Experts: Wolf-dog hybrids don't make safe pets

SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE

" They get bored, and because
they're very strong, they almost
always escape, injuring themselves
or others in the process. They go
after neighbors' dogs, they jump
fences and get hit by cars, they
jump out of windows, they eat
your house. "


- Randall Lockwood
animal behaviorist


Experts in animal care virtually arc unanimous in their recommendation to stick to domesticated animals when choosing a pet. Although wild animals may be cute and cuddly in the early months of life, they tend to become less and less suitable as human companions as they mature. The characteristics that have helped their species survive through the millennia are rarely desirable for life in captivity.

In no instance is this more poignant than with wolves and wolf-dog hybrids. Although wolf-dog hybrids have long been common among Native Alaskan sled dog teams, it's been only in the Past decade or so that the practice of breeding dogs with wolves has spread to other parts of the country.

"Some people think that these are going to be some kind of cool, macho watchdog, which is totally wrong," says Randall Lockwood, an animal behaviorist and vice president for training initiatives of the Humane Society of the United States. "Then there are the wolf groupies, who see owning a wolf or hybrid almost as part of a spiritual or religious quest, as their link to the wild. They have their wolf art-work and medallions, and while they may see something in the animal on a spiritual level, they often are ill-equipped to meet the animal's basic biological needs."

Many of those needs are quite different from a dog's. "We spent at least 12,000 years turning a wild animal the wolf - into an animal that can fit well into human society," says Lockwood.

Wolves have wild characteristics
Even the biggest dogs have smaller teeth than wolves have, and they tend to look to a person, not another dog, as their pack leader, or master. While wolves roam vast territories in search of food, dogs have been bred to stay much closer to home. But in addition to breeding some of the characteristics of wolves out of their dogs, people also have bred into domestic dogs a kind of territorial aggressiveness needed to make good watchdogs that is absent in their wild cousins.

Wolf hybrids contain an unpredictable mix of these features.

"Usually you have an animal that's quite a bit larger than either wolves or dogs, that is naturally selected for traveling miles and miles every day, that's now essentially relegated to living on a chain in someone's back yard or pickup truck," Lockwood says.

Hybrids cause various problems
Lockwood, who has studied problems related to wolf hybrids around the country, says these animals are less apt to become vicious toward people than they are to cause other problems that often land them in local animal shelters.

"They get bored, and because they're very strong, they almost always escape, injuring themselves or others in the process," he says. "They go after neighbors' dogs, they jump fences and get hit by cars, they jump out of windows, they eat your house."

If wolf hybrids often turn out to be a disappointment for their owners, they pose a real threat to the wild wolf population. Exterminated throughout most of the country decades ago, wolves are just beginning to make a comeback, thanks to the determined efforts of wildlife groups and a gradual shifting of public opinion in favor of restoring natural habitats. Small numbers of wolves have migrated from Canada to remote areas of Minnesota and Montana, and a controversial reintroduction effort has restored healthy wolf populations to remote areas in Idaho and near Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana.

Owners can harm reintroduction
Wolf hybrid owners, often among the strongest supporters of wolf reintroduction projects, may do more harm than good to their cause.

"A lot of people who get hybrids think they can help defuse the "Little Red Riding Hood" myth in their community," Lockwood says. "And yet the first time their animal bites somebody or gets into other trouble, they've just made things much worse."

Owners who give up in frustration and abandon their fertile hybrids in the woods in areas inhabited by wolves cause even greater harm by contaminating the wild population with dog genes.

For anyone who yearns to own a piece of the wild, Lockwood has simple advice: "If you want to get a wolf hybrid or a wolf because you want to help the wolves, save the $15,000 you'll spend buying the animal and a high fence and give it to one of the groups that are working for wolf recovery."
From: The Oshkosh Northwestern