Wolfdogs, as their name suggests, are a cross between wolves and domestic dogs. As appealing as that may sound – and as magnificent as the animals themselves look – wolfdogs are not natural pets. They demand far more training, exercise and patience than your average pooch: owners should never be under any illusions that what they’re getting is a domesticated dog in wolf’s clothing.
It’s a mistake that more and more people seem to be making, which helps explain why wolfdogs are turning up in rescue centres across the UK. Wamiz spoke to one charity in Kent, Artisan Rarebreeds, which has taken in 15 wolfdogs in the past five years.
“The problem arises when the public assume they can keep them as you would a normal domestic dog,” says the charity’s director, Wayne May.
“They take longer to train and are very destructive in a normal home environment. Out of the 15 wolfdogs we have taken in, 11 were taken in because of the destruction they had caused in the owners’ property. The other four arrived with us as the owner became ill and could no longer care for them.”
Some of the wolfdogs that rescue centres see are not pets at all but, according to the law, “dangerous wild animals”.
“Wolfdogs are categorised as F1, F2, F3 and so on: this basically means first-generation cross, second-generation, etc,” May explains. “F1 and F2 both require a Dangerous Wild Animal licence in the UK. Third generation (F3) and upwards do not need a licence as the wolf blood is believed to be diluted enough to be excepted.”
When a wolfdog arrives at Artisan Rarebreeds, any hybrid that the centre can’t be sure is F3 or more is placed in the care of a responsible handler with a DWA licence, May says. Any others remain at the shelter, which does not offer them for adoption.
Other charities, such as Wolfdog Rescue in Orkney, specialise in rehoming abandoned or unwanted wolfdogs. All their dogs are F3 or above, and all prospective owners are subject to a home check to make sure they’re capable of meeting the animals’ often demanding requirements.
“Wolfdogs are stunning and beautiful animals, but not suitable for everyone,” warns May. “Prospective new owners need to do a lot of research on the breed well before purchasing one, and need to bear in mind the length of time you need to train them, and their inherited wolf trait of being shy, nervous and timid. Wolfdogs can and do bite.”
May is sceptical of the suggestion that the popularity of the TV show Game of Thrones, which features pet “dire wolves” (in fact played by Northern Inuit Dogs, not wolfdogs), has encouraged more people to keep wolf hybrids as pets. He estimates there are probably fewer than 200 wolfdogs living in the UK – but he does believe that abandonment is a genuine problem.
“Alarmingly for a relatively new breed here in the UK, rescue centres have already been set up purely for wolfdogs,” he tells Wamiz. “This alone should tell the public that the wolfdog may not be the best choice as a pet.“
What is a wolfdog?
A wolfdog is a crossbreed between a wolf and a domesticated dog, usually a large breed such as a Siberian Husky, German Shepherd, Malamute or Northern Inuit dog. Perhaps the best known type is the Czechoslovakian Wolfdog, a cross between a German Shepherd and a Eurasian grey wolf, which was first developed in the 1950s and officially recognised by the FCI international federation of kennel clubs in 1989.
Characteristics associated with the wolfdog include loyalty, a pack mentality, territorial instincts and a strong predatory drive, which can make them unsuitable to keep alongside smaller pets. They’re very intelligent but challenging to train, since they’re less “eager to please” than fully domesticated dogs. They also require at least an hour of vigorous exercise every day, preferably more, and have a tendency to roam – even if it means escaping, which they can do easily unless they’re very securely fenced in.
Artisan Rarebreeds relies on donations to look after its wolfdogs and other rescued animals. It recently released an anthology of poems and stories about wolves, Lupus Animus, which is available for purchase as an ebook. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of the charity’s wolfdogs.