Wolf-dogs: Do hybrids make good family pets?

Capone

Having a furry friend that looks like a wolf and behaves like a dog might sound tempting, but many experts on wolves advise against keeping wolf-dog hybrids as pets.

After our report on Capone, the family pet suspected of being part wolf that has been seized by Aurora Animal Control, we wanted to know more about what hybrids are really like.

Behavior

The United Canine Association notes that hybrids are “generally good-natured,” very intelligent and energetic.

However, the UCA warns that a hybrid’s large size and high energy level do not make it a good choice for families with smaller children or smaller sized pets, especially cats.

The experts at Wolf Park, in Battle Ground, Indiana, acknowledge that hybrids will form a strong bond with their owners, but warn that it will be a “high maintenance” relationship.

“The bond achieved between hybrid and human is often stronger than that generally seen between dogs and humans,” the Wolf Park website states.

Large wolf hybrid laying in grass.
(Photo: ThinkStock)

They warn that achieving that type of bond requires beginning the socialization process before the pup is weaned and requires a much greater investment of time, money, and effort — throughout the hybrid’s entire life.

Even so, a human companion may not be enough for hybrids, which are very social.

According to the Dog Breed Info Center, hybrids should have at least one other canine companion.

Additionally, the behavior of hybrids can be inconsistent, unpredictable and challenging to manage, experts warn.

“The diversity of genetic composition even within one litter of hybrid pups leads to a wide range of appearances and behavior patterns among all hybrids,” according to the International Wolf Center.

Dogs and wolves have distinctly different behavior patterns when it comes to protecting their territory, and hybrids may fall anywhere on the spectrum between the two.

That can make hybrids more difficult to housebreak.

“The territorial instinct of wolves to protect their food source by establishing a home range through defecation and urination may be transferred to the owner’s home,” according to IWC.

The wolf’s natural instinct to roam can also make hybrids difficult to contain. Hybrids are notoriously good at jumping fences — and can even chew through some.

The DBIC says the fencing should be cattle panels, heavy duty chain link or vinyl. They note that hybrids have been known to bite through weaker chain link and wood fences. Hybrids that have a high content of wolf DNA may need a fence that is 6′-8′ tall.

Gray wolf-dog hybrid
(Photo: ThinkStock)

People hoping a hybrid will make a good guard dog may be setting themselves up for disappointment.

“Due to the shy nature of wolves, hybrids usually make poor protection dogs. Aggressive tendencies, if any, in the hybrid may be fear-induced and as such, can be unpredictable and hard to control,” the IWC states.

“[Hybrids] are often very fearful, preferring to hide from any stranger, they are NOT protective, you may get one or two warning barks/chuffs/howls to let you know there is a stranger present before the animal retreats,” the DBIC website states.

Genetics

Wolves can interbreed with any type of dog and their offspring are capable of reproducing, meaning the amount of wolf DNA in a hybrid can vary.

According to the Dog Breed Info Center, a hybrid that is 1-49 percent wolf is considered a Low Content, 50-74 percent is considered a Mid Content, and anything 75 percent or higher is considered a High Content.

“A High Content may have 1-3 dog traits but otherwise should be virtually indistinguishable from a pure wolf,” the website states.

Appearance

The color and physical appearance of a hybrid can vary.

They are typically born dark brown or black and phase into their colors over time, the DBIC states.

The most common colors for hybrids are a grizzled sable (agouti), white or black phased, according to the UCA.

Their eyes can be yellow, gray, brown, green or amber, and in rare cases, blue.

The average adult weight can range from 60 to 120 pounds.

Higher content hybrids will have more wolf traits, such as: a narrow chest and long legs, front legs that touch or almost touch when standing still, large feet with webbed toes, a long muzzle, a straight tail and a blended coat, according to the DBIC.

Lifespan

The average life expectancy for a hybrid is 12-15 years, according to the UCA. But others paint a much grimmer picture.

“The majority of exotic pets, including hybrids, are dead before the age of three,” the Endangered Wolf Center warns.

The tendency of hybrids to escape puts them at risk of being hit by a car.

On top of that, many veterinarians will not treat hybrids because it is not covered under malpractice insurance, according to the EWC.

That means hybrids may not be able to get vaccinations recommended for dogs. The effectiveness of those vaccinations on hybrids is still being studied.

Rescue

Rescue groups warn that many hybrids are euthanized each year because their owners are unprepared for the amount of time and effort they require, or are incapable of providing a large, secure enclosure.

Hybrids are illegal in many cities and states and animal shelters in those areas cannot place hybrids into new homes. This leaves wolf and hybrid rescue organizations overwhelmed.

In Colorado, the group called Wolves Offered Life and Friendship, or W.O.L.F., says they regularly receive inquiries from all over the world about hybrids in need of rescue.

W.O.L.F. can only accommodate 30 animals and generally operates at full capacity.

“Unfortunately, the captive bred wolf and wolf dog crisis is enormous and both funding and space are limited,” the website states.