Wolves as Pets

Do wolves or wolfdogs make good pets? The answer is a definite NO!

Many breeders like to present wolves as wonderful pets for your family, but the truth is that wolves are wild animals, and NEVER make good pets. There are a number of reasons why:

It is impossible to provide captive wolves with an acceptable re-creation of the wild. Zoos and sanctuaries can construct large enclosures and provide frequent enrichment, but even this is only a weak approximation of life in the wild. A wild wolf’s social environment, freedom to roam over hundreds of miles, hunting of live prey, etc., cannot be recreated in captivity. Ultimately, a captive wolf is likely to be an unsatisfied wolf, and captive wolves frequently show neuroses, self-harm behaviors, and other signs of psychological distress. Keeping a wolf as a pet amounts to animal abuse.

wolfdog Liam stuck in a very small kennel

It’s probably illegal. Laws on keeping wolves and wolfdogs vary by state, county, and town, but it is very often illegal. Many vets also refuse to treat wolves and wolfdogs.

They are master escape artists. They can jump, climb, or dig out of just about any enclosure, and are smart and observant enough to quickly figure out how to open most types of gates. Most of our animals know how their gates work, and periodically test the locks.

Socializing wolves is almost impossible. A wolf that knows you from before its eyes are open MIGHT grow up to trust YOU, but it probably won’t trust anyone else-and it may still not even trust you! It will probable live most of its life in fear, and if you ever need to give it up, it will likely be impossible for a new owner to handle.

Wolves don’t behave like dogs. They have their own behavioral patterns, and it is NOT POSSIBLE to “domesticate” a wolf; they will always retain their wild instincts. A wolf is much harder to train than a dog; it will understand what you want but will only do it when it feels like it. Trying to force a wolf to obey you will never end well! You will always have to accept what the wolf wants to do, and interact with it on its terms, not your own.

They are expensive. Wolves require an expensive raw meat diet supplemented with meaty bones and organs, or at minimum an expensive high-protein, meat-based kibble (though they don’t like the taste of that). Regular, cheaper kibble makes them sick because they are unable to process grains. They are also incredibly destructive, and besides being unhappy inside a house, will cause thousands of dollars in damages if kept there. To safely contain them outdoors requires an enclosure that will cost at least $10,000 to construct.

what wolves need to eat: bowls filled with meat

Captive wolves are dangerous. While wild wolves are frightened of people and try to avoid them, captive wolves tend to be more habituated to people. Wild wolves almost never attack people, but captive wolves can be EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. Wolves are large carnivores and retain a very high prey drive, and will treat children and small pets, and occasionally elderly, infirm, injured, or disabled individuals, as potential prey. They may also aggressively challenge their owners for dominance upon reaching sexual maturity. And because these are instinctual behaviors, there is no way to suppress or train a wolf not to express them. Many people have been injured or killed by a “pet” wolf or wolfdog.

Duchess aggressively jumping on a fence and snarling upon seeing a person she dislikes

Wolfdogs

Wolfdogs are harder to generalize about. Some with low wolf content may act basically like high-maintenance dogs and be appropriate as pets for very experienced owners. But most wolfdogs retain a number of wolf behaviors and DO NOT MAKE GOOD PETS. Wolfdogs are often even more dangerous than wolves, because they can combine a wolf’s predatory and dominance instincts with a dog’s boldness around humans.

So Why Get One?

Analyze your reasons for wanting a wolf or wolfdog as a pet. Is it to show how “macho” you are? Is it for bragging rights? Is it because it sounds “cool?” Is it to be able to own something “wild?” Is it to have a great guard dog or fighting dog?

These and many other common reasons are ultimately not good ones! Some, like the idea of wolves making good guard dogs, are based on factual errors (wolves generally flee from strangers, they don’t bark at them!). Others are really a form of egotism—wanting to own a wolf not because you can provide it with a great life and it is the best fit for you and your family, but because the wolf is a fashion statement, or way of promoting yourself, or way of making yourself feel important and special.

In the end, there are already animals that look like wolves but act like dogs: DOGS! Millions of dogs in the U.S. are in need of homes right now, and we urge you to adopt one of them, instead of an animal that is unsuited for your home!

Beware of Misrepresentation

The vast majority of breeders selling “wolves” and “wolf hybrids” are really selling wolfy-looking dogs like Huskies, Malamutes, German Shepherds, Shepherd-Malamute mixes, etc. Our experience has been that about 75%-90% of the people who approach us asking for help with their wolf/wolfdog really have a dog. Even most vets and Animal Control workers aren’t familiar with the differences between wolves and dogs. This pamphlet has more info on some of the differences between wolves and dogs:

Misrepresentation seriously endangers the animal, by increasing the likelihood it will be euthanized should laws ever change or it winds up at a shelter. Tens of thousands of dogs are euthanized by shelters every year because they were labeled “wolves” or “wolf hybrids” by their owners, and so the shelter was unable or unwilling to adopt them. For its own safety, please call your dog a dog! If you need help determining an animal’s wolf content, we’re happy to help.

comparison photo of a high content and low content wolfdog explaining the dangers of misrepresenting an animal's wolf content
Photo courtesy of Sharon Greene (Full Moon Farm), and Songdog Rescue

Where to Go From Here

Anyone still seriously considering a wolfdog as a pet should volunteer at a wolfdog rescue/sanctuary organization like Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary, to gain a better sense of wolfdog behavior and to understand the incredible commitment and difficulties involved in caring for them.