Wolf dogs are crossbred dogs, with one parent being a dog and the other a wolf. While sometimes referred to as hybrids, wolfs and dogs are all members of the same Canis species. Dogs are classified as a subspecies of wolves, Canis lupus familiaris, which is why it is possible for dogs and wolves to crossbreed.
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. For instance, think German shepherds—a breed that was originally derived from a wolf.
Despite the fact that wolf dogs are mostly dogs, however, ownership requires diligent training, as this canine cross has characteristics that can make it 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.
- Scientific Name: Canis lupus familiaris interbred with either Canis lupus, Canis lycaon, Canis rufus, or Canis simensis
- Lifespan: 13 to 16 years
- Size: 60 to 120 pounds
- Difficulty of Care: Advanced
Wolf Dog Behavior and Temperament
Wolf dogs, in general, are not easy going pets and they do 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. It's also important to know that wolf dogs are very different from one another; 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 modern 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 this type of pet suitable only for those who have time to spend with them. If you work from 9 a.m. to 5 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.
Housing the Wolf Dog
Wolf dogs are not good house pets. Not only are they likely to mark furniture with urine and otherwise create physical problems in the house, but they pose a risk to children and other pets. In addition, 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, according to Missionwolf.org, wolf dogs need:
- One half to a full acre of enclosed space in which to roam; the site suggests that 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(s) 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)
Food and Water
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, though it's fine to feed them chicken and turkey, though 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, your wolf dog will need access to fresh grass and other vegetation, and many wolf dogs enjoy fruit, though check with your vet to see that the fruit you offer is safe for your pet.
In addition to regular meals, most wolf dogs do better when they receive specific nutritional supplements including glucosamine, vitamins C, A, B, D, and E, along with alfalfa and wheat grass, garlic, and pumpkin. These supplements help to prevent 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.
Common Health Problems
Wolf dogs are prone to many of the same problems as those experienced by large dogs. Before purchasing your wolf dog, 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
Is It Legal to Own a Pet Wolf Dog Here?
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).
Purchasing Your Wolf Dog
It's not easy to find a wolf dog for sale, especially if you are in the market for a puppy. Some sanctuaries do place wolf dogs for adoption, and in that case, you should visit in person before committing to a purchase. It's important to know that wolf dogs come in a wide range of sizes, colors, and genetic mixes; some have a very high wolf-to-dog ratio while others have a very low ratio. Wolf dogs that are mostly wolf are much more likely to be aggressive than those that are mostly dog.
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.
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.
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