What is a Wolfdog?
Simply put, the definition of a wolfdog is a canine with a mixture of dog
and wolf ancestry that displays a blend of some wolf-like physical and
behavioral traits. Many of today’s wolfdogs are the offspring of animals that
have been bred in captivity for many generations. They are typically a
mix of wolfdog bred to another wolfdog rather than a mix between a pure
wolf and a pure dog.
Some narrow the definition of a wolfdog as an animal with only recent pure
wolf heritage. They go on to stipulate that there must be a pure wolf used
in the breeding within the past 4 generations while others say within 6
generations. We do not follow this belief. We have seen far too many
animals that lack this recent wolf heritage who still carry many of the wolf
physical and behavoiral traits. So we consider any animal with both wolf and dog heritage
that demonstrate the classic intensity of behaviors to be a wolfdog. We realize this is a
broad spectrum, but there are so many variables in the wolfdog “breed” that we just don’t
feel it is reasonable to drop the wolfdog label by using the generational theory.
Is it Really a Hybrid?
Historically, the cross between a wolf and a dog or any mix of the two has often been referred to as a hybrid or a wolf-dog hybrid. In the 1990s people began to take on the postmanteau method of blending words and began to call the cross the Wolfdog. In 1993 the American Society of Mammalogists reclassified portions of the Genus canis. In so doing they moved the domesticated dog (then called canis familiaris ) from its own species to a subspecies of the gray wolf canis lupus familiaris. When this reclassification occurred everyone jumped on the bandwagon saying that the term "hybrid" was technically incorrect, as a hybrid is considered to be the offspring from the breeding of animals from two different species.
But those people forgot what they learned in their high school science classes. There are two types of hybridization used in the mammal world:
Interspecific - hybridization of different species with the same genus -- The coyote and a dog (known as a coydog)
Intraspecific - breeding of subspecies of the same species and genus -- Wolf and dog
So in reality, a wolf-dog cross is a hybrid animal. It is no longer considered an interspecific hybrid due to the taxonomy changes, but it is still considered and intraspecific hybrid.
Is it Domesticated?
According to the Animal Welfare Act “crosses between wild animal species and domestic animals, such as dogs and wolves….are considered to be domestic animals” (Title 9 9CFR1.1), but today’s wolfdog is far from being a domesticated dog such as a lab or retriever. Over thousands of years man has artificially selected animals with desirable features or characteristics to reproduce to create dogs with greater hunting abilities, specific looks, and companionship. It amazes us that the original wolf had the genetic diversity in his DNA to create more than 300 different dog breeds around the world. But through this process of artificial selection we have seen an evolution of the canine species. Through the domestication process man has also altered predatory motor patterns, behaviors and the critical development phases.
We now have a variety of body types from the Chihuahua to the Bull Mastiff. We have head shapes that still slightly resemble that of the wolf in German Shepherds, but we also have the short muzzles of the boxer or pug and the long, slim head of the Greyhound and Whippet. Changes in head structure have led to reduced brain size and a reduction in some sensory capabilities such as sight and hearing. It has also drastically reduced the dog’s facial communication capabilities. Estrus cycles have also been altered through domestication. The female wolf typically comes into her first heat just prior to her second birthday and then cycles annually. A male wolf is only fertile from November – April and like the female is not fully fertile until at least 19 months old. The domestic dog can be fertile at 6 months old. Most female dog breeds have two cycles a year and a male will be fertile year round.
We do not see these same changes in most wolfdogs at this stage in their development. It takes many generations of selective breeding to reach a level where the animal has changed genetically into what we would classify as a domesticated dog breed. So regardless how the federal government classifies the wolfdog, in science it has not reached the domesticated stage, but is considered a tame animal.
What Makes a Wolfdog?
There is no breed standard for the wolfdog as we see in dog breeds. Because of this, breeders have historically set their own standards for what they want their lines to look and act like. This has produced a variety of animals all labeled as wolfdogs. Breeders have used a number of different subspecies (many now extinct or reclassified) of wolf ranging from canis lupus arctos, columbianus, hudsonicus, lycaon, mackenzii, nubilis, occidentalis, pambasileus, and tundrarum. Each of these subspecies brought a variety of looks to their lines.
The dog breeds most often used in the breeding of wolfdogs are German Shepherd, Alaskan Malamute and the Siberian Husky. Although some breeders haven’t stopped there. Today we also see additional northern breed dogs mixed into the pedigrees such as Great Pyrenees, Alaskan Huskies, American Eskimo dogs. Many pedigrees include animals with Norwegian Elkhound, white German Shepherd, Collie, and Chow.