According to the Mission: Wolf website, there is an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 wolves and wolf-dog hybrids currently living in captivity in the United States.
Michelle Smith, a wolf-dog owner and staff member at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Divide, Colorado, said owning a wolf-dog has become trendy, but there is much more to caring for a wolf-dog than most people realize.
“Wolf-dogs have risen in popularity over the last couple of years, mostly because of different TV shows,” Smith said. “People get them and do not realize they are not just dogs. They think it is going to be a fairytale and it is not.”
Smith, who has been with the CWWC for seven years, said the biggest misconception is that wolf-dogs make good pets. The wolf-dogs that people claim are good pets are frequently not wolf-dogs at all; they are often just a dog who looks like a wolf, she said. With a true wolf-dog, people are surprised by the behavior because it is not what they were expecting, Smith said.
“Wolf-dogs have the same general behaviors as other dogs, but the intensity level is a lot higher,” she said. “They have no desire to please you, unlike dogs. They have extremely high prey drives. Neophobia (fear of new things) is very common in wolf-dogs no matter how much you try to socialize them. Most of the time, wolf-dogs who are adopted as puppies are surrendered (to a wolf sanctuary or similar organization) at 2 years old because their behavior changes. That is when they generally become neophobic.”
According to an article posted on Colorado Public Radio’s website May 1, 2018, about 200,000 wolf-dogs are euthanized before they turn 3 years old because humans cannot take care of them.
“My wolf-dog, Shaya, was surrendered by his original owners when he was 1 and a half years old,” Smith said. “Someone wanted to adopt him, and she only had him for three days before he got out, and she surrendered him to the (Colorado) Wolf and Wildlife Center.”
When Smith adopted him, she said she had been working at the CWWC for about four and a half years. She said she wanted to know what percentage of wolf Shaya was, so she had his DNA tested and the results indicated he is 60 percent wolf, mixed with Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute and German Shepherd.
According to the website https://dogbreedinfo.com, in general, a wolf-dog with between 1 and 49 percent wolf is considered a Low Content wolf-dog. Between 50 and 74 percent is Mid Content and 75 percent or higher is considered a High Content wolf-dog. “A High Content (wolf-dog) may have one to three dog traits but otherwise should be virtually indistinguishable from a pure wolf.”
Smith said Shaya’s behavior can be problematic at times because he still has so many traits of a wolf. “It is hard to keep him from destroying stuff,” she said. “If I were to leave him unattended, he will find something to destroy. In the last two and a half years, he has destroyed about $10,000 worth of things; and that includes the dental bills for repairing his teeth afterwards.”
As with other wolf-dogs, Shaya does not like riding in a car. He drools, defecates, urinates and vomits almost every time he is in the car; and has even broken out the rear window of her vehicle trying to get out, she said.
Shaya is also “mouthy” and likes to explore things with his teeth, Smith said. He has strong jaws and can unintentionally bite too hard, even when he is trying to be gentle, she said. On their frequent hiking trips, Shaya likes to try to “hold hands” or grasp onto the hand or arm of anyone they might be hiking with that day, she said.
“I got lucky with Shaya because he does not need a whole lot of exercise,” Smith said. “Most people who do not have a large containment area go on walks with their wolf-dog that are at least 5 to 7 miles, although 10 miles is recommended each day.”
According to an article posted on the website https://healthypets.mercola.com on July 5, 2018, that need to roam is inherent in wolf-dogs because of their wolf DNA. They are also prone to digging since wolves in the wild are den builders, the article states. A common way for them to escape is digging beneath their enclosure.
Smith said she built a new 6-foot chain-link fence, with a 3-foot portion at the top that angles inward toward the enclosure. Shaya can easily climb over a regular 5-or 6-foot fence and would likely break through a wooden one, Smith said.
As for food, Smith said Shaya's diet can get expensive because, for mid-content and higher content wolf-dogs, they need a raw diet. "Shaya does have kibble, but it is high quality and costs about $60 for a 25-pound bag that we go through once per week," she said.
According to the article posted on https://healthypets.mercola.com, "Domestication has made dogs relatively easy to house train. Wolves, on the other hand, possess a strong territorial instinct, and one of their inclinations is to draw boundaries around their food source by urinating and defecating."
Shaya still struggles with urinating inside, Smith said. "I am good with taking him outside, but if he has got to go, he is going to go," she said."He tries to pee on my snake's cage all the time, and it is really just a marking issue.
“So many people have them (wolf-dogs), and they are so irresponsible with them. I do not want them to be banned, but they need to go with the right people and that takes research, dedication and being prepared. Even if it does not work out like you wanted it to, you have to take responsibility."
(Be sure to read Robin Widmar’s book review "American Wolf: A Story of Survival and Obsession in the American West.”
When Michelle Smith adopted Shaya, she wanted to know what percentage of wolf he was. The results of his DNA test showed he is 60 percent wolf, mixed with Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute and German Shepherd. Photo submitted