Wolf and wolf-dog hybrid ownership by private citizens has long been a contentious issue in the United States. What exactly is a hybrid?
Through this process, a dog’s behavior, life cycle and physiology have become permanently altered from that of a wolf. In essence, the selective breeding process has put a different set of pressures on dogs, shaping them so that they are more dependent on humans for their survival and make them flexible to our way of living. The genes they express, have been altered to varying degrees from their wild counterpart and help them live that domestic life well (Addams, and Miller 2012).
Wolves and dogs are interfertile, meaning they can breed and produce viable offspring. In other words, wolves can interbreed with dogs, and their offspring are capable of producing offspring themselves. Although hybrids can occur naturally in the wild, they are rare because the territorial nature of wolves leads them to protect their home ranges from intruding canines such as dogs, coyotes and other wolves.
Governed by their instincts, wolves, both in the wild and in captivity, exhibit behavior that is relatively consistent. Their behavioral characteristics have been studied and observed for many decades by researchers, and much has been published about their social dynamics, hunting behavior and territorial nature. Thanks to the researchers’ hard work, we are able to understand the wolf’s reactions to different situations based on their inherent instincts. However, just as with any wild animal, their behavior will always retain some unpredictability.
People who own hybrids often find that their pet’s behavior makes it a challenge to care for. The diversity of genetic composition even within one litter of hybrid pups leads to a wide range of appearances and behavior patterns among all hybrids, thus making their behavior inconsistent and more difficult to predict.
What does all this mean?
This all means that the issue of hybrids is very complicated. A few people are successful in keeping hybrids, but most people for a variety of reasons are not prepared to understand or provide for the physical or psychological needs of the animal. The higher the content wolf the less likely they can be kept as a house pet and will require special housing, socialization and care. There are legal issues to consider, as well as knowing that some vets are not willing to provide care, and that the rabies vaccine in not approved for use in these animals.
Identifying a wolf, a dog and a hybrid can also be very challenging because of how closely related wolves and dogs are. Being critical in evaluation about behavior, and how adapted a canid is to living in a home with human companions considering safety of the humans, community and ability to live in harmony is most important, and the reality is that animals that are more wolf like in their behavior are unlikely to do well living in our homes.
The photo at the top of this page is of a high wolf content hybrid at the W.O.L.F. Sanctuary in Colorado.
The International Wolf Center advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.