Part Wild: Book Review and Ode to Dog-ness

You know I love Willie; sometimes I think almost too much. But I’ve never loved him more than I have this morning, after finishing the book, Part Wild, by Ceiridwen Terrill. Willie is a dog. Inyo, the focus of Part Wild, is a wolf-dog who Ceiridwen adopted as a puppy. The book is a brutally honest testament to the differences between dogs and wolves. I can’t think of anything I’ve read lately that made me more grateful to have dogs, Canis lupus familiaris, as domesticated animals, in my life.

Fair warning: It’s not always a happy story, as wolf-dog stories often aren’t.  Ceiridwen gets herself a wolf-dog pup for all the wrong reasons–primarily to protect herself from an abusive ex-boyfriend who is stalking her. She makes a lot of bad decisions, both related to boyfriends and Inyo, and I will honor her honesty by saying that at times I wanted to reach into the pages of the book, pull the author out and yell “WHAT were you thinking?” When her wolf-dog kills a neighbor’s beloved cat I almost had to put the book down.

But I didn’t, I finished it at 6 AM this morning, (still on UK time) because the book is so good and so honest and so very, very important.  She is flat-out honest about her own problems with OCD, hair pulling (her own), and enabling bad boyfriend behavior. And she is equally honest about her inability to provide a good life for an animal always torn between being wild and living a domesticated life. What comes charging out of the book, page after page, is the profound difference between a wolf and a dog. Typical of a wolf, Inyo is relentlessly active, never ceasing to paw, dig or chew anything and everything around her. She escaped from everything that Ceiridwen built (in part because Inyo was a wolf, and that’s what wolves do, and in part I’m guessing because Ceiridwen made the classic beginner mistake of underestimating what it takes to confine a wild animal, and thus continually taught Inyo that she could get out if she just worked at it hard enough.)

I haven’t worked with wolves much, but I will never forget the wolf-dogs I’ve worked with. One was a five-month old “high percentage” wolf owned by a young couple who lived in a second-story apartment. (The “high percentage” label is often a claim used to increase the selling price of a wolf-dog, but all I can say is that this one looked as wolfie as the wolves I met at Wolf Park). They were having some “obedience” problems. The animal, a gorgeous, yellow-eyed, long-legged sprite, literally bounced off the walls of the tiny apartment when I came out to do a house call. She ran up the walls and somersaulted off, she lept up and over all the furniture with abandon, she chewed my shoes, my hands, my pen, my hair–all with a sparkle in her eyes and a huge grin on her face. It broke my heart, because the couple had no money, no land, no space, no knowledge of what this gorgeous animal needed and nowhere to place this poor animal who could never be happy without a  hundred square miles to roam. I tried to help them find a wolf rescue facility for her; but I don’t know what eventually happened. Most wolf rescue groups are relentlessly overwhelmed with wolf-dogs who have continually escaped, killed livestock or the neighbor’s dog, and/or bitten a person.

Speaking of biting, that’s the other experience I had working with a wolf-dog.  A gentleman (I use the word loosely) came in for an appointment because his wolf-dog had begun biting his wife and was escaping the “fool-proof” pen he had constructed. He seemed far more concerned about the escapes than his wife. I talked at length about the challenges of keeping a wild animal happy in a domestic setting, and my concerns that at five months of age (note the similarity of ages of the client’s animals?) the wolf-dog was already attacking his wife. It was obvious that my words were having no impact, so I finally gave up and attempted to show him how to use counter classical conditioning to treat resource guarding (which was the context of the bites.)

Like many wolf-dogs, “Sierra” was all over me with licks and kisses. After a greeting ceremony straight out of a National Geographic special, I gave Sierra a chew bone, one of moderate attractiveness. Once Sierra took possession of it, I threw a chunk of real chicken 4 feet away, and picked up the chew bone myself. After Sierra inhaled the chicken he came back for the chew bone that I was holding in my right hand. As he approached I moved the bone toward him in an offering. “See? If you give something up you get something better, and still get the first thing back anyway!” I’ve done this with thousands of dogs, and with few exceptions they catch on right away. “Trade Chew Toy for chicken? Yes! Good deal! Let’s do it again.”

But Sierra wasn’t a dog. Instead of taking back the chew toy he stopped and looked straight up into my eyes with a cold, hard stare. I remember every pixel of his face as he, like lightening, bit down hard on my right hand. It was the second most painful bite I’ve ever had, but it was more the calculated message behind the bite that shook me most. “Don’t you EVER touch my stuff again.” That’s how I interpreted the behavior anyway, accurately or not. The man thought it was funny that I’d been bitten, so much so that I found myself wondering if working in a small room with a dangerous wild animal and a sadist was a good career plan.

That pretty sums up the two primary differences I’ve seen, and that Ceiridwen experienced, between wolves and dogs: 1) a wolf’s energy level is off the charts; Inyo and Ceiridwen hiked miles and miles to little effect, and  2) Dogs are, at least compared to wolves, motivated to let humans drive the system. Like most wolf-dogs, Inyo came when called, if she felt like it. She sat or lay down when asked, if she felt like it. No amount of training treats or positive reinforcement made any difference if she had another agenda. What was hers was hers, and she was willing to use her teeth to underscore that arrangement.

Part Wild is coming out in a few weeks, but you can pre-order it now on Amazon. I got an advance review copy because Ceiridwen contacted me for an interview for an article she is writing for Slate. The book is a beautifully written, bravely honest and heart-breaking. I hope it has some effect on discouraging the breeding and purchase of wolf-dog pups, I am sure that’s one of the reasons it was written. She acknowledges, as do I, that there are indeed some exceptions, some wolf-dogs with just the right mix of genes can be happy and safe in a domestic environment.  But they are the exception, not the rule. And as Ceiridwen says, what about their siblings? Where are they? I expect that the book will generate no small amount of criticism–as I said, the author makes no attempt to candy-coat her problems and mistakes. But I for one applaud her for her honesty, and for writing a book that will stay with me for years to come.

Do you have wolf-dogs in your area? It seemed we had a rash of them here in Wisconsin for awhile, but less lately. I have heard that they are still very popular in the American west. True? What about other countries?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: We’re back on the farm! After a wonderful, amazing and slightly exhausting trip to Scotland and England, we’re home and it’s fall and gorgeous and cool and Willie is full of himself and getting harder to keep quiet. This week we are beginning to let him off leash for a few minutes in the house. Sunday night I put on his hobbles and let him play with a toy since the first time since March. I can’t imagine 2 happier individuals than him and me for that brief period of time. He ripped the toy into shreds in 5 minutes while I stood and grinned.  Last night I gave him another toy, less rippable, and after he played with it for 6 minutes I took it away and put him back on leash. Oh dear, this time it wasn’t all so happy. After I took the toy away he slumped down, head on paws, and looked miserable the rest of the night. Poor guy, wish I could explain. Tonight I think I’ll skip the toy, just let him off leash for a bit.  But soon soon, he can be off leash outdoors! What a day that will be. (This weekend if all goes well.)

Here’s a little fall color from the yard:





  1. Beth says

    I met a wolf (or maybe wolf-dog, but she sure LOOKED all wolf, down to the yellow eyes with the oddly-shaped pupils and the funny-shaped head compared to a dog) being walked in town.

    We went (carefully) to greet her. and she gave very obvious submission signals, much more extreme than you’d ever see in a dog. She very purposely looked away and flattened and wagged, but then she pawed to be petted. I’ve met many submissive dogs and never seen one posture so extremely. It was text-book.

  2. Robin L. says

    I can’t say how often for sure in our Montana shelter but we do get an occasional known wolfdog. I suspect some of the mixes we get that we call northern breeds are low-content. We currently have an aloof wolf-dog in our shelter and he went out on a trial adoption where he wasn;t contained so he took a tour of the countryside, killing goats along the way. He’s back with us. He shows no aggression but has high prey-drive. The other two I have known of were the “Camp Husky” crew. It was an open secret that a few of those dogs had wolf in them.

    We are by no means swamped with them, thank goodness.


  3. Kat says

    I met a wolf/dog at a pet store grand opening a few years back. He was a huge mostly black beast with a great fluffy coat–looked a lot like a black long coated GSD crossed with a Malamute. His leash was a hunk of tire chain and he showed no interest in socializing although he was very calm in the midst of the chaos. Still my gut reaction was that I wouldn’t want to take him home.

    One of Ranger’s playmates at the dog park is an Australian Shepherd/Coyote cross. He’s very nice and has good social skills and manners but he is constantly in motion. The one time he actually laid down in the park his person took him home thinking he must be sick. It’s interesting watching him, he looks and moves like a Coyote but (aside from the relentless energy) acts like a dog.

  4. Ravana says

    Wow. This made me wonder if my rescued mutt really is a wolf-dog or coydog as some people have accused him of being. He has slanted yellow eyes and a very high prey drive and is out of the ballpark smart. He was very hard to train because he spent all his time trying to figure out how to get the reward without doing the behavior, and he still does as he pleases most of the time. I swear he must have eaten his Jiminy Cricket when he was a pup because he will counter surf and then bring his ill-gotten gains into the room where I am to enjoy them. When he was young I’d take him on 20 mile hikes and he’d literally be running in circles around me at the end of them. I wouldn’t trade him for anything though!

  5. Lisa M says

    I have only worked with a few wolf-dogs and found that they vary greatly in personality. Some were shy and fearful, some bold.

    Most of my exposure has been to a “high-content” Wolf/Malamute cross (although I think he’s really more on the mid to low-content end) that belongs to a family member. He lives in a small town on the Northern California coast and gets daily exercise on the beach and in the forest. He is the poster child for energy conservation – he is not high energy in the least, but that is likely due to his lifestyle. He is an amazing animal, friendly with new dogs and humans. When wolf-sitting, I’ve brought him to classes with me and, even though he has had minimal training, is calm and attentive in the middle of class, ready to demonstrate any exercise.

    However, he has severe separation anxiety, is an escape artist and has killed a neighbor’s geese…although he lives in harmony with two cats. The first time I tried old-school techniques like “hard stares” and verbal reprimands (UH-UH! WRONG!), he made it quite clear he was no Golden Retriever. He was one of two animals (the other was a pariah dog from the Philippines) that convinced me to seek out better methods. Since then, we are the best of pals and haven’t had any conflict in years.

    I credit him with putting me on the path to becoming a better trainer. Thank you, Sparky :)

  6. says

    I used to work in a small, country vet clinic when I was in college…we had one client with a dog that most of us were pretty sure had some wolf (and since wolf hybrids are not allowed in that state, he was listed as a husky mix I believe)…thinking back, I’m guessing he was low percentage…he wasn’t a dog that bounced off the walls…he had beautiful eyes, long skinny legs and he had the most beautiful howl…I live in Idaho were wolves are not liked but I’m surprised to see ads for dog-wolf hybrids…I’ve never contacted any of these “breeders” but I wonder what the wolf percentage is in their lines…I can’t believe people would even consider getting such breeeding…but since most of the population believe that dogs and wolves are the same, maybe it doesn’t surprise me…

    And I understand how you think you love Willie too much…that is how I feel about Mo, my border collie…and I’m sure once I read this book, I will appreciate her even more :-)

  7. matthew says

    I have encountered 3 (allegedly) wolf dogs out here in California, none were mine.

    One was years ago and it looked mostly German Shepard. Looking back I seriously doubt it was a first generation wolf/dog hybrid, if it was one at all. Training attempts was Dominance style training resulting being put to sleep before it made it to it’s second birthday. Wish I knew then what I know now, because if I am right and it’s wolf heritage was low to non existent, the issues I remember I now associate more with a fearful reactive dog than what people who have real wolf dog experience relate. But at the same time, not being my dog it’s debatable how much I could have done.

    The other 2 were more recent. One is an over weight older dog that arguably has some wolf characteristics. The interesting thing about her is that when she is out at the beach the other dogs shy away from her. they just don’t seem to want her close…then there is my formally highly dog reactive dog…he seems to think she is pretty cool and will without fear (I am very aware of when he is anxious or fearful) go up to her for a brief greeting and has even tried to play a little with her. but being a chihuahua/Jack Russel mix is way out classed physically.

    Then there is a very young female (6 months to 1 year range) that gets brought to the local dog park and she has got to be first generation wolf/dog, that or she at least got a heavy dose of physical wolf genes. time will tell on the personality/behavior traits as the last time I saw her she was still basically a pup. She clears out the dog park simply by her presents. Of the 3 she leaves the absolute least doubt to the claim of being a wolf/dog.

    I feel bad for these dogs, and wish I could do something help them. but I am in no more a position to give them what they need than most people who get them are. I live in a urban location so at least the 3 examples I have encountered are being “forced” to live in less than ideal environments verse their needs. assuming their claimed heritage is accurate.

  8. JJ says

    I’ve seen at least two wolf-dogs at my dog park. The owners are both very proud of their dogs and clueless.

    With one dog, I had no idea he was a wolf-dog until the owner told me that the dog was half-wolf. The dog is all white with long hair. He didn’t look like a wolf to my untrained eyes.

    But his behavior is much like what you describe above in terms of food resource guarding. The owner told me two stories. One story was about how her dog got into a fight the other day over food at the dog park. The owner of another dog was giving food to her own dog, but the wolf-dog was very nearby. The wolf-dog tore into the other dog. The owner of the wolf-dog pulled the dogs apart. She said, very dismissively–as if it made it all OK, “He didn’t hurt the other dog.” The point from her being that her wolf-dog is really not a problem since he didn’t draw blood. And thus she continues to bring her dog to the dog park where people like me do treat training with our own dogs.

    The other story she told me was of her wolf-dog and another dog each getting a treat in a home setting. The other dog finished his treat first and went to sniff at the wolf-dog. The wolf-dog attacked.

    Both of the wolf-dogs that I have seen at the dog park have gone stiff and deep growled at my dog after a few seconds of the two dogs sniffing (sniffing at each other’s noses). My dog has to lower his head to sniff another dog and I think that may be part of what triggers the wolf-dogs. However, I’ve never seen any other dog do this to my dog who is calmly and loosely standing there doing nothing but sniffing. When I told the owner of one of the growling wolf-dogs (a different owner than the one described above), the owner dismissed the incident completely with a wave of the hand and some words to the effect of, “Oh, my dog is just playing.” After all, nothing happened. [argh!]

    Even if common sense were not enough (which it is) to help me decide on the wisdom of having wolf-dogs, the experiences I have had with at least two would make me think twice.

  9. Ken Warner says

    We had what was believed to be a hybrid at the shelter where I volunteer as a walker. We could not label her as such because local law would have required immediate execution. She was with us for almost six months partially because of health problems ( she came in with three other dogs in an abuse case) and partially because the shelter wanted to make sure she went to some one who understood what they were getting. She was aloof but easy to handle with no interest in or aggression towards the other dogs. She appeared to be in hunt mode from the moment she left the kennel until she returned. I do not know how far removed she was from her wolf heritage. She went to an experienced owner and last we heard they were both very happy.

  10. Rusty says

    Several years ago my sister and her husband who live in north-central Wisconsin picked up the hobby of dog sledding. They started with Siberian Huskys but eventually wanted/needed dogs bigger, stronger faster. They would go sledding almost every weekend during the long Winters in Northern WI & MN. They befriended a prominent national if not world known dog sledder. They got Malamutes, Alaskan Huskies and other large breed dogs, purebred and mixes. At one point they were up to, I think, ten dogs and three of them were said to be wolf-hybrids they got from the well known dog sledder, who breeded his own dogs. It was explained that wolf-hybrids are very common among serious dog sledders because of their size, energy, strength and ability to survive cold weather. They gave these dogs names like Godzilla, and Bear. They were 150-170 pound dogs. These were huge dogs, but they were truely gentle giants. Not aggressive, no resource guarding… no belligerent behavior at all. My brother-in-law would take the biggest one to Elementary Schools when he would go and give presentations and talks about dog sledding and Winter camping.

    This was years before I knew anything about dogs so I didn’t know what body language or behavior to look for. Judging by what I know now, if they did have wolf-hybrids there was not “a lot” of wolf in them, even if they were the largest and gentlest dogs I’ve ever seen. Those dogs loved to pull. I cannot say if they had yellow eyes or not. I didn’t know to look for that and it was, as I said, several years ago.

    Regardless, I can’t see myself ever wanting to own or otherwise get involved with a wolf-hybrid. I’ll stick with herd dogs, working dogs or sporting dogs.

  11. Joanna says

    I work at a doggy daycare and for a while we had a regular client whose dog was claimed to be high-content wolf. At the time I was skeptical because I’d heard that dogs often get labeled that way when it’s not true, but now I’m thinking that it was true. She was off-the-walls with energy. It was impossible to house-break her — she would pee in her crate. We had to crate her because she would climb out of the rooms, and we had to reinforce the crate with ties at the corners. She was shy with new people but loved the staff members that she had gotten to know a little better. She got along okay with the other dogs. She was a relentless player and we had to frequently pull her off when she was getting over-bearing and the other dog wanted to take a break but their signals were ignored. Physically she was large, with a shaggy black coat, yellow eyes, and long, skinny legs. Her owner was very devoted to her but he was an older man and I wonder how they’re doing now…

  12. Cassie says

    There is one wolf dog that will never leave my memory. It was boarding at the vet clinic where I worked as a tech at the time (before I went to vet school) and I was the only one allowed to handle it, as it had severely attacked its previous owner. To this day i have NO IDEA why we had the dog or why it wasn’t euthanized. I think it was on its way to a sanctuary.

    I had to hand feed him to keep him from guarding the run he stayed in, I would feed him one kibble at a time through the bars. Somehow I learned his rules (I guess just by paying attention to his body language)- He only wanted to be in the kennels where he had a view up to the front of the room, and I was never to hold his collar, only to loop a slip lead over him. It was always clear to me that he was doing what I wanted because it was what HE wanted, and never the other way around.

    One day I was distracted and I broke two rules at once. I both led him by the collar, instead of by a leash, and I walked him towards the runs with obstructed views. The second we passed the last of the kennels that he preferred he was suddenly in front of me, his mouth on my hand firmly but gently. His eyes were hard and on my face. I have never before and never since seen eye contact just like that.

    I am thankful that this happened after we had been building repore for a week or so. I am glad he saw me as his food source or as someone who was usually pretty clued in, or that he was just a benevolent leader as far as wolves go. Whatever the reason, I am thankful he chose not to bite me. This is the one and only time I felt like I was being given an order, or that “dominance aggression” would be a fair phrase to use. He let go of my hand, I backed up and opened the door to his usual kennel, and he walked in happily. I fed him his usual meal through the door, and we did fine for the next week or so until he moved on.

    We do see wolf mixes here from time to time- It’s Texas, and people tend to do whatever the heck they want as far as breeding dogs goes, legal or not. Most of the ones I know are quite submissive, but I suppose the majority of those that weren’t found themselves euthanized, dropped in the shelters, or, if they lived in the country, at the wrong end of a gun- Texas is like that too sometimes (Not all of us!)

  13. Alexandra says

    There is a (purported) wolf-dog in my in-laws neighborhood. It looks like an overlarge GSD mix to me. In any case, one the one occasion I saw it, it was well on it’s way to being highly dog-agressive and was so large that it was able to physically drag it’s able-bodied male owner across the street. He was laughing and often bragged to my in-laws about it being part wolf. After that encounter, whenever we visit, I watch out the window until I have seen him take that animal for it’s daily walk, and only then do I walk my dogs in their neighborhood. This was a few years ago, I really hope it didn’t wind up hurting anyone.

  14. nancy says

    We have some locals who think it is a cool/macho thinkg to have a wold dog. They don’t care for them properly, they don’t have the room that a wolf dog requires and lastlym they let them roam the area. We are in a rural area, miles from town. These dogs have killed neighbors cats, chickens, other poultry. They have also run through my cattle and split off a pair from the rest of the herd. I was able to chase them off. However, when I approached these people about their wolf dogs, wither in person or by phone, this is an ongoing problem. They will declare that their poor wolf dog would never do anything like that and that I’ve been brainwashed by BAD press. Well, I do have a brain and can reason that there is no good that can come out of this situation. I called Animal Control and that was a waste of time. Other neighbors have also made complaints. By State law, any dog found in the same pasture/field, not even running or worrying livestock can be destroyed. I don’t want it to go that far but I may have to in an effort to protect my stock. I feel for the wolf dodg as he did not as for this. He is just a victim of his instincts. Thanks.

  15. says

    Thank you to Patricia McConnell for her review. She definitely understands the book and its purpose. From diet to training, we hear so much today about how similar dogs and wolves are, but in all that discussion of sameness and likeness, we have lost sight of the profound differences. I spent five years interviewing wolf biologists, dog trainers, and genetics experts and flew to Russia to see for myself the world

  16. Beth says

    All this talk of wolves made me suddenly think of cats, and the difference between being “tame” and being “domesticated.” Dogs are clearly domesticated, being selectively bred for certain traits. Cats, in my mind, are more tame than domesticated. While there are some selectively bred cats, the fact is that most of our housecats come from long lines of self-selecting animals, many of whom choose their own feral mates and have outside kittens who are captured and tamed. And you can really see the difference in behavior. I have said for years that if cats weighed 40 pounds we could not keep them.

    Like the wolves described above, cats will listen to you if it suits your agenda. They will show affection if it suits them. They will punish people, severely (for their size) for breaking the rules of the cat. My own sweet and affectionate two-year-old cat was batting at things she should not behind the computer. I picked her up gently and put her on the floor. I could tell I had ticked off Her Highness, and she tried to bite my foot in retaliation. I thwarted her by shifting around and blocking her with a magazine…. and she leapt up and bit my arm, claws extended. If a dog did such a thing— striking you with the intent to cause pain, in retaliation for frustrating its desires—- most of us would painfully start thinking of whether or not this dog was safe to keep around. But for many cats, this is typical behavior. In fact, many books on cat training talk about how to avoid a cat’s retaliatory strikes; a dog training book would talk about how to stop the behavior.

    Mind you this is not an everyday occurrence. Nor is this a particularly aggressive cat. But the mention of the wolves intentionally biting to correct humans for “misbehavior”seems very cat-like to me.

  17. says

    A few years ago I was in an advanced obedience class which included basic agility & rally training. A woman who had owned other wolf dogs brought her huge shaggy grey wolf mix, using a head halter, & he actually did quite well. The tunnels were way too small for him but he would weave & do the jumps & the dogwalk, & he would do all the stuff of obedience, albeit rather reluctantly. He would do long downs with the other dogs, but when we did off leash recalls the woman took him to the far end of the room & held him there. Two other things set him apart. When my Weimaraner had to heel near him during “contact work” like figures eights, she would tuck tail & whimper. She was terrified of him, & other dogs appeared to be afraid of him as well. The other thing was odd. Whenever the wolf dog hurt himself, even a little, like banging a paw on a jump, he would cry pathetically. You’d think he had broken his leg.

  18. says

    I’m looking forward to reading that book when it comes out!

    I’ve never encountered a wolf dog myself, though I did read White Fang when I was 8 or 9 and thought they were probably the coolest thing ever. As an adult, with a real dog instead of my imaginary friend Lassie, I still think they’re cool, but certainly don’t have the facilities nor the training and wolf knowledge to own one. Heck, I’m lucky that I got a Doberman with the low-ish drive level that I did; some of those sport dogs are crazy!

  19. Jane says

    Thankfully the whole wolf hybrid trend hasn’t caught on in the UK, and boy am I glad, I can’t understand why anyone would wish to own such an unpredictable creature. Reading some of the 1st hand accounts though, I’m struck by how similar some of their behaviours are to my TM ( apart from the aggression ), I had dismissed the whole ” primitive breed ” label as being a bit of an excuse for their indifference to training, but now view it as an intriguing glimpse into his ancestry.

  20. says

    Virginia law allows for ownership of “hybrid canines” and allows localities to impose permit systems to ensure “adequate confinement and responsible ownership of hybrid canines.” I live in very urban Northern Virginia, right outside of Washington, DC, and haven’t seen any hybrids around here.

  21. Carmen says

    I have met two wolf dogs directly in my life. One was as a young high school student (many years ago – ha!), while participating in an exchange program in central Mexico. I stupidly walked right up to the family’s iron fence upon arrival at their home, and stuck my hand through to pet the pretty husky dog, and was promptly bitten. (Only after the wolf dog looked at me surprised, clearly thinking, well nobody has done this before!) The family kept him as a guard dog for their family, turning him out into the fenced area surrounding their home at night. The only member of the family who was allowed to interact with him was the husband. Their hired man had bite marks all over his hands and arms from interactions with him.

    The other was over 15 years ago when I was teaching dog classes in SE MN. A couple brought one to class, and despite being questioned about it, completely denied that he was a wolf hybrid until the last night of class when they admitted it to me. He was adolescent, friendly, and very mouthy. One of the last nights of class the woman made the mistake of dropping her treat bag on the floor. The dog quickly snatched it up and seriously guarded it. I threw some hot dogs on the floor several feet away, he dropped it and she was able to grab the bag back. They then told me about the guarding issues they were seeing at home, which included stealing an entire roasted turkey off the counter. On the last night of class when they told me he was indeed a wolf hybrid, I spoke with them about the dangers of having a wolf dog mix, and some of the behaviors that they would most likely run into (or already were) as the dog ages. Sadly, I don’t know what became of the dog.

    I look forward to reading Part Wild. Thank you for the review.

  22. Rachel says

    This sounds like a great book; I’ll be sure to check it out. I don’t think I’ve ever met a wolf hybrid in real life. I live in urban New England and I’m always surprised to see dogs that are more than about 50 lbs as space (indoor and outdoor) is difficult to come by.

    I’ve always thought that silver fox study was fascinating. Both that and this discussion of wolf-hybrids are interesting because they highlight the importance of tiny bits of genetics. Dogs can breed to produce fertile offspring (the genetic definition of species, I believe) with wolfs, coyotes, and at least one strain of jackal (not to mention wild dogs like dingos, etc); this shows that genetically, all these animals are pretty similar. However, the tiny bit of genetic material that helps dogs fit into human society (eg makes them more biddable than their wild relatives) is vital to the roles they play for us.

    In a wolf-dog hybrid, particularly in a high-content animal, it really would be a crapshoot – do you get the biddable genes or not? I don’t know any of the details about hybrid breeders, but maybe if there was temperament screening for the wolves used and only F1 hybrids that seem to have the biddable genes went on to breed (with other biddable dogs or hybrids), then there may be a decent way to get a hybrid with the vital genes that allow them to live in human society. In my mind’s eye, I’m seeing hybrid breeders as dog-farmer / backyard-breeder types, so I don’t think this would be implemented.

  23. Kerry says

    Fascinating comments. I especially was interested in the wolf-dogs correcting people who weren’t following the wolf-dogs’ rules. It made me think about the developmental growth of kids coupled with the theory that dogs are behaviorally similar to juvenile wolves.

  24. Pike says

    Sounds like a wonderful book that I look forward to reading.

    I have encountered two wolf dogs and found both of them utterly fascinating. The first belonged to friends of a friend (they all worked for many years at a wolf sanctuary in New Mexico) who came to visit her when their wolf dog was about 10 years old. They lived somewhere with tons of space and the animal was of the gentle, well socialized type that could go anywhere. All of our dogs had immediate and utter respect for him. Of course, he was never off leash while visiting here. He was lucky to live with people who know about wolves.

    The second one, was on a recent walk. An older couple had adopted a shepherd mix from the pound to keep their older lab company. She was now 6 or 7 months old and they were starting to worry about this tall and lanky “shepherd-dog” that certainly looked like a wolf dog to me. All black with these gorgeous yellow, slanted eyes. She moved with the most grace I have ever seen in an animal and Ronja and her had a wonderful time racing each other with my very fast Beahound not standing a chance to keep up with her.

    She also looked at my little Pom in way that had my hair stand on end and I scooped Pixie up (something I have never felt necessary to do around other dogs before) and did not let her down until they were safely out of sight. As the owners were tourists passing through, we will never know how things developed – but we sure hoped that despite the appearance, the dog part might win out over the wolf part. The people only wanted a second dog and it was rather sad to see that they ended up with so much wolf.

  25. Melissa says

    I have met one wolf-hybrid in my area. She had a large yellowish-beige fluffy coat, but I can’t remember the eye color. My impression of her was the same I have when I see wolves, coyotes, and foxes at the zoo, pacing over and over again along the fence line. This behavior at zoos has always made me sad, as it seems clear that the animals are not content (or happy, in human terms). The wolf-dog, although confined by a leash rather than a pen, had the same kind of restless energy. Temperamentally, she was quite fearful and submissive, easily startled, and withdrawn. I felt compassion that such a misfit had been purposefully bred because she wasn’t happy in domestication but unlikely to survive in the wild.

  26. Lacey H says

    I have only had one person introduce me to a purported wolf-dog, but that dog was not in the least wolflike – walking on a loose lead, loving strangers, and looking like an Australian Shepherd mix. I have met a possible coy-dog hybrid, extremely shy, with a determined rescuer who did eventually place her in an adoptive home.

  27. JJ says

    Controversial idea? As much as I think breeding wolf-dogs is generally a very bad idea, I *wonder* if it is possible to do such crosses in a responsible manner with the specific purpose of addressing the (what I would call a) crises of lost genetics in dogs?

    See Patricia’s post on for what I am referring to. Specifically note: “All the breeds were extremely inbred except, interestingly enough, the Greyhounds. The extent of the inbreeding can be summarized thusly: 90% of the genetic variation was lost over a period of 6 generations. (The paper is in Genetics 179, May 2008, pp 593-601.)”

    I wonder if it would be a good idea (or possible) to deliberately introduce some wolf genes into dog breeds, but then keep breeding until we get back to dogs and not wolves. Yes, the breed would end up different than when started, but would that necessarily be a bad idea? I think the idea of freezing a breed in time is generally a bad idea and probably not possible. (Says the hypocritical woman who wants to clone her dog, she loves him so much.)

    Just a thought.

  28. Lisa H says

    Last spring I met a possible wolf-hybrid at an agility competition in WI. The dog was gorgeous, large/tall, very calm, w/that floating gait. The woman handler said she is often asked if s/he (? I don’t remember the sex) was part wolf but always said no as it makes people unomfortable and there are insurance & liability issues, but having said that, also acknowledged the dog met 8 of 9 criteria for a wolf-dog. I’ve wondered since what this criteria list is, or where to locate it. It didn’t sound as if the woman sought out a hybrid but ended up adopting a puppy that probably was one. The dog was on leash the entire afternoon, & did not interact w/other dogs but then at AKC agility trials (that I’ve seen) the great majority of dogs are on leash, in crates, or not in the buiding – they’re not socializing (like the handlers!).

  29. Alexandra says

    JJ – my opinion is that it’s a *very* bad idea to introduce wolf genes into domestic dogs. Dogs were selected out of the wild wolf population many thousands of years ago for their affinity or at least tolerance of humans without aggression, while at the same time the remaining wild wolf population has faced extremely intense selective pressure on them by humans culling their numbers for territory, fear (misplaced or no) and to protect livestock. This has left us with a domestic dog population that has had all the emphasis placed on biddability and sociability with humans and a wolf population where the fearful ones who wanted nothing to do with any humans whatsoever were the wild wolves that were most likely to survive. This has made the two modern populations, I would theorize, even further apart behaviorally than they were during the initial periods of domestication.

  30. Chris Carney says

    This is so interesting to me, in particular since just yesterday I took my golden retriever to a specialty vet hospital and a highly recommended vet for shoulder/soft tissue issues that just wouldn’t resolve, getting better for a week or two, then regressing. He put her through some pretty strenuous movements, some of which were obviously painful to her (although he was as gentle as possible). Still, by the end of the manipulations, which seemed to take hours but probably 10-15 minutes, I was marvelling at Smooch’s incredible, wonderful temperament. She displayed no hostility, no irritation, just finally a kind of resignation. It really hit home how seriously lucky we are to have such trusting friends in ANOTHER SPECIES, willing to suffer through some pretty bad moments because I (or maybe not even me, just any human being, such as the vet) asked it of her, even tho to her it made no sense. Absolutely miraculous, when you think about it.
    Of course, when I’m eating ice cream and Smooch is waiting for her random spoonfuls, her eyes intense upon me, I am often also amazed that she doesn’t just go for the whole dish! ; ]

  31. Ayoka says

    I really wonder how one knows if all the wolf dogs really ARE wolf dogs? Or are they just poorly behaved dogs through a mix of genetics, lack of education etc?

    Locally in Manitoba Canada, I have seen wolf hybrid litters advertised on flyers in pet stores but I always wonder how one can be SURE…I doubt the breeder had a captive wolf, kept the bitch separate from all other dogs and put the two of them together during the right time…seems unlikely to me. What seems more likely is that a farm dog got pregnant by another local wanderer and someone figured out that people will buy a “wolf-dog” for $500 but not pay a dime for a GSD X Husky mix.

    There are also Saarlooswolfhonds here, imported from the UK and, from what I saw of the dogs in class, they were not truly meant for the domestic life that they were destined for.

    I’m looking forward to reading the book, sounds interesting.

  32. Rachel says

    JJ, I really dislike the idea of introducing wolf genes into the domestic dog gene pool for the sake of genetic diversity. It is only purebred dogs that are severely inbred. If you want to increase genetic diversity, use a different breed of domestic dog or a domestic mixed-breed dog (screened for genetic diseases and temperament of course). You will get better gene mixing (compared to the close relative breeding employed by even many responsible breeders) and you will not have the behavior / temperament problems that come from hybridization with a wild animal.

  33. trisha says

    I too would not want to see ‘wolf genes’ introduced into dogs to counter inbreeding. First off what make dogs dogs and wolves wolves is regulated by very few genes and it is far too likely that dogs would lose quickly lose the very quality that makes them dogs. Second off, there is a vast genetic pool out there of domestic dogs, from street dogs in Africa to Bichon Frise’s in the US. If I was queen there would be much more transfer of genetic material between breeds (as there was in the recent past) and much more openness to using the new discoveries in genetics to prevent inbreeding and the accumulation of problematic, recessive genes. The cross-breeding of Dalmatians with a Pointer to eliminate bladder stones is an example (and hopefully will be accepted by the Dalmatian club soon!)

  34. says

    My mother and I were talking the other night about how if and when we get another dog when our current beagle dies, we’ll be sure to get a dog that, like our Romeo, loves all dogs and all people indiscriminately. It’s been such a blessing, as novice dog owners, to have a sweet-natured, docile animal as a first dog.

    I’ve never known any wolf dogs (or, I should say, I’ve met people who claimed their Malamutes were part wolf, and have had no reason to believe that their blue-eyed, thick-boned dogs had any wolf in them). However, I did know a coydog once – my riding instructor owned two dogs, a mini dachshund named Zucchini, who was sweet and loving and fabulous, and an incredibly shy dog that my instructor said was part GSD, part coyote. That animal was a one-woman dog, and would actively run and hide from other people and dogs.

  35. Julie says

    Trisha, just wanted to thank you for posting this. I had the very same experience as the one you described, doing a behavior consult with a client whose “husky mix” looked pretty wolfy to me. I asked and she said she really wasn’t sure (he came from a reservation in northern MN), but didn’t like to advertise the possibility. The dog had bitten her when she tried to pry garbage out of his mouth. This dog also was licking me and shoving toys onto my lap. When we tried the trade and return on a bully stick, he calmly traded once and then the second time calmly took a chunk out of my index finger. He wasn’t afraid, wasn’t angry, wasn’t upset after he did it (like dogs sometimes are — “OMG I just bit a human!”). Just as you described, the message seemed to be: “I let you touch it once, don’t even think about touching it again!”

    Anyway I feel a little less stupid now, if the same thing can happen to you! : )

  36. trisha says

    To Julie: Very interesting that you had a similar experience with a wolfy-looking husky mix. And I’m glad you’re not feeling stupid anymore, or, perhaps… like me, you’ve accepted that some percentage of things we do every day are, in hind sight, going to look stupid. [Okay, I haven’t completely accepted it, but I’m trying, I’m trying….]

  37. Pat F says

    I love dogs and wolves; and for that reason alone hope that they will not be bred together. Let the wolves stay wild, or live in sanctuaries maintained by people who know how to care for them (such as Wolf Park in Indiana). Let the dogs remain our companions. But to breed them together in modern times, creating animals who often cannot live easily with people, is foolish, and unfair both to the wolf-dogs or the people who might be harmed by them.

    More than 20 years ago, before the breeding and selling of wolf-dogs was prohibited in my state, I used to occasionally see wolf-dogs with their owners in the woods where I walked my dog off-leash. I remember one intact male wolf-dog who was very beautiful, and still young, about three years old; and how he put up with my dog whining and growling and slightly hackling at him (my dog was interested in the wolf-dog’s neutered male small dog companion) for several minutes while we walked with them. Finally, the wolf-dog turned and shoved my dog to the ground with his mouth on my dog’s neck. The wolf-dog did not hurt my dog at all, just disciplined him; it was one of the few times I saw my dog surprised and intimidated. I always wondered what happened to the wolf-dog; who I think was quite restrained and could have inflicted far more damage to my pushy-macho spaniel. I hope the wolf-dog lived a long and happy life.

    I shall have to read Ms. Terrill’s book.

  38. says

    Yes, I will be reading with interest. I would comment that a similar thing happens in Australia with dingo/dog combinations. sadly too, some people believe that having pure dingoes as a pet is a good idea because it will preserve a dwindling species. As a vet I have seen dingoes pose serious problems living as pets- they are escapists, and biters and are constant food stealers- jumping on counter tops etc. I also advise against ownership. they need to be in the wild. Also there is a macho association with owning a dingo that i am sure is similar to the wolf/dog scene.

  39. Elizabeth says

    Our neighbors purchased a wolf dog puppy several years ago and introduced it to us by saying it had a high percentage of wolf in it. They were so proud of that information. It has grown into a gorgeous creature that scares the living daylights out me. Initially the neighbors laid out a shock fence around their four acres to contain the wolf dog. That didn’t work. Often, while working in my garden, I would hear the wolf-dog growl-howl, getting more and more worked up until he got the courage to run through the charge. The owners then would boost the charge and the wolf dog would learn that he could do it over and over again. I was helping the neighbor-lady once in her house, and she fell over the wolf dog, breaking a hip. It was a monumental struggle trying to help her with the wolfdog guarding her. I kneeled down next to her and felt the wolf dog’s fangs on the back of my neck. Somehow I lured the dog outside, so that the poor lady could be helped. Since then, the wolf dog has remembered me as the human who hurt his mistress. The wolf dog now runs free and I’m afraid to walk alone or with my dog beyond the boundaries of my yard. I take our dog to a nearby park for walks when I could easily walk in our own neighborhood. Our dog, at thirty pounds, tries to protect me and my husband from the wolf dog. We always have our dog on a leash but the wolf dog comes in really close and I fear these situations greatly. The owner has amazing recall with the wolfdog but the owner isn’t always outside with his pet The owner has “socialized” the animal fairly well, (it seems) for in-town interactions. Guarding his own territory is another matter. I firmly believe that selling these animals should be outlawed. They are a tremendous burden for a responsible owner and a horrendous disaster waiting to happen when the owner is not responsible. I’m glad my state has finally outlawed the hybrids, but our neighbors already had the dog when the law went into effect.

  40. jackie says

    There was a discussion of this a while ago on a UK rescue forum I’m a member of. The general consensus is that many ‘wolf dogs’ in the UK are just wolfy-looking dogs that people relabel to get more money for them. There are some breeders of Sarloos and Czech Wolfdogs, but I don’t know what percentage of wolf is in these breeds.

    In the UK you do not need a licence to keep a wolf-dog that is three generations removed from pure breed wolf, so Sarloos etc are permitted to be kept as pets.

    One person (very experienced with dogs) had adopted a genuine wolf-dog hybrid. The animal was extremely fearful and eventually broke her own neck running in a panic over a loud noise (despite being heavily sedated at the time, as it was Fireworks night). Another probable genuine hybrid died when it jumped out of a third storey window and its sibling was pts for biting…

  41. says

    oh eerie story regarding that bite. I remember evaluating a sharpie/lab mix at the shelter. The possession was on the floor and I moved towards him with the assess a hand. He looked at the possession, he looked right at me, he looked at the assess a hand AND he muzzle punched my arm…hard. He knew precisely what he was doing “this part is you”, “this part is fake”. It was an experience with a dog that I will never forget. I was glad that he chose to muzzle punch me and not bite.

  42. Melissa says

    I’m coming to this a bit late, but thought maybe I could offer an insight into why some people want a little something extra in their dogs. About a month ago I lost my hare. I took him in as a wee baby 7 years ago because I saved his life and once I’d done that I figured I had an obligation to keep him alive. He was always difficult and I spent about the first 12 months just trying to understand what I had got myself into. But once we figured each other out to a large extent, there was something there that was unlike anything I have ever experienced with a domestic animal. He was not smart like dogs are, but I always thought there was an animal genius about him. He often surprised me with his tailored methods of communicating with me. Some of the things he tried to communicate felt an awful lot like emotions I didn’t think animals had.

    At the end of the day, though, what I loved so much about him apart from the sheer volume of what he taught me about animal behaviour, was that he liked me. It wasn’t like the way dogs like you because they are hardwired to like you. Or the way my domestic bunny liked me because I fed her. Or the way the cats have liked me because I fed them and stroked them and made them feel good. No, my hare liked me even though I often frightened him, even though he didn’t need me and we both knew it, even though he wasn’t very big on physical contact. He wasn’t dependent on me, but he would come and visit me and sniff my fingers and sometimes my face and occasionally lip my skin or lick me once or twice. He’s the only animal I have had in my care that made me feel like he liked me for myself, not for what I offered him. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve come to believe that what I found so addictive about spending time with him was simply that he was wild. We had an equal relationship. He was self-contained and wanted nothing from me. Whenever he interacted with me, even when I brought treats, it felt like a favour or gift. He would take the treats, but he was really only there for me. I miss him terribly. I never want another wild animal as a pet, because it’s so hard to keep them happy, but I sure wish I could. Nothing domestic animals do compares to a wild animal that digs your company.

    I have made it clear that should I ever declare I want a pet dingo, I am to be slapped around until I come to my senses. They are not quite as bad as wolves, but still not really suited to being pets. I met a trapper once who had a dingo mix that helped him with his work. She was well suited to that lifestyle, but as soon as she was back in the city for a break, she was very fearful and would bite anyone that tried to touch her or her truck. I think that dingoes need to be treated as a life partner rather than a pet. If they are always with you, they might be all right, but if you have to go somewhere without them, they will most likely try to escape and they’ll kill anything that looks like prey once they are out.

  43. says

    i volunteer with the us wolf refuge in NV. we have mostly wolf-dog hybrids. there are a lot out west here. our goal is to educate people on why they should not bred these poor animals and how they are quite different from a domesticated dog.

    i love our wolf-dogs very much and they are all very sweet, but i would never expect them to behave and learn the exact same way my dogs do. each one is unique too so you never know how wild or domestic one is from the other.

    wolves are amazing animals and we can learn so much from them, but even when mixed with a domesticated dog, they can still be very wild.

    this sounds like an excellent book to recommend to people. can’t wait to read it!

  44. Genevieve Bergeron says

    I would much rather see a ban on wolf-dog hybrids, than bans on breeds of dogs. It makes no sense to ban a dog breed, but allow wolf hybrids which are clearly more dangerous for the average human. Yes, you hear of successful ownership of wolf hybrids, but if they are the exception rather than the rule, then it’s clear it shouldn’t be allowed.

  45. Mark says

    Just finished the book. Grrr. I can’t remember ever reading a book that made me want to smack the author every other page or so. And no, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to smack an animal. I mean she’s just so incredibly unthinking and oblivious. For the first 100 pages or so anyway. It’s hard to stop reading though because she writes so well and she is such a likable character, admirable even,when she’s not being stupid, which, thankfully, is increasingly less frequently as the story unfolds.

  46. Dawn says

    I lived with a wolfdog for nearly 12 years and definitely agree with all comments about protecting them from us. My wolfdog had been abandoned on a freeway median at age 1 or so and came into my life because my sister was able to rescue her. I feel wholly blessed to have shared my life with such an amazing animal — and I should add that both of us got lucky — me, because I am a zoologist and she (Kayda) because her only alternative would have been death. Life with Kayda was a constant adventure and learning experience. Yes she chewed and dug (middle name: bad digger dog Delilah) and demanded hours & hours of free running exercise. It took a good two years to get her fully bonded to us as her pack. Even at age 14 she needed at least 2h per day. And constant repetitive socialization. Plus protection from her self — no free exposure to children for eg. No dog parks. No expectation that she be a dog. Giving her the safety to be a good wolf within the boundaries of a human existence meant that she rarely gave in to prey instinct, did only accidental damage to living things, and brought enormous love to her human pack. But most wolfdogs do not get to live the life that we were able to give Kayda. There are several ‘breeders’ on the west coast where I live; but no rescue groups. We do need to educate people to leave the wolf where it belongs — in the wild.

  47. Susan says

    I’ve been working with dogs at a shelter for 13 years, and will never forget my experience walking what I believe was a wolf or perhaps a wolf-dog that had been brought in as a stray. It was completely indifferent to me and never acknowledged me in the slightest. At the same time, it never put the least bit of tension on the leash. It walked ahead of me and kept the leash loose for the entire mile we walked through woods and fields. It knew exactly where I was every second, but never so much as twitched an ear in my direction. I knew right away not to treat it like a dog, and just walked along with it. Quite an eerie experience.

  48. Elise says

    I currently live with a wolf dog, Pyro, whose percentage is about 70%. Whenever I walk him and my GSD I am always stopped and asked about owning one. I NEVER recommend these animals, there are too many people who want the cool factor of the WD but without the responsibility. Having Pyro is like having a child, or as one person put it a life partner. Compared to stories I’ve read about other WD, Pyro is amazing. He can stay calm all day inside the house but just gets very excited when he goes out. I believe my boyfriend got lucky when he received Pyro because he took a lot of the dog behavior with a lot of the wolf looks.

    BUT, Pyro does things when he wants if he wants, I got him to a point I am proud of, I can walk both him and Kiba, my GSD at the same time. Since he is intact (boyfriends choice) he does go through something called ‘winter wolf’ which I experienced first hand this past few months. He goes through a surge of hormones, because it’s breeding season and if Kiba (a neutered male) got near anything he wanted, he would posture and body block him from access to whatever it is. He would constantly try to show Kiba up and let him know of his dominance. They even got into a bad fight because Pyro smelled a female being walked on the other side of the fence and when Kiba came to sniff, Pyro attacked him. Luckily my GSD was older and had already lost interest in really going against Pyro and was under good verbal command. I had to put Pyro in a chokehold (which is very difficult seeing as how we weigh about the same) and command Kiba to his bed. I was very fortunate that Pyro did not retaliate and attempt to bite me, though this is something Chris worked extensively on while Pyro was growing up.

    I do agree with Melissa though that there is just a difference in the love he gives. I notice the difference between the kind of attention Kiba gives and the kind Pyro gives. With Kiba it’s kind of like a baby, they need you and need your help and are juvenile in how they act, domesticated. Whereas Pyro seems to have more of an understanding of things and demands equality.

    Despite that though, I think 90% of people will NOT be happy with the kind of commitment and work that goes into this animal. To keep this animal happy it takes a lot out of you & you are never sure of what you are getting, you could be lucky and have more dog than anything or you could be unfortunate and have the wolf part take more dominance.

  49. janice says

    I almost quit this book 1/2 way through because I was disgusted with the incredibly irreponsible and selfish decisions the author kept making. However, I’m glad I ended up finishing it. I’ll give her credit for her honesty and her present activities benefitting wolves. At least she ultimately put her own self-interest aside.
    People have NO BUSINESS containing, owning, keeping, breeding wolves. The fact that wolfdogs even exist is very very sad….mostly for them.
    Human beings need to get their heads out of their asses and come to the realization that it’s not our ‘right’ to own and control any creature we choose. If we feel wolves need our help, fine, we can do so from a distance. As it is we have done a terrible thing to this wonderful creature and the damage continues as people for their own selfish reasons go on breeding animals that have no need to live with us and no innate desire to be around us at all. Those who feel the need to continue on with this foolishness should take a serious look at the damage their “hobby” (or worse “livelihood”) is causing. Even if now and again you end up with an adult wolfdog that can manage to co-exist with people, NOTHING is worth the toll this is taking on many of these innocent animals. NO amount justification can make breeding and containing these creatures acceptable.

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