Some simple facts, about some complicated animals!
Much confusion surrounds wolf/dog crosses. Since many folks still draw conclusions based on inaccurate mythology and faulty starting premises, I'd like to offer some wolfdog realities--to try to establish a common understanding to work from.
*Along with the general public, who has been subjected to so many "old wives' tales" and exaggerated media hype over the years, are the wolfdog owners who still think their dogs are 'special exceptions' from dog rules (and treat them accordingly, often with less-than-desirable results). Neither of these provides a fair and helpful picture of the dogs in question.*
Wolves = Canis lupus (lycaon, arctos, pambasileus, etc)
Ordinary domestic dogs = Canis lupus (familiaris)
Dingoes and New Guinea Singing dogs = Canis lupus (dingo)
Note that these are all the same species.
"But they look/act so differently!"
Let's examine that idea.
Pretend you are a visitor from another planet. Someone shows you this:
(compliments to Aruff Ranch Siberians)
and explains to you that it is a "Dog". It is strong, fast, independent, a great problem-solver (often escaping fences or opening doors/cabinets), chases and perhaps kills small animals, pulls on the leash unless trained otherwise, howls, digs holes, easily eats--and prefers--raw meat including the bones, and has a thick double coat for surviving cold winters.
Later, you see this:
"Is it a Dog?" someone asks.
You observe it, and others like it, in their captive-bred home environments, and find that it is strong, fast, independent, a great problem-solver (often escaping fences or opening doors/cabinets), chases and perhaps kills small animals, pulls on the leash unless trained otherwise, howls, digs holes, easily eats--and prefers--raw meat including the bones, and has a thick double coat for surviving cold winters.
What do you say?
A week later, you come across this:
or, perhaps, one of these:
Is THAT a "Dog"? Hm.
I guess one's definition of "Dog" really matters, when deciding what IS a "dog", and what isn't...at least as far as practical applications go. ;-)
Interestingly, as far away from the husky as the little chihuahua looks and even sometimes acts, by default...when the chi is guarding his food, the methods of behaviour modification that will turn him into a nice dog are the same methods that would be used on the husky. And...you guessed it! They are also the same methods to be used on a wolf. (This assumes that you are a behaviourist/positive trainer type, not a "choke-and-jerk" Koehler style of trainer. In that case, a wolf, Akita, molosser, or other powerful dog breed may decide to knock you down a peg or two.)
The dog is jumping? Standard, well-known training--such as teaching an alternative behaviour like the Sit & rewarding for compliance--applies.
The wolf is jumping? Standard, well-known training--such as teaching an alternative behaviour like the Sit & rewarding for compliance--applies.
Does that work? YES.
I repeat: YES. Not "in theory", not "only if you have a PhD in biology" or "only if you have your own television show about wolves" or "only if you have a 501c3 paper or a USDA permit". *grins*
Teach the wolf to Sit instead, reward for compliance.
It doesn't matter if it's a pug or a pitbull or a wolf "hybrid"--this works, reliably. This is not only common sense, but is easy enough to verify if one were motivated to do so.
Wolves do not have a single behaviour not found in dogs as a whole. (Don't believe that? Try to find one. ;-)
If you lean over a shy or dominant Canis lupus (any variety), he feels threatened. If you avert your eyes or make yourself smaller and slower, it has a calming effect on Canis lupus. If something runs by quickly, it catches C. lupus' attention. If you reward C. lupus with high value treats for "targeting" your hand, he will do it reliably. If you condition C. lupus to enjoy being leash walked as a pup, he looks forward to it eagerly. If your C. lupus has gotten a "big head", a No Free Lunch rank reduction program will return him to the guidance of your leadership. And on, and on...regardless of the shape, size or colour of the Canis.
Remember that basic, original dog training was based on the WOLF model of behaviour!
Modern, positive training is based on what worked for animals wild and domestic, of any species; American and European film work with bears, wolves, killer whales, and many other fascinating animals relies on it almost exclusively. Yet, it also works for dogs...and in most cases, it works for dogs better than anything else does.
What is "Wild"? "But...a wolf is a wild animal!" people point out.
-Yes it is...and a wolfdog is a DOMESTIC animal. (Per USDA definition, any animal that is part domestic is a 'domestic animal'.)
-Even pure wolves used in companion animal breeding did not come directly from the wild—and haven't, for a very long time. (For what it's worth, they also can't "miss" what they've never experienced--a harsh life in the wild.)
There's something about the word "wild" that makes some people think it equates automatically to "dangerous", but there is no direct correlation. Rabbits and deer are wild. Domestic dogs, cattle, and horses are domestic. Yet, these "inherently safe" domestics kill far more people every year (many times over) than all the lions, tigers, and bears in this country combined!
Really, this is all beside the point, since wolf crosses are just domestic dogs. However, it's an interesting side note.
Is it possible to develop a general outline for keeping dogs safely? Yes.
One possible outline resides here: Safe Dogs
Will this same protocol allow you to keep a part-wolf dog safely? Yes.
It's the exact same behavioural model, and same basic needs. (It's worth noting that there is generally a higher level of responsibility involved for wolves, protection dogs, livestock guardian dogs, pit bulls, and certain other breeds, than for the average Labrador. They are intense, powerful dogs, and the potential backlash may be higher if they are poorly kept.)
Is it possible to keep any of the above from biting a person?
Sure. Simply understand the reasons that dogs bite, and account for them.
Again, this is well known, accessible public information. An example list of guidelines resides here: Why Dogs Bite
Dog 'incidents' are preventable, in almost every case. While it isn't "all in how you raise them", it IS "all in how you MANAGE them". A dog behind a secure fence is a safe dog. A dog-aggressive dog kept away from other dogs will not bite them. A prey-driven dog not given access to neighborhood cats will not chase them. It really isn't rocket science--simply a call to responsible ownership.
Rabies innoculation and Canis lupus
What about the "Rabies Controversy"--the idea that rabies vaccines do not "work" on wolves/wolfdogs?
The bottom line is extremely simple:
-The rabies vaccine is approved by species.
-Wolves and dogs are the same species.
-No further testing within that species is necessary, because the vax is SPECIES specific and not BREED specific (so the testing done on beagles explicitly approved ALL of Canis lupus for the vaccine).
This bit of political jockeying below is the reality behind why on-label use is interpreted as "domestic dogs" rather than "Canis lupus":
"Most of the commenters who were opposed to the proposed rule were concerned that the inclusion of wolves and dog-wolf crosses in the definition of dog would validate or encourage the ownership of wolves and dog-wolf crosses, and that such ownership could pose a risk to humans due to the unpredictable behavior of such animals." link
"What message it sends to the public" is completely IRRELEVANT to the science behind it—which is that the vaccine does work on wolves and dogs with a degree of wolf blood, the same as any other dog (and the five additional species--as diverse as cats, sheep, cattle, horses, and ferrets--included on the same label).
Calling up the "unpredictable" myth is adding even more non-science to the pot.
Wolves' behaviour is actually very well known, and MORE predictable than that of dogs in general. The only caveat is that one must understand canine behaviour, in order for canines to be "predictable"--the same as one must understand French for a Frenchman to be predictable.
(Most domestic dogs' saving grace is that they are very tolerant of "handler error"...and most breeds are also less active than wolves, so will display fewer behaviours, overall.)
The USDA is actually in violation by not including wolf/X on label. The tricky part is that AVMA (opposed to animals they are not very familiar with) & HSUS (opposed to pet ownership as a whole) carry a lot of political clout. This costs an awful lot of dogs their lives. The rabies "issue" is merely a straw man--trying to deflect attention to something that sounds concerning but falls apart immediately under scrutiny.
See above, under "behaviour modification for all dogs".
Sadly, some wolfdog owners give no guidance to their dogs, thinking they should be "free spirits" and that wolves already know how best to live in human society without any teaching at all. These dogs are merely IGNORANT of civil and appropriate behaviour--not stupid or untrainable.
Myth: wolves/wolfdogs can't be trusted around food.
Food aggression is a result of your dog's individual temperament, plus how much effort you put into training him otherwise. Plenty of wolfdogs are fine about food/possessions. Plenty of dogs are not. If you have a food-aggressive dog/wolf, then somewhere along the way, there was human error involved.
Myth: wolves/wolfdogs are "vicious".
A wolf's nature is to be cautious and shy.
He also relies heavily on his pack for survival, so nature builds in excellent cooperative skills, and a strong inhibition against harming his packmates. Wolves normally give extensive warnings, in stages, before ever using their teeth. Wolfdog bites are quite rare, and in most cases easily preventable.
While most wolfdogs are very loving with those they know and trust, here is a normal "wolf breed" response to new people. (video)
Myth: wolf x dog crosses are "confused".
This one is so illogical that it's actually hard to believe you still hear it from time to time. It is no more possible for a wolf/dog cross to be "confused", than it is for a shepherd/husky mix or a black/white person mix to be "confused". One's heritage is simply a blending of traits from both parents.
All that said: this is an animal whose "breed trait package", on average, involves a degree of shyness, digging, chewing, prey drive towards small animals, independent thought, fence hopping, little to no work ethic, and NO watchdog ability. They're also a poor choice for young children. If these things don't appeal to you, this dog is not the best companion for you.
This combination of traits doesn't imply that they are "evil" dogs or that they do things other dogs don't; it only limits the number of people who would truly enjoy living with them.
I understand that people like to have an opinion on most subjects...even if they only got that opinion from surfing the internet for other people's opinions. *grins* However, those sorts of third-, fifth-, or twentieth-hand opinions shouldn't carry the same weight as facts obtained from those who actually have hands-on in the field.
It is inappropriate to fall back on primal emotions when there are logical, scientific reasons to discount them...or modern ways to safely account for them. (Clearly, humans' subconscious, Darwinistic fear of predators is still alive and well--perhaps more so towards huskies and German shepherds, than towards the hugely modified pug or spaniel!)
If you want to fly, study those who are doing it—not those who say it can't be done.
Likewise, if you want to know how to successfully raise, handle, and manage wolfdogs (or any other kind of dog), talk to those who have done it—and have great animals to show for it.
This will often provide great guidelines for safe pet-ownership statutes. So will a thorough "what went wrong" analysis of accidents, as long as you go to the root of the problem (instead of stopping at something more superficial, such as the breed of dog).
Things like letting a dog run loose around town, failing to train/socialise, or neglecting him on a chain will always be at the root of any canine incident.
These lessons apply to dogs across the board, and whatever solutions will work for the more "difficult" dogs (wolfdogs, huskies, Dobies, pitbull terriers, Akitas, etc) will work for all.
You can't fix something until you genuinely understand it.
Sensationalism, 'straw men', and mythology only take you further from that goal. In the end, what serves everyone on both sides best is a sensible and compassionate solution—and it is out there.
What to do with the Wolfdog "Problem"?
LEARN FROM IT.