:Frequently Asked Questions & Wolf Facts
- BASIC FACTS
- WOLVES, DOGS & WOLFDOGS
- MORE INFO
Q: How large do wolves grow?
A: A wolf’s size depends a lot on the subspecies of wolf and where it lives. In general, wolves that live further north are larger than wolves that live further south. Some Alaskan wolves can reach 5-6 feet long and weigh more than 120 pounds, while the wolves living in the Middle East can weigh as little as 30 pounds. Males are a bit larger than females, weighing on average about 20% more.
Q: What color are wolves and what is their fur like?
A: Wolves come in a wide range of colors from solid white through cream, tan, brown, and gray, to solid black. The majority are a grizzled gray-brown. Each individual hair has several bands of color on it, which contributes to the appearance that a wolf’s pelt is made up of thousands of specks of color (“agouti” coloration). Wolves have two layers of fur: long, waterproof outer guard hairs, and a softer undercoat which provides insulation. They shed their bulky undercoat in the spring—resulting in a fairly short-haired, svelte look during the summer—before growing it back in the fall.
Q: Do wolves have keen senses?
A: Absolutely. Wolves’ strongest sense is their sense of smell, which is roughly 100 times more powerful than that of humans. A wolf can tell, from the scent-markings of another wolf, the other wolf’s age, gender, stress level, dominance, reproductive status, and even its individual identity! Wolves also have keen vision, and can see in the dark better than we can, although they can’t distinguish colors as well as we can. (In particular, like dogs they can’t distinguish shades of red from shades of yellow and green.) They also aren’t very good at discerning small details (their visual “resolution” is rather weak), but they have a superior ability to see and process rapid movement. Wolves also have a good sense of hearing—only a bit more powerful than that of people, but able to hear much higher-pitched sounds than we can.
Q: What are wolves’ teeth like?
A: Wolves haves 42 teeth, which are specialized for different jobs. The canines (fangs) grasp and puncture, the molars crush, the incisors nibble and scrape, and the carnassials shear. The wolf’s jaws are extremely powerful, able to generate up to 1,500 pounds per square inch of pressure. (Compare to German shepherds, which have a jaw strength of around 750 psi.)
Q: How fast can wolves run?
A: Wolves usually travel at a trot of around 5 miles per hour, and can maintain this pace for hours at a time, but if need be a wolf can run at speeds of up to 38 mph. Wolves regularly travel great distances in search of food—up to 50 miles in a day. This is particularly true during fall and winter, once their pups have grown and the pack enters their “nomadic” phase.
Q: How do wolves communicate?
A: Wolves have a number of sophisticated communication systems. They leave scents that other wolves can “read,” including in their urine. Wolves scent-mark with urine near the edges of their territory as a signal to other packs that the territory is occupied. A wolf will also scent-mark on top of its mate’s marking in what seems to be a sort of wolf version of a wedding ring, affirming the mated pair’s bond and advertising their union to other wolves. Wolves also have a pair of anal glands which convey information about that wolf’s mood and identity (this is why dogs sniff one another’s rears when meeting—it’s an exchange of information). Wolves use a large repertoire of sounds, including yelps, whines, growls, snarls, barks, moans, and of course howls. Yelps, whines, and other high-pitched sounds are used to convey friendliness, submission, or fear, while low-pitched sounds like growls convey aggression or dominance. Submission versus dominance is also expressed through body language and facial expressions. Friendly or submissive wolves will lower their body, tuck their tail down or loosely wag their tail, flatten their ears back, and lick the face of a more dominant wolf. Aggressive or dominant wolves stand tall, and keep their ears forward and tail straight or raised. If a wolf is threatening to fight, it will also bare its teeth.
Q: Why do wolves howl?
A: There are several different reasons. Howling is used to gather pack members together (for instance, before starting out on a hunt, or if some pack members have become separated from the others). It’s also used by packs as a territorial call, alerting nearby wolves that a pack already occupies the area. There’s also some evidence that howling may be used by wolves looking for a mate. Finally, group or “chorus” howling seems to serve a communal purpose, strengthening social bonds within the pack. Contrary to popular legend, wolves don’t “howl at the moon,” though they do raise their heads when they howl in order to project the sound farther. A wolf’s howl can be heard up to ten miles away under ideal conditions.
Q: How long do wolves live?
A: Few wild wolves live past the age of ten, and many don’t live more than five years. Around half of all pups don’t survive their first year, and even adult wolves are never far from the dangers of starvation, disease, fights with other wolves, or being injured by their prey. In captivity, where they have the benefit of veterinary care and regular meals, wolves can live up to 16 years or more.
Q: What do wolves eat?
A: Wolves specialize in hunting large ungulates (hoofed mammals). Depending on the area, their prey of choice include moose, elk, deer, caribou, wild sheep, wild goats, muskoxen, saiga antelopes, bison, and wild boar. They will sometimes supplement their diet with smaller prey like beavers, hares, and fish. Wolves lead a feast-and-famine existence, able to go weeks without food and then gorging themselves when they succeed in catching prey (they are able to eat up to 22 pounds of meat at a time). In the areas of their range where their wild prey has been eliminated, such as parts of India, southern Europe, and the Middle East, wolves live largely on garbage and domestic livestock.
Q: How do wolves catch their prey?
A: While single adult wolves have been known to tackle even their largest prey, most wolves hunt in packs. The packs spend much of their time looking for prey. When they sense prey, either by spotting it or catching its scent, the pack will try to stalk as close as possible to it without being seen. As soon as the prey flees, the pack races after it. (If a large prey animal stands its ground instead of fleeing, the wolves will normally give up the hunt.) If they are chasing a herd, the wolves will run among or alongside the herd, testing individuals for weakness and attempting to separate weaker members from the rest of the herd. “Weak” animals might be sick, or very old or young. Once they have isolated their prey, the wolves will attack it in earnest, focusing on the rump and sides of their larger prey. The prey usually succumbs to blood loss, though wolves can kill smaller prey with a bite to the neck. Contrary to myth, wolves don’t hamstring their prey. Wolves’ main prey is often large, dangerous, fast, and alert, so, as with many predators, wolf hunts are more often than not unsuccessful. They succeed in killing only about one out of every ten prey animals they pursue.
Q: What is a “pack”?
A: Most wolves live in packs, though there are also some lone wolves, who are usually individuals searching for a mate in order to start their own pack. “Packs” in the wild are family groups, normally consisting of a breeding pair, any of their pups from that year, and often some of their grown children from one to three previous litters. In some cases packs are more complex than this, for instance if one of the breeding pair dies, the remaining parent will take a new mate to be the “stepparent” of the pack. The parents’ grown children will eventually leave their birth pack in order to find a mate and start a new pack of their own. Packs have usually been portrayed as being governed by a “dominance hierarchy,” with “alpha” wolves at the top, “betas” below them, and “omegas” at the bottom. However, since normal packs are just families, the “hierarchy” follows naturally: the “alphas” are the parents of the lower-ranking wolves, and “outrank” them by virtue of that fact, not because they fight with one another for dominance. Indeed, fights between pack members are very rare in the wild, and “dominance challenges” (challenging the dominant wolf’s authority) basically nonexistent. Ritualized displays of dominance and submission are used primarily to strengthen social bonds and prevent fights. Wolf biologists now generally avoid using terms like “alpha” and “beta” when describing wild (natural) wolf packs. Packs can contain anywhere from two to 42 wolves, though most have somewhere between four to seven members, and packs larger than 12-15 are quite rare. Packs control exclusive territories which they defend from other packs. Territories vary in size depending on location, prey abundance, pack size, terrain features, and other factors.
Q: What is the mating behavior of wolves?
A: Wolves take a long time to sexually mature, generally not until they are two to four years old. Once they do mature, wolves normally leave their birth pack and set out to find a mate (this is usually another wolf that has dispersed from its birth pack.) The pair bond formed between the two is quite strong, and wolves usually have the same mate for many years at a time. However, wolves do sometimes change mates, when their old mate dies or becomes too old to reproduce, for example, but also apparently if the two are no longer attracted to one another. The wolf mating season occurs only once a year, generally in February or March, with the exact time depending on the latitude. The wolf’s gestation period is about 63 days, so wolf pups are born in April or May. It’s still not certain when or if wolves grow too old to reproduce. There’s some evidence of elderly females becoming sexually inactive, but there are other cases in which wolves of 10+ years were able to mate. It’s sometimes claimed that only the “alpha” wolves in a pack mate, but this is not always true. In many cases the “alphas” are the only sexually mature wolves in the pack (since once their children reach sexual maturity they normally leave to form their own pack), and hence the alphas are by definition the only wolves to mate. In cases where there are more sexually mature wolves in a pack, there can be multiple breeders in the pack and multiple litters produced each season.
Q: How many pups are born and what do they look like?
A: The average litter size is four to six pups, who weigh around one pound each. Newborn pups have dark fur (even arctic wolves are dark-furred when they are born) and blue eyes, which will change color as they grow older. They also have stubbier, more “puglike” faces than adult wolves and small, rather droopy ears. When they are first born, the pups are blind, deaf, and completely helpless, and they spend their first several days huddling near their mother and suckling. After several weeks, they are able to see, hear, and walk around, and by a month old they begin to venture out of their den. Pups grow rapidly, and after six months they are almost indistinguishable physically from adults, though it takes them a few years to sexually mature and to learn to be expert hunters.
Q: Do wolves ever “adopt” or raise human babies?
A: While this premise has led to many good stories over the years, there doesn’t seem to be any truth to it. There are no verified examples of human children being accepted or raised by wolves, and it’s hard to see how this would ever work. Wolves have complex social systems and close bonds with one another, but while they are great at raising their own pups, they are not equipped to care for humans.
Q: Are wolves considered endangered?
A: Legally, most wolves in the United States are no longer protected under the Endangered Species Act, after they were delisted from the Endangered Species List in 2011. Wolf regulation is now left up to the individual states. Those states have quickly instituted wolf hunting seasons, in some cases (such as Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana) very large ones aimed at significantly reducing wolf populations. The true, often unstated aim for some of these state “management” plans is destroying as many wolves as possible. Several wolf populations in the US are still protected, including Mexican wolves, which were extinct in the wild until an experimental population was recently released into Arizona/New Mexico; and red wolves, which were released into a small pocket of North Carolina in the 1980s after the last wild ones had been captured and placed in a captive breeding program. There are efforts underway by Arizona lawmakers to remove the protection from Mexican wolves, which would be a devastating setback in the efforts to conserve this subspecies.
In other parts of the world, the status of wolves varies. In some areas wolves are legally protected but the laws are not enforced and many are killed by poachers. In other areas they are legally protected and the laws are enforced, allowing wolves to thrive and expand their range. In still other areas, such as Mongolia, China, and most of the Middle East aside from Israel, wolves lack any legal protection and continue to be widely persecuted. Some local wolf populations are seriously, even critically, endangered, such as the recently-discovered wolves of North Africa. Nonetheless, from a global perspective, gray wolves are in reasonably good shape. The worldwide population is around 200,000, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in its Red List of Endangered Species, rates the gray wolf as “Least Concern.” Thus, gray wolves as a species face little immediate danger of extinction, but individual wolves in many areas continue to suffer from persecution by humans.
Q: What is involved in hunting wolves?
A: There are several methods used by wolf hunters. The most humane method would be finding a wolf in the wild and fatally shooting it with a gun. However, since wolves are very alert, intelligent, and shy of people, it’s not easy to get close enough to one on the ground to use this method. One of the more “humane” alternatives is aerial hunting, which consists of chasing a wolf by plane or helicopter until it is completely exhausted, then shooting it, either from the air or after landing. This method is only “humane” in contrast to the other options, which include trapping wolves by the paw in large steel traps, where they may remain in agony for hours or days before being killed; trapping wolves in snares which strangle them to death; hunting wolves with dogs which rip them to pieces; and poisoning wolves with strychnine or other chemicals that result in slow, agonizing deaths. The truth is that there is simply no easy way to humanely kill wild wolves. In any case, because in the US current wolf levels are sustainable and wolves cause little economic damage to livestock, keep prey populations healthy and in check, and pose virtually no safety risk to people (see below), there are few good reasons why wolves should be hunted in large numbers.
Q: Why have wolves been hated and persecuted for so long?
A: While some human cultures have tolerated or even venerated wolves, for millennia these animals have been viewed by many as vicious, bloodthirsty devils incarnate, a threat to “civilization.” One reason is that they have long had a reputation as being dangerous to people, but this danger has been wildly exaggerated (see below). Another big reason is that wolves sometimes attack livestock—though the threat they pose to livestock has also been exaggerated (see below)—and many people, especially ranchers and others living in rural areas, still view wolves as cruel, bloodthirsty killers. Another group that frequently demonizes wolves is game hunting enthusiasts. While many big game hunters are reasonable people who love the outdoors and support intelligent and responsible wildlife management, there are also many others who are concerned only with bagging as many trophies as possible, and state and local governments tend to be more concerned with a short-term influx of money than long-term sustainability of the local ecosystems. So despite the fact that predators like wolves probably play an important role in regulating and maintaining the health of their ecosystems, there are many people who would like to see wolves eliminated because the short-term result will be larger populations of game like elk and deer, or because they consider wolves “savage killers” (for hunting the same wild game as humans do!) Most of the wolf’s nasty reputation derives from prejudice, misinformation, and fairy tales like “Little Red Riding Hood,” rather than from reality. The truth is that, as one biologist once put it, “people like to believe” the worst stories about wolves.
Q: Don’t wolves destroy large numbers of livestock?
A: Evidence shows that wolves prefer to hunt their natural prey when that prey is abundant, but in large areas throughout the world, wolves’ original habitat has been destroyed and their wild prey eliminated to make way for farms, pastures, and cities. As a result, wolves in some parts of the world do regularly hunt livestock, and have evidently been doing so for a long time. But while it’s true that wolves sometimes attack livestock, especially where their natural prey is gone, the threat they pose to livestock in the US is negligible. Generally, wolf predation accounts for less than 3% of livestock mortality in the states where wolves occur, but many ranchers are so used to the negative stereotypes attached to wolves that they are quick to blame them whenever deaths occur. For instance, in 1991, US cattle ranchers reported 1,400 losses to wolves; of these, 1,200 occurred in states where wolves did not live! The truth is that coyotes and domestic dogs pose a far greater threat to livestock in the US than wolves do. Nonetheless, ranchers’ fears are not entirely groundless, and we need to be honest in admitting that wolves will sometimes attack livestock if presented with the opportunity, and there should be systems in place to compensate or protect ranchers who experience losses. However, we would urge that non-lethal deterrents be used whenever possible, and that ranchers come to view wolves as an important part of the environment, even if it is a part which occasionally comes into conflict with us.
Q: Are wolves dangerous?
A: The short answer is: usually not. Wolves are very shy and reclusive, and their normal reaction to people is extreme fear, rather than aggression. Especially in North America, cases of healthy wolves attacking people are extremely rare. However, in India wolves do sometimes attack unaccompanied children, which due to their size and vulnerability the wolves apparently view as prey. (It is relevant that all the wolves’ wild prey has been eliminated from these areas.) Historical cases of wolf attacks can usually be attributed to rabies, predation on unattended children, wolfdogs or wolves that had been habituated to people, or just an overactive imagination. To put the threat posed by wolves in perspective, a person in wolf country has a greater chance of dying from lightning or a bee sting than they do of being attacked by a wolf. Nevertheless, people in wolf country should take basic precautionary measures: leave food and trash in sealed containers, never feed wolves or other wild animals, never leave children unattended in lowly-populated areas, don’t allow pets to wander free, try to travel in groups when possible, etc. If you are confronted by a wolf, never run from it, as that will trigger its prey drive—instead, try to make yourself appear as big as possible, make loud noises, wave your hands, and try to scare it off, while backing slowly away.
Q: Where are wolves still found? [map]
A: Before they were persecuted by people, gray wolves were the most widespread of all wild land mammals, living from central Mexico to the Canadian high arctic islands and from southern India and North Africa to Siberia. They lived in a wide variety of habitats, from deserts to forests to prairies to steppes to mountains to taiga to tundra. Today, wolves mostly live in remaining wilderness areas like much of Canada or national parks like Yellowstone, but there are also some wolf populations living near populated areas, especially in parts of Europe and the Middle East. In the US, gray wolves are found in Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. There is also a small population of Mexican gray wolves that was released into Arizona/New Mexico, and a small population of red wolves that was released into North Carolina. Elsewhere in the world, gray wolves can be found in North Africa, parts of India, the Middle East, parts of China, the steppes of central Asia, Turkey, Russia, Scandinavia, and several areas of southern, eastern, and central Europe.
Q: Are there any wolves in Texas?
A: While both red and gray wolves once lived in this state, there is no longer any wild wolf population in Texas, although it’s possible there may be occasional gray wolves present which are escaped captive animals. The last confirmed gray wolves in Texas were killed in 1970, but gray wolves generally were exterminated from most of the state by the 1930s. Red wolves once lived throughout the eastern half of the state, but they were mostly eliminated early in the 20th century as well, and by the 1970s the few remaining red wolves were captured by the federal government for use in a captive breeding and reintroduction program. People often report seeing wolves in Texas, but the most likely explanation is that the animals are escaped captive animals, misidentified dogs or wolfdogs, or larger than average coyotes. Zoologist David Schmidly writes in The Mammals of Texas: “A few reports are received each year concerning the occurrence of red and gray wolves in Texas; however, in those instances where it has been possible to study the specimen, all have proven to be unusually large coyotes.”
Q: What kinds of wolves live in America?
A: There are two wolf species living in America: the gray wolf (Canis lupus) and the red wolf (Canis rufus), although the red wolf may be the result of gray wolf-coyote hybridization (interbreeding). There are five subspecies of gray wolf in North America: the arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos), eastern timber wolf (C. l. lycaon), Great Plains wolf (C. l. nubilus), Mexican wolf (C. l. baileyi), and Rocky Mountain wolf (C. l. occidentalis). Of these species and subspecies, the red wolf and Mexican wolf are critically endangered, with only a few hundred individuals of each remaining.
Q: What are the future conservation threats to the wolf?
A: Aside from continued direct persecution by people, the most significant long-term threat to wolf conservation is habitat destruction. The world’s human population continues to grow tremendously, and we continue to destroy huge tracts of wild land in order to house ourselves, obtain natural resources, and create spaces for farming and ranching. Continued destruction of the wolf’s natural habitat and prey base will both drive it to a more marginal existence, as well as bring it into greater conflict with people. Some of this habitat destruction is unavoidable, but much of it is due to unsustainable levels of resource and land usage, particularly in the developed world.
Q: How can I help?
A: There are a number of simple steps you can take to help wolves. Some of our suggestions include:
- Advocate: Write letters to or call your elected representatives and appropriate government agencies and tell them your positions on wolves and other conservation issues. Contact representatives who support wolf hunting and tell them your position. Write to newspapers or other media outlets too. Always make sure your communications are polite, respectful, well-reasoned, and well-supported by the facts.
- Change minds and educate: If you have friends or family who are opposed to wolf conservation efforts or view wolves as evil and bloodthirsty, help educate them and politely try to show them the truth about wolves. If you know someone who wants to buy a “wolf hybrid puppy” advertised in the newspaper, explain to them the dangers of dishonest breeders, the terrible problem of wolfdog overpopulation, and the difficulties faced by inexperienced owners. (See below for information on these issues.) Always make sure your communications are polite, respectful, well-reasoned, and well-supported by the facts.
- Reduce, reuse, and recycle: Habitat destruction, human overuse of non-renewable resources, climate change, and similar problems form the greatest future conservation threat that wolves will face. You can play a role in fighting this threat by reducing your own consumption of nonrenewable resources, and buying products produced responsibly and sustainably. Consider also eating less meat, which is far more “expensive” to produce in terms of land use and carbon footprint. Buy locally-produced food and other products when you can.
- Vote: Vote for candidates who support conservation causes or oppose wolf-hunting.
- Volunteer and donate: Give time, money, support, and/or other needed resources to organizations which support wolves, other endangered animals/ecosystems, conservation, and education.
For other tips on how you can help, see some of the conservation organizations listed on our links page.
Q: How are wolves related to dogs?
A: All dogs are domesticated descendents of gray wolves. Indeed, many researchers classify dogs as a subspecies of wolf. We still don’t know when dogs were first domesticated, but it was at least 15,000 years ago and may have been as far back as 100,000 years ago. Since then, people have bred dogs to be very different from their wolf ancestors, and from one another. Dogs differ from wolves, both physically and behaviorally, in several ways (see below).
Q: What are some differences between wolves and dogs?
A: Wolves differ from dogs, even superficially “wolf-like” dogs like huskies, malamutes, and German shepherds, in several ways. Some of the more important of these differences include:
- Wolves have proportionally larger teeth, brains, heads, and paws and longer legs than dogs.
- Wolves have very narrow, keel-like chests—their front legs come close to touching one another.
- Wolves have a well-defined “face” formed by a ruff of fur along their cheeks which extends out to the side. (This is less prominent while in their summer coat.)
- While most dogs tend to have curling tails, wolf tails are straight. Wolf tails often have a black tip (never a white tip as in many dogs).
- Wolves have all-black noses, lips, gums, skin surrounding their eyes, and paw pads; in many dogs these are brown, pale, pink or partially-pink.
- Many dogs have blue or dark eyes; wolf eyes are light-colored (generally yellow or amber), but not blue. However, wolf pups do have blue eyes, which change color as they mature.
- Wolf nails are dark-colored (or, with some arctic wolves, tan/gray/taupe), whereas many dogs have white or transparent nails.
- Wolf ears are small, rounded, erect, thick, and heavily furred inside and out. Most dog ears don’t fit this description.
- A wolf’s head shape is rather different from that of northern breed dogs: the snout is long and tapered, though broad and deep, and slopes gradually into the forehead, with no abrupt “stop” or wall where the forehead begins. A dog breed with a similar general head shape is the collie.
- Wolves shed only once a year, while many dogs shed more than once a year, or even continuously.
- The different colors on a wolf’s pelt will be well blended into one another. This is true of some dogs, but not generally of northern breeds like malamutes, which tend to have a very distinct facial mask. The dark fur on the face of many wolves extends around the eyes and down the top of the snout, unlike in most huskies and malamutes. Each individual wolf hair has several bands of different colors on it, though this trait is shared by some dogs (“agouti” coloration).
- Wolves have a scent gland near the base of the tail. The gland is marked with a dark spot of fur both in wolves as well as in some dogs, but is not actually a functioning gland except in wolves.
- Most dogs are sexually mature by eight months old, but wolves generally do not reach sexual maturity until two to four years of age.
- Female dogs go into estrus twice during the year at various times, and male dogs are fertile year-round, whereas wolves can only breed once during the year, in February or March (wolf pups are thus born in April or May).
- Dogs bark frequently, but wolves rarely bark, and when they do it is a low chuffing sound issued as a warning call, not the type of loud aggressive bark familiar from domestic dogs. (However, it may be possible for wolves to “learn” to bark if they are brought up around dogs.)
- Finally, wolves and dogs behave quite differently toward people. Dogs love people and want to be around us. While a hand-raised wolf can develop close emotional bonds with its human “family,” a wolf’s natural emotional response to people is fear or at best aloofness.
Q: So what is a “wolfdog”?
A: Wolfdogs (also known as wolf hybrids) are the result of breeding wolves with dogs. Unlike most dogs, whose nearest wolf ancestors lived tens of thousands of years ago, wolfdogs have at least one wolf ancestor from very recently. The normal working definition of a wolfdog is an animal with wolf ancestry within the last five generations. Wolfdogs can be very doglike, very wolflike, or somewhere in between, depending on the content of wolf versus dog genes within them and other factors.
Q: This wolfdog breeder I found says that…
A: There is a great deal of misinformation spread about wolves and wolfdogs as pets. While some breeders are honest, caring, and conscientious, the majority are not. Breeders frequently misrepresent the wolf content of the animals they are selling—not infrequently selling mixed-breed domestic dogs as “wolfdogs” or even “pure wolves.” Often a breeder invents a pedigree for their animals, frequently including references to non-existent types of wolves which sound appropriately exotic (“Canadian silverback,” for example). Existing wolfdogs are basically all descended from a fairly small number of wolves which have been captive for many generations; a breeder who claims that an animal was “taken from a den” in the wild, or that it is the result of a domestic dog mating with a wild wolf, is almost certainly lying.
Dishonest breeders frequently present wolfdogs as ideal pets, but this is rarely true, especially with animals with a high wolf content (see below). Despite what a breeder might tell you, most wolfdogs are not safe if you have small children or small pets. They make poor guard dogs (their reaction to strangers is to flee from them, rather than bark at them). They require very elaborate facilities to safely contain them and prevent escapes. They also require a great deal of exercise and attention, and a canine companion, to prevent stress, boredom, and unhappiness (a wolfdog is a terrible choice for a pet if you live in an apartment, for example). Finally, owning a wolfdog without a license is illegal in many areas. A reputable breeder will be honest about the difficulties of wolfdog ownership. A reputable breeder should also be asking you at least as many questions as you ask them, because a reputable breeder is someone who cares about their animals and the new homes they will have. Never trust anyone advertising “wolfdog puppies” in a newspaper or selling them on the side of the road.
Q: I want to get a wolf or wolfdog for a pet.
A: Wolves do not make good pets; they are not easily trained or housebroken, can be very destructive, and are master escape artists, and solitary wolves can become stressed and neurotic. Wolfdogs have recently become a popular, trendy pet: some estimates put the number of wolfdogs in the United States today at 200,000 to 500,000. However, they rarely make good pets either. They often have very strong prey drives and can be dangerous to small children or other pets. They excel at escaping. They can be very destructive and difficult to handle and train. Many are very fearful of people. And they can be more aggressive than pure wolves and more unpredictable than domestic dogs. The end result is that most people who get a wolfdog as a pet are unable to take care of it, and it either escapes or is surrendered to a shelter or Animal Control. Such animals have little hope of survival, for they are usually euthanized almost immediately. It’s also illegal to own a wolf or wolfdog in many areas without a permit. So for your own sake as well as the sake of the animals, don’t get a wolf or wolfdog as a pet. There are already animals that look like wolves but act like dogs—dogs! Let wolves remain wild, help wolfdog breeding become a thing of the past, and adopt a rescue (domestic) dog.
If you need assistance in caring for or finding a home for a wolfdog, see our page on the subject.
If you’re interested in learning more about wolves, wolfdogs, and conservation issues, there are many resources available, a number of which are presented on our Links page. In particular, we recommend the International Wolf Center’s website and the website of Wolf Park, especially their sections on wolfdogs. While we would generally discourage relying on Wikipedia for factual information, the Wikipedia page on gray wolves is actually quite accurate and informative.
If you are interested in resources in print, L. David Mech’s 1970 book The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species is useful, although much of the information is now out of date. Barry Lopez’s 1978 work Of Wolves and Men is a classic on the various relationships humans have with wolves (the 25th anniversary edition from 2003 contains a new afterword). The most recent synthesis of scientific information on wolves is the 2003 volume Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation, edited by L. David Mech and Luigi Boitani, though this work is quite dense and is not directed toward a “popular” audience. A recent book geared toward a popular audience is Robert H. Busch’s The Wolf Almanac (revised edition), which is especially strong in its content on wolf relationships with humans, though some of the factual information elsewhere in the book is inaccurate.
For additional information on wolfdogs, see our recommendations on our Wolfdog Help page.
If you have any other questions you are welcome to contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources used: Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation (ed. by L. David Mech and Luigi Boitani, 2003); The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species (L. David Mech, 1970); Wolfdogs A to Z (Nicole Wilde, 2001); Living with Wolfdogs (2nd ed., Nicole Wilde, 2005); “Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Packs” (L. David Mech, Canadian Journal of Zoology, 1999); several other scientific papers; website of the International Wolf Center; website of Wolf Park; a number of the websites listed on our Links page; and several other reputable websites. Specific references for individual factual claims are available upon request.