Living in a house, a little wolf-dog pup can be very cute — until it reaches about three months of age. In the wild, the pup would be ranging well over 20 acres daily. Confined to a house, it becomes responsible for trashed furniture, shredded carpets and curtains, and lots of other messes. At four months old, the pup finally makes it on top of the kitchen counters and the term “wolfing down your food” comes to life as the kitchen pantry is raided. As the owners attempt to relocate this pup to the floor, they soon discover that you never take food away from a wild animal — at least not without paying serious consequences. When exploration of the house becomes a boring daily ritual, it soon starts waging war on the family’s personal belongings. When the pup starts marking the house (e.g. peeing on the couches), most house-breaking attempts turn into dominance struggles. With the pup now confined to the backyard, it is only a matter of time until trees, shrubs, and plants are destroyed (along with all unprotected garden hoses and furniture). Playtime becomes a roughhousing experience that leaves welts, scratches, and bruises. Children are no longer able to endure these roughhouse sessions. A very frustrated animal now howls uncontrollably, paces relentlessly, and starts to escape repeatedly.
Many people begin experiencing even more serious problems when their animal reaches one or two years old. An animal at this age is trying to determine where it fits into its “pack” and nearly has the abilities and strength of an adult wolf. By this point your animal has probably done one or more of the following:
- Destroyed the furniture
- Shredded the carpets and curtains
- Played too rough with the children
- Marked (peed) in the house
- Torn up the trees, shrubs, and plants in the backyard
- Raided the pantry
- Tried to “dominate” you
- Growled at you
- Bit you
- Howled uncontrollably
- Paced incessantly
- Repeatedly escaped
These are all related to frustration the wolf or wolf-dog feels because it is not being properly understood. Owners are often told to treat them as a dog rather than the wild, independent creature that it is. The unwitting owner ends up expecting the animal to act like a dog. When it does not, they no longer know what to do, and no longer want to deal with it. The wolf-dog’s frustration can come from lack of companionship (wolves are very pack- or family-oriented creatures), lack of space (wild wolves need roughly 15 square miles of land each, so putting a wolf or wolf-dog in a 100×100′ enclosure is like putting a small child into a closet), or it could be that the “wolf rules of life” have been violated to satisfy the needs of the master.
Wolves and wolf-dogs see you as just another part of their pack (a funny-looking, really tall wolf), so they expect you to understand and live by the same rules that they do. Wolves and wolf-dogs have a natural instinct to protect their territory, their mate, and their pack; so when you go in and out of their enclosure, approach their mate, or take them out if they are sick or need attention, you can leave them feeling confused, frustrated, and threatened. Once removed from their territories, wolves lose their social standing within the pack hierarchy, are usually challenged for their position upon return, and thus are extremely nervous while away. By approaching their mate, you are potentially challenging your wolf-dog for leadership and mating rights. When your wolf-dog is happy and playing with you, it can easily sprint toward you, hit you at 20 mph, sink its teeth into your hip, do two somersaults, and expect you to say, “Wow, that’s fun!” In many cases, it is the owner’s inability to understand basic wolf communication that causes their animal unwarranted stress and possible loss of their home and/or life.
Often times, these destructive behaviors are unknowingly encouraged by the wolf-dogs’ owners. Many people let their young pups free run on weekends, thinking they are being kind and helping the animal. In reality, all it does is tease the pups. As soon as it is put back in a cage or on a chain, the animal paces, digs, chews, and does anything it can to get loose again. If the animal is successfully contained, it waits daily for a chance to free run again. This just encourages them to try to escape. Along with free running, the other most seemingly innocent mistake is to start playing games with your pup. Your new little pup sneaks up behind you and grabs your hair or pulls on your socks. It’s just so cute! But what happens when your pup grows up and wants to keep playing these games? Your 100 lb. wolf-dog will pull you over backward and rip out your hair. As it reaches for your socks, the wolf-dog’s huge mouth will grab your leg and pull you around. Wolves and wolf-dogs have thick fur and tough skin to protect each other from roughhousing like this. However, you aren’t fortunate enough to have the same protection. While your wolf-dog believes it is being gentle and everything is done in fun, you can easily end up needing stitches.
Wolf-dogs are still wild animals. Would you play games with a lion or a tiger? Let a hyena free run in the neighborhood? Expect a grizzly bear not to steal food off the table? Punish a mountain lion for peeing on the couch? The only difference is that your wolf-dog looks like a domestic dog, and therein lies the problem. We expect wolves and wolf-dog to act like dogs. We all know that wolves are wild animals (or we should), and that they do not belong in the house, living as pets. The wolf-dog is an aberration. Half-wild and half-domestic, we can never truly know what to expect from them. As pups, they are fuzzy, cute, and innocent. As adults, they take over the house, destroy everything in sight, tear up the yard, escape and terrorize the neighborhood. Wolf-dogs are stuck in the middle; they are not domestic pets, but neither are they self-sufficient creatures that can survive in the wild.