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Do Wolfdogs Make Good Pets?


For centuries, wolves — incredibly charismatic, highly social and extremely intelligent — have held a special place in our consciousness, starring in as many nightmares as they have in paintings and pop songs. With their bigger brains, stronger muscles, and teeth and jaws many times more powerful than any dog’s, they’re also quite dangerous, capable of killing an elk, a moose, even a bison.


It’s both understandable and surprising that people want to take a bit of that wildness home in the shape of a wolf/dog mix — or “wolfdog” — which some consider to represent the best of both worlds: a dog’s friendly companionship paired with a wolf’s good looks and untamed nature. Buy a wolfdog, the thinking goes, and live out your Jack London fantasies, even if you’re in Akron rather than Anchorage.


As with many things, reality is not so simple. Wolfdogs are perhaps the most misunderstood — and, many would argue, mismanaged — animals in America. Advocates say they can be wonderful pets, while opponents argue that they’re unpredictable, untrainable and inherently dangerous. They’re permitted in some places, forbidden in others and are showing up on breedban lists, along with Pits and other so-called “dangerous breeds.”


What’s more, there’s no approved rabies vaccination for wolfdogs. While the federal government officially sees them as domestic pets (and leaves their regulation to individual states and municipalities), they’re treated as wild animals when it comes to rabies. Thus, the wolfdog who bites a person can be considered a rabies risk — even if he’s been vaccinated — because the USDA, which regulates veterinary medicines, does not extend approval for use of the standard rabies vaccine with “hybrids” (the vaccine is approved for use in dogs, cats, ferrets and horses). Euthanasia is necessary, the USDA says, because the only reliable test for rabies requires an examination of the animal’s brain.


Wolfdog owners are encouraged to vaccinate their animals, but to do so, they have to make a tough choice: lie to their veterinarian about the animal’s lineage or sign a waiver stating that they understand that the vaccine is being used “off-label” on a hybrid animal and thus cannot be relied upon to deliver full protection against rabies, and that their animal can be impounded and put down if it bites someone — a high-stakes gamble, and one for which the wolfdog could pay with his life.


When it comes to their legal status, the regulations are literally all over the map. At the time of this article’s publication, it’s illegal to keep one as a pet in Alaska, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Dakota and Rhode Island. However, in some of these states — Alaska, Michigan and North Dakota — a wolfdog can be “grandfathered” in. Other states — Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Utah — don’t regulate ownership on a state level, instead leaving it up to individual counties. Among the states that allow wolfdogs, many require the owner to obtain a permit, or mandate registration and/or confinement in specific kinds of cages. In some states (New York, for example), that means getting a “dangerous animal” permit — the same type needed to keep a lion.


And, legal or not, wolfdogs pose significant behavioral challenges for owners, many of whom are unable or unwilling to meet them, thus creating a large population of unwanted animals who wind up chained in backyards, abandoned or euthanized.


“These are beautiful animals, and a lot of people are attracted to something that’s exotic and different,” says Nicole Wilde, a wolfdog expert and author of Wolfdogs: A–Z (nicolewilde.com). “They want to own a piece of the wild, and they often say that the wolf is their spiritual sign or totem animal. Unfortunately, they don’t realize that it’s not really the same thing as having a wolf in their living room.”




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Submitted by Beware Pseudo S... | December 5 2012 |

No dog can be a quarter wolf. Dogs and wolves are different species, and one of the defining traits of a species is the ability to mate with one another and produce fertile offspring. Cross-species hybrids are infertile and cannot mate (that's why a donkey and horse can make a mule, but mules themselves can't make more mules). So yes, half-wolves do exist, but if anyone tells you they own a quarter-wolf dog, they're misinformed.

Submitted by Susan M. | May 30 2013 |

The statement above is incorrect, because dogs and wolves are *not* different species. The domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) is a subspecies of the gray wolf, Canis lupus. Dog-wolf hybrids remain fully interfertile with both dogs or wolves beyond the first generation.

Speciation is a *process.* The definition of a species as a population being unable to produce fertile offspring with a different species is useful, but is in some cases arbitrary. The coyote, Canis latrans, is classed as a different species than the wolf (and by extension, domestic dog). In the case of coyote-dog hybrids, it can take several generations of interbreeding, not one, for health and fertility problems to manifest. There is reason to believe, however, that the coyote is much more interfertile with the wild wolf than with the domestic dog, and that ongoing hybridization is going on in the wild between coyotes and wolves in some areas of North America. Genetic analysis of the red wolf of the southeastern U.S. indicates it is a hybrid species - a combination, over many generations, of wolf and coyote.

Submitted by Kira | October 1 2013 |

A great reference is a book called PART WILD by ceiridwen terrill. She covers her experience with the wolf-dog she owned and actually DOES the research in understanding the orgins of wolves and dogs, and if they are linked. She visits research facilities and so on.

Submitted by David | June 7 2013 |

A wolfdog is fertile and can reproduce. Dogs and wolves both have 78 chromosomes. Your mule example refers to a hybrid with an uneven number of chromosomes, but even then there are gender scenarios that can result in A fertile donkey/Horse hybrid....

Submitted by Isabelle | January 3 2013 |

I own a wold/husky hybrid. Her name is Lisha. The wolf in her does NOT make her wild, or crazy, or even dangerous. Instead it makes her intelligent, beautiful, and courageous. It really kills me a little bit every time I hear someone calling her evil, or dangerous. Lisha is my life. DEAL WITH IT!

Submitted by Mik | January 12 2014 |

But is your dog a safe good dog? All wild animals are good but like the article stated people dont know what there getting into.

Submitted by Isabelle | January 3 2013 |

I own a wold/husky hybrid. Her name is Lisha. The wolf in her does NOT make her wild, or crazy, or even dangerous. Instead it makes her intelligent, beautiful, and courageous. It really makes me so sad every time I hear someone calling her evil, or dangerous. Lisha is my life. DEAL WITH IT!

Submitted by Marysue | January 14 2013 |

That's better than being killed by Lisha, I suppose.

Submitted by Wolf-dog owner | November 4 2013 |

I agree that not all people would be the best owners of a wolf-dog. Anyone that is planning on making a wolf-dog their pet needs to be prepared for the amount of work essential to caring for a hybrid. They need constant attention when it comes to training, entertaining, and maintaining their fur coat. This dog is not for the unexperienced. They are big (120 lbs) so they need a lot of room. They also need CONSTANT watching while they are young. This is not because they are unpredictable, but they are extremely mischievous. They love trouble. And by trouble, I mean stealing couch pillows to take outside to play with. My family has a wolf-dog and he is one of the most caring dogs I have ever known. He is five years old and is 3/4 wolf. His grandfather was full wolf, so he's not that far from pure wolf. However, despite the common misbeliefs, he has been a great addition to our family. He loves all people and all dogs. He loves attention and his favorite thing is when someone comes to our house and he gets to greet them. He also loves our cats. He plays with them (allowing them to beat him up), lets them eat his food, and panics when they get outside. When they come back home, he checks them out, sniffing life crazy, to make sure they are okay. Wolves have gone through many decades of negative stigmas. What most people don't know is that they are not evil creatures. At one time, they lived as companions of humans. Yes, they are predators, but they kill to eat, not to just kill.

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