Think Owning a Wolf Hybrid Would be Cool? Think Again
There's something alluring about the idea of owning something wild. Much like owning a Burmese python or bird of prey, people are understandably intrigued by keeping wolf hybrids as pets.
The realities of owning a wolf dog, however, are more complicated than most realize. They're fascinating creatures, but do they actually make good pets? If you're considering getting one, keep reading to learn what wolf hybrid ownership really looks like.
Wolf Hybrids Aren't 'Natural'
To start, wolf hybrids are a cross between a domesticated dog and a wolf — which is rarely a product of nature. While the two species can interbreed in the wild, this seldom occurs. All wolf dogs available for adoption or purchase come from selective breeding.
Unlike many species, intraspecies crosses usually result in fertile offspring. This means wolf hybrids can come from breeding a wolf and a dog, a wolf with a hybrid, a dog with a hybrid or two hybrids.
Dogs With Wolf DNA Have Different Physical Proportions
Wolf dogs might look similar to domesticated dogs, but there are visible hints to their wild roots. Hybrids have a bigger head to body ratio, round-tipped ears, yellow, green or amber eyes, and signature cheek tufts. They also have a narrower rib cage and back with a long, straight, bushy tail.
Basically, since wolves are the product of evolution rather than selective breeding, their physical characteristics are adapted for life in the wild rather than cuteness. They usually have a more athletic, muscular appearance for the same reason.
Even the Fur of Wolf Dogs Is Different
Owners of wolf dogs are the first to admit that their fur is no joke. They have a thick, wooly coat that flares out around the neck. Often, it's tri-colored with less defined markings than the dog breed with which it's crossed.
Their fur is gorgeous, but it's not so gorgeous when spread throughout your entire house. Similar to huskies, wolf hybrids have a heavy double coat that thickens each winter. Come spring, all that extra fur they grew to stay warm falls out. It's called "blowing their coat," and it's a massive mess.
Their extra undercoat sheds in clumps, resulting in fur tumbleweeds on the floor and hair on every surface. Daily grooming in spring helps, but owners still should plan on investing in a Roomba. And probably more than one.
The Genes of Wolf Hybrids Aren’t as Easy to Predict as You’d Think
You'd think that if you cross a dog with a wolf, its offspring would be 50 percent wolf. That's not actually the case. Think about labradoodles. A litter of labradoodle puppies can have a variety of different physical characteristics, known as phenotypes. Within the same litter, some of them can inherit more poodle traits, like curly fur or long legs, while others take after the labrador side. It's luck of the draw.
Similarly, mixes between wolves and dogs can result in differing amounts of wolf DNA in each hybrid offspring. Figuring out exactly how much wolf DNA a hybrid contains can only be done by genetic testing. The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California created a complicated testing process to accurately determine how "wolfy" a wolf dog really is.
Wolf Dogs Can Be Low, Mid or High Content
When genetic testing is completed, wolf hybrids receive a label — low, mid or high wolf content — with 1 to 49 percent considered low content, 50 to 74 percent deemed mid content and 75 percent or more being high content.
Mid- and low-content wolf dogs are usually easier to train and have more dog-like personality traits, making them the preferred choice. High-content wolf hybrids are very close to being full-blown wolves. They may have a handful of dog-like traits, but having a high-content hybrid is almost like trying to keep a live wolf in your living room.
Owners of Wolf Dogs Get a Crash Course in Evolution
The wolf side of hybrids was shaped from thousands of years of evolution. They evolved to be able to survive in the wild, adapting to the harsh wilderness, not a backyard in the suburbs. Dogs, on the other hand, were domesticated.
Domestication is different than taming an animal. It's more than just bonding with a wild creature. It's a centuries-long process that shaped dogs to depend on humans and fit into the lifestyle of working animals and house pets. Because of this, dog and wolf behavior and physiology is very different. Owners of wolf dogs quickly learn that just because hybrids look similar to dogs doesn't mean they are.
The Physical and Mental Development of Wolf Hybrids Is Unpredictable
Wolves and dogs also have a different life cycle, maturing at different rates. While dogs reach sexual maturity by about 6 to 8 months of age, wolves don't reach maturity until they're between 1 and 4 years old. That's a big difference!
For this reason, it's impossible to know when a wolf dog will hit their rambunctious, stubborn, potentially aggressive adolescent phase. When they do, the shift in hormones results in some unpleasant and unexpected behavior, like increased territoriality and challenging authority.
Wolf Dogs Have Stronger Instincts Than Ordinary Dogs
Wolf dogs are smart, but they're designed for life in the wild. They were made to survive on their own, not to depend on people. Because of this, they're extremely independent and often unwilling to listen to humans.
They're naturally fearful of people, for one, especially in unfamiliar situations. Their instincts also drive them to mark their territory, making house-breaking a nightmare.
Wolf Dogs Are Extremely High Maintenance
Wolf hybrids might look a lot like certain dog breeds, like Alaskan malamutes and Siberian huskies, but they aren't domestic dogs, and they don't act like them either. Wolf crosses can inherit personality traits from either side, and some traits will inevitably come from their wolf side.
Their diet requires plenty of raw meat, and they need several hours of exercise each day. Walking a hybrid on a leash is a different experience than walking a chocolate lab. They're usually quiet, but the howls of a hybrid don't sound anything like that of a dog.
Even if they get plentiful exercise, wolf dogs are more destructive and free-spirited than dogs. Some low- and mid-content hybrids can be contained with a typical backyard fence, but many require 8-foot fences with wire underneath to prevent them from breaking out. As a general rule, a pair of wolf hybrids require a full acre of land to roam. Forget apartments. Even a regular-sized backyard is too small.
Most Wolf Hybrids Also Experience What's Known as Winter Wolf Syndrome
Owners of wolf dogs have dubbed seasonal wolf mood swings by a less intimidating title: Winter Wolf Syndrome. As days get shorter in fall, the temperament of wolf hybrids usually shifts as well. They become shorter tempered, less affectionate and more snippy.
This is all thanks to hormonal changes, as the fall and winter months are mating season for wolves. It can last from October until March, so owners are stuck dealing with a grumpy, possessive fur beast for a good chunk of the year.
Without the Right Training, They Can Be Destructive and Aggressive
Wolf-dog hybrids can be friendly and affectionate, but they're more likely to revert to aggressive behavior when they feel frightened. They're naturally shy, so socializing them early is imperative to developing a more manageable temperament. Otherwise, they're likely to remain skittish and afraid of people for life.
Since they're highly intelligent, wolf dogs need plenty of mental stimulation to avoid boredom. They also bond closely with their owners and tend to panic when left home alone. Keeping them with another dog or hybrid companion (or two) can mitigate some of these behaviors. Even then, wolf dogs require more human time and attention to keep them from getting bored or anxious and wreaking havoc.
Oh, and That Training Process? Yeah, It's Really Hard
As smart as wolf hybrids are, they aren't nearly as eager to please their owners as dogs are. They're not particularly motivated to learn the usual commands, and just getting them to come when called is hit or miss. Some wolf-dog owners opt to put a bandana around their pet's neck so that if they run off they won't be mistaken for a wild wolf.
Treats are often the only way of getting them to come back, and even that doesn't always work. They're not likely to run off for good, but they're never going to be suitable for going on a free-range stroll at the park or beach.
They're Also Huge
Wolf hybrids can range between 60 and 120 pounds, with males tending to be larger than females. The higher the wolf content, the larger the hybrid will be. They also typically have huge paws and are often the largest dogs at the dog park. This is yet another reason why they're a poor fit for inexperienced handlers.
Even hybrids on the smaller end of the spectrum are extremely strong, so knowing how to work with them is mandatory to prevent unfortunate run-ins with strangers or unfamiliar dogs.
One Benefit of Owning a Wolf Dog Is Their Heartiness
On the upside, wolf dogs are extraordinarily healthy. Because they haven't been selectively bred, they have no known genetic health issues. They're still susceptible to getting fleas, ticks and heart worm, however, so taking preventative measures and keeping them up to date on their vaccines is just as important as it is for dogs.
These healthy creatures can live up to 16 years, so make sure you're in it for the long haul before taking one home.
Getting a Wolf Hybrid Is Expensive, Too
Think you're cut out for wolf-dog ownership? Start saving, because each one costs up to $3,000. The price varies by breeder, but that's only the start. You'll also need a massive yard with a heavy-duty fence. While you're at it, budget for expensive raw food, the cost of spaying and neutering them, and an emergency fund, just in case.
Also worth noting: All reputable breeders will require an interview to make sure owners know what they're signing up for. If they don't, run away.
Wolf Dogs Are Generally Safe, but They’re a Terrible Idea for Most People
Wolf dogs are often misunderstood and improperly cared for. They have an undeserved reputation for being dangerous and aggressive, but it's not really their fault. Wolf hybrids have uniquely wild characteristics that few pet owners are equipped to handle. In the right hands, they're amazing animals. For everyone else, they're a nightmare waiting to happen.
While they're mostly kind, non-aggressive animals, they're extremely high maintenance, and keeping them successfully requires extensive research, training and care beyond what most dog owners can manage. They still have unpredictable qualities that can become dangerous in the wrong hands. For this very reason, most states restrict or outlaw owning wolf hybrids. As cool as they are, that one seems like a good call.
For more reading on unique and unexpected pets, check out these stories: