Updated: Jan 23, 2021
I was going to blog on a completely different topic today, but then a friend sent me a link to a news story that just about blew my mind. Apparently, a prison in Louisiana has hit upon a brilliant idea to help with security in the face of budget cuts: using a “wolfdog” to patrol the prison grounds. Yes, you heard that right. Oh, and it’s not their first wolfdog. They’re actually breeding them for the purpose. Is there steam coming out of your ears yet? Because there should be.
There is so much wrong with this story that it’s hard to know where to begin. For those not familiar with wolfdogs, there is no actual breed standard. Most are mixes of wolf with Alaskan Malamute or Siberian Husky, two breeds widely accepted to be closest to the wolf in looks and behavior. With wolfdogs, the higher the wolf content, the more the animal will look and act like a wolf. And wolves are skittish. They’re afraid of humans—and good for them! It helps to keep them alive in the wild. What wolfdogs are not are watchdogs or guard dogs. As I said in my book Living with Wolfdogs, they’ll watch all right…from under your bed as someone walks out the front door with your stereo.
The ironic part about this story is that the dog in the photo doesn’t even appear to be a wolfdog, but a malamute mix. I’m not sure what the line, “He’s aggressive toward certain people at certain times” means exactly, but it sounds an awful lot like a description of a malamute mix with aggression problems. That’s a dog who needs behavior modification, not encouragement to become more aggressive! In fact, a second news story revealed that the dog was given up by its owners due to aggression issues, and was “spared euthanasia…and was sentenced as a life sentence as a patrol dog” at the prison instead. The Warden had asked the judge to intervene and not put Chief to sleep. While this might have been a compassionate move, the end result is not. The Warden stated, “The dogs are afraid of lighning and thunder, but have houses of their own where they can escape inclement weather.”(Know how much lightning and thunder Lousiana gets? A lot.) The bottom line is, there are breeds such as Malinois and German Shepherds that, assuming the individual dog has the proper temperament, excel at guard and protection work. I can’t think of any possible justification for using wolfdogs for this purpose instead, much less breeding them. Chief will join six other wolfdogs who are already employed at the prison for guard purposes.
There are enough misconceptions out there about wolfdogs already. Do we really need for people to believe that they’re aggressive, too? Most are not. If anything, they have fear issues. Look, a wolfdog is not going to make a great pet for the average person. They can be a lot more to handle behaviorally than a typical dog, and they require special knowledge of proper containment and much more. That people might see this news story and think Wow, that’s a great idea, let’s get a wolfdog for protection! makes me physically ill. Added to that is the issue of breeding these “wolfdogs”— when someone sees that photo and believes that malamute mix is a wolfdog, and then goes out and ends up getting what turns out to be the real thing, they’re in for a rude awakening.
I’ve seen more wolfdogs euthanized over the years than I care to remember, all because someone thought they’d make a great pet but had no idea what they were getting into. When the owners gave up, the dog had nowhere to go. All I can say is that I truly hope the powers that be at the prison will reconsider, and go back to using dogs who are better suited to the task at hand.
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