Songdog Rescue, Inc.
1550-B Biddle Rd.
Medford, OR 97504
About The Wolfdog
Wolfdogs are usually a very beautiful mix of arctic or timber wolf and various larger domestic dog breeds. Most wolfdogs exhibit physical characteristics of both the wolf and dog in differing combinations. Scientifically the wolf is known as canis lupus and the dog as canis familiaris. Although closely related, there are anatomical and physiological differences between wolves and dogs.
In proportion to the rest of the body, wolves have slimmer torsos, longer legs, larger feet, narrower chests, larger heads, larger teeth and more powerful jaws. In addition, unlike most dogs, wolves seldom bark past the point of their playful puppy years. A wolf's eyes are usually a golden color and their coat color varies from black to grizzled grey to white. Wolves are also believed to possess greater endurance and higher stamina than dogs. The wolf has webbed feet to provide better traction on slippery surfaces.
Many pure bred dogs as we know them today, have a more recent wolf inheritance in their genes than others. For instance, as recently as 100 years ago, the german shepherd was "created" utilizing several pure bred wolves in the development process. Something interesting, when a german shepherd is cross bred with a northern sled dog breed the resulting offspring bears a strong resemblance to a wolf or wolf dog when in fact they are actually "all dog" on paper. There are also certain lineages, such as the the Czechoslovakian Wolfdog and the Saarloos Wolf Dog, that were developed with the specific purpose of creating a stable wolfdog breed.
Crossbreeding between dogs and wolves in the wild does occur occasionally. Wolves are seasonal breeders and breeding in the wild is most likely to occur when a roaming feral dog and a lone wolf of opposite sex meet during the wolf's breeding season. The genetic description of a wolf dog offspring is most commonly represented by a percentage representing the measure of the amount of wolf blood possessed by the offspring. For instance, Shadow, shown above, was 87%. There is some controversy among breeders regarding which methods work best for determining the proper percentage, as well as their accuracy.
Whatever the percentage, the wolfdog is usually a very gorgeous animal, beautiful to behold. The wolf dog is often a regal, highly intelligent, captivating creature. Consequently, the wolfdog has steadily grown in popularity and the number of wolfdogs in the US is estimated to be somewhere around 300,000.
One thing is certain, however, a wolfdog is not necessarily a suitable pet for just anyone, and households with young children should especially think twice about their decision to bring a wolf dog into their home. Although many owners have had success with wolfdogs as pets, in general, they can seldom be compared to your standard everyday dog.
There are both physical and behavioral differences between the pure bred wolf and the domesticated dog. Wolves are more predatory in nature than dogs and dogs are actually more aggressive in nature than the wolf, whereas, predatory represents hunting to kill for sustenance and aggressive represents an intention to hurt either for protection or sport. A dog's predatory behavior toward humans has been suppressed through years of domestication, however, human breeding has designed dogs to be aggressive for purposes of protection, obedience or the pursuit of fighting for sport.
Mixing the fighting, protective and/or aggressive dog breeds with a wolf is not recommended because the "aggressive guard drive" of the dog mixed with the "predatory" instincts of the wolf have the serious potential to create some dangerous behavioral problems in the resulting offspring.
It should also be noted here, that due to their low aggressive tendencies, wolf dogs seldom make suitable watch dogs. They will ferociously defend themselves, but it is not in their nature to attack and/or protect a human counterpart simply by command. Their low tendency to bark also interferes with their performance as "watch dogs".
Since a wolfdog is part wolf and subsequently part "wild" animal, there is always a chance that it will possess a much stronger predatory nature than a domestic dog, therefore, it is often recommended by experts that they be raised as "wolves" rather than dogs. The wolf has a complex social structure based on a hierarchy of dominance within the pack. It is expected that the dominance of higher ranked animals (sometimes "humans") will be constantly challenged by the subordinates in the wolf pack. This behavior is instinctual and domesticated wolves (and wolfdogs) will often challenge their human owners for the position of pack dominance. The combination of the pursuit of dominance in the wolf and the aggressive attack nature of the dog can make the wolfdog dominance challenge particularly dangerous.
Consequently, wolf dogs require astute training methods, methods different from standard dog training techniques. Although perceptive and highly intelligent a wolfdog cannot be expected to behave as a human would either. Successful training will require knowledge and understanding of both dog and wolf behavior in general. Body language is important in both the dog and wolf world so expect your body language to be important to the relationship as well. What we consider an insignificant posture may be considered an indication of threat or weakness by the wolf dog. Many wolf dog behaviorists do not recommend sharing furniture or playing tug of war with your wolfdog as it might lower your position in the dominance hierarchy. Training is often thought of as "socialization" rather than traditional enforcement of obedience and response to commands. Positive rewards and non-submissive compromise are often the order of the day. They require a lot of time, patience and energy and they will constantly be testing you. Most enthusiasts believe a good sense of humor is important too. The more time you spend on the socialization process the more successful the relationship. Be ready and willing to rearrange your life and schedule to accommodate them rather than yourselves. Vacations may also be a thing of the past as it may be hard to find someone to properly care for them while you are away.
Perhaps, it is best to think of a potential wolf dog as a companion, an "equal" if you will, rather than a "pet". A pet dog might be considered more obedient, submissive and shapeable in nature than a wolf, whereas a wolf dog will need to be appreciated for and integrated into it's owners life 100% for who he is rather than who the owner would like him to be. A pet dog can often be "owned", trained, corrected, ignored or even abused and he will still forgive you and offer you his undying friendship regardless. However, as companions of equality, a wolfdog cannot be "owned", bossed around, ignored or abused or they will no longer offer you their hand in friendship and the relationship will be lost. This only reinforces the fact that knowledge, proper handling, patience and understanding are the key to a successful life with a wolfdog.
Choosing to bring a wolfdog into your home is a serious decision that will have an impact on many, and it should never be done lightly. If you are considering becoming a wolfdog owner for the first time it would be advisable to visit with as many different wolf dog breeders and owners as possible. Read as many books on wolf dog and wolf behavior as you can as well. There are also numerous organizations, websites, message boards and newsletters to investigate. For maximum knowledge, potential wolf dog owners might explore the idea of working with socialized wolves as a volunteer at a local wolf sanctuary. It is often difficult to really know how we will like or dislike a change in lifestyle until we have actually experienced it. And, as we all know, there is no better teacher than experience itself.
You'll also want to explore the various concerns of this special mix. Special considerations regarding the wolf dog include a wolf pups tendency toward less than desirable household behaviors. Wolf dogs often have destructive properties and may be more likely to chew on furniture. They can also be more difficult to housebreak than dogs. Many are not good around small animals, children or cats as they may see them as prey due to their significantly smaller size. Chaining is never recommended, yet they often have a tendency to dig, climb and jump. Fencing should be high and it can get expensive. Dietary requirements can also be time consuming and expensive. Although they seldom "bark" they can be known to howl and this may be disturbing to your neighbors. Like a cat, they "own" you more than you own them and obedience will usually only occur when they feel like it, when it is "their" idea. If you still want to purchase a wolf dog there are several guidelines you should follow.
When selecting your pup, you'll want to ask for proof that your pup is actually part wolf. As mentioned earlier, a german shepherd sled dog cross mixed breed can be very similar in appearance to a pure bred wolf. You'll also want to find a breeder who is willing to provide a lifetime worth of support who has themselves been working with and breeding wolf dogs for a long time. A good breeder will not breed rescues, breed a female on it's first heat, have frequent accidental litters, or poor containment methods just to name a few. A reputable breeder should have more questions for you than you do for them and they may even require references or photos of your home. If the welfare and happiness of their pups is not their utmost concern, move on.
It will also be important to have some idea ahead of time as to what specific dog breed heritage you would like your wolfdog to possess, as this will have a significant impact on your wolf dog's physical characteristics and general health characteristics. For instance, a german shepherd cross may be more likely to get hip dysplasia as it ages, as this is a german shepherd health characteristic. A few more examples, a siberian mix may be smaller in size and possess blue eyes and a malamute mix may have a denser, thicker coat. You'll find that many wolf dog breeders will have their own specific preference as to which mix is best. On rare occasion you may run into a wolf dog where the dog portion is a more classic canine such as a golden retriever, standard poodle or lab. These crosses sometimes do well in the home but are usually very non-wolf like in appearance. Under most circumstances, consider temperament first and pedigree second. Behavioral characteristics can be better understood by spending time with the parents, the pup and even siblings from a previous litter.
The age at which your pup is socialized to humans is also very important. The younger you can start working with your pup the better. Some enthusiasts believe it is best to hand raise them starting around two weeks. The ability to be handled and treated by a veterinarian will be important and it is best to work with a doctor that is familiar with handling members of the wolf species. Expect the puppy stage to last as long as 3 years before your wolf dog pup comes to full emotional and sexual maturity. Many first time wolf dog owners are surprised when their loveable pup starts to develop behavioral changes and makes attempts to dominate the family hierarchy for the first time at such a late age.
Also, many enthusiasts believe that as pack animals, they will do best when raised with and surrounded by another of their own kind as well. Room to run and containment are always a must as well and larger wolfdogs may require fencing as high as 8'. Most wolfdog owners report that their wolfdogs do not do well in cars and are most comfortable when allowed to stay within their territory.
And, last but not least, don't forget to obtain the proper permits for ownership that may be required by the state you live in. Some states have very strict rules regarding ownership of wolfdogs . You can check with your state's fish and game department but remember to also check at the local level as well. Wolfdog city & county regulations are often stricter and can override allowances at the state level.
The wolf dog is not for all, as a matter of fact it is for the very few, however, under the right circumstances, in the right environment, with the right person, it can be a beautiful companion to have.
**Reason for proper containment**
Front photo credit: Reid Ryberg
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Songdog Rescue, Inc.
1550-B Biddle Rd.
Medford, OR 97504