Wolf-Dog Genetics

Okay, lets say you finally do decide to bring a wolf-dog pup into your life.  At the critical moment when you find yourself either signing the check or agreeing to take responsibility for someone else’s pet, you will probably be looking at that cute pup or yearling and wondering to yourself what (s)he will look and act like when they get older.  At least you should be.  Because you're dealing with genetics.  Genetics deals with probabilities, all of the different combinations of genes that can come about from combining two parental sets of DNA.  Sound like a crap shoot?  It gets better.
 
Geneticists figured out early on that while an individual may posses the same genetic material as a litter mate (geneticists call this the genotype), it doesn’t necessarily mean that the two individuals will express those genes in the same way – in how they look and /or act (they call this the phenotype). As a result, differences in coat color, attitudes toward people, and intensity of personality can be dramatic in even related offspring.  That pup you are looking at may grow up to be an animal who looks like a wolf, but acts like a dog.  This is the most sought after product in any wolf-dog… these animals are more likely to respond to some training and be less shy around strangers- they are generally the  most expensive pups of the litter and the quickest to sell.
 
However, regardless of the characteristics of their litter mates, your pup may grow up to be an animal who looks like a wolf and acts like a wolf.  It is impossible to tell early on what a wolf-dog pup will grow up to be.  These animals are not domestic dogs.  Like wolves, the first 6-9 months of their lives are their most important.  This is when many, if not all, of their life-long bonds between pack mates are established.  After a time, and again this varies between animals, they are less likely to come up to people they do not know already.  If the animal is one of those more timid, shy personality types, it may begin to draw away from those they do know.  This becomes hard for owners who wish to be close to their friend.  All too often, through their repeated attempts to have contact, owners end up violating the animal without knowing it and the animal, in turn, becomes even more withdrawn.  When these animals are then resold or given to the next well-intentioned and unknowing owner, life for that animal gets notably worse.  Desiring nothing other than returning to their family, home and territory, they can be a challenge to keep confined to their new quarters.  Wolves evolved as a species capable of, even requiring, vast amounts of space in which to roam and wander at will.  Alone, in a fenced box, in a strange backyard is an extreme that wolves and ‘wolfy’ wolf-dogs do not handle well at all.
 
Another possible phenotype you may end up with is probably the most disappointing for the new owners.  This is the animal that looks mostly like a domestic dog with some wolf traits (i.e. eyes, lengths of limbs, overall size and weight), but whose personality just is not that of a domesticated pet.  Sometimes shy and testy, these wolf-dogs that look like dogs and act like wolves can fool a stranger into thinking that they are the normal, run of the mill lapdog until it is too late.  These animals commonly possess an incredible ability to jump high fences and roam about the area doing things that come innately to the canid species.  They can be a huge challenge to handle for the possible reason that, neither wolf nor dog but lying somewhere in between, they are less predictable then either parent.  In some ways, sometimes, they respond to you or act towards you as you would expect a dog to act.  At other times they may treat you as another wolf.  Figuring out how to communicate with an animal like this can occasionally result in mistaken intentions, reprimands and bites.  Their doggy lack of fear of humans combined with the subtle communications and strength of a wolf can have serious consequences.  More often than not, it is the animal who loses.
 
When you boil all of this down, you end up with one conclusion... there is just no telling what that cute little puppy will grow up to be.  Regardless of what the breeder claims, there is no way to know what lies beneath the surface.  Many breeders and sellers will mis-represent the percentages of their animals in order to do business legally or to get a higher price.  Even if the seller believes that they are telling you the truth about your puppy's genetics, the basic principles of biology can easily make liars out of us all.  Let's look at this as a simple Mendilian Genetics problem... you have two 100% wolves and two 100% dogs you are breeding together.  If you bred each of the wolves with one of the dogs, you would know that all of the pups were genetically 50% wolf and 50% dog.  This is because each of the parents provides half of the genentic material for the offspring.
 
However, if you went on to breed two of these 50/50 wolf-dogs together to produce yet another litter, things get much more complicated.  The easiest way to illustrate this is to take a look at just one trait that might be passed on from parents to pups.  For example, each of the parents received one aspect of their eye color from the wolf and one from the dog... as they pass this trait on to their pups, each pup could end up with a wolf eye color or a dog eye color.  So, if we break this down and up it in a Mendilian square, the father's traits are listed in the top squares, while the mother's traits are listed on the far left squares.  "W" stands for wolf eye color, whereas "D" stands for dog eye color.
 
  W D
W WW WD
D WD DD
 
We know that each pup will receive one of each parent's traits - therefore, the potential results are listed in the middle.  If the two 50/50 wolf-dogs had four puppies, then one pup would have 100% wolf eye color, one would have 100% dog eye color, and the other two would have 50/50 wolf-dog eye color.  Now, this is only for one trait... imagine trying to determine the relative percentages for each pup if you applied this same idea to every aspect of them.  So, when a breeder claims that a puppy from two 50/50 wolf-dogs is still a 50/50 cross, or 75 % wolf and 25% dog, it just isn't the case.

Many thanks to Annie White for her contribution to this page.