Living with Wolfdogs
What to Consider When Considering a Wolfdog
Why a Wolfdog?
There are many factors to consider before jumping into wolfdog ownership. First, think long and hard about why you want an animal that is part wolf. If you are experienced with dogs, have done your research, and understand the time and effort involved in sharing your life with these beautiful, intelligent, sometimes challenging companions, great. But be honest. Examine your motivations to be sure you do not want a wolfdog for the wrong reasons. It is understandably tempting to get a gorgeous, exotic creature to show off to others. Who wouldn’t appreciate the oohs and aahs of onlookers as you walk your lanky, wild-looking companion down the street? But as with humans, relationships based on looks alone do not usually fare well once the infatuation phase has passed. Besides, the more wolfy-looking the animal, the more wolfy-acting, which can translate into serious behavior issues that can be difficult to handle.
Some people feel that by having an animal that is part wolf, they can “own” a piece of the wild. But as any wolfdog owner will tell you, the incredible amount of time and effort involved in sharing one’s life with a wolfdog inevitably makes it feel as though the wolfdog owns you! Then there are those who believe the wolf is their spiritual totem animal, so they long to share their life with one. While I have a solemn respect for that spiritual belief system, there is a big difference between a wolf on the astral plane and a wolf in your living room. For one thing, your spirit guide is not as likely to eat holes in your couch!
Beagles are Legal, What About Wolfdogs?
In some states, wolfdogs are perfectly legal; in others, they are absolutely illegal. Some states allow wolfdogs of a certain percentage or less, while others allow ownership if a permit is obtained. Laws can vary from county to county within the same state. Take the time to research legalities in your area. Why are legalities so important? Because in a wolfdog-banned area, if your wolfdog gets out of your yard, you might not get him back. Double those odds if he injures a neighbor’s animal or is even suspected of posing a threat. Your local Department of Animal Control is a good place to start. Make an anonymous call and ask about the laws in your area. Repeat the inquiry at various times to verify the information with different officers; very often wolfdog ownership is a grey area about which animal control workers are not well informed.
Home is Where the Pack Is
The next consideration is your lifestyle. Do you honestly have enough time to devote to a very social, pack-oriented companion? If you and your spouse work full-time outside the home and plan to leave your wolfdog home alone five days a week, please reconsider. Early socialization and training are critical to a pup’s development. This life stage in particular will require a lot of your time and attention. It’s like having an infant! Even in adulthood, wolfdogs need attention. Those isolated in back yards all day can become bored and extremely destructive, and many quickly become accomplished escape artists. They are also likely to howl, which will not make you popular with your neighbors and might even incur the wrath of Animal Control.
Do you take frequent business trips? Wolfdogs bond so closely with their owners that yours will probably be miserable for prolonged periods away from you. Does your family vacation now and then? Be aware that some boarding kennels will not accept wolfdogs and many do not have the proper facilities to house them (i.e., escape-proof, covered pens). Is there someone you could count on to watch your wolfdogs while you are away? Now is the time to consider and prepare for those situations.
If you work full-time and already have a wolfdog who is left alone daily, consider providing a canine companion. It does not necessarily need to be another wolfdog—a dog of comparable size and complimentary temperament, preferably of the opposite sex, will do. I do not know of any breed of dog that enjoys isolation, but it does seem to be particularly hard on wolfdogs.
Marigolds vs. Moon Craters
About your back yard: How attached are you to those flower beds? A wolfdog is a poor choice for those who have immaculate landscaping and intend to keep it that way. If you can live with a landscape of dirt and moon craters, great. If not, think again. Now, I am assuming here that you have a yard. I have known people who lived in apartments and got wolfdogs; those are the same people who ended up phoning a rescue center, desperate to give up their animal. Wolfdogs are not suited for apartment living, period. They need room to run and can become extremely destructive when left alone in a small, confined environment. While a pet dog might get bored and chew your slippers, I personally know of numerous wolfdogs who have eaten holes in couches, torn up linoleum, and even eaten through dry wall when left alone in apartments. Will they all do this? No. Are they capable of it? Oh, yes. Do you really want to take that chance?
Before leaving your yard, let’s discuss containment. What type of fencing do you have? Standard chain link fencing is six feet high—not a challenge for most wolfdogs to scale. Even a pure Husky can get over a six-foot wall without much effort. If your current fencing is not adequate to contain a wolfdog, read the section on containment and decide whether you want to invest the necessary time, effort and money to upgrade. Proper containment is a must. I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough. Proper containment can literally save your wolfdog’s life. Some people consider a chain to be “containment.” Chaining an animal is never acceptable as a primary, permanent means of containment. Any chained animal could become frustrated and injure itself trying to break free. A chained dog could easily become possessive of the small, surrounding chain-delineated territory, setting the stage for a tragic “accident” should anyone invade that space. This is a classic scenario in which children have been bit by wolfdogs, and is wholly avoidable.
Getting To Know You
Hope you don’t mind if we get personal for a moment. Are you married or living with someone? If so, how does that person feel about sharing space with a wolfdog? If you sense any opposition, don’t get one. Someone who is not crazy about the idea to begin with is apt to become even less enthused with each accident or incident that occurs; and believe me, there will be many. It takes love, patience, and a great sense of humor to live successfully with a wolfdog. If you do not have 100% commitment from your partner, your chances of success are low.
Continuing on a personal note, what are your plans for the next ten to fifteen years? Wolfdogs in captivity have approximately the same lifespan as most large domestic dogs. If you are at a point in your life where the present is unstable or the future uncertain (e.g., you are considering going away to college or moving to another state, are financially unstable or in the midst of a divorce), do not get a wolfdog at this time. Wait until your life settles down and you can make a long-term commitment. What about children? Perhaps you do not currently have children and are not planning to have them in the immediate future. But what about a few years down the road? Calls from people who tearfully explain, “We have a baby now so the wolfdog has to go” are all too common. If you plan to have children and anticipate a wolfdog becoming a problem at that time, don’t get a wolfdog.
Strange, Small Two-Legged Creatures
Let’s talk for a moment about children and dogs—not wolfdogs, just plain old dogs. Many rescues and shelters will not adopt dogs out to families with children under six years of age. Their logic is that young children cannot be counted upon to interact safely
with dogs. A child teasing or slapping a dog might elicit a growl or snap, and rightly so. Children are also likely to make sudden sounds or movements that can scare dogs. Even if a dog is not acting defensively, any large canine is capable of injuring a child by simply knocking them down or playing too roughly. Of course, no young child should be left alone unsupervised with any dog, even for a moment.
Now let’s consider wolfdogs. Wolfdogs are commonly a mix of wolf and Malamute, German Shepherd or Husky. Male wolfdogs average 80-90 pounds; weights of 100 pounds or more are not uncommon. Females weigh 60-85 pounds on average. Any animal of that size and strength certainly has the potential to injure a small child, even accidentally. Then there is the question of prey drive. Wolves have a stronger prey drive than most dogs. In the wild, a small animal running or squealing is likely to elicit a prey response. With wolfdogs, movement and crying can trigger prey drive. In the Los Angeles area, the majority of reported cases of wolfdogs attacking children in the 1990s involved a child moving past on a skateboard, bicycle, or running. (Info courtesy of West Valley Animal Care & Control, Chatsworth, CA.) In each case, movement triggered prey drive. (Of course, had the owners had proper containment, those accidents could have been avoided.) This is not meant to give the impression that all wolfdogs will “hunt” small children. However, because of the reasons mentioned here, combined with a wolf’s lightning-fast reflexes, wolfdogs are not recommended for families with small children. Care should always be taken with wolfdogs in public places, particularly off-leash dog parks, especially when children are present. If you have a wolfdog, letting him off-leash in public is putting him at risk; if he hurts another dog or person, even in self-defense, he is the one who will suffer.
Wolfdogs have been known to chase and kill cats, bunnies, birds, horses, livestock and smaller dogs. If you have any of these living with you, consider carefully the temperaments of all concerned before you bring a wolfdog into your home. Will all wolfdogs go after small animals? No. Many wolfdogs live peaceably side by side with other animals, especially if raised together. (See Compatibility/Integrating your Pack). Others do not.
Are you looking for a house dog who will curl up on the couch with you to watch White Fang? While many low and some mid content wolfdogs can live in the house, the majority of true high contents end up living in outdoor enclosures. If they come indoors at all, the visits are carefully supervised. Of course, a high content wolfdog can live in the house as a pup—so could a baby mountain lion. But as they mature, many high content wolfdogs cause so much destruction that their owners decide something must be done. If an outdoor enclosure cannot be built, that “something” is often to relinquish the animal to a rescue or shelter. There are a few hardy souls who live with high content wolfdogs indoors. However, most have made significant compromises in their living arrangements. If you are the type who collects fragile knickknacks and likes an immaculate house, do not get a wolfdog of any percentage.
Homeowners should be aware that many insurance companies will not insure a home that houses wolfdogs. Breed-specific legislation is becoming common in many states, and certain breeds have been designated as potentially dangerous. Wolfdogs are almost always on that list. A quick call to your insurance company can help you to ascertain whether there are canine-specific limitations on homeowner’s insurance for your area.
Although it might not seem like a major factor, consider your financial situation. Feeding a large dog can be costly. A forty- pound bag of quality kibble can cost thirty dollars or more. Veterinary care is another expense, from checkups, vaccinations, infections, allergies and the like, to unforeseen accidents and surgery. (Speaking of veterinarians, is there one in your area who will treat wolfdogs? Many will not.) Add to that the cost of upgrading your existing fencing or building proper containment, which can range from a few hundred dollars for a small pen to over a thousand dollars for a large enclosure, and decide whether you can or want to make that kind of financial investment.
You are probably beginning to realize that there is a lot to consider before getting a wolfdog. I am not trying to paint a bleak picture or discourage you from sharing your life with a wolfdog if you are in the right situation to do so. My goal is to prevent wolfdogs from eventually ending up in rescue centers or euthanized. While many people feel that the challenges of living with these loving, intelligent companions are well worth the rewards, others become overwhelmed by those challenges and give up. Consider the information in this book, read everything you can get your hands on, talk to wolfdog owners and visit with their animals. Then and only then can you make a responsible, informed decision.
If you are a first-time potential wolfdog owner, consider getting a Malamute or Husky first. Those breeds share some of the same physical and behavioral traits as wolfdogs, and are a good way to evaluate whether you really want a dog who might be even more high maintenance. If you decide to get a wolfdog, choose a low content. If you have had wolfdogs before, consider adopting from a rescue group. Rescue centers across the country are overflowing with wolfdogs who would love to share your home. At the very least, do not purchase a wolfdog from a “backyard breeder” where temperament and other factors have not been carefully considered.
If you already share your life with wolfdogs be responsible, get them neutered, keep them properly contained, and educate others. And now, on to the specifics of living with wolfdogs!