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Pet Wolves and Wolf Crosses – Social Dilemmas

WolfWolves inspire many emotions in people. Some see them as supernaturally evil forces or destructive predators, others see them as an ultimate symbol of freedom and nature. They are majestic, complex creatures with a long history and a permanent place folklore.

Thousands of years ago, man started to form relationships with these animals. Their ancestors gave rise to the many breeds of dogs we know and love today.  Today, some people choose to bring wolves into their homes and into close contact with human society, crossing them with domestic dogs to create hybrids or even keeping purebred wolves as pets. Though the thought may be appealing to some, bringing an animal with wild bloodlines home to the family may not be the best idea.

Despite genetic similarities, wolves are quite different behaviorally than domestic breeds, and they require modified handling and care. While domesticated puppies can be successfully socialized with people at almost any age, wolf pups must usually be taken from their mothers at a very young age, bottle fed, and be allowed limited social interaction with multiple humans in order to get them used to people, but not be overwhelmed.  Many wolves raised to be pets have issues with shyness or aggression because it is not in their nature to accept and be among people. 

Permits are required for wolf and wolf-hybrid owners are requiredSome breeders crossbreed wolves with domestic breeds in hopes that the pups will resemble wolves in appearance, but have the personalities and dietary needs of a domestic dog. It sounds like a logical course of action, but the problem is that no two wolf-hybrids are the same. While one pup in a litter may not show the negative behaviors, it is entirely possible that another will be shy and skittish or have moments of unpredictable aggression. Hybrids that are involved in bite incidents will almost always be ordered to be euthanized, whether or not it was provoked, and the owner will likely be prosecuted. Properly rearing a wolf pup is not an easy task for someone with no experience, and is best left to specialists rather than average dog owners.

Socialization seems to be key factor with wolves and crossbreeds. I have personally met two people with wolf experience in my 6 years at That Fish Place. The first had a wolf/malamute cross owned by someone who had experience in raising wild animals. His story was that the animal had been originally owned by someone who passed away and the hybrid was brought to a shelter and immediately scheduled for euthanasia simply because of his origins. His animal was under a strict diet of zoo quality wolf chow along with raw meat and veggies and supplemented with vitamins. His animal was allowed in the house at night, but during the day had a long, outdoor run to roam, so he was basically an “outdoor dog”. He also had two pack mates (his two domestic dogs) to play with, which helped to socialize him and keep his pack mentality, as well as keeping him comfortable with human interaction. This hybrid was extremely friendly and allowed me to give him tummy rubs and treats with no problem.

The second wolf I met was purebred, purchased in another state by her owner. That animal, while beautiful, was very timid and obviously afraid of everyone but her owner. She stuck very close to him, and cowered when anyone els approached. Her owner told me he kept her more like a regular dog, feeding commercial dog food, taking walks, and doing all the things we do with our dogs. She was the only pet in the house, with no other animals to bond with, and was very attached to her Malamuteowner.  Although she wasn’t aggressive, as with any animal not properly socialized, I could see the potential for the animal to bite someone out of fear. I was personally much happier with the hybrid’s personality, and it may have been largely due to the differences in socialization, feeding, and general care techniques used in raising the hybrid.

As beautiful as wolves are, it is my opinion that wolves and wolf hybrids should be left in their natural habitat, or at least to people willing to put in plenty extra time and effort for the proper socialization and handling necessary in keeping them. Domestic breeds that resemble wolves such as Huskies and Malamutes can be terrific pets and are much better suited for living in our homes and urban and suburban situations. Leave the wolves where they belong…in the wild!

Thanks, until next time,
Jess

Malamute image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Richard Bartz

6 comments

  1. avatar

    Hi Jess

    I want to compliment you on your excellent report!!! Not only that is so informative and interesting but one can feel your passion for this beautiful creature as well! Also the fact that there is a big difference between domestic and wild animals comes out nicely.
    The first thing how ever that came to my mind was; WHY do people want to keep specialized animals…?
    I had to think back as to why I wanted to keep piranhas…?
    Well, I found two answers:
    1. 95% or even more, it has to do with image! I, for one was a culprit as well but luckily my interest in piranha quickly turned into the second reason….
    2. Real interest and passion! This how ever will quickly reveal as HOW difficult it really can be!
    Apart from time, money and what ells, it involves continuous hard work that only can keep many specialized animals happy! Hence my compliments to your so valuable asset with this topic!

    So let’s all remember, any body can keep specialized animals but few can REALLY keep them happy and even alive!

    Thanxzzz again Jess, well done!

    P.S. Here in Namibia someone kept a “tame” leopard for very long. That person is also a passionate and honest guy with no bad intentions. Anyhow, that leopard was then used for a TV shoot and all of a sudden the animal turned to one of the camera crew and killed a lady!!! End of the story, one dead person and a sad ending for the leopard as well (it had to be shot)….

  2. avatar
    Frank Indiviglio

    Hi Jess,

    Nice article,thanks. I worked with a few hand-raised wolves at the Bronx Zoo and while it was an interesting experience, they are as you say in no way domesticated.

    Interestingly, most taxonomists now consider the domestic dog to be a subspecies of the grey wolf, and not a distinct species. A similar situation exists as regards domestic cats, as described in this article on Domestic Cat Origins http://www.thatpetblog.com/2010/11/16/domestic-cat-origins-is-your-pet-merely-a-tame-wildcat/.

    Best, Frank

  3. avatar

    I’ve always loved & respected wolves. I had the opportunity to meet & pet a wolf that was brought into the veterinary clinic I worked at. I got in the conversation with the owner while his female husky was getting a pregnancy ultrasound. As I sat chatting with him & petting his male I was told he’s a wolf. I was amazed! But he told me it took a lot of time, training & socialization to get the dog where he was!
    As with other animals, they are not domesticated & deserve a different level of respect, and handling.
    As I believe it is okay for a person who has the proper training & education to care for these animals in the correct environment. But these people who have them as common pets & try to domesticate them are the ones dancing with danger.
    I will ALWAYS believe there is no such thing as a bad pet – its bad owners! If you have a wolf, leopard, or other wild animal as a pet & they injure somebody its not the animals fault! It the ignorant person who tried to take the Wild out of Wildlife!

  4. avatar

    SOOO true Shannon!

  5. avatar
    Reproductive Endocrinologist in San Luis Obispo

    Wow, I have seen wolf hybrids as pets but never a purebred wolf!

  6. avatar

    As much as I love wolves, I don’t like seeing them on the ends of leashes at TFP. In my opinion, wolves belong in the wild or at the very least, a facility dedicated to their care. It is just not responsible for a wolf owner to bring a wild animal into a public place….especially one as shy and sensitive as a wolf!

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Jess has been an employee at That Fish Place/That Pet Place since 2005, stationed in both the Reptile and Small Animal rooms. She specializes in small animal care, and focuses particularly on rats, giving her the nickname of “The Rat Girl” by her customers and fellow employees. She has an Associate degree in Liberal Arts from Penn State York and is currently attending English courses online at University of Maryland University College. Her passion has always been animals and she has owned just about every variety of them, including cats, birds, reptiles, rodents, and even millipedes! She also loves writing and is working on publishing a series of young adult fantasy novels.
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