rag at me because it isn't or I'll hide your comment.

Blah blah blah. Woo for rough tutorials.
Rosanna P. Brost
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marshmellowkitdraws Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
thanks u helped me A LOT
Falcolf Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2014  Professional Filmographer
You're welcome! :D
vaunu Featured By Owner May 24, 2013

    Hey just wanted to know that this person, ~Wolf-Of--Twilight had ref'd your drawing @[link]
    Without permission, saying it's her original art. Also selling for money and points.

Falcolf Featured By Owner May 28, 2013  Professional Filmographer
I'm okay with it since this was a tutorial. :)
Ari-bunnii Featured By Owner May 24, 2013  Student Digital Artist
You know this girl copied your design without credit? [link]
No surprise though.
OctaviaSketch Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
It's cool but a smidge hard to see, I like your wolf style though :3
GaaxDeiLover Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
Yay I have a wolf reference!
EmoWolfEver Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Very useful, thanks!
Falcolf Featured By Owner Nov 1, 2012  Professional Filmographer
You're welcome! :D
dekuscrubbing Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I love you for this
XD lolno
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