In the past few years, these animals have come under close public scrutiny and made a number of headlines, usually for all the wrong reasons. There is a public outcry in many cities in both Canada and the US for the banning of these animals, and just as large an outcry against such a ban by their supporters. Research included published reports by both active supporters of hybrids and those opposed to them. This article will simply present the facts that both these groups agree on.
Beginning with the name, supporters of these animals react negatively to them being labeled “hybrids”. Technically, the term is incorrect, as hybrid implies the result of the mating of two different species. Dogs canis lupus familiaris are classified as a sub-species of the wolf canis lupus, thus the correct term should be wolf-dog. Since “hybrid” is the more accepted and recognized label, it is used in this article, with no offense intended.
Why do people buy wolf-hybrids? With many, it is the desire to own a part of the wild, the mystique of having a “child of the wilderness” bond with them. To these people, there is a draw to what Jack London described as the “Call of the Wild”, and all the romance and adventure it involves. Others like the idea of owning an “exotic” pet, as it is something that sets them apart from their friends and neighbors. Sadly, there is also the “fringe” group that has the “macho” attitude of wanting to own a wolf. Regardless of the intention, the fact is that almost all the purchasers of these animals haven’t done the research necessary, have relied on word of mouth information, and are on average ill-prepared for the special responsibilities which come with the ownership of a hybrid.
Wolf-hybrids are not the perfect house pet for the average person. They require an advanced understanding of wolf behavior; special containment, nutrition and the willingness to put up with the mass destruction these animals are capable of. There are considerations such as a prey drive that is much higher than the average dog, which could spell disaster for other neighborhood pets, along with a small child who has tripped and fallen and is screaming for its mother. It could easily be considered as wounded prey, and the results would be devastating for the child, the hybrid and all parties involved. Remember that these animals often retain a wolf’s primitive instincts, while losing the wild animal’s fear of humans. This can lead to an unpredictable and dangerous animal. Hybrids can also often challenge their owners for dominance, and this can result in serious injuries to the person involved. Even a defensive bite with no intent to harm can result in serious injuries.
There are many myths surrounding hybrids, and these often contribute to them being “sought after” as highly desirable pets. Some of the most popular are:
Myth: Wolf hybrids make better guard dogs.
Fact: Wolves are naturally shy, sometimes even timid, especially towards man. This inherent characteristic usually makes any aggression fear related, and difficult to control, rather than based on an inclination to protect.
Myth: Wolf hybrids live longer than dogs.
Fact: It has been well documented that wolves live 12 to 14 years in captivity, which tends to be the average life span of a large dog.
Myth: Hybrids are healthier than dogs and not prone to the same congenital diseases.
Fact: Wolves and dogs are prone to the same diseases. Usually, wolves die before they get a chance to pass on genetic ailments but scientists and employees at wolf-parks around the US have all reported wolves suffering from: hip dysplasia, cataracts, under and over shot jaws, tooth problems, mono and cryptorchidism (the absence of one or both testes from the scrotum), skin allergies and many others. There is also the fact that the effectiveness of rabies vaccines on these animals has been questioned over the years.
Myth: Northern breeds, especially Malamutes, are part wolf anyway.
Fact: Recent studies have shown that Malamutes and Huskies are no more related to wolves than any other breed, such as the Chihuahua or the Poodle.
Myth: Some of the dangers described are true, but only with regards to hybrids with a high percentage of wolf blood.
Fact: Hybrids with a higher percentage of dog blood tend to be more aggressive than hybrids with a higher percentage of wolf blood. Many breeders who deal in wolf hybrids set their prices based on the “wolf blood content” of their pups. There is no sound basis in biology or genetics for this. Breeding a pure wolf to a pure dog will produce an offspring with 50-50 genes, but when this offspring is bred to other 50-50 mixes only genetic testing can indicate which genes are passed to the offspring. The offspring may inherit a majority of the dog genes from both parents, and, basically look and behave like a dog, or the opposite, and be for all intents and purposes, a wolf. “Percentage” as calculated by the breeders (using their “pedigrees” and basic math) of these hybrids, is no guarantee of anything.
Here are some facts, as accumulated and reported by the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center:
– The majority of exotic pets, including hybrids, are dead before the age of three
– Because the treatment of hybrids is not covered under malpractice insurance, most veterinarians will not treat them.
– Currently, over 300,000 known hybrids exist in the US, and the population continues to grow.
– Wolf hybrids can be socialized and even tamed but they cannot be domesticated.
– It is impossible to determine that a dog contains wolf blood by appearance alone- Genetic testing is the only way to determine the percentage of wolf and dog.
– Because of liability issues, animal control agencies will not take in hybrids and animal shelters cannot place hybrids into new homes. This results in many hybrids being destroyed every year.
– There has never been an attack by a healthy, wild wolf on a human being in North America, however, between 1982 and 2012 there were 69 attacks on children, and 5 attacks on adults reported. Of those attacked, 19 were killed, and the rest seriously disfigured or maimed.
– Each time a hybrid attacks a person it is a set back to the reintroduction efforts of endangered, wild wolves. People assume that hybrid behavior and wild wolf behavior are one and the same – they are not.
Will all this keep people from breeding and owning these animals? It’s doubtful. The lure of the unusual, and in many cases, the potential for profit play a large role in the breeding of these hybrids. The hope is that the above-mentioned facts may make a few more people stop, think and take the time to make an educated decision as to whether or not to purchase such an animal. Proper facilities should be ready prior to the acquisition of the animal. Neighbors should be notified, city ordinances verified. Children below the size of an average 14 year old are always potentially in danger. Proper containment (a standard 6′ high chain link fence is not enough) is a must, along with proper information. Freedom of choice dictates the individual’s right to choose a hybrid as a companion, but along with that freedom comes the responsibility of ensuring the safety of all who may be exposed to said companion.
The Canadian Kennel Club
Policy Statement – Wolf-Dog Hybrid Species
The Canadian Kennel Club supports legislation intended to control or inhibit the perpetuation of the Wolf-Dog Hybrid species. This species has special needs, which are generally unknown to prospective owners. Lack of commitment to these needs can cause untold suffering to Wolf-Dog Hybrids and presents the risk of serious injury to people and other animals.