|Figures 1 and 2. Socrates, a young male wolf at Wolf Park. Notice that his head is relatively large, the markings on his face are well blended, he has small well-furred ears, and light colored eyes.||Figures 3 and 4. Tatanka, a young male wolf hybrid who is about 30% wolf on paper. The rest is malamute. Notice that his head is somewhat smaller than that of the wolf. His ears are also larger, pointier, and lack the dense fur commonly seen in wolf ears. His markings are also very distinctive and not well blended. His eyes are light, but this characteristic can also be seen in some dogs.|
Establishing the identification of an unknown animal continues to be a difficult and controversial subject. Genetic research may someday solve this problem, but for now, an animal’s identity is often based on what the owner claims the animal to be, or on what testimony by an expert witness may determine. Checklists and other similar methods to assess an animal’s “wolf-content” have failed to be reliable. Skull measurements as described by Iljin (1941) are only reliable with rendered skulls.
No single physical or behavioral trait can lead one to a certain conclusion as to whether an animal has “wolf” in its recent ancestry. However, an assessment of the animal as made by someone with adequate experience is possible, using “gestalt perception” where you assess the totality of the physical and behavioral characteristics seen in an animal, and compare them to your past experiences.
Head Shape and Ears
This high-content female wolf hybrid in figures 5 and 6 is very wolf-like in every respect except for her head. Most notably, her ears are much larger than those of a wolf.
Compare the ears of this hybrid with those of a pure wolf at Wolf Park, figure 7.
Black Wolves May Fade
In black canines, fading patterns might be a factor in assessing older animals. Figure 8 is a photo of Kiri, a wolf at Wolf Park, taken at one year of age. Figure 9 is Kiri one year later.
Figure 10 is a hybrid who is about half wolf. Although he is an older animal, about 8 years of age, he has held his black pigment much like many black dogs.
Parents and Offspring
Although the animal in figure 11 gave the outward appearance of being a dog, he was in fact a wolfdog hybrid, reportedly 50% wolf. When bred to a pure wolf, figure 12, he fathered a litter of pups. (The ears of the figure 12 wolf were damaged while wrestling as a pup with some lower content wolfdogs.)
Figures 13a (male) and 13b (female) are two of the pups from this breeding. All the pups in this litter were very wolf-like in all respects. This is not something which you would expect to see if one of the parents was a pure dog.
One of these offspring (figure 13b) “accidentally” bred with her father. The owner of the animals had read in the popular literature that female wolves do not go into heat until their second year. This is not always true with pure wolves. It is certainly not the case with all wolfdogs.
The resulting offspring (Figure 14) were all white and resembled dogs, much like their father. In general, if one parent is a pure wolf, the offspring should all show clearly identifiable wolf-like characteristics, even when bred to a dog. If one parent gives the appearance of being a wolf, but when bred to a predominantly dog-like animal produces “dog-like” offspring, the “wolf” in question might in actuality be a high wolf-content hybrid, and not a pure wolf. If the animal looks like a dog, but produces very wolf-like offspring when bred to a wolf, then the “dog” might very well be a hybrid.
Quality of Life
Social Testing & Predation
|Socialization & Medical Care
Are Wolves and Hybrids Trainable?
Legislation & Health Care
Why Have A Wolf or Wolfdog?