Living With Wolves, Wolf-Dogs and Wolf-Hybrids
By Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D.
In writing this article I had a hard time trying to put into words our view of domesticating a wolf or hybrid as a pet. People see my Merlin, and think they want a wolf like that. But they’re making an assumption about Merlin and how “wolf” he really was.
So allow me to share our personal experience with Merlin our hybrid wolf. What we learned and what we knew way before we even got started on our personal relationship. What we discovered once he was with us from a puppy. And what you need to be aware of, before you even think about bringing a hybrid into your home.
I promise you’ll be glad you read all this and you’ll have a better idea of what you should consider and what to look out for if this is something you’re considering. This is not only something you should be cautious about for your family, but especially for the animal you’re thinking about bringing into your home.
Domesticating The Wolf
There are a great many things to consider before you bring any animal into your family pack. Whither it’s a dog or wolf-hybrid. Their natural instincts, diet, care and living conditions all should be considered as with any animal. But it’s important to keep in mind that these animals are social creatures. They’re not something you want to have as a status symbol you tie up and leave in your backyard. If you’re not going to make a hybrid part of your life, leave them where they are.
In his book “The Wolf Almanac”, Robert H. Busch puts the topic of domestication like this:
“One of the most serious problems faced by humane societies across North America is that of the exotic pets. The lure of something different and the social need for status symbols has created a demand for exotic pets of all kinds, including the wolf and wolf-hybrids. Some people see these animals as tangible symbols of the wilderness or have misplaced ideas about helping an endangered species by keeping one as a pet.”
He continues in his explanation,
“Wild animals belong in the wild, not in one’s home. No domestic situation can fulfill the mental or physical needs of a wild animal, no matter how much that animal is loved by its owner. “A Russian proverb states that ‘You may feed the wolf as much as you like, but he will always glance toward the forest.’” So please leave him there to begin with. And I totally agree with his assessment.
In 1997 I was having this discussion with a friend at work, who I discovered operates a sanctioned wolf hybrid rescue kennel. Who knew! I was saddened by some of the horror stories I heard from her about a number of the wolves she has rescued and a few she currently held on her farm/kennel. We also talked in depth about the lure of wanting to own a wolf and how a hybrid might be the answer to doing so legally and safely. But you need to know a few things.
First off, Robert Busch is exactly right in his view. Pure-blooded wolves and even high percentage wolf hybrids can become dangerous if they are not properly cared for and stimulated. They should not be considered as a family pet or kept as pets. They are unpredictable and you cannot, will not, take the wild out of their nature. No matter how much training you do, or how much time you spend with them; you do not know what they will do in high stress situations. That makes them very risky to keep as a pet. That’s not a bad thing about wolves. It’s a bad thing about humans who think it’s exciting to own a “wild thing” and keep it as part of their family.
But in talking about hybrids, what does high percentage content really mean? And is there a percentage that is ok to work and live with?
Wolf Content Classifications
There isn’t a federal standard, or any Kennel Club or Breed standard for wolves, hybrids or even most exotic dog breeds. Most people rely on State Government standards that are set by law to define the kind of exotic breed one can own, that are safe for the general public. So it’s a legal thing, more than a breed standard. And those laws aren’t set up to protect you the owner, or the animal in question either. They’re set up to protect the public.
My Rescue friend gave me a copy of the classification standard she was given when she began her center. At the time, this was a classification shared by several states. Most states in the U.S. have requirements for exotic animal ownership. If you violate those laws you can face hefty fines and potentially even jail time.
It’s also important to remember that these classifications are dependent upon Verifiable documentation. But don’t take that to mean that if you don’t have documentation you can get away with breaking the law. It takes a simple DNA test to determine how much wolf is in a hybrid. So if you acquire a Wolf-Hybrid and it causes a danger to someone, you will still be liable for its actions. And if you own an illegal hybrid mix, you could face jail time for the offense based on the issues that occurred. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. Not only for you, but for the Wolf or Wolf-hybrid as well. You may go to jail, and they maybe destroyed as the result of your negligence. So you must be cautious and careful.
Lineage is determined by the sire side parentage vs. the dam side. Example:
|Grandparent=Wolf -> Parent=Wolf
|Wolf=Parent <- Wolf=Grandparent
If any part of the parentage on the Sire side contains a Wolf, Wolf-Dog or Wolf-Hybrid of any type, the classification of the animal moves up to the previous Wolf-Dog or F1 classification. This makes more sense when you apply this to the content classifications below. The Sire is always listed first in a pedigree.
Wolf (100% Wolf Content)
Grandparent=Wolf -> Parent=Wolf & Wolf=Parent Parent=Wolf & Dog=Parent Parent=Wolf-Dog & Dog=Parent Parent=F1 & Dog=Parent Parent=F2 & Dog=Parent Parent=F3 & Dog=Parent The two F3s are not typeos, any F2 in the Sire parentage will be classified as an F3 Content hybrid.
These are barely considered to be hybrids. They may have wolf in their background more than 4 generations away. Most make good starters for the first time owner. They are more dog than wolf and typically without the aggressive characteristics. So if you want the look, but not the concerns this is the content to consider.
The Human Society of the United States currently counts over 200,000 wolf-dog hybrids in this country alone, are being kept as pets (at the time of this writing). Crossing a wolf with a Malamute, Husky or German Shepherd is the most common mix today. The theory is, mixing a wolf with a domesticated breed will some how dilute the ‘wild side’ of the wolf.
(Back to Robert Busch):
“Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, hybrids can be more aggressive than pure wolves, a lethal blend of wild predator and domestic animal that has lost its fear of man. Hybrids have a strong hunting instinct and have been known to regard small children as suitable prey.”
I have not found this to be the case. But then a lot depends on the animal. It’s dangerous to generalize over an entire breed. How the animal is cared for, feed and treated will dictate their interaction with humans.
All dogs have some hunting instinct. They chase cats and squirrels or whatever comes into their territory. One afternoon we were sitting in the back yard watching the sunset. I noticed a bird, a Cardinal to be specific, that caught Merlin’s attention. He was laying in the grass and didn’t move to get the bird. He simply watched it. When the bird decided to move along it took off from the top of the 5 foot fence and headed toward the opposite side of the yard. From a laying position Merlin jumped up and caught the bird out of thin air.
I was honestly shocked he moved that fast. He was really big, you don’t think something that large and heavy can move that fast. He held the bird in his mouth for a moment and then brought it to me. I guess it was a present “Look Mom, I got you something.” Luckily the poor little bird meet his demise quickly and didn’t suffer long. We buried him in the front yard by the rose bushes. Even if they’re not hunting for food, they have the potential to hunt. But I think this is true with any canine.
My Dalmatian hunted every squirrel she ever saw. Thankfully she never caught one. But she really didn’t like those little creatures and would chase them even when they were running from tree to tree. So I think Mr. Busch is putting a little too much emphasis on hybrids in this case.
Mr. Busch goes on to say, “Hybrids tend to be taller and heavier than most domestic mixed breed dogs and much stronger. Their wild nature makes them resistive to both training and confinement.” I have found this to be half true.
Merlin was considered to be a weight-hauling dog because he was mixed with Malamutes. He could pull three times his weight on a sled. That’s pretty strong when you consider he was about 120-130lbs. And he was BIG! When he stood on his hind legs he and I would see eye to eye and I’m 5’10”. He’s not as big as his daddy was. He was over 6’ when he stood up.
No matter how much love and care you think you can give to a high percentage hybrid, you can not replace the necessary exercise, mental stimulation and deep seeded need to be within a pack. So let’s talk about the pack attitude and hybrid behavior with some Merlin examples.
Merlin von Habbenhaus
First, Habbenhaus was his rescue Kennel’s name. Here I can share a few tales and explain some things you want to take into consideration for behavior, food and health.
Merlin was 8 weeks old when I brought him home. I thought I knew enough about wolves to adopt him and raise him. I was proven somewhat wrong in that arrogant assumption in the first week. But thanks to my friend Terry’s assistance, Merlin and I fumbled through the learning process and he was one of the greatest blessings in my life.
But not everyone is as fortunate to know someone such as my friend Terry who has rescued wolves for several decades. If it were not for her experience and knowledge, and willingness to help on a weekly basis, things could have turned out differently. But I was blessed and we had a wonderful life together.
Before Merlin came to me Terry and I talked about my knowledge of wolves, what the differences are between Dogs and Hybrids. How to exercise your dominance and maintain the Alpha state so they will listen to you. If you’re afraid to fight back, you’re not going to win the battle. If you’re scared of “hurting” your hybrid, you’re not going to maintain dominance. You will need to be equally aggressive when needs be. But let me make this clear, aggressive doesn’t mean abusive!
Through my life with Merlin I can tell you that wolves and wolf hybrids truly are not like a domesticated dog. I’ve never lived without a dog in my home. So with all that experience and knowledge of raising a dog, there were many things that I had to change to ensure Merlin and I had a healthy, happy and safe life. For both of us, not only for me or my human family. There were ways of doing things, feeding, training and accepting some of his eccentricities that one doesn’t have to do with a dog that needed to be considered.
As an example, when you bring a domesticated dog home he will search for his place within the family pack during the first week or two. Once he finds his place, he will be happy to stay in that position and be part of the family. Wolves and Hybrids ALWAYS challenge for their place in the pack. They constantly look for opportunities to move up and express their dominance over other members of the pack. If you are timid, or have children that are timid, the hybrid will dominate you!
There are many ways they’ll do this. If there’s food about, they will try to be at the front of the line. Think about the time you’re in the kitchen fixing a meal and in walks your teenager to chitchat. Who is the first to reach for a bite of whatever you’re cooking? Your hybrid is going to want some too. Pushing your kid or even you out of the way to get it, could come in many forms. He might nip at someone. He may simply push someone out of the way. He might try to put his front feet on the counter and help himself. Or herself. If you let your hybrid get away with it once, you’re going to have difficulty the second time. You must be forceful and tell them NO, at the same time you’re letting them know that wasn’t ok. Like pushing them down off the counter, or gently smacking them on the nose if they nipped at someone.
If you are female and bring home a male hybrid, you have less challenging to face. He will see you as the Alpha Female and submit to you based on your lofty female position in the family. But if he sees himself as the Alpha Male, he will still challenge your place in the pack when it comes to certain situations. If you take him for a walk and he wants to go left where you want to go right, guess which way you’ll probably go? In a pack the Alpha Male is still the senior wolf of the family. So you must use extra authority and make sure he understands you’re going right!
Because of this type of pull me, push you nature, you should get a strong harness for your hybrid when you go for any kind of walk. Don’t use a choke chain, you’re liable to damage their throat and cause more harm. Don’t use a snap harness, as they’re not reliable for the strength of these hybrids. So make sure the harness you choose has buckles. You’re going to do some serious pulling, make sure you’re strong enough to handle the fight. The last thing you want is for the harness to snap loose and your best friend takes off running down the street. Most weight hauling trainers will suggest a leather harness with buckles and reinforced rings. Spend the extra money and get one.
If you’re male with a male hybrid, good luck. You’re in for a constant springtime battle. We noticed that typically in the late winter to early spring, Merlin would challenge my partner Garrett in varying situations. Even in play. If Gary was playing with our female Dalmatian and he would get down on the floor to play tug with her. Merlin would come and try to push Garret down to the floor, somewhat gently gnawing on his arm, or outright nip at him.
Merlin would see these opportunities to test the waters to become the Alpha Male and take over that position from Gary. The more he got away with that, the more forceful his attempts at dominance would become the next time. So it’s important to remember playtime isn’t always play time to a hybrid. The answer is to attempt to push Merlin onto his back. Garret became very good at this. Using leverage and grabbing the opposite leg near the shoulder to use Merlin’s weight against him. Getting on his side was the biggest challenge. But once that’s done, you can maneuver yourself over him and hold him with his feet in the air to say “Sorry kid, I’m still the boss”. You don’t have to be cruel or abusive to do this. You’re human, use your mind over matter and think things through.
When Merlin was less than 6months old, I bought him a special treat. A BBQ beef bone from the local butcher. He was very excited to have his treat and he took it straight to my couch. Uh..NO!
Telling him he couldn’t eat that thing on the couch wasn’t enough of course. With a dog, I’d grab the collar and pull him off the couch and tell him no, making sure he stayed on the floor. And that’s what I attempted to do with Merlin. It didn’t work out so well. And the teeth holes he put in my forearm nearly needed stitches. But truth be told the bruise to the underlying muscle was much worse and lasted a lot longer.
Now in this situation I knew what to do because Terry and I had talked about this kind of thing. But it takes some courage, part of that Alpha dominance thing. I quickly grabbed his muzzle, his upper jaw to be specific and squeezed his gums onto his teeth. If you watch Momma wolves with their pups you’ll find many ways they assert their dominance and let the kids know what they can and cannot do. This is one of those exercises.
With his attention fully attained, I took the bone off the couch and told him “No” rather forcefully. You don’t have to yell. In fact it’s better if you don’t as yelling makes your voice go up a few octaves. You’re better off talking with an authoritative deeper tone similar to what you’d find in a wolf pack. Think of it as your growl. I put the bone on the floor and dragged him off the couch by the muzzle.
He picked up the bone and went right back to the couch. Again, I grabbed his muzzle, this time he had the bone tightly gripped so it was a little harder. But that allowed me to grab his collar and pull him off the couch. I told him NO again. He went right back to the couch.
I stopped and decided we need a bigger message here. This time I took the bone and turned his head like a screw so he had to let go of the bone. I took the bone and told him No. This time I took the bone to the kitchen and put it on top of the fridge. Yes he jumped on me to get it. Luckily I was expecting that and when he did it, I was ready to push him away so he nor I wouldn’t get hurt. I told him he could have the bone back in a little while.
Then I cleaned up my arm. I’m lucky my Mom was a retired Nurse and lived down the street. I called her and asked for help. She came over and checked out my arm. We clean it up rather well and thankfully Mom didn’t think I would need stitches. While we were doing all this Merlin was in the kitchen watching. I let him see how much I was bleeding and how badly he hurt me. Letting him sniff my arm went a long way with that. I really think he understood because his eyes and body language really changed. He honestly looked upset and sad that he hurt me. He was too excited when the bone was in play. But now in the kitchen with the bone out of his reach, he was calm enough to get the message.
When Mom was done with me, I got the bone, went to the living room, sat in the floor and held the bone for him. He came to grab it, but I held on to one end and allowed him to chew on the other side (it was a fairly big bone). This built trust between us. For the next several days, when he got his bone to chew on it, I’d sit in the floor with him and hold the bone with no issues. After this experience, when he had a new bone, he’d bring it to me and try to put it in my hand to hold for him. He trusted that I wouldn’t take his “food” or “treat” from him again and that it was easier for him to hold it if I helped.
Read up on Wolf behavior. Little things such as staring down your adversary are a key piece of body language to wolves and hybrids. So if you stare each other down, make sure they’re the one who looks away first. Seriously, it has meaning!
In extreme cases, you may have to put him on his back. This is what Gary had to do each breeding season. But once in a great while I too exercise dominance and this is how we did it. If Merlin got overly aggressive it was necessary to get him on his back, making sure we had access to his stomach. Think of it this way, you’re putting the hybrid in a vulnerable position. Their stomach and throat exposed, they are in a submissive position. You don’t have to hurt them. You don’t have to do anything but be over top of them in the dominate position.
Sometimes putting him on his back and holding him for 30 seconds or so was all that was needed. A few times, reminding him who the boss was took a little more force. In those cases I would straddle his stomach, and grab each side of his muzzle with both hands. There’s enough fur and protective blubber on a hybrids neck to get a good grip and hold on to. But you don’t want to do this lightly. You’re in a wolf fight, act like it.
You don’t want to grab them on the throat and choke them. You want to grab them on the sides, grab hold of the fur and blubber on the side of their jaw and hold their head down on the ground. Make sure you’re looking them in the eye and telling them in an authoritative tone NO. Tell them what they did wrong. They’ll understand more than you think they will. They’re smart! Don’t yell, don’t be mad, just be the pack leader.
Hybrids and Food
Regardless of content, all wolves and wolf-hyrbids have specific nutritional needs. Dogs in general are not vegetarians in any form. They are meat eaters and they need what meat has to offer them for mental and physical development. Wolves have trouble digesting corn and corn meal, which is common in dog foods. But other veggies and even fruits can be added to their diet. You cannot replace the proteins and minerals with supplements either. If you want a hybrid, please give it the respect and care it needs for a healthy life. No matter what your desire for nutrition is, please don’t pass that human concept onto your dog. They’re not people.
When you’re picking out dog food you’re going to have to read labels. Corn free dog food isn’t always easy to find and it’s often expensive. They love vegetables so try to find a mix of meat and veggies. They also like fruit. I would keep a basket of fruit on top of the microwave. That put the basket about 5 ft off the floor. Short enough for Merlin to stand on his hind legs and get to it.
One night I was sitting in the living room when he came in with something in his mouth. I realized it was an apple. He sat down in the middle of the floor and ate it. He liked bananas and he loved watermelon. He also liked salads. As I said before, PLEASE don’t try to turn a wolf or wolf-hybrid into a vegan or vegetarian! They need Meat in their diet! And if you don’t give it to them, they will go hunt for it. And that will cause you great heartbreak and problems.
Wolf and Hybrid Coats
They shed! All the time! But especially in the spring when their coats molt. They have an undercoat to keep them warm in winter. So they are not a companion you want in the warmer southern regions. You’ll burn them up. Even here in Virginia it can get fairly warm. On those hot summer days I made sure Merlin had plenty of water and stayed inside in the air conditioning as much as possible. We didn’t go out and exercises on those days. And the A/C was always set fairly cold for him. Between 70 and 73 in the summer. To help him keep cool, I brushed him each week and put ice cubes in his water.
A note on using ice water. If you’ve gone for a walk or played with your canine and they have become overheated, don’t give them ice water. You might think you’re helping to cool them down, but you could be endangering their life. Room temperature water is best if they’re too hot.
As a large breed, wolves and hybrids have a relatively short life span. Between 8 to 10 years. The smaller the breed, the longer it’s likely to live. If you want a companion that will be around for 20 to 25 years, get a Chihuahua. Wolves and hybrids are susceptible to the same disease as any dog breed. Cancer is still the highest cause of death in canines and that’s true for wolves and wolf-hybrids.
On that note, here’s another health issue to consider. Long nosed dogs have a higher rate of nasal cancer than other breeds. And this applies to Wolves and Wolf Hybrids. We lost Merlin in 2007 to this very disease. He will always be a big part of my life and I still miss him each and every day.
We howled in the morning when we woke up and we howled each night when we went to bed. We snuggled, mostly in the winter. I think he often thought he had to help keep me warm. In the summer he liked swimming in the kiddie pool or the nearby creek we visited. He was a lot of fun and truly my pride and joy.
Duke came into my life when I meet my first husband. He was honestly the best part of that relationship. He and I hit it off from the get go.
Because of his looks, I use Duke as the example of how ‘exotic’ a domesticated mix breed can be. If you want to own a wolf, choose a domesticated breed that already has the “look”. You’ll save yourself a great deal of time and effort. Not to mention concern and consideration for the animal.
Duke was a mixed breed of Alaskan Husky and Belgian Shepherd. Both of these AKC breeds have a close history to the wolf in their evolution, thus Duke comes across as a wolf hybrid. But he wasn’t. He was all dog and he had little of the instincts and nature that Merlin had.
I encourage anyone thinking of owning a hybrid to find that special domesticated mix-breed, first. They look like a wolf hybrid, but come without the special considerations of the wolf for his characteristics and behaviors. Their diet restrictions aren’t as severe and they’re still beautiful animals. And you can teach any dog to howl. Our Dalmatian would always howl along with Merlin and I.
Wolves are beautiful animals and they deserve to be respected and protected. That starts with leaving them in wild when ever possible. Don’t let them end up in a cage at a rescue farm. Don’t put them in harms way to be taken by animal control and put down because some neighbor complained about your wolf, or worse some neighbor shot your hybrid because it got out of your yard.
People in general often have a misconception about wolves and hybrids. So if you do find one to adopt, make sure you introduce them to your neighbors. Or at the very least talk to your neighbors about your new family member and make sure they have an understanding of what to expect living next door, or across the street.
Merlin was the best part of my life when it comes to an animal in our family. He loved our son and helped watch over him while he was here with us. And our son truly loved the big Goof.
He became great friends with my partner and though they had their challenges each spring, they too watched over each other throughout the year.
We have a lot of fantastic memories with our big Monster. And it was very hard saying good bye when we lost him to cancer. But I’m honored we were able to be there when he left us and could hold him in my arms. We shared our memories on our memorial page for Merlin: In Memory of Merlin
Adopting Merlin and giving him a forever home is one of the proudest things I’ve been able to do. It wasn’t easy. I learned a lot. And if I had the chance, I’d do it again.
© 1997-2015 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D., Springwolf’s Creations. All Rights Reserved.