Wolves and dogs are interfertile, meaning they can breed and produce viable offspring. Some argue that, using a classical interpretation of the word species, this means that wolves and dogs are in fact the same species.
Wolves and dogs are indeed closely related — dogs descended from wolves, after all — and they display a great number of physiological and behavioral similarities. Some dogs look a lot like their ancestors, the wolves; and some wolves can even resemble dogs. Wolf hybrids (or wolfdogs, or wolf x dog hybrids), the actual offspring of a wolf and a dog, can look and act like either parent. It is very hard to write about wolf hybrids, because there really are no absolutes.
As a leader in the study of wolf/human interaction and the socialization of captive wolves, Wolf Park has interacted with many humans and the wolves and wolf hybrids who have entered their lives. While Wolf Park does not rescue wolf hybrids, and generally discourages people from keeping them as pets, its behavior seminars can provide valuable information to new owners or to people interested in procuring one of these animals.
What follows is Monty Sloan’s excellent primer “America’s Other Controversial Canine, the Wolf Hybrid”. This was adapted from a poster presentation given at Defenders of Wildlife’s Restoring the Wolf Conference, Seattle, WA, November 12-14 1998, and at the International Wolf Center’s Wolves and Humans 2000: A Global Perspective for Managing Conflict, Duluth, MN, March 9-12th, 1995, by Monty Sloan.
America’s Other Controversial Canine, The Wolf Hybrid
Table of Contents
Quality of Life
Social Testing & Predation
|Socialization & Medical Care
Are Wolves and Hybrids Trainable?
Legislation & Health Care
Why Have A Wolf or Wolfdog?
The wolf hybrid, or wolfdog as they are increasingly called, has become one of the most controversial canines in North America in recent years. Their increasing popularity as pets has led to an increase of animals that the general public is ill equipped to handle. Shelters are faced with animals that they cannot put up for adoption; veterinarians are faced with concerns over inoculations. Wildlife advocates fear that recovering wolf populations may be directly threatened by free ranging hybrids through genetic pollution, or indirectly affected by negative media publicity when a “pet” wolf hybrid injures or kills a child. As the wolf was once a “hated” species, to a certain extent the hybrid has now taken the wolf’s place. Although dogs continue to injure and kill people, mostly children, in far greater numbers, when a hybrid is involved the media attention is far more extensive.
A wolf hybrid is defined as the offspring of a dog and a wolf or the subsequent offspring. Critics argue that hybrids are unpredictable, dangerous, make poor pets and that there is no rabies vaccine available for wolves or their hybrids. Proponents claim the hybrid wolf is a good companion animal and is useful in educating the public about wolves. Many claim “once you have a wolf hybrid, you will never own a dog again.”
The wolf and dog have been purposefully bred in North America to produce hybrid offspring for decades and are increasingly bred in parts of Europe as well. However, until recently such hybrids were rare. With the growing popularity of wolves in both the media and with the public, an increase in the numbers of such animals has reached the level of a “fad” pet. Sanctuaries, organizations and wildlife parks specializing in wolves have been inundated with calls concerning these animals. Many calls involve pleas for help when a behavior problem develops, or a legal situation exists that prohibits the owner from keeping the animal. At Wolf Park calls have increased from a few per month, to over thirty. In what has now become a daily routine, we are faced with having to turn down animals offered to us. Many of these animals are probably euthanized.
Legislation designed to curtail or prohibit the ownership of exotic pets or their hybrids often fails when it comes to wolf hybrids for lack of enforcement or in some cases enforceability due to the inability of personnel to clearly identify the animals in question. Currently the trend for hybrid owners is to represent their animals officially as dogs.
Owning a wolf hybrid, or any animal for that matter, is a responsibility which should not be taken lightly. In the case of owning hybrids, all aspects of ownership should be addressed long before the acquisition of a pup. Thorough knowledge of the animal’s needs, enclosure requirements, and safety issues as well as legality have to be understood and assessed before considering such an animal in the home. Once an animal has been brought into the home, a 10-16+ year commitment has been made.
Misunderstood and misrepresented, these animals are unwittingly caught in the middle and often fall between legal cracks as critics and owners argue their very right to exist. Members of the wolf community need to address this growing area of debate. The public response to wolves and hybrids is interconnected. The existence of hybrids will affect people’s attitudes toward wolves, and how this is handled could eventually affect wolf recovery and reintroduction in the United States.