What's the deal with dog/wolf hybrids?

I’ve seen ads where breeders are claiming their animals are up to 90% wolf. Now I’m no Steve Irwin but I think I recall that part of the definition of a species has to do with production viable offspring. Since dogs and wolves are separate species wouldn’t any offspring be sterile? Limiting any hybrid litter to 50% since there can be no subsequent breeding. Is it likely these guys are selling wolves (which is illegal in at least IL) under the guise that they are “mutts” to skirt the legalities, or are they just selling something?

Dogs and wolves can interbreed and produce viable offspring, which has led a lot of taxonomists to reclassify dogs as a subspecies of wolf.

That was fast…thanks!

Presumably people aer advertising “part wolf” in effort to make people seem like they are getting a tougher, more ferocious animal for whatever reason. Wolves are naturally shy creatures and do not make good watch/guard dogs. Same with coyotes. I have issues with many breeding programs but if you want a good watchdog, buy one bred for that trait.

Dogs are wolves.

Seperate species can occasionally produce fertile offspring. For example, tigers and lions can mate and produce ligers or tigons (depending on whether the lion or the tiger was the mother). Ligers are presumably sterile, but there have been several cases of fertile tigons.


slight hijack … but on target with the title of the thread.

If dogs ARE virtually wolves, does that mean that humans can raise very young wolf puppies into adulthood and end up with a perfectly fine pet? Some say that wolves raised this way retain some ferality and never truly become domesticated, while others say that a human-raised wolf is no different in behavior than a German Shepherd or other larger breed. What’s the Straight Dope about this?

BTW, doesn’t it seem strange to think of Yorkies and Bichon Frises as a “wolf”?

Not so. The domestic dog is not only within the same Genus as the Grey Wolf (Canis), but the same species as well (lupus). The two are differentiated taxonomically at the subspecies level: Cainis lupus lupus for the Grey Wolf, Canis lupus familiaris for the domestic dog.

Because the two are actually the same species, it should come as no surprise that the two can interbreed and produce viable offspring.

The domestic dog differs from the Grey Wolf by a mere 0.2% in mitochondrial DNA sequences, meaning that any dog is indeed more than 90% wolf.

My father raised one female and one female Timber Wolf from puppies. They acted a little differently than other dogs but they made really good pets. He lived alone at the time on more than 60 acres of land so there was no danger to anyone else. He loved them so much that when a customer at work offered him a half dog/half wolf hybrid, he took it in too. About two weeks later, he was walking through the woods with the three and heard something coming up rapidly behind him. He turned around just in time to see the dog/wolf hybrid in mid-air attacking. They both fell to the ground and my father strangled it as the dog tried to bite him on the face in neck. The dog/wolf got in a couple of bites before it became asphyxiated and gave up. My father called the guy that gave it to him to come and pick it up immediately or it would be put down. The pure-bred Timber wolves never gave him any trouble.

The moral to this story: If you want a pet wolf, make sure it is pure-bred. My father claims that wolves have distinctive behavioral patterns that shouldn’t be tampered with through breeding. This dog/wolf hybrid was not afraid of humans (like a dog) but still had a very strong prey drive (like a wolf) and this made it a time-bomb ready to go off.

I am no Steve Irwin either, (though I do run through the woods in short pants chasing wild game from time to time) but I thought that dogs were canis domesticus, wolves canis lupus, coyotes * canis latrans * and so on, all seperate species.
Anyway could one say that wolves and coyotes are just naturally occurring ‘breeds’ of dogs, while the Labrador Retriever and the Great Dane are among the many human engineered breeds. That would make more sense, in layman’s terms.

“Fear” of man is learned behavior, not genetically inherited, I thought?

Oh, come on.

Are you telling me that the following breeds would all have the same behavioral characteristics is they were all “nurtured” the same way.

  1. Standard Poodle
  2. German Shepherd
  3. Border Collie
  4. Pit Bull Terrier

I didn’t think so.

Even though they are all members of the same species, dogs can have very different behavioral tendencies depending on the breed. This also such behavior as territorial behavior and fear of man. This is especially true of wolves.

Wolves in the wild have a natural fear of man and no amount of conditioning can ever get rid of that. It has been hypothesized that domestic dogs were selected from those wolves that had less fear of man than the others. This trait was selected for again and again through many generations.

Wolves diplay behaviors that were bred out of dogs many hundreds of generations ago. By definition, domestic dogs had to have “fear of man” bred out of their behavior while wolves did not.

We had a wolf/malamute cross when I was a child. Very timid animal. Beautiful though.

Why would anyone even specifically want a pet wolf (or wolf cross) is beyond me though.

I don’t know how accurate this is but I once heard that domestic dogs are essentially developmentally retarded wolves. Basically, different characteristics (size, intelligence, temperament, etc.) are roughly present in all dogs/wolves in the same manner and amounts at birth. As the dog grows certain traits turn off at different times or run longer thus creating a specific breed.

I’ve heard that wolves can make decent pets but one must be very careful. The wild animal in them is never far away and it takes a strong, sure hand to deal with one properly. In short, it may not be overly hard to raise and live with a wolf but neither is it something to be undertaken lightly or by inexperienced dog owners.

Finally, and I don’t know if this is true either, I’ve heard that wolves are by far the most intelligent of all dogs easily beating out Border Collies, Poodles and German Shepherds.

It used to be traditional to classify domestic animals as separate species from their wild ancestors. Today the trend is to put them in the same species, and consider them as subspecies of the wild form. Dogs were fomerly considered Canis domesticus, but are now Canis lupus domesticus, cats Felis domesticus or Felis catus, but now Felis sylvestris domesticus, etc.

It is a popular misconception that the requirement for two forms to be considered separate species is that they not be capable of producing fertile offspring. This is incorrect. The requirement is that they not regularly produce fertile offspring under natural conditions. Wolves Canis lupus and Coyotes C. latrans can produce fertile offspring, but do not normally do so in the wild state. (I believe all species in the genus Canis can interbreed in captivity and produce fertile hybrids.) Likewise many species of ducks produce fully interfertile hybrids in captivity, but rarely if ever in the wild.

Production of sterile hybrids does demonstrate that two forms are definitely separate species, but the converse is not true. Production of fertile hybrids in captivity, or under rare conditions in nature, does not demonstrate two forms belong to the same species.

(And note that I am talking here only about the “Biological Species Concept.” There are other species concepts that are sometimes applied.)

Of course, this criterion necessarily breaks down for domestic animals, since they do not normally live under natural conditions. However, because they are usually very close genetically to their wild ancestors, it has become conventional to classify them in the same species.

That should be Canis familiaris/C. lupus familiarus, rather than domesticus.

I once had a wolf hybrid–my guess is wolf/malamute/shepard.

She was the most beautiful dog I ever saw in my life, with strong malamute markings but more of a gangly build. She was also the wussiest dog I ever had…the type who would piddle on the ground if a stranger got out of a car in our driveway.

We called her Woof, of course, and when I divorced my husband, she ran away to the neighbor’s house. She didn’t seem to like men, and the neighbor had a passle of kids. Last I saw her, she was still lovely, still piddling, and going by the name of Mosquito. Go figure.


I grew up in Northern MN, and many of our dogs were half Timberwolf. Many of our friends had the same. One of our near neighbors and good family friend was Jamie Nelson, who is very well known in the Iditarod circles, who also has wolf crosses as well as full wolves. Given a choice, I would have nothing but a dog who was at least half wolf again. I don’t now because IMO, the weather isn’t suited, nor is our living area, but that’s separate. I’ve always had very strong feelings on the subject of wolf/wolf cross dogs. Everyone we ever had, and the ones I’ve known through my friends were without a doubt the best dogs I’ve ever known. I think it is because of the social nature of wolves. Once “Alpha” is established, which isn’t hard if you get one as a puppy, you’ll never find a more loyal friend. Beyond puppy though, you have your work cut out for you. The best dog we ever had growing up was 1/2 Timber, 1/2 Siberian. Siberians are as close as you can get to a wolf in a domestic dog, so the “family unit” thing was very strong. To go along with a point Shagnasty brought up, the breed a wolf is bred with is a large part of a wolf cross, and although that sounds obvious, it’s been my experience that whatever natural tendencies a breed of dog has, it will be doubled if bred with wolf, be it loyal, skittish, mean, etc. My favorite dog was mainly my sister’s dog, and he won more than a couple freight races, aka weight pulls (anyone who’s ever read Call of the Wild will know what that involves). As breaknrun said, as far as a watchdog, he sucked. It wasn’t his job, we all worked together, in the wolf mentality. Having a good wolf cross is like having Bruce Lee as a pet. They KNOW they can kick your ass, so they don’t advertise it, but you certainly don’t want to piss them off. Nothing but humans lived on our land with that dog. I watched him jump, and I shit you not, about 10 feet straight up once, almost as an afterthought, to grab a friend’s cat out of a tree, killed it, and was back to begging for ice cream. He was smacked by 12 porcupines within one year. The pain was worth the kill for him. He hated those things. But our two house cats slept on top of him and even ate his food while he was eating. I liked to think of him as my “mob dog”. When you were family, you were FAMILY. And a visitor of the family was a visitor of his, but god help you if you raised a hand. Best dog I ever knew, and of all the pure breds and general mutts I’ve ever had, I’ll take half-wolf anyday.

Anyway, to answer the OP, I’d be suspicious of any breeder that advertises 90% wolf. I’d ask to see papers on at least one of the parents as well as see the “wolf”. That’s quite a breeding line when you do the math. When you’ve seen a full bred Timberwolf, there isn’t much doubt what it is. It will be the prettiest and biggest “dog” of that style you’ve ever seen with the most intense look you’ve ever seen in a dog’s eyes. Most people who will clamor over the term “Wolf Cross” are macho idiots. The same type who already have Pit Bulls, Rotties, etc. Those of you who own Pit Bulls, Rotties, etc… don’t start. You know what I mean. I’m talking about the morons who keep their dog chained up in the back yard to use as bragging material that they have a “tough” dog. For the people who understand wolves, and what a good wolf cross (read: with the right breed) can provide, it’s a very good incentive to get a dog with the very best in loyalty, love, and understanding. If you don’t understand that, then you have no business owning a wolf cross.

My apologies if this didn’t make sense, but it has taken me literally an hour to write this. Seems that when I want to post something that I actually care about, my house turns into Grand Union Station between kids and visitors. At this point, I’m happy to hit the submit button before I’m interrupted again. In short, wolf cross dogs are the ultimate, if you are of the right personality and looking for a wolf cross for the right reasons.

I was on the Malamute-L listserve long enough to be considered an old timer. Malamutes are the breed most often bred with wolves, since malamutes are genetically closest to wolves and are the most “wolfish” looking and acting of recognized do breeds.

Questions about wolf/dog hybrids would come up often enough that there was a standard reply:

  1. Don’t breed wolves and mals. There are breed traits (aggression, territoriality) that are amplified when the two breeds are mixed.

  2. Wolf hybrids retain characteristics of both breeds. They can’t be trusted. If you check the statistics on dog bites; hybrids, malamutes and “huskies” all score in the top 10. And they tend to kill “prey” (kids, other dogs, cats) rather than just bite once.

  3. Many states and communities ban wolf hybrids, based histories of aggression by the “breed”.