A wolf dog is a cross between a domesticated dog and a wolf. This large animal is a controversial pet that may make a great companion for one person but be troublesome-or even dangerous-for another. Wolf dogs retain much of the instinctive behavior of their wild relatives. They are headstrong and aggressive, and they can be downright ferocious. Feeding these pets is also a challenge: they need pounds of raw meat per day. Before considering a wolf dog as a pet, you must investigate the legality of owning one with your state and local governments. Many municipalities have banned wolf dogs because they are potentially dangerous to people and other pets.
Common Name Wolf dog
Scientific Name No official term; Canis lupus familiaris (common domestic dog) is interbred with one of these wild species: Canis lupus, Canis lycaon, Canis rufus, or Canis simensis.
Adult Size 25 to 33 inches, 60 to 120 pounds
Lifespan 13 to 16 years
Can You Own a Wolf Dog?
The legality of owning a wolf dog is convoluted at best. There are no consistent nationwide laws as the U.S. government basically leaves such regulations up to individual states, which often defer to even more localized units of government at the county and city levels. Certain permits and enclosure requirements may be necessary to keep a wolf dog as a pet. It's best to check with your state's various regulatory agencies before looking into buying a wolf dog.
Ethically, owning a wolf dog is a subject full of contention. Some people believe that wolf dogs are enough like domestic dogs to be owned in the same way. Others feel that the wolf dog's wild genetics make it more feral than tame and should not be kept in captivity for the safety of both the animal and the people who interact with it.
Things to Consider
Wolf dogs are not exactly like domestic dogs—especially the common companion breeds. They are large, intelligent canines that can bond intensely to their human owners and act aggressively in protection of their owners or their home. Wolf dogs need a lot of exercise and room to roam, so they do not fare well confined to homes or small yards. If left alone regularly, they may become bored, depressed, and destructive to property. They may also try to escape confinement by leaping ordinary fences, and a loose wolf dog is a potential threat to unfamiliar adults and children. These factors must be considered as owning a wolf dog is a much more serious responsibility than keeping a poodle as a pet.
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Wold Dog Behavior and Temperament
Despite the fact that wolf dogs are mostly dogs, ownership requires extensive experience, as this canine crossbreed 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.
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.
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 are needed to assure their integration into the civilized world. 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.
Still, for the right owner, they can be a delightful companion.
Wolf dogs can live in a house with their owners, much like domestic dogs, but they can't be expected to stay inside alone for long periods of time. Wolf dogs tend to be destructive, especially when confined to the house alone, stemming from their high energy level, need for mental and physical challenges, and natural tendency to dig. They're also escape artists, making them suitable only for owners who have adequate time to spend with them and proper fencing. If you work away from home every day, a wolf dog may not be the right pet. If you are often home or can take your wolf dog with you wherever you go, you may find a wolf dog to be a great companion.
Common Health Problems
Wolf dogs are prone to the same problems as those experienced by domestic dogs. Be sure you have access to a local vet who is willing and able to work with your pet, as some will not work with wolf dogs (particularly if they are owned illegally). Your wolf dog will need vaccinations as a puppy and should be monitored and provided with appropriate vaccines and medications throughout its life.
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).
Like any dog, your wolf dog is vulnerable to these issues (among others):
- Fleas, mites, and ticks
- Infectious diseases such as respiratory issues
What Does a Wolf Dog Eat and Drink?
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 wheatgrass, 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.
Wolf dogs require an enormous amount of exercise—three to four hours per day—and will have health issues if confined to a house. With that in mind, wolf dogs need:
- 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)
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. Nor are they good indoor pets. Not only are male and female wolf dogs likely to mark furniture with urine, but they may destroy property when bored by digging or chewing. Wolf dogs also pose a risk to children and other pets because their protective instinct for their primary owner may lead to aggressive behavior (growling, biting) toward other members of the household. 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.
Pros and Cons of Owning a Wolf Dog
For the right owner, a wolf dog can make an extraordinary companion. These animals tend to bond bond strongly with their owners and are fiercely protective. The downside to this temperament is that these large, potentially aggressive pets may harm other people or pets in order to protect you. Natural behaviors are practically impossible to train out of a wolf dog, particularly because they do not possess an "eagerness to please" like domesticated dogs, and so they may even become aggressive in retaliation to negative training methods. These dogs pose a real danger to others—sometimes even their owners.
Purchasing Your Wolf Dog
It's not easy to find a wolf dog for sale, especially a puppy. Some sanctuaries place wolf dogs up 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.
Similar Canines to the Wolf Dog
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.