Wolf dog ownership is not to be taken lightly, as these canine crosses have some characteristics that can make them a challenging addition to a family. Of course some wolf dogs are much more like wolves than they are dogs and still make delightful additions to the right family but they are not Siberian huskies or Alaskan Malamutes as some people may think by their appearance.
Wolf Dog History
The terms used to refer to wolf dogs can be confusing. In the past the term wolf hybrid was commonly used. However, the term hybrid refers to the cross of different species, and dogs have been reclassified as Canis lupus familiaris, a sub species of wolves (Canis lupus). Although the term wolf hybrid is still commonly used in literature, the term wolf dog (or wolfdog) is now preferred. Government and veterinary organizations often refer to them as wolf-dog hybrids.
Today's wolf dog is still part wolf and part dog but usually you'll find wolf dogs that are several generations from the original hybridization. Gray wolves were the most common type of wolf that were used to develop this hybrid (eastern timber, red, and Ethiopian wolves were also used) but wolf dogs themselves have also played a role in the creation of other, more well-known, breeds of dogs such as the German Shepherd.
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 also be necessary to keep a wolf dog as a pet depending on where you live.
No licensed vaccines exist for wolf dogs but off-label use of domestic canine vaccinations are often recommended by veterinarians and wolf dog advocates. It is important to note though that if a wolf dog bites someone, even if the biter is vaccinated with the off-label domestic dog rabies vaccine, the government will treat that wolf dog as though they are unvaccinated (often leading to euthanasia).
Wolf Dog Personalities
Generally speaking, the more wolf in the mix, the more like a wolf the dog will be. This will also depend on the number of generations that your wolf dog is away from a pure wolf. Wolves are not domesticated, so socialization and training of wolf crosses is of the utmost importance. Wolf dogs, especially those with higher percentages of wolf, do tend to be destructive, especially if confined to the house (stemming from their natural tendency to dig) and are escape artists. They need to be exposed to lots of different people, locations, and situations early on in their life to prevent them from being skittish and potentially fearful (which can lead to fear biting). Training poses additional challenges as the wolf cross may not be as eager to please their human as a domestic dog. Hormone changes at sexual maturity are also unpredictable since wolves and dogs mature at different rates which may add yet another difficulty to training.
Wolf Dogs as Pets
As with many other exotic pets, far too many wolf crosses end up in rescue facilities often due to unrealistic expectations from their owners. Wolf dogs can be difficult to manage if you are not prepared to tend to their needs and sometimes unpredictable behaviors. Sadly, many also end up being mistreated due to poor socialization and training. Thankfully, many groups encouraging responsible wolf dog ownership exist to educate the public on this breed but organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States deem wild animals as unsuitable as pets (a title they give to most exotic pets).
Overall, the sometimes unpredictable nature of the wolf dog and the genetic differences from our domesticated dog species can pose a problem for owners who are not ready to take on the challenge. But for some people who have the time and resources, a wolf dog can potentially make a good pet. They aren't for everyone and definitely aren't simply a wild-looking dog, but nonetheless, wolf dogs have an appeal that many wolf lovers are drawn to.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT