Facts About Wolf Dog Hybrids

By Rebecca Bragg

Some say that crossbreeding dogs and wolves creates hybrids so dangerous and untrustworthy around people that the practice should be outlawed. Others claim that careful breeding can produce loyal companions and working animals who are smarter, stronger and healthier than domestic dogs. So who's right? It turns out that evidence exists to support both positions.

What Constitutes a Wolfdog?

Norma Bennett Woolf, editor for National Animal Interest Alliance, says a wolfdog may be the offspring of a wolf and dog, the offspring of a wolf and a wolfdog, or the offspring of two wolfdogs. Dog breeds commonly bred with wolves to produce hybrids include German shepherds, Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes. Wolves used for breeding are captive-bred, not wild.

Veterinary Care and Placement Issues

When hybrid owners discover that they can't manage their pets and so get rid of them, few shelters will risk placing them in another home for fear of liability. Consequently, many hybrids are euthanized every year. Since rabies vaccines have never been tested on wolves, some states forbid vets to administer them to wolfdogs. Others demand it, and still others require owners to sign a release. Some don't address the issue at all.

Variable Laws on Owning Wolfdogs

Each state drafts its own legislation regarding hybrid and exotic animals, but further laws may also be enacted by municipalities, counties, townships and residential communities. Wolfdogs, like pit bulls and some other breeds, are often subject to special ordinances.

The Beast of Gevaudan

Accounts give differing numbers of people killed by one, possibly two, massive wolflike creatures in south central France between 1764 and 1767, but one account claimed 113 deaths and many more injured. The mystery of "the Beast of Gevaudan" has never been conclusively solved, but a leading theory holds that these hybrids were the weapons of preference for a serial killer.

Documented Attacks

In 1988, after a Florida animal welfare society named a wolfdog its pet of the week, it went to an adoptive home. Two hours after arriving, the hybrid escaped from a fenced yard and killed a 4-year-old boy. Two other child fatalities reported by the "Spokesman Review" newspaper of Sprague, Washington, include a 2-year-old New Jersey tot killed and partly eaten by the family wolfdog, and a 4-week-old Anchorage baby who died after a pet hybrid grabbed his head.

The Saarloos Wolf Dog

In 1921, a Dutch man by the name of Leendert Saarloos decided to create a new breed of dog by crossing a female European wolf with a male German shepherd. After decades of careful selective breeding, the Saarloos wolfdog was perfected. The Dutch Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1975; in 1981, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, also known as the World Canine Organization, followed suit.

The American Tundra Shepherd

In the late 1960s, dog trainer Frank Catania, hoping to produce an ideal dog for use in combat zones, began a breeding program to cross European wolves with military-bred German shepherds. By some accounts, the main reason why the armed forces abandoned his program despite initially supporting it was that Catania's wolfdogs simply weren't aggressive enough. Nonetheless, breeding continued and has been refined to the point where American tundra shepherd dogs are now a consistent type.

Lupo Italiano: A National Treasure

The lupo Italiano, or Italian wolf, isn't for sale at any price -- but is given away free by the Italian government to people or organizations committed to using this hybrid's special skills in the public interest. The prototype, created in 1966, was the product of a female wolf and a male German shepherd. Only a few hundred of these wolfdogs exist, but their exceptional sense of smell is greatly prized in disaster relief and emergency situations.

By Rebecca Bragg

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About the Author

Rebecca Bragg has been a writer since 1979. From 1988 to 2000, she was a reporter for Canada's largest newspaper, the "Toronto Star," specializing in travel. She holds a Master of Arts in English literature and creative writing and has lived in India and Nepal, volunteering in animal rescue organizations in both countries.