There is something absolutely magnificent about the regal, noble and very beautiful wild wolf. In most of North American and Europe the wolf is known as the timber wolf or the gray wolf and is a true wild species, not a feral animal that was once domesticate and has returned to a wild state.
Wolfdogs or wolf hybrids can be defined in different areas based on their heritage and ancestory. Most rescues and animal agencies consider a wolfdog to be any animal that has a wolf or wolf hybrid in the last five generations. This is most commonly used in the United States where the largest number of wolfdogs are found. It is estimate that there are between 300,000 and 500,000 of these dogs currently in the country, with the larger number using the 5 generation criteria for classification. Typically a first generation wolfdog will be any dog or wolfdog hybrid crossed to a purebred or half bred wolf or wolf dog. Typically the domestic breeds used in the cross include German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Malamutes, Akitas and other northern type spitz breeds that are relatively similar in size.
Generally a wolfdog will mature to weigh between 50 and 80 pounds, however some may mature to be well over 150 pounds, largely depending on the genetics of the dog and wolf used in the cross. The coat tends to more wolf like in appearance, thick, double and very water resistance. Colors range from solid black or white through to the red, silver, gray and black or even tan or red colorations found in the dog breeds. Other colors such as merle, brindle or even spots are very uncommon within the first few generations. The muzzle is longer and narrower than a typical domestic dog and the ears are large and triangular, highly mobile and placed well to the top of the head. The body is lean and long with highly developed legs and strong hind quarters. The tail is carried higher when hunting and low to the hocks normally.
Recognized Wolf-hybrid Breeds
There are some recognized breeds of wolf dog crosses that are now breeding true. These breeds are typically restricted to local areas and are rarely if ever seen out of those geographic locations. Perhaps the best known of these wolf hybrid breeds is the Saarlooswolfdog. This dog breed is the result of a genetic breeding program using German Shepherd Dogs and wolves, started by a Dutch breeder, Leendert Saarloos, in 1921. His goal was to improve the hip dysplasia and other disease problems in the German Shepherd while still maintaining the temperament and behaviors of the domestic dog. Currently the Saarlooswolfdog is recognized by the FCI and the Dutch Kennel Club.
The Saarlooswolfdog can weigh up to 100 pounds and tends to resemble a wolf through the head and body. They have very long legs and are highly athletic and strong. While they do possess the wild spirit and high prey drive of the wolf ancestory, some Saarlooswolfdog have been trained as search and rescue dogs as well as guide dogs. In general breeders of the Saarlooswolfdog are very particular about selling these dogs and they very rarely sell to international breeders or individuals.
There are also other known wolf-hybrids, typically recognized by associations and organizations but not major kennel clubs or international registries.
One of the most challenging aspects of a wolfdog is that there is no way to predict what their mature temperament will be. Wolfdog puppies don't fully mature until they are about 18 months to 2 years of age. During this time they are very similar to all other large breed puppies, playful, somewhat timid at times and at other times a bit aggressive. They tend to bond closely with humans at this time and can get along very well with other pets when raised together.
At about the age of 18 months owners may, in some wolfdogs, notice a rather dramatic shift in the animal's personality and behavior. It is at this time that hormonally driven behaviors really start to occur, resulting in some challenging behaviors. Males that are not neutered by this time will become very aggressive towards other males, even pets they have previously had little difficulty with. Hunting instincts in both males and females also become much more prominent and smaller pets are definitely at risk with those wolfdogs displaying these characteristics. This can be somewhat predicted if the dog in the cross was aggressive, dominant or also had a high prey drive. Crosses with dogs with submissive behavior or low prey drive often result in much less of a tendency in the wolfdog offspring. All wolfdogs are naturally very wary of strangers and some will never accept people that are not their family or "pack". Many wolfdogs are very difficult to rehome once they are mature.
Another challenging aspect to a wolfdog hybrid is that they are not a small space dog. Apartment life is torture to these dogs, they need lots of space, lots of off leash time to run and explore, but they also need to be confined and securely fenced. Wolves, by their very nature, are nomadic, traveling over miles and miles every day within their natural territorial boundaries. Wolfdogs have that same need for prolonged exercise both for physical as well as mental health. Without this exercise on a daily basis, regardless of the weather, they are very prone to becoming highly destructive. They can literally chew through doors, wire enclosures, wooden fences and almost anything else owners may use. Some of these hybrid can also jump and leap incredible distances and heights, so fencing must accommodate for their natural athletic abilities.
A wolfdog hybrid is not recommended for families with small children. Young kids are prone to very sudden, unexpected movements and lots of noise, both that can be both frightening and threatening to many wolfdogs. While they do well with older children, kids have to learn how to interact with these dogs and how to be seen as the alpha leader. Wolfdogs are very protective of their territory and can make good watchdogs as well as guard dogs when trained.
Wolfdogs may be more difficult to housetrain that hybrid dog crosses and many will continue the very wolf-like behaviors of howling, digging and hunting. In some areas wolfdogs or wolf-hybrids are considered dangerous dogs and need to be muzzled when outside of their yard. Since they are often mistaken as wolves, if they do escape they are often killed by individuals, which is a true tragedy.
Other articles under "Feral and Wild Dog Relatives"