Misrepresentation of Wolf Content
It can be said that the majority of wolf hybrids are misrepresented as to the amount of wolf in the animal. Although an accurate survey of this would be difficult to make, perhaps impossible, general experiences of most individuals working with hybrids all come to a similar conclusion — that somewhere on the order of 75% – 90% of wolf hybrids have a lower wolf content than is claimed by the owner.
Explanations for this are:
- Economics – The more wolf a hybrid supposedly contains, the more it is valued and hence, the more money it, or its offspring, can bring a breeder.
- Ego – The more wolf a hybrid supposedly contains, the more personal value many owners place on the animal. Others who may not care what percentage their animal is may find it difficult to come to terms with having been “taken” by the breeder.
- Ignorance – Most hybrid owners have only experienced and worked with dogs (in their personal experience with canines.) Such experience will often lead people to see and exaggerate all the “differences” that exist between wolves and dogs, and not to see the similarities. In essence, most people see what they want to believe — that their animal exhibits very “wolf-like” characteristics. Objectivity seems rare in people who own hybrids.
Even where the pedigree is accurate, some consideration to the following needs to be made:
- Variability is inevitable, and with hybrids this can lead to differing breeding success. Dogs, like all domesticated animals, are more fertile than their wild counterparts. Male wolves are only fertile from around early December to around early April, while male dogs are fertile year round. Female wolves give birth to only one small litter per year in the spring. Female dogs often give birth to larger litters, and many can breed twice a year.
- Wolves are less suited for a life in captivity, whereas dogs have been selectively bred to live with man. Hybrids which are more “wolf-like” are generally less adapted to pet situations. They, usually have shorter life-spans and overall are more stressed than the more “dog-like” animals. “Wolf-like” hybrids are also more likely to “get into trouble” through difficulty in containment, more intense predatory behavior and social aggression, greater need for intensive socialization, and difficulty with medical care. There is also a greater ease in identification of more “wolf-like” hybrids by neighbors and authorities where ownership of such animals is regulated or prohibited.
- The combination of higher fertility and overall better adaptation to a captive environment for the more dog-like animals may play a role in creating multi-generation hybrids which are more uniformly dog-like in general appearance and behavior.
Misrepresentation of expectations
Breeders and owners often make claims of how wonderful hybrids are to keep as pets. Claims are made that hybrids are good in the house, great with children, and basically “just like dogs.” Although this is possibly true of low wolf-content hybrids, it is not true with most, certainly not all. Regardless, glorifying hybrids as great pets does the animals a disservice and jeopardizes animals as well as those around them. Even a good breeder of pedigreed dogs would do their best to talk a prospective owner out of purchasing a puppy. This is common practice done by breeders of any animal who want to ascertain the readiness of a future owner for any and all problems which might arise.
Although it may not be possible to make any precise assessment of an animal’s wolf or dog content, consider the following: It is possible through visual examination to tell a pure wolf from a pure dog. No dog looks just like a wolf. No wolf looks just like a dog. With experience, it is even possible to make an educated guess as to whether an animal is very much like a wolf, or very much like a dog, or somewhere in between. However, you can’t always tell by just looking, if an animal is a high content wolfdog or a pure wolf. You can’t always tell if an animal is a low content wolf or a dog. Some mid-range animals will even exhibit characteristics which do not correspond to their pedigree. These concepts are important to keep in mind when looking through the following images.
Figure 26 shows two animals, half sisters, which share the same mother. The animal on the left was reported to be in the 90% wolf range, while the animal on the right was reportedly only a little less wolf, being in the 80% wolf range.
The animal on the left was very wolf-like in every respect; the animal on the right was very dog-like. The mother was reportedly a hybrid in the 90% range, but considering the resultant offspring (on the right), the father in that case was most likely misrepresented in percentage. The mother as well as the father of the animal on the right were seen by the author and both looked much like pure wolves. The breeder claimed the father of the animal on the left was no longer alive, nor were there any photographs….
“Wolves” without wolf
Figures 27-30 are all animals which were grossly misrepresented. They were all purchased as high wolf-content animals, but nothing about them was overtly wolf-like at all. They were “wolves” without wolf in them — an all too common occurrence.
The animals in figures 27 and 28 were both brought out to Wolf Park for our “opinion” as to what they were. Both were purchased as “75%” wolf, but no wolf-like characteristics could be seen in either animal.
The animals in figure 29 were purchased for $500.00 each from a breeder who advertises nationally. The owner visited, and video taped, the parents of the pups before the pups were born. In the video, the parents looked like pure wolves. Such “token” wolves on the premises of some breeders are well known. Such breeders can sell at an inflated price both low-content wolfdogs and mutt dogs obtained wherever they can find them. These two animals were supposed to be “pure wolves,” but note the shepherd markings, stocky build, long ears on the animal on the right and the floppy ears on the animal on the left! These animals had little wolf in them.
|The problem with misrepresented animals is that they give their owners a false sense of experience with owning hybrids.|
Many breeders try to enhance their animals with stories of rare and exotic wolf in their background. Often these claims are for impossible animals such as “Alaskan red wolves,” “Russian Turukhan wolf,” or an all-time favorite the “Louisiana swamp wolf.”
Pictured in figure 30 the highly endangered and rare “Russon wolf.” [sic] The owner of this animal was told that these animals were driven to extinction in the wild near the turn of the century and they now only existed in captivity. They were never documented, so if anybody, especially a wildlife official, biologist or other “scientist” were to tell her otherwise, she was not to listen for such people did not know what they were talking about! Not only did she believe this story, but she was also breeding this animal with neighborhood dogs creating “hybrids” which were of course a bit lacking in the wolf department.
Misrepresented animals, where little to no wolf exists, are of course quite likely to be good in the house, make great companions, need relatively little work, be relatively easy to contain, and so on.
The problem with these misrepresented animals is not the animals themselves, but what sometimes happens when a person gets the real thing. The owner might think they have experience and can handle the animal, but when problems arise, they may not ask for help because they “can handle it themselves.” Some people have even gone through several high content animals, thinking that the animals were “defective” in some way because they were so shy, so defensive, so impossible to handle, so… well, so wild!
Figures 31-33 are Noah, a wolf owned by a woman who had animals that she thought were “50%” wolf in San Francisco, California. These animals were excellent pets. They showed no wolf-like characteristics and probably had no wolf in them at all.
She acquired Noah because she felt that he would be an excellent pet. She also planned on breeding him to her other animals. When he was only six months old, he was identified by the authorities as a wolf and confiscated. Although he ended up at Wolf Haven, an excellent facility in the state of Washington, his previous experiences with people ill-trained to handle wolves and hybrids led him to distrust people. He remained quite shy, but was able to live out a life in relative comfort. He has been one of the fortunate few which found a safe home.
Quality of Life
Far too many wolf hybrids do not have a good quality of life.
Such a statement can easily be made about dogs, cats … all animals kept by humans. This is especially true for animals being raised for food or fur, but our interest will stay focused on the plight of the privately owned wolf and wolfdog.
If you look at what often goes wrong in the human-dog relationship, you can begin to grasp some immediate problems. People often expect their dog to understand English, to understand human body language, to automatically know what is desired of them. Yes, a dog can certainly learn many of these things, but the dog must be taught. Training is something overlooked by many people who have wolfdogs.
Through many generations of selective breeding, dogs have been genetically programed to live with people, to accept all our nuances and to actually tolerate quite a lot of harsh treatment. Most dogs have a wonderful in built margin of error such that even some of the worst treatment will not ruin many dogs. Yet, if you consider all the thousands of dogs which end up unwanted in shelters, or simply dumped and abandoned by a disgruntled owner, if you consider the estimated 4,000,000 dog bites which occur every year in North America — it is no wonder that a wolfdog, part domesticated, part wild, has trouble adapting to a captive situation in the hands of an owner who is unwilling, or unable to meet the animal’s needs.
Figure 34 represents the type of situation where far too many “wolves” and hybrids end up. Living out their lives in small enclosures with little physical or mental stimulation. Worse, others end up chained, figure 35, a potentially very dangerous situation, for a chained canine may become aggressive, or it might attack “small prey” which sometimes includes small children. Children are often bitten by dogs which live on chains.
Figure 36 is an animal which was purchased by a woman who was looking for a malamute. She read an ad for wolf-malamute hybrids and was talked into purchasing a pup from a breeder. Given little usable information about raising and socializing this pup, she ended up with a very shy animal that could not be handled, or even approached by strangers. This hybrid was euthanized shortly after this photo was taken because it had eaten the husband’s parrot.
Some breeders do try to screen potential buyers, but as can be seen in Figure 37 this does not always work. This animal was sold to a man who gave a “responsible” breeder all the right answers to his questions. When the breeder found that the animal lost a leg after falling out of the open bed of a truck, he reclaimed the animal. Apparently the owner was not as responsible as he had claimed. Stories abound about buyers whose secure pens are not as represented or don’t yet exist and may never be built. Some buyers “forget” to mention that they are parents of young children as many breeders refuse to place animals in homes where there are little kids.
Others do not survive at all
Figure 38 is an animal which was shot by a farmer in Indiana. The origin of this animal is unknown, but in all probability it is someone’s escaped or dumped pet. His toenails looked clipped. He was a young animal yet he also had tarter buildup on his teeth, suggesting a diet of dog food. Chewing through the fur of wild game keeps a wolf’s teeth quite clean. Analysis of his skull measurements, which is the only accurate means of assessing a wolf from a dog, indicated he was not a pure wolf, but a wolfdog hybrid.
Concern is mounting because such animals are beginning to show up in wolf recovery areas. Genetic pollution is one concern that biologists and wildlife officials face, Fritts (1995) but of possible greater concern is the effects generated by a socialized “pet” wolf or hybrid if there is an incident involving the public. Lacking the skills necessary to effectively hunt wild game, these animals are highly likely to choose livestock. There is also the possibility that such a “tame” animal might approach, possibly even bite, a human.
Not all hybrids end up in tragic situations
Even when the aforementioned circumstances exist, an owner with dedication and a willingness to learn can often succeed. The animal in figure 39 was owned by a man who grew tired of its “wolf-like” characteristics and simply threw the animal out of the yard. The animal was found several miles away by a couple who saw that this was not a dog. After discovering where the animal came from they decided to build an enclosure and try to give the animal a good home.
In figure 40 the animal on the left was purchased as a “75%” hybrid. The next animal purchased was advertised as a similar percentage, but this time she was the real thing. The owners then set about to learn all they could. They provided their animals with a secure, spacious enclosure had the animals spayed and neutered to reduce aggression. They kept an open mind and constantly learned from others with more experience, as well as from the animals themselves. A growing number of people make the time and effort to build enclosures which are spacious and provide the animals with a variety of options for entertainment.
The animals in figure 41 live in a complex of enclosures which includes two separate one acre sections along with smaller sections usable as holding pens. The “junk” pile they are sitting atop was originally an earth-covered artificial den – the animals kept removing the soil so the owner ended up leaving things as is.
Attempts were made several years ago by the owner to establish his place as an education facility, but legislative policies prevented this. However, there have been several other success stories where enthusiasm for the wolf has led from ownership to a recognized facility. Although Wolf Park did not get its start this way, many of today’s current wolf facilities stemmed from an interest in owning a wolf or a wolfdog.
Quality of Life
Social Testing & Predation
|Socialization & Medical Care
Are Wolves and Hybrids Trainable?
Legislation & Health Care
Why Have A Wolf or Wolfdog?