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Wildside: Wolf Hybrids

Wolf hybrids are discussed in a short commentary by animal behaviorist, Diana L. Guerrero. Canine hybrids include wolf hybrids and coy dogs. They are not recommended as pets. See our comprehensive series on the topic of wolf dog hybrid issues elsewhere on this site.

Wolf Hybrids: A Glimpse Behind the Allure

Do you remember any of your childhood stories about wolves? Let's see, there was: The Three Little Pigs, The Seven Little Goats, Brothers Grimm Little Red Riding Hood (who gets eaten by the wolf), Peter & the Wolf, werewolves, and more assorted varieties of terror inducing stories from all cultures and times. This must be where we have gotten all those lousy, fearful impressions of the wolf. It started from an early age, and both fascinated and terrorized us through our imaginations.

Wolves have attracted our attention with their beauty and their wildness for eons. The attraction to these wild animals has created an allure that catapulted some of the dog breeds closer to wolf ancestry into the urban household. For the past few decades some people had the bright idea to cross the wild beast with the domesticated animal and create a nightmare of unbelievable proportion. You could compare it to the story of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" or perhaps "Frankenstein", since you never know what you are going to get.

With the fascination of wolves, there has been a wave of people rushing out to obtain what they think is the next best thing, a wolf hybrid. The motivating factors to obtain these pets are highly varied. Some people view them as status symbols while others own and breed them for financial reasons, marketing puppies that are part wolf (which often are not, fortunately!) regardless of breeding, socialization, or health considerations. In some states it is illegal to own or breed them.

No matter what people think, the wolf hybrid is not an animal that will help perpetuate the wolf species. It actually adds fuel to the fire against the wolf. Selfish human motives continue to harm the wolf species with a global impact. The bottom line is that they are not pets.

Some wolf experts suggest that the way to integrate a wolf hybrid into the home is to take a variety of steps before, during and after acquiring the animal. The first step is to get familiar with wolf behavior and to actually get some training in that behavior. Often, people who have this type of encounter decide against the adventure. It is just plain hard work and very risky.

Although I do not recommend or encourage breeding hybrids, it is still done. If you are dead set about getting one, there is some education you must get and things you must do to even stand an inkling of a chance at not getting hurt, or throwing the poor unfortunate beast to a fate worse than death.

Obtaining a wolf hybrid requires that you first find a good breeder. Because of the critical nature of the upbringing it is suggested that for optimal results you get a hybrid that is hand-reared from before about two weeks of age. Until sixteen weeks of age, the socialization must be carefully conducted and monitored. Then, once placed, they must have the proper facilities and social environment. This means not being isolated and also not chained or confined in a small space.

This commitment is a major one in comparison to a domestic animal. Only experienced people that the animal knows will be able to care for it, and the ownership of the animal must be for the entire life-span of the wolf hybrid. Not only is that a substantial factor, but having a veterinarian experienced with wolves is also important. At this time there is still no legal rabies vaccine available for these animals.

Even with the best of preparation, the challenges associated with ownership go far beyond the normal pet owner's dreams. If the animal was not properly raised or socialized, there is the danger of challenge and injury. Predatory behavior triggered by children screaming and playing is another area of concern, as is the media hype and public terror when such aggressive incidents occur. Even though they do not concern a real wolf, they only hurt the wolf species in the end.

At first, hybrid puppies are cute and can be amiable, but the horrors start pretty quickly. Because they are not a truly domesticated animal, they cannot be trained like a domestic pet. They will often display predatory behavior, possessiveness and aggression over food and possessions. They grab and shred skin, as well as other items in serious confrontations, and are almost impossible to housebreak. They usually exhibit denning and territorial instincts causing destruction to the home environment both inside and out.

True wolf hybrids are tremendously complex. On one side there is the domesticated ancestry, and on the other, a wild animal heritage. Depending on the cross, you can end up with an animal that is highly dangerous or downright deadly, unlike true wolves which will avoid people in the wild, and have display behavior which makes family confrontations more exhibition oriented.

In the past, wolf hybrids have been referred to as unpredictable monsters. I've unfortunately witnessed this first hand. One example was a trainer I know; she obtained a very nice wolf hybrid from a "good" line. When it reached maturity (around two years of age) the wolf hybrid challenged her, she lost, and the event almost cost the trainer her arm from the attack. The animal was euthanized, a sad but common event....and better than some of the consequences. This woman is a professional in the exotic animal industry still. Imagine the repercussions of a less experienced owner!

Most people who claim to have wolf hybrids actually do not. This is often fortunate, since true wolf hybrids end up mistreated and misunderstood. Usually they end up beaten, starved, locked up in small enclosures with no other animals or humans to interact with, or are emaciated and tied out on a chain. Sometimes these wolf hybrids are dumped off to survive "in the wild" are hit by cars while they are running in sheer terror, or they are shot.

In my dog socialization groups, we occasionally were able to give the wolf hybrid the benefit of the group interactions, but more often than not, the animal was beyond help just due to the poor breeding and genetics. Work has to start very young and then there are no guarantees. Many problems begin young but often animals that have appeared fine will suddenly "turn" at sexual maturity.

Many of the facilities which rescue wild animals (Wolf hybrids are put into this category, but neither the domestic or wild roles suit them.) won't take them or can't because their facilities are already so overloaded. Occasionally they will be able to adapt into a group and integrate into the pack successfully. However, since they only really bond with their first owner, they never seem to recover from being abandoned. Many of those animals will often show great fear of strangers or new environmental changes.

Confinement is often a challenge since these animals are great at escaping. They should not be kept within any city or town limits, nor should they have minimal fencing or electronic fences to restrain them. Fencing with a minimum height of eight feet and an overhang to prevent escape is the bare minimum requirement. Digging precautions at the fence perimeter and a large area for running is necessary to keep these animals confined and in a better temperament.

Other risks inherent in the animal come from the predatory standpoint. Other animals, kids, and birds all become targets for that type of prey. A wolf hybrid jumping through a plate glass window to grab a caged bird, stalking kids from behind the fenced yard, or emitting low and lingering warning growls at the owners, and a variety of other blood chilling activities occur daily.

There are exceptions, but they are not the norm. If you already have a wolf hybrid, read about wolf behavior, dog behavior, and hybrid behavior. Be prepared for a long, complicated relationship. Seek professional help before you get hurt. Hybrids do not help the already tarnished image of the wolf. I would like the stories to change from the ones most people envision to something more realistic and compassionate. A good example of this change in attitude is mentioned in Of Wolves & Men by Barry Lopez.

In the book he describes that, before an educational program on animals, the children in the classroom were asked to draw pictures of a wolf. Each one depicted the wolf with very large fangs. Once the wolf visited and they got to learn about him, see him, and gain a bit of understanding; they were asked to draw another picture of the wolf. In the new pictures there were no large fangs...just large feet! What a change in perception!

There are agencies around that specialize in wolf behavior, and there are some hybrid organizations to contact. If you care about wolves and their conservation then don't support hybrid breeding by buying or selling them. Support those groups dedicated to actual wolf education, conservation, and most recently, reintroduction and integration back into the wild.

Diana L. Guerrero, author of this series, is an animal behavior consultant and animal training coach with extensive experience in many areas of the animal world. She first began working with wolf-dogs in 1979 and discourages the ownership and breeding of these animals.

We support the Wolf Specialist Groups statement against the trade of wolf hybrids and urge you not to endorse or support the trade of these animals. Read Guerrero's extensive study on the subject by clicking here.



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