The terms used to refer to wolfdogs can be confusing. In the past the term wolf hybrid was commonly used. However, the term hybrid refers to the cross of different species, and dogs have been reclassified as Canis lupus familiaris, a sub species of wolves (Canis lupus). Although the term wolf hybrid is commonly used still in the literature, the term wolfdog is now becoming preferred.
As with any other exotic pet, the legality of wolfdogs in your area should be verified before considering adoption.
Generally speaking, the more wolf in the mix, the more "wolfy" the dog will be. This will also depend on the number of generations away from pure wolf. Of course, wolves are not domesticated, so socialization and training of wolf crosses is of the utmost importance. As with many other exotic pets, far too many wolf crosses end up in rescue facilities, often due to unrealistic expectations. They certainly can be difficult to manage if not prepared for their needs and behaviors. Sadly, many also end up being mistreated due to poor socialization and training. Wolfdogs, especially those with higher percentages of wolf, do tend to be destructive, especially if confined to the house (stemming from their natural tendency to dig), and are escape artists. They need to be exposed to lots of different people, locations and situations early on, to prevent them from being skittish and potentially fearful (sometimes leading to biting). Training poses additional challenges, as the wolf cross may not be as eager to please as a domestic dog. In addition, physical punishment is definitely contraindicated with wolf crosses.
The classification of dogs as a subspecies also has implications in another serious wolfdog issue. At this time, there is no rabies vaccine approved for use in wolves and therefore wolfdogs, despite their genetic similarity. This means that officially, even a vaccinated wolfdog is considered a rabies risk in the event of a bite incident. It is possible that a wolfdog involved in a bite incident will be confiscated, killed and tested for rabies, even if fully up to date on rabies vaccination. Some groups are lobbying to have this changed (e.g. The Wolf Dog Coalition). My wolfdog was fully vaccinated and I trusted the vaccine, but lived with the knowledge that in the eyes of the law she was considered the same as an unvaccinated dog.
Many wolfdog owners and associations provide excellent resources online to educate beginner wolfdog owners or potential owners. The following sites provide information on the characteristics of wolfdogs, and special considerations for potential owners. Most of these give strong warnings about the potential difficulties of wolfdogs, but it is clear that wolfdog owners feel a great deal of respect for their canine companions.
- Differences Between Wolves and Dogs - covering physical and behavioral traits, and practical considerations. A good introduction to the considerations for potential owners, by Nicole Wilde of Wolf Hybrid Awareness Through Education.
- So You've Decided To Get A Pup - Proceed With Caution - considerations and cautions about newspaper ads and breeders and sources of further information (recommended reading, newsletters etc.). Also by Nicole Wilde of Wolf Hybrid Awareness Through Education
- Wolfdog FAQ - questions and answers for some basic considerations for wolfdog owners, touching on pet quality, legal issues, evaluating breeders, among other things.
- The Wolfdog Resource- articles on behavior, socialization, legal issues, medical concerns, and more.