One of the lesser-known challenges faced by animal welfare organizations is what to do with wolf dogs (or, as we referred to them, wolf hybrids).
Our rescue only dealt with this issue one time, and it came as a complete surprise to us. We found two adorable, but very odd-looking puppies with ears perched oddly on their heads; long, very narrow noses; spindly legs with ballerina feet that splayed out; and coats that were an unusual combination of white, tobacco-spit brown, grey, and silver. They looked a little like kangaroos, so we named them Joey and Josie. We didn’t have any space for them, so a sister rescue ended up helping us out by taking them.
After a few days we heard from our contact Polly at that rescue that Joey and Josie were a little… unusual. They were incredibly smart, and they were restless and never really relaxed. Polly had been doing rescue for many years, and she said although she’d never seen pups before, just adults, she was pretty sure J&J were wolf hybrids. We apologized profusely, but she was matter of fact — they had space for them, and despite their wildness and unusual habits, the two had won their hearts.
A week or two after that, Polly gave us another update. Joey and Josie had worms. The two of them did not respond well to the medicine, and they hovered on the brink of death for days. Fortunately, they survived, and they ended up being adopted by an energetic young couple who were willing to change their lifestyle in order to give these two dogs their best chance at a happy home.
J&J’s story ended well, but the lives of most wolf hybrids are tragic, and part of a larger wolf hybrid problem in the United States. Here’s what you need to know:
- If someone tells you a dog is a wolf hybrid, there is a very, very big chance (70-90%) the dog is nothing of the sort. Disreputable breeders will take Northern breeds (e.g., Siberian Huskies and Malamutes) and breed them with German Shepherd dogs and represent the resulting offspring as wolf dogs. Frankly, this particular fact doesn’t present too much of a problem, except, of course, that people are being conned, and it might put the dogs at risk if they are in a county where hybrids are illegal. Note, too, that there is no reputable, reliable DNA test to tell you whether your dog is a wolf hybrid.
- Some wolf hybrids (the real ones) don’t always respond well to veterinary treatment for dogs. Their health issues cannot always be addressed with medicine that treats dogs. In addition, some vets won’t even treat wolf hybrids, or even vaccinate them because of anti-hybrid laws, or because of concerns about aggression.
- Wolf hybrids have many behavioral traits of wolves, which are wild animals. They can be destructive; they require high quality, high meat diets; and they are escape artists. They can be extremely fear aggressive.
- Wolf hybrids are neither wolf nor dog. Wolves develop at a different pace than dogs, and their socialization needs are vastly different; according to biologist Kathryn Lord, for the wolf pup to be tamed, it must become accustomed to human touch and smell within 2 to 4 weeks via 24-hour-a-day socialization. With dogs, however, this phase is normally between ages 4 to 8 weeks. Since the laws in many areas tend to require that puppies be placed in adoptive homes at 8 weeks, it may be too late for even the youngest wolf hybrids to ever really socialize well with humans.
- Wolf hybrids have been responsible for some of the most vicious attacks on humans. It’s not because they are inherently more violent, but they are stronger and smarter than the average dog, so if they are aggressive, the stakes are much higher. A larger part of this statistic, though, is that wolf hybrids are often kept isolated and chained by owners who have no idea how to care for them; such treatment will increase any dog’s likelihood to attack.
- In many areas, wolf hybrids are illegal and will be destroyed if they are found. If you end up with one accidentally, you’ll need to look over your shoulder as long as you live in that area; if you end up with one deliberately, you’ve committed a crime.
The bottom line for me, though, is that most of the wolf hybrids I’ve met have been unhappy — they’re marginalized, uncomfortable in a domestic environment, constantly restless, and fearful. It’s a very sad life for most of them.
Unfortunately, for everyone, though, there are a lot of people who want to have a “wolfdog” so much that they are willing to disregard all these warnings. It’s gotten worse after the gorgeous direwolves on Game of Thrones appeared on screen. (Those dogs are Northern Inuit dogs who don’t have a drop of wolf blood in them, in case you didn’t know.) If you know someone like this, hopefully this article will help you to make a case against doing something so immensely reckless, selfish, and stupid.