A wolf dog is a hybrid mix between a domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) and a type of wolf subspecies of which there are four: the gray (Canis lupus), eastern timber wolf (Canis lycaon), red wolf (Canis rufus), and Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis).
Wolf dogs are usually bred with the grey wolf since their genetic composition is the closest.
Wolf hybrids are found in the wild across Europe and North America, which means that there have been rare instances where a domesticated dog somehow mated with a wild wolf. Although, because the grey wolf and dog genes are so close, it is hard for scientists to tell if wild wolf dogs are actually part dog or part wolf subspecies. There have been studies on black wolves and there are theories that they got their black coat from wolf-dog hybridization.
Adolph Murie wrote in his book, “The Wolves of Mount McKinley”:
“I suppose that some of the variability exhibited in these wolves could have resulted from crossings in the wild with dogs. Such crosses in the wild have been reported and the wolf in captivity crosses readily with dogs. Some years ago at Circle, Alaska, a wolf hung around the settlement for some time and some of the dogs were seen with it. The people thought that the wolf was a female attracted to the dogs during the breeding period. However, considerable variability is probably inherent in the species, enough perhaps to account for the variations noted in the park and in skins examined. The amount of crossing with dogs has probably not been sufficient to alter much the genetic composition of the wolf population.”
Hybrid pups are also bred in captivity usually taking a German Shepherd, which is a dog breed originally descended from a pure wolf, and breeding it with a wolf to create four different breeds. These dogs are bred for frigid temperature companion dogs and military working dogs.
Wolf-dog hybrids include:
- Wolamute or Malawolf: cross between an Alaskan Malamute and a timber wolf
- Saarloos wolfdog: German Shepherd and a Mackenzie Valley wolf
- Lupo Italiano: wolf from northern Lazio and German Shepherd
- Kunming wolfdog: breed of wolf dog found in China
Wolves are generally shy and timid around humans and high content wolf dogs can have these characteristics. Because they are still considered wild animals, depending on their wolf content, hybrid owners have reported that their dogs still exhibit wolf behaviors like digging dens, excessive chewing, climbing and jumping fences, and difficulty housebreaking.
In some states it is even illegal to have a hybrid dog, including Alaska, unless the dog is grandfathered in, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Dakota and Rhode Island. Make sure to check with your city ordinances to learn your local laws.
There is another cause for alarm for owning these dogs. There is yet to be a rabies vaccine specific to wolf dogs. Which means if a wolf dog bites someone, it is treated as a wild animal and euthanized without question.
While some advocates will say that all the dog needs is extra socialization and proper training, wolf-dog ownership is not to be taken lightly.
Do you know a wolf dog? Tell us your experience in the comments below.
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