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Wolves have long been admired for their status and wild spirit; these animals are both feared and cherished. But sadly, their beauty and close proximity to the dogs we welcome into our homes, has made keeping a wolf or wolf hybrid as a pet something many people dream of doing. The idea of bringing such a majestic animal into your home as a companion may sound great, but there is much to think about before deciding to pursue it.

Wolf Behavior

Despite physical and genetic similarities between dogs and wolves, their personalities and behaviors are vastly different. For the past 10,000 years, people and dogs have lived and grown together. We have bred dogs to assist us and to live in harmony with our lifestyles. Although we might not realize it, we have selectively bred them for flexibility and an eagerness to please. Wolves, however, have spent the last 10,000 years as wild animals, living on their own and fending for themselves. Even raising a wolf from the time it is a puppy won’t erase the instinctual behaviors they will have.

Despite this knowledge, many people end up going out and purchasing a wolf or wolfdog. As puppies, these animals seem quite similar to dogs. They are happy, playful and adorable. As they approach sexual maturity, however, most become territorial, pack-oriented and predatorial … personality traits that do not make for an ideal animal to share your home with. Many of these animals end up destroying furniture and homes, terrorizing other pets and their natural behaviors are perceived as aggressive.

Typical wolf behaviors may frighten those who are unfamiliar with them. For example, wolves greet one another with “mouth hugs.” Gently biting one another’s face is a “hello” rather than a form of aggression. Having an animal the size of a wolf grabbing you by the face is enough to freak out even the calmest pet parents. If children are around an animal that displays these behaviors, it can easily make even the most educated parents nervous. Because of these unusual and un-dog-like behaviors, many pet wolves and wolfdogs end up living miserable lives, chained up outside or sent to, already overcrowded, sanctuaries.

Wolfdog Epidemic

Having a wolfdog appeals to many because of the belief that these animals are the “best” of both worlds. They will have the beauty and looks of a wolf, but the temperament and personality of a loving, doting dog. The desire to own one of these illustrious animals has increased their demand and led many to try and breed them.

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to tell how many wolf hybrids are being kept as pets at any given time because some people who have legitimate wolf hybrids choose to register them as Husky, Malamute, or Shepherd mix, to avoid legal issues. Some who claim they have a wolfdog actually have a mix of dog breeds that end up having similar characteristics to a wolf.

Without knowledge of the animal’s lineage, there is no way to tell if the dog is a wolf hybrid or not. Experts familiar with phenotypic traits of wolves are the best at making educated guesses as to an animal’s background. But it is still guesswork.

The issue occurs when a dog who is thought to have wolf genes ends up in a shelter.  These animals are considered inherently dangerous, so many shelters do not want the liability of adopting them out and they end up being euthanized. A fraction of these dogs may end up in sanctuaries specifically designed for wolves and wolf hybrids.

Wolf Laws

There are many legal issues involved with keeping a wolf in the U.S. It is felt that wolfdogs are not only the most misunderstood animals in the U.S., but also the most mismanaged. Though some feel they are wonderful pets, many opponents argue that they are unpredictable, impossible to train and inherently dangerous. Because of this, having a wolf or wolfdog as a pet is illegal in many places and is often associated with many rules in others – and with good reason.

Sadly, there is no federal law regarding the ownership of a wolf or wolfdog. Laws are left to be determined by the individual states. It is illegal to keep them in Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland and several other states. In Alaska, it is illegal unless your wolf has been grandfathered in. Some states, like Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina, do not regulate ownership on a state level, but rather, leave it up to individual counties. This often leads to wolves and wolf hybrids falling into the hands of caretakers who find they cannot care for these semi-wild creatures, causing them to abandon or abuse these animals.

Care Concerns

As if that wasn’t enough to deter you from considering a wolf or wolf hybrid as a pet, there are some care issues that come up with having these beautiful animals. It turns out that there are no approved rabies vaccines for wolves or wolfdogs. Though owners are encouraged to vaccinate their pets, they have two options when doing so. They can either lie to their vet about the what breed the animal is, or they can sign a waiver that states they understand the vaccinate is not approved, so if their animal bites someone it will be impounded, often ending with euthanasia.

Wolves also require much more exercise than dogs, as they usually walk or run up to 100 miles a day in the wild. Their intense prey drive, however, makes it nearly impossible (and often illegal) to have these animals off leash.

How Wolves Suffer

Many wolf or wolfdog parents end up overwhelmed and underprepared for the challenges that come along with caring for such intelligent and cunning animals. A combination of wolf and dog can lead to any number of personality traits and characteristics. You may be lucky and come across an extremely docile wolf-hybrid, but there is a real chance that the animal you invite into your home is truly wild.

“Wolfdogs aren’t easily pegged because they’re essentially a combination of wild and domesticated animals,” says Kim Miles to The Bark, vice president of the Florida Lupine Association. “A dog is like a 12-year-old child, and a wolf is like a 35-year-old man. The dog will generally do what you want it to, but the wolf will do what you want only if he wants to do it himself.”

Because of these many challenges, captive wolves and wolf dogs often end up at sanctuaries across the U.S. These sanctuaries provide the best home possible for animals that can’t return to a home or the wild, but they are stuck living in a limbo. And the saddest part about this is the fact that they would not be condemned to this life if we had not bred them in the first place.

“These are beautiful animals, and a lot of people are attracted to something that’s exotic and different,” says Nicole Wilde author of Wolfdogs: A–Z. “They want to own a piece of the wild, and they often say that the wolf is their spiritual sign or totem animal. Unfortunately, they don’t realize that it’s not really the same thing as having a wolf in their living room.”

Considering the fact that many wolf species in the U.S. are endangered, keeping these animals captive as pets just does not seem to make sense. There is a reason that wolves and dogs evolved apart from one another. It is our duty to keep these wild animals wild and adopt one of the countless (domestic) dogs living in U.S. shelters who need a proper forever home.

Lead image source: Patrick Bouquet/Flickr

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24 comments on “So You Want a Pet Wolf? Here’s Why You Should Probably Reconsider”

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sophia mune
1 Months Ago

although most of what this article is true and I do recommend people educate themselves thoroughly, it is not impossible for someone that doesn\'t have a few acres or no small children to successfully own a wolf hybrid. in my situation, my family owned a 60% wolf and husky hybrid as a small child I was around him all the time we adopted him when he was very young and this is something I highly recommend because as most people know wolves are a pack orientated animal and raising them from a puppy makes them see you as a sibling or in my fathers position, alfa. what I\'m trying to say is, it\'s not impossible or even a bad idea to own a wolf hybrid as long as you do not think of them as a dog which they are not even if they do have dog in them, you still need to think of them as a wild animal and be educated before you welcome a forever teenager into your home.

1 Months Ago

in my opinion domestic dog or not raise them from a young age and you might turn out with a better wolfdog

1 Years Ago

I will NOT reconsider. I want a pet wolf and I am GOING to get one. Where do you think dogs came from?
You\'re basically saying "no dogs either".

Alba Pareto
28 Sep 2017

I leave in Aosta (Italy) and here many people have wolves as pets. Everyday when I walk my dog (a toy Pincher) I see one or more wolves on a leash. They can be adopted from the Regione (government) or bought from a kennel in the Czech Republic. They are usually very tame, one though was kind of unfriendly. Their owners claim they are wonderful . They allow me to pat them, and they are not aggressive towards my little 3 kilo dog.

Alba Pareto
28 Sep 2017

Wrong spell check Corrected
I live in Aosta (Italy) and here many people have wolves as pets. Everyday when I walk my dog (a toy Pincher) I see one or more wolves on a leash. They can be adopted from the Regione (government) or bought from a kennel in the Czech Republic. They are usually very tame, one though was kind of unfriendly. Their owners claim they are wonderful . They allow me to pat them, and they are not aggressive towards my little 3 kilo dog.
Important: the "unfriendly" wolf I mentioned was adopted from the Government. Probably (???) those are "wild" wolves, while the ones imported came from kennels that sell "domesticated" wolves. I would contact one wolf owner and get all information on this beautiful animal.

Sean Dalgety
30 Jan 2018

I can tell you from personal experience that the points in this article are all valid. Unless you live on a ranch or a farm , don\'t do this, and even then, everything else here is still good reason not to do it.

12 Apr 2018

think would you really want to cage them up i get what you mean but think of the wolf or wolf-dog I get what u mean but what would they do if ur wolf got out he would get hurt and maybe hurt others I get what u mean i trust dogs and wolves but we need to be safe and think whats best for everyone

1 Years Ago

I understand that this is an article for educating a potential wolf/wolf-dog owner to the down sides or hazards of owning such an animal. However when you are educating you should probably keep personal opinion out of it. Otherwise it goes from being an educational article to a this is why i think you should not get one of these animals. I would also like to add that A LOT of the things said about the Wolf and wolf-dogs in this article hold true for many breeds of regular dogs. Huskies, Akita\'s, Pits, have a lot of the same characteristics. Without proper care any dog can end up in a similar situation, in a shelter waiting to be put down. Their chances of ending up in a shelter usually has more to do with the owner getting in over his head, not caring enough or just losing interest. Chances are that proper training and good attention would equate to a properly adjusted happy family member. Yes there is a chance you have one that despite all the good training and love is still a bad fit for you and your family but that can also be said for many dogs. In that regard huskies come to mind, very instinctual, independent, stubborn and they play rough (even kill the occasional neighbors cat. But People still own them and love them. Like this article said some owners find out the are overwhelmed and even sometimes unprepared, but THAT is not the animals fault. If you had a child and after having said child for six months to a year you decided you could not handle it and you put it up for adoption. Is that the child\'s fault? All I\'m saying is, yes inform potential wolf and wolf-dog owners of the risks and intensity of involvement that will be needed to make one of these animals into a family member, but please do not make an article label it as informative and use it to push an opinion. Remember before we bred dogs from wolves we did have those same wolves as companions so to separate them not just because some bred into a better show dogs or hunting dogs and its more convenient for us would be unfair. A wolf and a dog are related and one did come from the other so why not treat them equally.

hector rojas
21 Jul 2017

Alexander, although many dogs can cross-paths in behaviour with Wolves it still remains the fact that wolves are not domestic animals. they wild side requires extreme care, lots of knowledge and experience handling them.

Brian Tomlinson
1 Years Ago

A very good intelligent article. Having read "The Philosopher and the Wolf" it made a lasting impression on me . There are few , if any , people who have had such an experience and the intelligence to evaluate it . All of you who aspire to owning such a magnificent animal should read this book.
On the other side , I deplore the false .manliness of hunters shooting wild animals with high powered rifles . I find it sick in the extreme.

1 Years Ago

Great article!

1 Years Ago

When I was about 8, my dad and my uncle brought home 3 wolf pups. A hunter had killed the mom. We kept one of the pups for many years. She wasn\'t much different from any other dog really. She was very playful, affectionate, and we taught her tricks. You can look up videos on youtube about wild animals being tamed so long as you raise them from a young age. Usually, if someone new tries to interact with them, they become aggressive. My Anastasia wasn\'t like that. She was happy to meet new people. Probably because she would get so much attention. We eventually had to give her away when my dad got a new job and moved us within city limits. I stayed in contact with her new owners for awhile to make sure that she was okay. She adjusted well to her new family. The cons that I noticed about having a wolf as a pet is that she dug out a big den in our yard. Also, just like many dogs, they want to protect their owner. I was being picked on by a boy outside of our yard one day. Anastasia tried to jump the fence to help. Once the boy saw her, he stopped, of course. As soon as she noticed that he was no longer being aggressive, she laid down. He was even able to come in the yard and pet her. Wolves are wild animals. I wouldn\'t suggest getting one that isn\'t a puppy. And they certainly are not for everyone. Just like "dangerous dogs" like pits. You have to raise them right. By the way, we also had 2 pugs that she played with just fine.

Karr Ash
1 Years Ago

Why wd u even think of it to begin with?

Edith D. Thurman
1 Years Ago

I lived in TN for 7 years and a friend of mine had a hybrid she was half timber wolf and half shepherd, she was gorgeous but yes very hyperactive. A 220 lb Rottweiler caught her in heat, but when he was done she left him with 200 stitches. Problem came about when her milk dried up when the pups were only 4 weeks old, so I ended up with a female that looked nothing like either parent. She looked more like a deer, only about 70 lbs. She was my baby, still very hyper, very territorial, also very loyal. Another dog came by with a puppy, she ran the dog off, but kept and cared for the puppy till I found it a home. I can attest to rabies vaccine not working, because she killed a snake, but not before it bit her.I rushed her to the animal hospital. The vet lacerated the wound, gave her shots again, and some meds to take back home. She was fine got better all was good till a few weeks later. Its been over twenty years now so I can\'t say exactly how long. She started acting very strange when we were out in the yard, walking in circles backwards and would not come near me. She was always as close to me as she could possibly get. She would look at me when I talked to her, but would not get close to me. She kept going backwards towards the woods behind our house I kept following her and trying to get her to come back. It was late at night when this happened, I followed her as far as I could see. Needless to say I cried for days, I found her at first light by a small pond. I have never had another dog since, cause she\'s the first thing I think of when I see one, and always will be.

Toby Hamilton
1 Years Ago

Saleh Kikalaye

Toby Hamilton
26 Dec 2016

Ya right hah good times

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