Wolf dog ownership requires diligent training, as this canine cross has characteristics that can make them a challenging addition to a family. It's important to know that 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 pet owner, they make a delightful addition to the family. Gaining some knowledge about the crossbreed before welcoming one into your home will set you and your pup off on the right foot.
Wolf Dog History
First, let's examine the terms used to refer to wolf dogs, as it can be confusing. In the past, the term "wolf hybrid" was commonly used for wolf dogs. But this term isn't actually accurate. The word "hybrid" refers to the cross of two different species and since dogs are classified as Canis lupus familiaris, a subspecies of wolves (Canis lupus), this term is incorrect. As you can see, there is no second species introduced when breeding a dog with a wolf, making the hybrid term antiquated (although it is still commonly used in literature). Today, both government and veterinary organizations refer to this crossbreed as a "wolf-dog hybrid."
Back in the day, gray wolves were commonly bred with dogs create this type of cross (as were eastern timber wolves, red wolves, and Ethiopian wolves). But with the mixing out of genes over several generations, it's fair to say that you may get more dog than wolf in the gene pool. Think German Shepherds, for instance—a breed that was originally derived from a wolf.
Wolf Dog Personalities
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. Wolves are not domesticated, so deliberate socialization and training of wolf breeds is needed to assure their integration into the modern world. Wolf dogs with higher percentages of wolfs tend to be destructive, especially when confined to the house (stemming from their natural tendency to dig). They're also escape artists, making this type of pet suitable only for those who have time to spend with them. If you work from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, maybe choose another type of pet.
Wolf dogs also 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). And training, in general, poses additional challenges, as wolf dogs are not as eager to please their trainer as a domestic dog who is bred and raised to do so. Hormone changes at sexual maturity add another layer to a wolf dog's unpredictability, so consider this factor when before getting one.
Wolf Dog Laws
As with any other exotic pet, the legality of wolf dogs in your area should be verified before considering an 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 they were unvaccinated (often leading to euthanasia).
Wolf Dogs as Pets
As with other exotic pets (and pets in general), 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.
Overall, the sometimes unpredictable nature of a wolf dog and its genetic differences from a domesticated dog can pose problems for owners who are not ready for the challenge. But for owners who have the time and resources, a wolf dog can make a great pet. Be realistic about both your expectations and your availability before embarking on this endeavor. Just because you want a "wild-looking" dog, remember, wolf dogs aren't the best choice for everyone. Maybe try a German Shepherd instead.