Unfortunately certain breeds of canine pets seem to be in ‘fashion’ from year to year, and many people will rush out to acquire whatever is currently popular. The name wolf hybrid comes from the more commonly recognised name wolf dog. Part wolf, part dog, since the dog and the wolf are able to interbreed successfully, the misleading term wolf hybrid has been replaced with wolf dog. Wolf dogs were occasionally purchased by English noblemen, who viewed them as a scientific curiosity back in 1776. The spectacular looks but dog like behavior of these animals are very attractive to people. It would seem the idea of a wolf as a pet is ‘cool’. Sadly most people interested in a potential wolf dog in the home for the first time are blinded by the fantasy creature that is commonly known as a wild animal. This exotic mixture is very different from a normal domesticated dog breed. Many who think they want one can be easily talked out of it once they see what's involved.
An example of a possible F1 (first generation Breeding) match with commonly used breed type parents in the UK.
So…What is a wolf dog hybrid?
A wolf dog hybrid is a cross between a wolf (Canis lupus) and a dog (Canis familiaris). A proposal has recently been put to the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature to reserve different names for domesticated animals arising from wild ancestors (Gentry et al, 1996).
Although most breeders raise hybrids to sell to the public, there is a small group of breeders and enthusiasts seeking to establish a new and distinct breed of canine. Their long-term goal, as described by some breeders, is to obtain an "ideal wolf dog cross strongly and attractively resembling its wolf counterpart visually, slightly aloof and territorial, but easily managed by its owner" (Dorothy Prendergast, The Wolf Hybrid). While most breeders would readily agree with this ideal, not all agree on the means to achieve it. In theory, a wolf hybrid can result from the mating of a wolf with any breed of dog. Wolves have been bred with such diverse breeds as malamutes, Siberian huskies, German shepherds, rottweilers, collies, pit bulls, and even standard poodles. The initial mating most commonly occurs between a male dog and a female wolf, though the opposite mating can also occur. The offspring produced from such a mating are first generation, or F1, hybrids. F1 and subsequent hybrids can then be bred with other hybrids, with pure wolves, or with the same or different breeds of dog, resulting in a group of hybrids with a wide range of genetic makeup. This genetic makeup is most often represented as a percentage, a number which is presumed to be a measure of the amount of wolf in the animal. The percentage not only represents the lineage of a hybrid, but is often used to determine its selling price as well. It is commonly used in adverts to attract buyers. The more wolf in the mix, the more "wolfy" the dog will be. Wolf hybrids can range from 1% to 99% wolf in them. The lower the wolf content, the more dog like it will look and act. This will also depend on the number of generations away from pure wolf. Wolves are not domesticated, they can’t be completely tamed either, socialisation 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 fantastic escape artists.
Commonly, the dog breeds used are the Nordic breeds such as the Siberian Husky, Eskimo dog, Alaskan Malamute and the Samoyed, or the Japanese Akita or German Shepherd Dog. However, most dog breeds have been crossed with wolves at some time. And most wolves; grey wolf, arctic wolf, tundra wolf and the timber wolf, Mackenzie Valley wolf the most commonly used along with the Eurasian wolf. Hybridisation infers a mating between two different species resulting in sterile hybrid offspring. The offspring from a wolf x dog cross are fertile and able to reproduce, this fact led to the taxonomic reclassification of the domestic dog by the Smithsonian Institute in 1993.
History in the United Kingdom
Wolf dogs have been kept as domesticated animals in the U.K. for centuries. The first documented instance of wolf and dog breeding in this country seems to be in the year 1766 when a Pomeranian bitch crossed with what was thought to be a male wolf produced a litter of nine pups. Dog-wolf pups were then purchased by noblemen and gentlemen who seemed to have a scientific interest in the cross-breeding of dogs and wolves (Hunter, 1787). Wolf dogs were popular as exhibits and trained animals in menageries and zoos. Wombwell’s Menagerie exhibited three hybrids bred in the U.K. in 1828 and as late as 1923, Bostock and Wombwell’s Menagerie exhibited a hybrid timber wolf and an Alsatian dog in an act with polar bears and hyaenas (Middlemiss, 1987). In 1877 the list of vertebrates exhibited by the Zoological Society of London included a wolf hybrid presented by the Prince of Wales. The wolf became a fashionable pet in America after the success of the 1990 film “Dances with Wolves”. Wolf dog breeding gained exposure again in 1994, following articles in the media about the rise in popularity of wolf dogs as “designer pets” both in America and the U.K.
The wolf dog as a pet
There are many reasons for wanting to own a wolf dog, the most common being the interest of owning and living with a part-wild animal. There are those that feel that re-introducing wolf blood into domestic dog breeds is a good way of producing superior animals with greater stamina, health and looks. Since wolves are now classed as endangered, and are therefore difficult to own, people think that the next best thing is to preserve wolf characteristics in the wolf dog (Prendergast, 1989). Sadly, owning a highly successful predator such as the wolf may be seen as a status symbol. There are those that choose a wolf dog to be an aggressive guard dog, or as an expression of power and control (Prendergast, 1989).
Behaviour in the home environment
Many wolf dogs retain some natural wolf behavior of course. Wolves are very curious animals, and if left unattended in the home may become very destructive. They have been known to destroy large items such as sofas, tables and dry walls (Wilde, 1998; Willems, 1994). If left alone outside they may become destructive or may dig or howl. Wolf dogs are notoriously difficult to housetrain although some authors claim it is possible. They may strike an additional challenge as, although they may be housetrained, they may still “scent-mark” their territory as most animals do. For most wolves in the wild, the scent of man causes fear and rapid avoidance. This is not the case in domestic dogs. One of the main reasons wolf dogs are perceived to be more dangerous is that they have the potential to be as powerful as a wolf, but with the confidence towards humans of a domestic dog.
Problems can be: Aggression, Dominance, Predatory behaviour, Frustration, confusion etc
However, arguments continue on what ‘percent’ dogs are more suitable for the home, moderate percentage (30%) of wolf, behave more like a dog and most people would say they make good companions. Many owners have had success with wolf dogs as pets; in general, they can usually be compared to your standard everyday dog. It is encouraged by www.champdogsforum.co.uk to think of a potential wolf dog as a companion, an "equal", rather than a "pet". A pet dog might be considered more obedient, submissive and shapeable in nature than a wolf, whereas a wolf dog will need to be appreciated and integrated into it's owners life 100% for who he is, rather than who the owner would like him to be. Very similar advice is given when owning a Malamute or a Siberian husky. A pet dog can often be "owned", trained, corrected, ignored or even abused and he will still forgive you and offer you his undying friendship regardless. However, as companions of equality, a wolf dog cannot be "owned", bossed around, ignored or abused or they will no longer offer you their hand in friendship and the relationship will be lost. This only reinforces the fact that knowledge, proper handling, patience and understanding are the key to a successful life with a wolf dog hybrid. Welfare and Legislation
At present, wolf hybrids are scheduled, and therefore people require licensing to own a wolf dog, under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act (DWAA) 1976 (Modification) Order 1984. Any animal that is a canine but is not an exempted species requires a license under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act. In addition, animal welfare and public safety issues have been assessed.(www.defra.gov.uk) The Act is administered by Local Authorities, who are required to process license applications, apply appropriate conditions and inspect the premises on an annual basis. An annual fee is payable by the licensee of an amount which the authority believes is sufficient to meet the direct and indirect costs which it may incur as a result of the application.
Similar problems in regulating the keeping of wolves and wolf dogs have been encountered in other countries. The United States of America has the largest population of wolf dogs in the world, estimated to be between 300 000 and 500 000 illegal and legal kept hybrids. The law in England concerning private ownership of wolves and wolf dogs is mostly adequate and helpful and provides the right balance of deterrence, support, safety and welfare considerations. The recent changes in the DWA make ownership of any wolf dog of F4 (4th generation), or later, legal without a license but the percentage content is not specified. This poses a potential problem, because the generation number for 1 particular litter does not always track a specific percentage, and it is the percentage that it should be judged by. What DEFRA state, is that F4 roughly means 12.5% wolf - but you can have an F4 90% wolf dog; "4" only says that the last pure wolf crossed, was four generations back but it doesn't say whether any of the parents in between had high wolf content. "F4" is irresponsibly deemed as "safe" but could still be 90% plus, making it technically legal but far from 12.5%. To keep a wolf less than a Generation 3, it’s stated that owners need a Dangerous Wild Animals license. You will only get one if you build suitable pens which pass a vet's inspection and in most places you will simply not get planning permission to build such containment. Deterrence is therefore mentioned frequently in DEFRA. It is very common that people purchase what they believe to be a high content animal, only to realize as the animal matures that this was not the case. It seems that many people are advertising animals as high content animals, 75% or 78% wolf, when it is unlikely that they have much or any recent wolf ancestry, in which case they do not require a license. Other organizations comments on the keeping of Wolf Dogs in the UK Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
“The RSPCA does not believe that hybrid wolves make suitable family pets and will continue to advise the public against the cross breeding of wolves with domestic dogs and the keeping of hybrid wolves as pets” (RSPCA, 1997).
National Canine Defence League (NCDL)
“The NCDL is opposed to the sale, breeding and importation of any dog represented as a wolf hybrid believing that they would be purchased for the wrong reasons by persons unaware of their breeding and possible characteristics” (DeVile, 1999, personal communication). The Humane Society of the United States
The position of the HSUS is that the private ownership of wild canids and hybrids must be strongly discouraged. It is also their position that any wolf hybrids surrendered to animal shelters should not be made available for adoption. If no suitable refuge is available to them, the euthanasia of the animals is recommended (Lockwood, undated). IUCN/SSC Wolf Specialist Group
The Wolf Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission in 1990 condemned the private, captive ownership and breeding ofwolves and wolf dogs, and urged immediate prohibition (Hope, 1994).
An article published by the RSPCA gives an unsubstantiated figure of 123 wolf dogs in the country (Mcillroy, 1996), whilst the Born Free Foundation estimated their numbers to be between 500 and 2000 including illegal and legal animals. Members of the public expressed concern about the growing numbers of wolf dogs in the UK, following negative media coverage portraying dangerous, unpredictable killers, by writing to papers and the government.
From research it would seem that wolf dogs are advertised everywhere. Research has shown several reports of “wolf-hybrids” being advertised in the local free papers and Free-Ads, and in animal magazines where they are often described as Dangerous Wild Animals. Pups sell for between £150 and £1500 each. The price charged is seemingly dependent on how closely the animals resemble pure wolves.
Welfare for the animal
It seems no different to mixing 2 different breeds of dogs that are very different. An example would be, mixing a working breed with a retrieving breed would lead to litters of pups often very confused, very difficult and un-trainable. But the wolf is a very different kind of dangerous in the home, and the wolf component to the dog leads to something that we originally tried to avoid back in the first domestications of dogs. We have selected against the need for a dog to mature and instinctively fight for alpha. The recorded cases of Wolf dog attacks are usually from mauling the owner for the alpha role in the pack, as a result the dogs are euthanized.
50%+ wolf dogs are believed to be no different to the wolf used to traveling over 20 acres daily. Confined to a house, the puppy becomes responsible for trashed furniture, shredded carpets and curtains, and lots of other messes. By four months old the pup finally makes it on top of the kitchen counters and the term “wolfing down your food” comes to life as the kitchen fridge is raided. As attempts are made to then scorn the puppy and move it to the floor owners soon discover that you never take food away from a wild animal, at least not without paying the consequences.
The exploration of the back garden becomes a boring daily ritual for these dogs and each time the animal is let back in the house the ordeal of letting out its frustration starts again. When the wolf dogs start marking (peeing on the couches) the house purposely, most house-breaking attempts turn into dominance struggles. A very frustrated wolf dog will howl uncontrollably, pace relentlessly and will try to escape repeatedly.
At this time, there is no rabies vaccine approved for use in wolves and therefore wolf dogs, despite their genetic similarity. This means that officially, even a vaccinated wolf dog is considered a rabies risk in the event of a bite incident. It is possible that a wolf dog involved in a bite incident will be confiscated, killed and tested for rabies, even if fully up to date on rabies vaccination.