What is a Wolfdog?
A wolfdog is a dog with recent wolf heritage. That is, a wolfdog has a pure wolf ancestor within the last five generations. (That would be the wolfdog’s great-great-great grandparent.)
Note: Though many people still use the term "wolf hybrid," this is not an accurate term. A ‘hybrid” is the offspring of two different species. Following reclassification of the dog by taxonomists in 1993, the domestic dog (canis lupus familiaris) is actually viewed as a domestic variant of the gray wolf (canis lupus). Yes, even your Chihuahua.
How much wolf do they have in them?
Most people, when they ask this question, want to know the percentage of wolf in the wolfdog – 90%? 50%? 25%? Unless you know the animal’s heritage for many generations back, there is no way to tell for sure. People who work with wolfdogs are more concerned with wolf content. This is usually determined by phenotyping, making an educated guess based on various physical and behavioral traits. Content can vary between animals from the same litter. For instance, Ramses and Sugar Bear are littermates, but they look and behave very differently: same percentage, different content.
Ramses (left) behaves like a little wolf while Sugar Bear (right) is all friendly dog!
What are they mixed with?
Most of the wolfdogs we see are mixed with German Shepherd Dog, Alaskan Malamute and/or Siberian Husky. People want wolfdogs that look “wolfy,” and these breeds most resemble their wild cousins.
Where do they come from? Do people actually breed them?
People actually breed them. There are some ethical, responsible breeders out there. They keep accurate and honest records, are particular about what they breed into their lines, evaluate and educate potential buyers carefully, and take back the animals they sell if they do not work out, for whatever reason. Unfortunately, such breeders are rare. Most of them do not care what type of temperament or health problems may be in their lines, often misrepresent the heritage of the animals, will sell to anyone who shows up with the purchase price and, once the sale is done, that’s that. If the buyer has a problem or can’t keep the animal, too bad. And that’s when the wolfdog ends up in rescue.
Aren’t they really wild animals? Shouldn’t they be running free somewhere?
Wolfdogs are not wild animals. They are domestic animals with special needs. They were created by humans, and they depend on humans for food and protection, and often for companionship. A person who dumps his wolfdog in the woods, believing it can take care of itself, is sentencing that animal to fear, confusion, loneliness, and a death by starvation, disease, attacks by other animals, or a bullet.
Aren’t they mean and aggressive?
Wolves are, by nature, timid around humans. Likewise, so are high content wolfdogs. Should you have an intruder, your wolfdog is much more likely to hide under the bed than to face him. So-called wolfdog “attacks” are either a misinterpretation of behavior or not perpetrated by wolfdogs at all.
Are they good with small animals? What about with children?
Most wolfdogs - like Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, and a number of other breeds – have a very high prey drive. This means that, if it’s small, fast and squeaky, your wolfdog is going to want it. There are wolfdogs who are raised with other animals and with children, and are perfectly fine with them, but you cannot count on that being the case when you adopt a wolfdog. (Please remember that no dog should be left unsupervised with small children or infants, whether it’s a Poodle, a Jack Russell or a Newfoundland.)
I want a wolfdog! Now what?
First of all, you need to make sure you are allowed to keep one where you live. Wolfdogs are illegal in some parts of the country. Even if it is legal to own one in your town, you may be required to have specific containment or a special permit. Be sure to check it out before you adopt.
Second, do your homework. Learn all you can about wolfdogs so that you are able to decide whether a wolfdog would be a good match for you.
Visit websites: www.floridalupine.org, www.wolfpark.org, www.wolfdogproject.com, www.inetdesign.com/wolfdunn, and www.wolfdogbasics.com are excellent places to begin.
Read: We recommend:
Basic Introduction: Living with Wolfdogs (2005) and Wolfdogs A-Z: Behavior, Training & More (2001) by Nicole Wilde.
Training: Don't Shoot the Dog! (2006) and Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and what it Tells Us About Animals (2009) by Karen Pryor.
The Evolution of Charlie Darwin: Partner With Your Dog Using Positive Training (2011) by Beth Duman.
On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals (2005) by Turid Rugaas.
Differences Between Wolves and Dogs: Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution (2002) by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger.
Differentiating Great Lakes Area Native Wild Wolves from Dogs and Wolf-Dog Hybrids (2011) by Beth Duman.
Wolf Biology and Ecology: Wolves: Behavior, Conservation, and Ecology (2007) by David Mech.
The Wolf Almanac, New and Revised (2007) by Robert H. Busch.
Talk to wolfdog owners, either locally or on-line. Check out internet mailing lists, such as Wolfdogz on Yahoogroups. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Volunteer at a local wolfdog rescue (hint, hint).
Then, when and if you’re ready for a wolfdog, contact a wolfdog rescue organization. Whether you’re looking for a youngster or an adult, low content or high, couch potato or wild and wooly, they can put you in touch with someone who can help you find your lifetime wolfdog companion.
By Tam Nesbit for Full Moon Farm