|~~Frequently asked wolfdog questions~~
|Q. So what is a "wolfdog", and aren't they really "wolf hybrids"?
A. Since wolves and dogs are actually the same species, the term "hybrid" is incorrect...most owners prefer to call them "wolfdogs". Semantics aside, the animals are a recent backcross of dogs to wolves--generally having wolf in their lineage within the last few generations. By comparison, most dogs haven't had wolf in their pedigree for thousands of years...the German shepherd (also known as "Alsatian Wolfdog", a wolf backcross only 100 years ago) being a notable exception. Some other shepherd breeds such as the Shiloh shepherd and Tundra Shepherd have added wolf blood much more recently than that.
Q. So, these are wild animals?
A. Nope. Legally speaking, anything with some percentage of domestic animal (dog) in it, is considered to also be a domestic animal. The animals themselves are all captive-bred--wolves are NOT pulled from the wild as breeding stock, and captive bred animals are not wildlife. Some of the crosses do retain many of the traits found in their wild relatives--many of which are traits that made early Man decide that these animals were worth domesticating!
Q. Aren't they dangerous?
A. Responsibly owned, and properly raised--no. (The same can be said of any large dog, regardless of breed. Unfortunately, irresponsible ownership has put many dog breeds and their families in jeopardy.)
Q. All right, aren't they MORE dangerous than a dog?
A. Absolutely not. Many breeds of domestic dog are more aggressive, more territorial, and overall more likely to bite than wolfdog crosses. Unfortunately, the media gets more impact by publishing pitbull or "wolf" incidents--labrador bites are hardly "newsworthy". :-/
Q. What about bite statistics?
A. Wolfdogs usually come in around number 6 or 7. However, bear in mind that *all of the dog breeds generally used in creating wolfdogs* rank higher than wolfdogs in the bite stats! It is reasonable to suggest that the inclination to bite may be contributed by these breeds of dog involved, rather than a direct result of wolf blood.
This is NOT to say that wolfdogs will not bite! They have a substantial prey drive (similar to huskies and malamutes, and also working line shepherds, terriers, and some other breeds). Crosses that are predominantly wolf should never be allowed to run loose where they might encounter anything small enough to be viewed as prey. They are also very timid and sensitive animals, and if poorly handled, may become fear biters.
Q. Timid? WOLVES?
A. You bet. Wolves are very shy animals by nature. Wolf crosses tend to retain this trait. They bond very strongly to their first owner, but are quite often shy of strangers, and are difficult to rehome. Those who have a timid animal can go here- http://www.wolfdogproject.com/spooky1.htm for tips on working with shy dogs.
Q. So they won't protect you and your property, or add an "edge" to a guard dog?
A. Not at all. Some wolfdogs, made up primarily of a protective breed of dog, may be protective of their owners, but most expect the owner to protect THEM!
Q. Quite a difference from the aggressive animal they are portrayed as on television...
A. Most "wolves" seen on t.v., amusingly enough, are actually malamutes, or malamute/wolf mixes. As to aggression...there are several reasons for a dog to act aggressively. Like all dogs, wolfdogs may indeed act this way! The most common reason for a dog to be aggressive is due to dominance, and those who have dominant dogs (of any breed) can come over here: http://www.wolfdogproject.com/dominance1.htm for some ideas on handling this problem. Dogs can also be cornered or "overloaded", and pushed into defensive aggression. Knowing how to read a dog's body language is critical to understanding and modifying their behaviour. This is important for ALL dogs, but especially important with wolfdogs, who are highly communicative and interactive, and expect you to understand what they are saying.
Q. So you can understand their behaviour and signals? How unpredictable are they, really?
A. "Unpredictable" is a word used by the ignorant, in exchange for the phrase "I don't understand". Wolves are actually more predictable than fully domestic dogs. Their body language and behavioural traits are very well known--hence the use of the "wolf model" for dog language and behaviour. Wolfdogs are slightly less predictable than wolves, but still a bit more so than "regular" dogs. The breed of dog is important to consider though--physically modifed dogs such as the Doberman, who has no tail to express his wide range of feelings, and whose ears are cut to signal permanent dominance/aggression, will be much harder to predict and control than a more "natural" dog such as a shepherd or husky. However, with domestics you have the advantage of a very forgiving animal, who is understanding of many humans' inability to read and communicate with them. They are also more forgiving of what I call "handler error"--you can beat, confuse, neglect, and otherwise do injustice to many domestic breeds, yet still have an animal who adores and obeys you. Not so with wolves--their love is conditional.
Q. Are they trainable at all?
A. Absolutely. They're trainable by the same methods as any other dog; however, like most Northern breed mixes, they tend to ask "what's in it for ME?" and are better trained by a positive reinforcement program. A good trainer with a variety of approaches and tools at their disposal can train a wolfdog, husky, Jack Russell terrier, or any other "difficult" breed.
Q. Is it true that you have to feed them raw meat? If so, doesn't that make them vicious?
A. High content wolfdogs do need some raw meat to stay in optimal health. With lower content crosses, it may be optional. The main focus is to feed them a diet with meat as the main ingredient (even if the meat is kibble based) and with a minimum of grains, which they cannot digest well. Soy is also to be avoided, as it sits and ferments in their digestive tract, and can cause a bad (even fatal) reaction. As to the old wives' tale about raw meat making a dog vicious, there's not even a grain of truth to it. (!)