Posts Tagged ‘wolf. dog’

tazi mating with wolf

This image appeared on a Kazakh instagram account. 

The wolf appears to be a steppe wolf (Canis lupus campestris). In Kazakhstan, people keep wolves as pets and “guard dogs” fairly often, and according to Stephen Bodio, they are obsessed with wolves.

The dog is a tazi, a sighthound of the general saluki breed complex, that has quite a few wolf-like characteristics. The breed is usually monestrus, like a wolf, coyote, or a basenji, and females engage in social suppression of estrus and sometimes kill puppies that are born to lower ranking bitches.

I wonder if the wolf-like traits of this breed are somehow reinforced by occasionally crossings with captive and wandering wolves like this. As far as I know, no one has really looked into the genetics of the Kazakh tazi, but it is an unusual dog that lives in a society with a very strong tradition of keeping captive wolves.

We know that gene flows between Eurasian wolves and dogs is much higher than we initially imagined, but I don’t know if anyone is looking at breeds like these for signs of hybridization. The only study I’ve seen looked at livestock guardian dogs from the Caucasus, and it found quite a bit of gene flow-– and it was mostly unintentional.

It would be interesting to know exactly how much wolf is in Kazakh tazis. I would be shocked to learn that they had no wolf ancestry.

I seriously doubt that this is the only time a captive steppe wolf and a tazi were found in this position.

Read Full Post »

The collar kind of gives it away.

It’s a wolfdog playing with a golden retriever.

(Source for photo).


Read Full Post »

These two photos depict two wolf hybrids.

The animal on the left, with its floppy ears and black-and-tan coat, is an F1 wolfdog from Wildlife Park Kadzidlowo in Poland. He was intentionally bred from a “Polish spaniel” dog and a European wolf bitch. I am not sure what breed of spaniel the father was, but this hybrid reminds me very much of the Gråwachtel, a German spaniel (“wachtelhund”)/Norwegian gray elkhound cross. The dog features predominate. It looks like nothing more than a really feral-looking retriever type dog.

The animal on the right is a first generation cross between a West Siberian laika dog and a female wolf. Breeding West Siberian laikas to wolves is really nothing new, and the practice continues in Russia to this day. Knowing the politics of wolf hybrids in the United States, it might not be wise to discuss this feature in the West Siberian laika. There is a certain politically correct movement that views any sort of wolf hybrid as a skittish, dangerous animal, when in reality, the animals vary quite a bit. Having been around a West Siberian laika, I can attest that they are less wild and skittish than many other Nordic breeds.

The truth is you can’t tell a wolf hybrid by just looking at it. If the dog in the cross has floppy ears, it’s not going to look like a wolf at all. It may act more like a wolf.

Or maybe not.

The differences between wolves and dogs are more complex than you might think.

Unfortunately, this problem gets worse when certain people make absolute claims about wolves, dogs, and wolf hybrids.

The one absolute claim one should follow is always be leery of absolutes!

When someone says “never” or “always,” they are setting themselves up for error. All it takes is one example that goes counter to the claim to make it false.

And that’s what happens.

There are pure wolves that are as docile as golden retrievers when they are brought up imprinted upon people.

There are also dogs that are very reactive and nervous and only bond to a few people– just as most captive wolves do. There are pure wolves that have made decent hunting and working dogs.

There are wolf hybrids that have killed people, and there are wolf hybrids that have been the perfect pets.

Because of the complexity of the wolf and dog question, I cannot consider dogs and wolves distinct species.  There is just too much overlap between dog and wolf to make such absolute distinctions.

I will use Canis lupus familiaris to describe the dog.

I think one of the biggest obstacles to getting people to understand why wolves are dogs is that the only wolves people seem to know about are the big wolves from northern ranges. What they don’t realize is that these wolves are not the totality of their species. They are actually a fairly specialized variant that evolved in the northern parts of Eurasia and North America to hunt things like moose, caribou, elk/wapiti, bison, aurochs, and muskoxen.

There are also wolves that are much smaller in the Middle East, South Asia, and yes, Africa, that are much more dog-like, and at least one study points to Middle Eastern wolves as being the primary source for most of the genetic diversity in the dogs we have today.

Wolves are actually a very diverse species, and historically, they were even more so.  Dogs are just a reflection of their ancestral species diversity. Once removed from the rigors of natural selection, humans can play with that ancestral wolf genome to produce what is really the most morphologically diverse population in the world.

One cannot tell a wolf hybrid just by its appearance.

And one cannot always tell a wolf by its appearance either.

This white wolf-like animal was captured in Los Angeles:

The facility that bred it actually said it was actually 1/8 Great Pyrenees!

Wolves and dogs are wild and domestic populations of the same species.

The wolf itself is really a vestige of what was once a very diverse species.

Wolves managed to range over almost all of Eurasia and all of North America from the Valley of Mexico to Greenland. Their range in Africa has only recently been revealed through genetic studies.

And this species became successful because it could adapt its morphology– perhaps rather rapidy— to fit new ecosystems and prey sources.

To live in the same places, humans adapted new technologies. Wolves adapted their bodies through evolution.

A domestic dog is just a wolf that has evolved to live with humans. It’s a different niche, and humans did quite a bit of selective breeding to produce unusual body types.

But the body template and the vast majority of the genome are still those of a wolf.

Dogs are wolves in terms of their phylogeny and genes.

They may look very different now.

And dogs may be much better adapted to living with people.

But dogs and wolves haven’t diverged that much.

And when a floppy-eared dog mates with a wolf, the results can be somewhat disconcerting.

We expect the wolf dogs that result from the mating to look like wolves and not Labrador crosses.

It takes us aback.

And it makes us wonder.


The top image comes from this recent study that confirmed hybridization between male wolves and female dogs in the Baltic states.

Previous “naturally occuring” wolf dogs in Europe have all been between male dogs and female wolves, which is one reason why the studies that one cannot use mtDNA studies on European wolves to confirm or deny the introgression of dog genes into the wolf population.

There will be more  on this study in a future post.

Read Full Post »

The Kentucky frontier wasn’t the only place that wolves were used as hunting dogs. Wolves were also commonly used as hunting dogs on the Pennsylvania frontier. They were also crossbred with “improved” Western dogs to make superior working animals, but the practice was largely discontinued when it was decided that every farm ought to have a “purebred” collie or shepherd.

Henry Wharton Shoemaker was a polymath of sorts.  He was a Columbia graduate, who worked on Wall Street and for the US foreign service before moving to Pennylvania to work as a newspaper publisher. He became well-versed in the folklore and local history of the mountainous regions of Central and Western Pennsylvania, and it is from his writings on this subjects that we can find out what the original settlers thought of different animals. He was an ardent conservationist, and he worked as writer for Gifford Pinchot’s campaigns for the US Senate and for governor of Pennsylvania.

His interests as an historian, conservationist, and folklorist brought him to write two volumes on the history of the extinct animals in Pennsylvania. One volume would cover wolves and “panthers” (the creatures also known as cougars/pumas/mountain lions/catamounts), and another would cover the other extirpated species.  These two volumes are often compiled into a single volume called Extinct Pennsylvania Animals, which is traditionally the name for the second volume. The second section of the first volume is called Wolf Days in Pennsylvania, and it was originally published in 1914.

Through his research and interviews with those who had first hand accounts with these animals, he found that the settlers believed that there were three kinds of wolf in Pennsylvania.  There was a large gray wolf and a large black wolf, but these appeared to breed true, even though it wasn’t unusual for a black wolf to whelp a gray pup. And there was a small brown wolf, which sounds suspiciously like an account of the existence of an eastern population of coyotes. I think the corpus of the evidence– particularly the genetic evidence–suggests that coyotes did exist in the East, but they were extirpated with the wolves.  As the larger wolves were removed from other parts of their range, the smaller coyotes were able to file back into the East again. (The so-called red wolf is largely a fictional animal.)

The settlers in Central and Western Pennsylvania considered the black wolf to be a separate species from the gray.  The gray and “small brown wolves” were easily killed, but the black ones were much more cunning and wary.  In what might sound like a contradiction, it was very common for these black wolves to be socialized to people and then used as hunting or working dogs.

Shoemaker writes:

As far as intelligence went, the black wolf was far the superior of the others. It was susceptible of domestication, and would have made the ideal hunting dog of Pennsylvania….Dr. W. J. McKnight, in his “Pioneer Outline history of Northwestern Pennsylvania,” states “the pioneer hunter would sometimes raise a wolf pup. This pup would be a dog in every sense of the word until about two years old, and then would be a wolf in all his acts.” Audubon in his “Quadrupeds of North America” says: “Once when we were traveling on foot not far from the Southern boundary of Kentucky, we fell in with a black wolf, following a man with his rifle on his shoulder. On speaking with him about this animal, he assured us that it was as tame and gentle as a dog, anr) that he had never met a dog that could trail a deer better. We were so much struck with this account and the noble appearance of the wolf, that we offered him one hundred dollars for it, but the owner said he would not part with it for any price.” What was the case in the West, was equally true in the Seven Mountains and in Clearfield and Jefferson Counties. One or two of the earliest hunters trained black wolves to act as hunting dogs and companions. These and wild black wolves bred with dogs owned by pioneers, producing a really worthy progeny. St. George Mivart has said “hybrids between the dog and the wolf have proved to be fertile, though for no long period.” The writer remembers that in his early boyhood about twenty years ago he saw several of these wolf-dogs. They were intelligent and kindly, and highly prized by their owners, farmers in some of the valleys adjacent, to the Seven Mountains. The craze for handsome sheep dogs or collies which struck the valleys about this time resulted in ending the breeding of the wolfish clogs, which to those not in sympathy with them, were technically mongrels, and they eventually disappeared. There are probably few of them now in existence. Their owners declared that they never showed the slightest tendency to revert to a wild state. In September, 1898, the writer visited a farmer, who tilled some back lots at the foot of the mountains on the South side of Brush Valley not far from Minnick’s Gap. This old fellow, Abe Royer by name, kept some turkeys, half wild, which were the result of his tame turkey hens crossing with wild gobblers which lived on the mountain back of his cabin. He had preserved several wild pigeons until 1895, to be used as “stool pigeons” in the event of the great flocks “returning.”

He also kept several wolf-dogs. These animals had dun and grey coloring not unlike collies, but had the shorter hair and longer legs of wolves. There was no trace of black in their coloring, although their owner stated that their grand-sire had been a black wolf which coupled with a shepherd bitch some ten years before when he was lumbering for Ario Pardee in High Valley. He said that neither turkeys nor dogs had the least inclination to revert to the savage proclivities of their ancestors. If the grey wolves and the brown wolves had any of the admirable characteristics of their black relatives, the old hunters sayeth not. “Crafty and mean” is the general verdict expressed about the grey wolves, “nasty like little cur dogs,” is the general run of remarks relative to the brown wolves. Doubtless these uncomplimentary characterizations are unjust to the animals, but they were certainly not up to the standard of the black wolves. If all are of one variety these attempts at specialization are hardly worth the time to read. At the same time it may show that color in animals has much to do with habitation, character and disposition. It may help to reveal the secret of why some men are blonde and others dark (pg. 24-25).

The black coloration in North American wolves is thought to have originated through crossbreeding with Native American dogs, but the dog ancestry in these wolves probably wouldn’t have been a high enough percentage to have affected their temperament. Modern black wolves are, for all intents and purposes, very much wolves.

The black coloration is a simple dominant trait, so it is possible that certain populations of wolf in the Eastern United States were consisted of almost of nothing but melanistic individuals. This dominant black trait in dogs, wolves, and coyotes comes from a mutation that controls the protein beta-defensin 3. This protein does regulate the amount of melanin that appears on the dog, wolf, or coyote’s coat, but it also is associated with immune response.  Having this particular mutation might provide the wolves with some advantages  in fighting off viral and bacterial infections, which may have been more common in the temperate and subtropical forests of North America.

I don’t think these black wolves were a different species at all, but for whatever reason, this particular type of wolf was easily domesticated. It may have been that this was a sort of intermediary animal that included the genetics of both wolves and domestic dogs, and there was some continual hybridization between the two forms. And that might be why these wolves were so easily domesticated.

It is possible that the black coloration could have been associated with a tendency toward domestication. A very similar finding was found with black deer mice, which were found to be more docile than the more common agouti deer mice.

But black deer mice have a different genetic basis than black wolves or dominant black dogs, so one should be careful about making generalizations from that study and trying to apply them to the tame wolves of the Pennsylvania.

These domesticated wolves appear to have been very much a part of life in America in the early days of settlement.  These settlers of the Pennsylvania mountains didn’t have access to the best lines of Western hunting dogs, so they improvised. They found that the black wolves were a good outcross to their curs and shepherds.

So here we have another account of modern people keeping wolves as working and hunting dogs.

See earlier posts

Read Full Post »

dingo wolf dad

Now, what I am about to mention is something now widely considered in the discussion about dogs and wolves.

The common assertion is that dogs are not wolves because when dogs go feral, they don’t become the large, big game hunting wolves that we all know from nature documentaries and zoos. I’ve always found this argument to be rather faulty for reasons I shall explain.

I submit that the reason why dogs don’t become wolves is because it is far easier to scavenge off of people than return to their ancestral lupine form in terms of phenotype and behavior.

We do, however, have an example of a domesticated dog reverting back to a wolf form. However, the form it returned to is more of one of the subtropical races of wolf, rather than moose and elk-hunting wolves from the northern reaches of the Northern Hemisphere. No dog has ever returned to that particular form, simply because in all cultures in the northern part of  Northern Hemisphere there are both garbage dumps and a cultural tradition of dog keeping (and I use that term very loosely). Both of these features make it easier for dogs to remain dogs.

The dog I am talking about is the dingo. The dingo is sometimes considered its own subspecies of wolf (Canis lupus dingo). However, it actually descends from East Asian pariah dogs that came to Australia 3,500 to 4,000 years ago.

4,000 years ago, pariah dogs in Southern Asia looked a lot like pariah dogs do now. They  probably had floppy ears and curled tails. They were like the pariah dogs we find throughout the Third World. They are the pot lickers and primitive sanitation engineers of these societies. A few are used as hunters, especially in New Guinea, and a few are used as livestock guardian dogs (like the ones in the Ethiopian wolf video I posted yesterday).

The pariah dogs arrived in Australia through trade from Indonesia.

The native peoples of Australia did keep the dingoes as pets, but every account I’ve read of them, the dingoes were not fed. They had to go hunting on their own.  Not all bands of Australian natives were interested in them, and as the dogs spread through the continent, they became more and more wolf-like.

In fact, I’ll submit that a dingo is a domestic dog that became a wolf.

They do form packs and hunt on their own. They pair bond, and the males help their mates care for their young.  Most feral domestic dogs don’t do these things. However, there have been cases of some pariah dog males helping bitches rear their litters.

For generations, Indonesian dogs arrived in Australia, where they were absorbed into the dingo population.

I find it very interesting that the original theory about the dingoes derived from the Indian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes). However, we know that Indian wolves are rather unique genetically, and they probably had no role in the development of the domestic dog.

It is also a bit bigger than the typical dingo, weighing as much as 70 pounds. Most dingoes are around the 30 to 40 pound range. (The given weights on US dog sites insanely over-estimate the dingo’s size).

However, there is a wolf subspecies that does aproach this size and conformation, and what’s more is that it evolved for a similar arid environment.

This subspecies is, of course, the Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs). It stands about three inches taller at the shoulder than the tallest dingoes, but in terms of head and body size, it is very similar to the dingo of Australia.

Arabian wolf

It is because of the similarities between dingoes and Arabian wolves that I think we can make that the case that this is a good example of a pariah dog evolving back to a wolfish form.

It punches a large hole in the argument that feral dogs never become like wolves. They become like wolves when they are forced to hunt for a living.

I have never understood why we assume that all wolves are like the ones from Northern Eurasia and Northern North America. Those may be the most numerous wolves, and they may have played a role in the development of the domestic dog through the ages.

But not all wolves are of this type. The subspecies that are subtropical in origin, like the red wolf, the Indian wolf, and the Arabian wolf are all smaller animals, with slighter bodies and smaller heads.  (The red wolf may be a separate species, but no one has convinced me yet.)

The only way to test my hypothesis is to get rid of humans. If  humans were to disappear from the Northern Hemisphere, I think we could see the gradual evolution of domestic dogs toward a big game hunting wolf phenotype and behavior. Just like the Asian pariah dogs in Australia had to become wolves to survive in the bush,  domestic dogs would have to become wolves to live without us.

The old saying is that “Dogs make us human.”

Well, the corollary is that humans keep dogs in their dog-like form. Without our waste or  our dog-keeping cultures, dogs have no reason to remain as dogs. Without us, the niche that dogs fill no longer exists, and the organism is better off becoming a wolf.

And the dingo is a dog that became wolf for precisely that reason. Hunter-gatherers may have liked them,  but they didn’t have the conditions that allowed them to live as dogs. Those dogs had to hunt for a living.

And that’s why I still consider the dog to be subspecies of Canis lupus,  which is in keeping with the tradition of classifying domestic animals with their wild forebears.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: