Owning a Wolf or Wolfdog

DOES WOLF HAVEN SELL WOLF OR WOLFDOG PUPS?

Wolf Haven International is opposed to the breeding, selling, owning, trafficking and promoting of wolves and/or wolfdogs as pets. They are often purchased by people who are unaware of the animals’ unique physical and social needs, behavioral traits, and possible characteristics. The majority of our rescues are from private ownership that didn’t work out well for the human – or the animal.

DO MANY PEOPLE CALL WOLF HAVEN ABOUT WOLFDOGS?

Wolf Haven receives a surprisingly large number of phone calls, email messages and Facebook posts from individuals desperate to find a new home for their “pet” wolf or wolfdog. Unlike domestics (dogs and cats), these animals cannot be “rehomed” through normal channels of adoption (e.g. shelters, rescues) for liability reasons.

ARE THERE WOLFDOG SANCTUARIES IN THE UNITED STATES?

There are some wolfdog sanctuaries around the country, but not nearly enough to accommodate the large number of animals in need of placement. It is much easier to attain a wolfdog than it is to find placement for one. Many people who purchase a wolf or wolfdog as a pet find themselves in over their heads and as a result, most of these animals are displaced, abandoned, abused, or neglected; sadly, the majority of them are euthanized by the ages of two or three, when they reach sexual maturity and begin to display natural, instinctive behaviors.

DOES WOLF HAVEN HAVE ANY WOLFDOGS?

Wolf Haven has a handful of resident wolfdogs, but our primary mission is To conserve and protect wolves and their habitat.  In addition, we do not have the space to house every wolfdog in need, and if space opens in our sanctuary, captive-born, displaced wolves in need of a home remain our priority.

WHAT EXACTLY IS A WOLFDOG?

A wolfdog is a canid that contains both wolf and dog DNA as a result of crossing any combination of wolf and dog (e.g. wolf x dog, wolfdog x dog, wolf x wolfdog, etc.). Wolves and dogs can make a dangerous mix and very often instead of getting the best of both wolf and dog traits, owners end up with the less desirable ones.

CAN I FIND OUT THE PERCENTAGE OF WOLF OR OF DOG IN AN ANIMAL?

Breeders and owners often use percentages to describe – and put a price tag on – their wolfdogs, but these estimations are grossly misleading because there is no way to control or determine which genes are inherited and expressed in their animals. The science of genetics just doesn’t work that way.  As a result, there is a great deal of unpredictability in looks and behavior between individuals.

ISN’T THERE ANY WAY TO DETERMINE HOW MUCH OF AN ANIMAL IS WOLF OR DOG?

Phenotyping wolfdogs according to physical and behavioral characteristics provides a more accurate description. Wolfdogs fall into one of three categories: low, mid or high content depending upon how “wolfy” an animal looks and behaves. However, given the great variability and unpredictability of these animals, content levels are not always a true indicator of a particular animal’s true nature. Unfortunately, even dogs that look like wolves pay the price for the intentional breeding of wolves with dogs. If a pure dog is mislabeled as a wolfdog and surrendered to a shelter, the animal often cannot be adopted out and will probably be euthanized.

WHAT IF I RAISED A WOLF FROM A PUP? WOULDN’T HE OR SHE BOND TO ME?

Wolves are remarkably powerful animals with innate behaviors (predatory, territorial) that can’t be suppressed even with the best training and socialization. Wolves are genetically “hard- wired” differently from our dogs, which were domesticated over thousands of years. Dogs look to us for their survival- wolves do not. Dogs also have been deliberately bred to look to humans for attention, companionship and approval. Wolves look to other wolves for their affirmation – not humans.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH HAVING A WOLFDOG THEN? ISN’T THAT THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS?

Keep in mind, wolves were designed by the pressures of nature (natural selection) whereas dogs have been designed by the pressures of humans (artificial selection). When we combine the two, the result is often a conflicted animal who is caught between two worlds. Wolves are evolutionarily designed for living in family groups, hunting large prey, and traveling long distances. By forcing wolves and wolfdogs (particularly higher content) to conform to our human-centric lifestyle, we frustrate their natural inclinations. Often those frustrations manifest in ways that owners find undesirable.

WHAT ARE SOME SPECIFIC DIFFICULTIES I MIGHT HAVE IF I OWN A WOLF OR WOLFDOG?

Due to their high intelligence and social complexity, wolves and wolfdogs can be extremely restless and bored (resulting in destructive and compulsive behaviors). They are usually hyper-sensitive to their environment and far more reactive to negative stimuli than domestic dogs. They are also extremely agile and strong, and they are skilled jumpers, diggers, and climbers,  making them difficult to contain. Wolves and wolfdogs have a strong prey drive that cannot be controlled through human commands, and any small running creature can be seen as prey to the animal – rabbit, cat, or child. They are also extremely territorial which can result in hyper-vigilant resource guarding.

I LIVE ALONE AND WANT A WOLF (OR WOLFDOG) TO PROTECT ME.

Adult wolves possess a healthy fear of people, making them predictable in their response to human activity. Usually wolves seek escape when humans are near, which is an adaptive behavior that promotes survival in the wild. Dogs have very different adaptive behaviors, such as playfulness, loyalty and protectiveness, which promote their survival as companions for people. Wolfdogs can inherit a wide range of wolf and dog behaviors, causing individual wolfdogs to be highly unpredictable in their response to both familiar and unfamiliar situations and stress factors.

IT’S TOO LATE. I ALREADY “OWN” A WOLF (OR WOLFDOG), BUT CAN’T KEEP HIM OR HER. WHAT CAN I DO?

While we do not condone private ownership of these animals, we recognize that there are currently thousands of wolfdogs bred and sold each year into the pet industry, many of whom need rehoming. If you are an owner and have found yourself in a situation where you can no longer care for your “pet” wolf or wolfdog, please contact our sanctuary director, Wendy Spencer, at wendy@wolfhaven.org. Provide photos and a description of your animal(s) and the reason you need to rehome your animal and we will try and refer you to someone who can assist with placement.

Recommended Reading:

Part Wild: One Woman’s Journey with a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs – Ceiridwen Terrill

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