It is not only their appearance which makes it hard to tell wolves and dogs apart. Their tracks, kills or scats cannot always be clearly distinguished either. Great expertise and a lot of experience are notably required to unambiguously determine wolf tracks and kills. Only trained persons will be able to provide reliable results. Nevertheless, any well-documented evidence suggesting a wolves involvement that is reported in due time by people from the area is indispensable for wolf monitoring too (refer to Reporting evidence of wolves). Below please find some tips to help you recognise wolf tracks, kills and scats.
The typical track of an adult wolf is at least 8 cm long (measured without the claws), has a longish oval shape and the claws can be seen clearly. Some single tracks are not enough to find out whether a dog or wolf left them because many dog paws are similar to those of a wolf. It is necessary to follow the animal's tracks over a longer distance to differentiate between them with any certainty. The gait is very important. Wolves usually trot in a very direct manner: direct register trot. In this energy-saving gait, they place their hind paws directly in the track of the (slightly larger) front paw of the same side. The resulting double prints are spaced evenly at least 50 cm (half the step length) apart in a line like pearls on a string.
Attention: Many dogs also place their hind paws directly in the front paws in deep snow or loose sand. This makes distinction especially difficult and the tracks have to be pursued over a long distance (at least 2 km) in order to allow precise assignment to the respective animal. Unlike wolves, dogs rarely use this direct register gait on flat grounds over long distances. Nevertheless, you should follow such tracks for at least 100 to 500 m in these cases too.
Travelling at a faster pace the animals run or use the side trot, when the hind paws overtake the front paws. With these gaits the tracks cannot be differentiated between wolves and dogs of the same body size.
Wolves usually kill medium-sized to large prey animals such as roe deer, wild boar, red deer but also sheep by biting the throat in a targeted way (strangulation bite). Injuries to the flanks and haunches can often be found in large prey such as stags, caused by the wolf when grabbing the prey animal to pull it down. Dogs are usually less experienced. They bite their victim at random and thus cause injuries all over its body. The dead animal's skin has to be pulled off to recognise a throat bite or other bite injuries. Not every animal found dead in the wild must have been killed by a predator. Wild animals often also die from weakness, diseases or injuries incurred in a road accident, for example. Foxes, birds of prey, corvids and other scavengers which feed on the carcasses later also leave bite and feeding marks. A lot of experience is needed to distinguish between bite injuries having caused death and those having occurred after the animal's death. Kills are examined by specially trained experts (for livestock: wolf commissioner of the district administrator's office; for wild animals: wild animal commissioner of the hunting association of the respective German federal state). No examination and assessment is possible if there are only small residues due to advanced decay or because other animals feed on the carcass. It is thus important that any kills found are reported and investigated promptly.
Wolf scats (wolf's faeces) mostly contain a lot of hairs of the prey animal eaten and often rather large pieces of bone, sometimes also the prey's teeth and hoofs. Scat is usually at least 2.5 cm in diameter, often more than 20 cm long and is preferably deposited in prominent locations such as the middle of trails, paths, swathes or junctions. Wolves like to move along these structures and place their scat there as scent and optical territorial markings. They regularly replace old marks by new ones. This is why scat is mostly found along the wolves' preferred routes and favourite places.