Wolf dogs are crossbred dogs: One parent is a domesticated dog and the other a gray wolf. While sometimes referred to as hybrids, wolves and dogs are all members of the same Canis species. Historically, the first domesticated dogs were wolves about 15,000 years ago. Dogs today are classified as a subspecies of wolves, Canis lupus familiaris, which is why it is possible to crossbreed dogs and wolves.
Group: Not recognized by the AKC. Their scientific name, Canis lupus familiaris, is interbred with either Canis lupus, Canis lycaon, Canis rufus, or Canis simensis.
Height: 25 to 33 inches
Weight: 60 to 120 pounds
Coat and Colors: Grizzled sable (agouti), white or black phased
Lifespan: 13 to 16 years
Characteristics of the Wolf Dog
|Tendency to Bark||Low|
|Amount of Shedding||Medium|
History of the Wolf Dog
The first documented breeding of a wolf and dog took place in England in the mid 18th century. However, it wasn't until the 1960s that it became common for gray wolves (along with eastern timber wolves, red wolves, and Ethiopian wolves) to be bred with dogs to create this companion. With the mixing out of genes over several generations, there is likelier more dog than wolf in the gene pool—as in the German shepherd, a breed that was originally derived from a wolf. Most of today’s hybrids are a mixture of a gray wolf and a Siberian husky, Alaskan malamute, or German shepherd and are considered "low content" wolf dogs.
Behavior and Temperament
Despite the fact that wolf dogs are mostly dogs, ownership requires extensive experience, as this canine cross has characteristics that can make it a challenging addition to a family. Some wolf dogs are more like wolves than they are like dogs and their temperament can differ greatly from that of a Siberian husky or an Alaskan malamute. Still, for the right owner, they can be a delightful addition to the family.
Wolf Dog Care
Wolf dogs, in general, are not easygoing pets and they have the capacity to be quite aggressive. This means they are probably not a good choice for a family with small children or family members who are not able to control an aggressive pet. Wolf dogs also differ greatly from one to the next; while some are lovely pets, others are extremely difficult to care for in a home setting. This diversity can occur even within the same litter.
Generally speaking, the more wolf in the mix, the more feral this dog will act. This wildness will also depend on the number of generations that your wolf dog is away from its first breeding. In addition, wolves are pack animals with a natural instinct to guard their food and mark their territory—useful traits in the wild, but highly undesirable in the home.
Wolves are not domesticated, so deliberate socialization and training of wolf breeds are needed to assure their integration into the civilized world. Wolf dogs with higher percentages of wolf genetics tend to be destructive, especially when confined to the house, stemming from their natural tendency to dig. They're also escape artists, making them suitable only for those who have adequate time to spend with them. If you work 9 to 5, this may not be the right pet.
Wolf dogs benefit from exposure to lots of different people, locations, and situations as pups to prevent them from being skittish and potentially fearful, which can lead to biting. However, training, in general, poses significant challenges: Wolf dogs are not as eager to please their trainer as a domestic dog that is bred and raised to do so. Also, wolf dogs are not good indoor pets. Not only are male and female wolf dogs likely to mark furniture with urine and otherwise create physical problems in the house, but they pose a risk to children and other pets. Hormone changes at sexual maturity can add another layer to a wolf dog's unpredictability, although spaying or neutering a wolf dog may tame some of its wild instincts.
- One half to a full acre of enclosed space in which to roam; wolf dogs do best in pairs or groups, and two wolf dogs would require at least an acre of enclosed space.
- A heavy chain link fence surrounding the enclosure that is at least 8 feet high; fences should be angled inward to make it even harder for the animal to escape.
- Buried concrete barriers with reinforced mesh placed along the base of the fence to prevent the wolf dogs from digging their way out
- Double gates at least 6 feet tall with lockable gates
- Appropriate ground drainage so that wolf dogs can find dry areas in wet weather
- A dog house with enough space for the wolf dog to comfortably shelter from bad weather (ideally with a shelf so the animal can sit up high)
- Vegetation and ground cover to provide shade, grass to eat, and hiding places (making sure that no trees are near enough to the fence to allow the animal to climb and escape)
Common Health Problems
Wolf dogs are prone to many of the same problems as those experienced by large dogs. Be sure you have access to a local vet who is willing and able to work with your pet. Your wolf dog will need vaccinations as a puppy and should be monitored and provided with appropriate vaccines and medications throughout its life. Like any dog, your wolf dog may also be prone to (among other issues):
- Fleas, mites, and ticks
- Infectious diseases such as respiratory issues
Diet and Nutrition
Wolf dogs do not thrive on typical dog food. In essence, they need to eat what wild wolves eat: raw meat. Ideally, you should feed your wolf dog several pounds of raw meat per day. It's fine to feed them chicken and turkey, but avoid raw pork as it can cause digestive issues. Bones are not an issue for wolf dogs, and they will enjoy and benefit from eating raw, whole bones. In addition, a wolf dog will need access to fresh grass and other vegetation, and many wolf dogs enjoy fruit, although you should check with your vet to see that the fruit you offer is safe for your pet.
In addition to regular meals, most wolf dogs benefit from nutritional supplements including glucosamine, vitamins C, A, B, D, and E, along with alfalfa and wheat grass, garlic, and pumpkin. These supplements help to lower the risk of acquiring common health issues such as arthritis, skin issues, parasites, and digestive problems.
Wolf dogs need a constant source of fresh water. The best option is to provide water in a trough that is used for livestock. In hot areas, you can offer your wolf dog the option of actually bathing in cool water in a wading pool.
Likely to bond strongly with its owner
Enjoy training and socialization as much as domesticated dogs
Highly intelligent and possible to train using positive conditioning and rewards
May cause fear in other people
Demand an extraordinary amount of training and maintenance
Does not possess an "eagerness to please," like domesticated dogs, and may become aggressive in retaliation of negative training methods
Where to Adopt or Buy a Wolf Dog
As with any other exotic pet, verify the legality of wolf dogs in your area before considering adoption or purchase. Certain permits and enclosure requirements may be necessary to keep a wolf dog as a pet.
No licensed vaccines exist for wolf dogs but the off-label use of domestic canine vaccinations are often recommended by veterinarians and wolf dog advocates. It is important to note, however, that if a wolf dog bites someone—vaccinated or not—the government will treat that animal as though it was unvaccinated (often leading to euthanasia).
It's not easy to find a wolf dog for sale, especially a puppy. Some sanctuaries place wolf dogs for adoption, and in that case, you should visit in person before committing to a purchase.
Before buying a wolf dog, be sure you have a large enclosure properly set up, a vet who is able and willing to work with your pet, and a lifestyle that will allow you to properly care for a very high maintenance and potentially aggressive animal.
As with other exotic pets, many wolf crosses end up in rescue facilities due to the unrealistic expectations of their owners. Sadly, many wolf dogs are also mistreated due to poor socialization skills and training. Luckily, there are groups available who encourage responsible wolf dog ownership and advocate for this breed. But even with public education in place, organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States still deem wild animals unsuitable as pets.
More Dog Breeds and Further Research
Before you decide on a wolf dog as a pet, be sure to do plenty of research. Talk to other wolf dog owners, sanctuary owners, and rescue groups to learn more.
If you’re interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons.
There is a wide variety of dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home.