Can dogs and wolves breed? Yes, they can. But whether or not they should is a completely different story.
It’s no secret that our furry little friends have quite the origin story, traced all the way back to wolves. But how did they get here, and more importantly, can dogs and wolves breed nowadays? If so, what would their offspring look like, and would you be able to keep them as pets? These are just some of the questions I’ll answer for you today, so stay tuned.
Can Dogs and Wolves Breed?
Let’s answer this question right away: Can dogs and wolves breed? Yes, they absolutely can and have many times.
Dogs and wolves are interfertile, which essentially means that they can provide offspring. Also, their babies can have even more babies, thus continuing the line and making wolfdog hybrids.
Most often, breeders pair a domestic dog with gray, red, Ethiopian, or Eastern wolves. That’s because these types have the highest chances of creating healthy offspring.
I also want to mention that this cross-species mating can take place in the wild, but it rarely does. Due to the territorial nature of wolves and their need to protect their home ranges, they will rarely mate with other species. So while they can mate with dogs, coyotes, and other types of wolves, it’s not as common.
The History of the Wolf-Dog Hybrids
Finding the exact moment in history when dogs mixed with wolves has proven to be extremely difficult. Some biologists believe that the hybrids first came about 5,000 years ago, while others put that date at 47,000 years ago.
But what we do know is that the first documented breeding between dogs and wolves took place in 1776 in Great Britain. A breeder had a male wolf and a female Pomeranian mate, resulting in a litter of nine pups. The little wolfdogs were mostly bought by English noblemen, who were fascinated by the cross-species breeding.
Since then, breeders around the world have combined wolf genes with those of different breeds. For example, back in 1932, a Dutch breeder, Leendert Saarloos, crossed a European wolf with a German Shepherd. The breed was officially recognized 40 years later, and some Saarloos Wolfdogs are now trained to be guide and service dogs.
Later on, breeders from all around the world crossed different breeds of wolves and dogs to create hybrids. Other wolfdog breeds that remain popular to this day include Lupo Italiano, Bergamasco Shepherd, and the Czechoslovakian Wolfdog.
The Differences Between Wolfdogs and Dogs
As you can imagine, dogs and wolves don’t mature and develop in the same way. So while scientists know when a dog or a wolf becomes sexually active, they can’t say the same for their offspring. For example, almost all dogs become sexually mature when they’re 6 to 8 months old. Wolves, on the other hand, will reach that state when they’re between 1 and 4 years old.
Once a wolf reaches its sexual maturity, its role in the pack changes, and it becomes an adult. When that happens, the wolf will start challenging the leaders and fighting for its place in the pack. That process happens both in the wild and in captivity.
So biologists have no idea when the offspring, the wolfdog, which has the genetics of both, will become mature. They also don’t know how prominent those wolf features will be and if and when the wolfdog might want to overthrow the leader. Of course, that’s just the tip of the confusion iceberg when it comes to hybrids.
Wolfdogs as Pets
Now that you know the answer to the question Can dogs and wolves breed, it’s time to talk about their offspring. Most people are fascinated by hybrids and want to get them as pets. But is that really a good idea?
For starters, with a wolfdog, you never know how dominant the wolf or dog genes are. Some people claim to be able to tell which way the wolfdog sways, but that’s just guesswork.
Another thing that you have to know about wolfdogs is that they’ll never become lapdogs. You have to provide them with enough space to roam and develop properly, not keep them in a crate in a corner of your home.
Also, unlike Golden Retrievers, for example, I would never recommend letting a wolfdog guard your small child or other pet. Tying this to my previous point, you actually have no idea how high the wolf content is in the hybrid. So you never know when their predatory instincts will kick in, and when it might see a child as nothing more than prey.
Wolves, on their own, are extremely social creatures that demand lots of interaction and attention from their pack. In a wolfdog, all those needs and expectations carry over onto the owner. They need other animals (wolves) around them, and lots of space to roam and explore. If their needs aren’t met, and they’re kept in inadequate conditions, a hybrid, just like any animal, domestic or wild, can become aggressive.
While I’m on the topic of aggression, I also want to mention that most people are buying wolfdog hybrids to use as guard dogs. But due to the shy nature of wolves, hybrids actually make pretty bad guards. If a wolfdog feels scared or threatened, it might react aggressively, but you never really know.
All of these personality traits will most often start manifesting when the wolfdog is between 18 months to 2 years old. At that time, if the hybrid has a high wolf content, it’ll become either really shy or aggressive.
Health and Stamina
Wolfdogs are considered to be quite healthy animals, but they are susceptible to the same diseases and infections as wolves and dogs. They have the same lifespan as most bigger breeds of dogs, anywhere between 12 and 14 years.
The one concern about the health of wolfdogs is in the efficacy of vaccines, especially ones for rabies. Not only can the vaccines be inefficient, but they’re also aren’t any USDA-approved ones for hybrids.
I also want to mention that wolfdogs need a lot of daily exercises to burn off their energy. Preferably, the owner should work and play with them for 3 to 4 hours a day. If they don’t get the daily stimulation that they need, they’ll start pacing, digging, and howling.
Wolves, by nature, are territorial and will kill anyone in the wild who trespasses on their turf. Dogs are also territorial, but much less than wolves, and most domesticated dogs usually don’t go in for the kill when somebody messes with their home.
All of that means that wolfdogs, as their offspring, can and will mark their territory often, and can become aggressive. Some signs that a hybrid is marking its territory include pacing, howling, digging, destructiveness, and scent-marking.
But the bigger problem here is that, if wolfdogs become aggressive and territorial, they will deliver a bite strong enough to kill a large animal. Usually, when someone threatens them or their space, no amount of training or discipline can stop the instincts from kicking in.
There are also some pretty common scenarios that can trigger predatory responses in wolfdogs. They usually have to do with children or smaller animals. For example, if they see an injured or crying child, their predatory blinkers might go off, even if they grew up around kids. Of course, that isn’t always the case, but it’s something that happens quite often and that all potential wolfdog owners should consider.
Owning a Wolfdog
I know that many of you were looking up Can dogs and wolves breed to see if you could actually get a hybrid yourself. But when it comes to owning a wolfdog, the legislation in the US is all over the place.
Currently, more than a dozen states in the United States have a ban on wolfdog ownership, breeding, and importing. Other states allow ownership but under extreme regulation and laws. Finally, there are a few states that allow having wolfdogs as pets. But if you’re considering getting one, you’d have to check your city’s laws because not all of them are the same.
Also, numerous animal rights groups, such as the RSPCA, Ottawa Humane Society, and Humane Society of the United States consider wolfdogs as wild animals. These groups believe that, as such, the hybrids should be kept in the wild.
Training a Wolfdog
In theory, you can train a wolfdog to obey your commands. But the success of that endeavor will depend on how high the wolf content in the hybrid is. If it’s higher than the dog content, getting your wolfdog to obey your commands, especially when it’s older, is almost impossible. At some point, the wolf genes will take over, and the hybrid will start challenging the leader of the pack.
As I said in the beginning, the answer to the question Can dogs and wolves breed is a resounding yes. Their genetics allow it, and their offspring can continue to breed and produce more wolfdogs. But owning and caring for a hybrid is much more difficult than it seems, and inexperienced owners can do more harm than good. So if you’re considering getting one, first talk with experts to understand what you’d be getting yourself into.