Wolves can be successfully bred with other canids such as coyotes and dogs (but not foxes). If you love wolves you might be attracted to a dog that is part wolf⸺I know I was. I found myself asking, should I get a wolf dog? My answer in this post might help you decide.
Should I get a Wolf Dog?
For me, the answer was no. A wolf hybrid may be more wolf than a dog and retain some very challenging behaviors that will make ownership more than most people bargain for. There are many hidden expenses and you will have to trade some personal freedom in your own life to fully care for it. Perhaps most telling is the statistic that 90% of pet wolves and wolf hybrids are euthanized by the age of 2.
What are Wolf Dogs?
A wolf hybrid is a dog that has some percentage of genetic content from a wolf. Dogs and wolves can mate and produce viable offspring.
This means their young are capable of reproducing. Not all related species can do this. For example, when a female horse is bred with a male donkey, the resulting mule or hinny is sterile.
A wolf hybrid is usually the result of human intervention since in nature wild wolves only mate once a year and it is only the alpha male and alpha female who do so. A wild wolf with other wolves around would not seek out a dog to mate with.
A wolf hybrid might be a high, mid, or low content. This refers to the percentage of wolf DNA. Higher content animals will behave more like wild wolves however, even lower content animals may exhibit more wolf traits than dog traits. Some sellers are not honest and will sell essentially huskie mixes and pass them off as wolves, others sell wolf hybrids and claim they are dogs but are really mid-high content hybrids, and others even sell pure wolves and claim they are hybrids.
The price can range from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars and you really don’t know what you are getting in many cases. A wolf hybrid is not a recognized dog breed and in many places like Alaska, it is illegal to own one.
What are the Challenges to Owning a Wolf Dog?
First off you need to ask yourself are you up to this challenge or even better are you worthy of it? If your reason for getting a wolf dog is so you can post selfies on Instagram then please don’t get one. Don’t be the Joe Exotic of Canids. Even if you get a wolf as a young puppy it will never be a dog no matter how much time you invest in training.
Modern dogs evolved from wolves thousands of years ago and then humans got busy creating all the different breeds you see today. The result is an animal totally dependent on humans that would quickly die in the wild. Even a wolf-like dog such as a Siberian husky would not survive for long. A Pug or Chihuahua would not stand a chance.
Wild instincts have been bred out of dogs. There are some basal breeds like the Shiba Inu or Alaskan Malamute that are less domesticated than a dog like a Golden Lab, but they are still domesticated nonetheless.
In warmer climates, stray dogs might form packs and survive near humans by successfully scavenging garbage. A pack of dogs, however, lacks the hunting skills to take down a large wild animal like an elk or a moose. Dogs need us – even if only to eat our garbage; wolves do not.
When a dog mates with a wolf, its DNA combines and the offspring is neither wolf nor dog. There is no telling what traits will dominate even among the same litter. Some will be more docile and others wilder like the wolf. It’s a genetic crapshoot.
Things to Consider Before You Get a Wolf Dog:
- Legal liability. In many places it is not legal to own a wolf hybrid or it’s very restrictive and requires special permits.
- Food Expense. You can’t just feed a wolf hybrid regular food. Wolves are strict carnivores, dogs are not. A wolf dog will need a diet of raw meat, bones, and grain-free dog food to get required nutrients. This cost will add up quickly.
- Social Needs. Wolves are social pack animals. A wolf-dog will do better with another wolf-dog and this will mean double the cost. If left on their own, they can be destructive and prone to escape atempts.
- Secure Property. Wolf hybrids can hop over a regular fence with ease or dig under it. Experts recommend an 8 foot fence that angles in at the top and continues a few feet into the ground to prevent them digging their way to escape. Sadly if your wolf-dog does escape it may not end well for them. A lot of people have extreme hatred towards wolves.
- Anxiety. Wolves are not fierce guard dogs⸺if that was what you were hoping for. They are timid and weary. That is what keeps them alive in the wild. They are afraid or at least very cautious of new things and situations. This is known as neophobia and can lead to aggression. A wolf hybid will need a stable environment for the entirety of its life (up to 15 years). This means you can’t just load a wolf dog into your Subaru and head to the mountains for a hike.
- Stranger Danger. This weariness also means they might not do well around strangers or unfamiliar animals especially dogs. Wolves in the wild tend to kill wolves from other packs that stray into their territory. Let’s hope your neighbors dog doesn’t pay a visit.
- Territory. Wolves are naturally territorial. In the home this means that a wolf hybrid might become possessive of certain things or urinate to mark its territory. You might want to rip out your carpets in advance.
- Staycations. If you like to travel, it will be more difficult to do. Neophobia may make finding a pet sitter very hard and a kennel may not work at all (assuming a boarding kennel will even take the animal). You could always take the wolf-hybrid with you but just getting it into your vechicle might be a challenge.
- Finding a Vet. Even getting regular vaccines and vet care might be difficult. Some vaccines like rabies are labeled for use in dogs and a vet won’t administer them to a wolf hybrid.
- Kids. Wolf hybrids should not be left alone with children. It is recommended that if you have small children you should forgoe getting a wolf dog until after your kids have grown. Sometimes wolves can become possessive of children and play too rough or become aggressive toward an adult who they see as trying to take their (human) pup away from them.
- Training them is hard. It can be notoriously hard to train a wolf hybrid. This is not because they are incapable of learning commands, they are simply not motivated to please humans like dogs are. You better have some really good treats, even then they might choose to be inconsistent in following commands.
- The Urge to Chase Prey. Some wolf hybrids have a strong prey drive and may hunt small animals like squirrels, cats, smaller dogs, etc.
- Seasonal Aggression. Finally, some wolf hybrids experience seasonal aggression (aka winter wolf syndrome) that corresponds to hormonal changes related to the mating season. This has been observed even in spayed and neutered wolf-hybrids. This means it might be dangerous to physically be around your wolf hybrid for several months of the year.
If you are ok with all of these challenges, have the space, the financial means and the patience then go ahead and get one, but if not, for the sake of the animal⸺don’t.
Where do Wolf Dogs end up?
Many of the challenging behaviors start to manifest themselves after 6 months of age. The cute and cuddly puppy suddenly becomes a handful for the owner who will have to work extremely hard to curb some of these behaviors. Once the realization settles in that this is what the next 10-15 years will be like, many owners give up.
There are plenty of wolf-hybrid sanctuaries around the US that care for these abandoned animals. Most of these sanctuaries rely on private donations and space is limited. Many other animals are neglected, abused, or euthanized. In fact, 90% of pet wolves and wolf hybrids are euthanized by the age of 2.
Should I Get a Wolf Dog? Why I Decided No.
I love wolves as you can tell from my blog. A part of me romanticized how cool it would be to have a wolf hybrid but the more I read about it the more selfish I realized it was. I have a big yard but it’s not big enough nor secure enough. I have kids and a small dog and cat⸺also not good. I would not want to risk any harm coming to any of them.
I work 40 hours a week and my family likes to take vacations. Who would care for this animal with all of its fear of new things? It would be unfair to bring this “pet” into my life. I simply would not have the time to spend with it that it deserves. It would be cruel to do that to a social pack animal.
I suspect my reasons are the same reasons so many of these beautiful animals are abandoned by their owners. I could never imagine abandoning a pet and I would feel like a failure to have to euthanize one because it was too much to handle.
Dogs that Look Like Wolves
If you love the look of a wolf but need domestication, all is not lost, there are dog breeds that look like wolves. See the examples below (note that even though the Saarloos and Czechoslovakian wolfdogs have “wolfdog” in their name, they are actually domesticated dogs).
How you can Help Wolves
Wolves are in trouble in most places they are found.
- On a national level, you could write to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- You could donate to groups like the WWF or Defenders of Wildlife who stand up for animals like the Gray wolf. If you live in Canada, you could consider a gift to Exposed Wildlife Conservancy. In British Columbia you can also check out Pacific Wild.