So you think that you want a wolf as a pet?
This questionnaire is intended as an educational tool for potential wolf and wolf-dog owners. Most people are accustomed to domestic dogs and animals which are obedient to human commands and are, therefore, trainable. Since a wolf resembles a dog in appearance, the misconception thrives that “if it looks like a dog, it must act like one.”
This simply isn’t true.
But if there are so many negative aspects of owning wolves and wolf-dogs, why do so many people have them? Are they really that awful? The answer is simple. Most people have one of two views on wolves: either they are dangerous killers, and thus give their owner bragging rights for taming the savage beast; or they are the big, furry, lovable cousin to our domestic dogs that stand for all that is wild, good, and pure in nature. Either way, the wolf or wolf-dog is misunderstood. It is not the killer or the fuzzy friend. They are not awful animals — they are wild creatures who need to be respected for what they are: animals that never should have been born in a cage to begin with.
Today, there are over 250,000 wolves and wolf-dogs living as pets in the U.S. Over 75% of these animals will die before their first birthday due to abuse, neglect, and misunderstanding. Those that do survive end up living at refuges and sanctuaries set up just to care for these cast-off pets. All refuges are facing a population crisis because of the increasing popularity of pet wolves. More people are buying and abandoning wolves and wolf-dogs each year than there are enclosures to take them in. Many pet wolves and wolf-dogs are “set free” by owners that cannot bear to put them down, nearly all dying a slow and painful death of starvation or being shot on sight by a fearful person.
If you want to own a wolf or wolf-dog, please look into getting a husky, malamute, or German shepherd. These are all dogs that look and act much like wolves, because they are very closely related. But, at the end of the day, you still have an animal that is possible to train and is at least moderately safe to have around people. If, after all of your research and facing all of the harsh realities, you still must have a wolf or wolf-dog, rescue one that is already in need. Why encourage the puppy mill breeding of more illegal wolves and wolf-dogs by buying one, rather than helping a wolf or wolf-dog that really needs it? Make sure that you have the proper facilities, as well as the time and commitment necessary. Visit refuges like Mission: Wolf to learn about building wolf-proof fencing and healthy feeding practices. Learn as much as you can about wolf behavior and body language. Use your companion as an ambassador for its species. Educate your acquaintances about the important role played by the wolf in the wild, and especially about the very accurate fact that these animals are not for everyone.
Many thanks to Annie White for her contribution to this page and to our friends at Mission Wolf.
Visit missionwolf.org to learn more.
The following questions should be answered by all individuals who wish to care for a captive wolf or wolf-dog. Please read carefully and answer all items accurately and honestly. Due to the unpredictable behavior of wolf-dogs, it is extremely important that potential owners understand what they are getting into. Caring for a wolf or wolf-dog requires dedicating your entire life to the animal. Please be sure you are up to the task before bringing one home. If you do not know the answer to any of the questions, take the time to find out, either through reliable websites, wolf and wolf-dog periodicals, or by contacting experienced handlers (breeders are usually not a reliable source, because their main motivation is to sell animals).
1. Why do you want to own a wolf or wolf-dog?
2. What literature have you studied regarding wolf or wolf-dog ownership?
3. What experiences have you had with wolves and wolf-dogs?
If a fully grown (mature) wolf or wolf-dog challenges you for the alpha position (leader) of the pack, what would you do? How would the wolf or wolf-dog show its challenge toward you or its pack-mates (body language)?
What type of body position tells you that a wolf or wolf-dog is initiating play?
When a wolf or wolf-dog has its tail raised above its body and its ears pressed forward, what type of behavior is being displayed?
When a wolf or wolf-dog has its tail between its legs and ears flattened, what type of behavior is being displayed?
What type of diet and vaccination program does a wolf or wolf-dog require?
If a wolf or wolf-dog began to “mouth” you with their lips curled up, teeth bared and ears flattened, what would you do?
When a wolf or wolf-dog approaches you and squats low to the ground and urinates, what is this behavior indicative of?
4. Do you have small children? What ages? Are you aware that wolves, wolf-dogs, or even domestic dogs, should not be allowed around small children, unless under close supervision?
Wolves love small children. They love them so much that, in their excitement, they will jump on them and carry them around the house by their head or arm. Without intending to, the wolf can severely injure a child while playing with them. When the parent or adult then tries to help the crying child, the wolf may think that their toy or puppy is being taken away and hold on even tighter. This can easily lead to a tragedy. If you have children, do not let them near your wolf or wolf-dog. If you believe “my sweet wolf or wolf-dog wouldn’t hurt my child,” then you should not have a wolf or wolf-dog as a companion. Obtain a nice, docile, soft-mouthed canine, such as a golden retriever.
5. Does the entire family agree on the ownership of a wolf or wolf-dog?
6. What kind of safe and humane containment can you provide?
When allowed to run loose, these animals can and will kill dogs, cats and livestock. They are more powerful and cunning than domestic dogs, which are no match for them. Remember, what they kill or damage is your responsibility. Though the rabies vaccine for domestic dogs probably works for wolves and wolf-dogs, no study has been done to confirm this. So, if your animal bites a human or livestock, it will be confiscated, destroyed, and have its brain analyzed, whether or not you have given it a rabies vaccine.
7. If you do not currently have a pen, what expenses are you willing to incur in building an adequate environment for your wolf or wolf-dog? Do you have enough room?
A wolf or high percentage wolf-dog can jump at least six feet from a standstill, and they are excellent climbers and diggers. In addition, a wild wolf’s territory is usually at least 500 sq. acres. Without adequate room to run, play, and exercise, a wolf or wolf-dog will either become territorial and aggressive, or very despondent and sickly.
8. Do you live in a heavily populated residential area?
Neighbors will definitely complain about the howling episodes, stimulated often by sirens, smoke alarms, barking dogs, passing wildlife, separation anxiety, etc. Noisy cars, nosey kids, lots of strangers, and loud noises will make any wolf or wolf-dog extremely timid and prone to fear-biting.
9. Please describe your neighborhood (nearness of other homes, what other domestic animals reside nearby, average climate conditions, etc.).
10. Can you commit to caring for the wolf or wolf-dog for its entire lifetime (16+ years)?
When you purchase a wolf or wolf-dog, you must be prepared to keep the animal for its lifetime (12-16 years on average) and provide a non-stressful environment. This applies even if you relocate — the animal goes with you! Most wolves and wolf-dogs will not adjust readily to transfers of ownership. After a wolf or wolf-dog reaches 4-6 months old, they will not bond with or accept new members into their pack. It is incredibly traumatic for the wolves and wolf-dogs who are given to refuges and well-meaning people when they can no longer stay at home. The absence of their pack (you and your family) is stressful and can lead to serious illnesses, repeated escapes, and death. The wolf or wolf-dog will not accept their new owners or other canine companions. Almost all wolves and wolf-dogs given to shelters and humane societies will be immediately destroyed. Are you prepared to make a lifetime commitment to a wolf or wolf-dog?
11. Is your veterinarian qualified to administer health care to exotic species? Are they aware that wolves and wolf-dogs are to be treated differently, both in handling and in medicinal/sedative applications?
Most veterinarians have no training in wolf or wolf-dog handling and care. In fact, many veterinarians will refuse to treat a wolf or wolf-dog.
12. Have you discussed wolf or wolf-dog ownership with your local shelters, wolf refuges, sanctuaries, and other owners?
These people and places are a great source of information on the responsibilities and difficulties of caring for wolves and wolf-dogs.
13. What are your state, county, and local regulations concerning wolves and wolf-dogs?
Please make yourself aware of the facts concerning the legal ownership of such animals by contacting your state’s Fish and Game Department, and then your local Animal Regulation Department. It is illegal to own a pure wolf in the United States; they are classified as an endangered and regulated species. While it is legal to own a 98%/2% wolf-dog federally, many states, counties, and cities are outlawing all wolves and wolf-dogs. Any wolf or wolf-dog found within these areas is immediately killed.
14. What type of background do you have in working with and training canines?
Wolves and wolf-dogs are notoriously difficult to train. They are incredibly independent animals that are well-adapted to life in the wild. Wolves will not respond to normal training methods and wolf-dogs are extremely unpredictable. Most wolf-dogs, regardless of percentage, will lick your hand half of the time and snap at it the other half. Wolf-dogs are very confused animals — they don’t know if they are a wolf or a dog. Trying to train a wolf is more akin to training a tiger than it is to training a German shepherd.
15. Have you ever owned a dog before? If so, what breed and for how long? Why do you no longer have this animal? Why do you think this experience would prepare you for owning a wild animal?
16. Are you looking for a guard animal?
Are you aware that wolves are very shy by nature, and very seldom attack people? They will not protect your home or your family. They are more likely to cower at the sight of strangers and run from unusual disturbances.
17. Are you looking for a house pet?
Wolves and wolf-dogs are NOT house pets. They are difficult, if not impossible, to house-break and will happily damage your carpet, furniture, drapery, etc. Disciplining them for such actions is out of the question; to reprimand a wolf or wolf-dog as you might a domestic dog will result in your animal losing its bond with you, and potentially challenging you for leadership of the pack.
18. Do you have a full-time career with long hours and many out-of-town trips?
A person who is dedicated to their career is not a candidate to own a wolf or wolf-dog; these animals need lots of supervision and attention. Wolves in a pack never stray from each other for more than a few hours. This leads to extreme separation anxiety, and eventually to severe hyperactivity when you return. However, once the wolf or wolf-dog has said hello, they will growl and potentially snap at you if you insist on long sessions of petting. Wolves and wolf-dogs are not lap dogs.