Posts Tagged ‘wolf hybrids’

This is dubbed in English, so you can understand the method. They don’t believe in closed registries out on taiga. The dogs they use in the crosses don’t even have to be domestic!


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Chien gris de St. Louis. A type of large French griffon hound from the sixteenth century.

I came across this interesting account of a French noble using wolf blood to improve the hunting instinct of his wolf hounds.  The following text comes from Wolf-hunting and wild sport in lower Brittany (1875) by Edward William Lewis Davies :

I was fortunate enough that night to sit next to the Count de Kergoorlas at dinner; and hearing he was a master of wolfhounds in Upper Brittany, I gleaned from him some interesting information with respect to the style of hound he considered best adapted for his particular sport.

“A big, bold, broken-haired hound is what I keep for the work; and occasionally I invigorate the race,” said he, “with a strain of wolf-blood.”

“And how, pray,” I inquired, “do you manage that?”

“Nothing is more simple. The dog and the wolf being congeners they breed readily together; nor does the law affecting mules affect the hybrid race, as the offspring of the first cross reproduce their litters with the same facility. I keep a dog-wolf brought up by hand; and he, suckled in infancy by a hound dam, lives in perfect concord with any hounds I think fit to enclose with him in his kennel; while a day or two reconciles a strange hound to his company.”

“And do you find the first cross,” I asked, “as manageable in chase as your ordinary hounds?”

“Far from it,” he replied; “insomuch that I only keep that produce to breed from. They usually run mute or all but mute, and are so self-willed in chase and so fierce in kennel, that I merely use them as stud hounds, and enter the second cross. These, the grand-offspring of the wolf, become rare wolf-hounds, fierce, fine-nosed, desperate in chase, and never tiring during the longest day. But, to be candid, they have one great fault: they are too shy of their tongue; nor can this defect be bred out for several generations, although tonguey hounds are especially chosen for the purpose of every cross. The old nature of the wolf appears and reappears, and no device of human ingenuity can pitchfork it away.”

I have since learned in my own country, from that keen and experienced sportsman, Mr. Waldron Hill, who brought over several couples of these hybrid hounds from the Department of Eure, and whose object it was to enter them as otter-hounds, that they had at least one other fault, which he found utterly ineradicable, in fact, the old wolf coming out again in them. They would kill sheep; and, as he justly remarked, that to hunt the sheep was a far more expensive amusement than hunting the otter, he hanged the whole of them. In the Count’s country, however, this vice would not be observable, as there flocks of sheep are not found depastured abroad and roaming at will on a thousand hills, as in this more favoured land (pg. 25-26).

This is not the first time I’ve encountered stories of people crossing wolves and dogs to produce a superior hunting animal.  Henry Wharton Shoemaker described the exact same thing happening in Pennsylvania, and it has always been claimed that the various types of cur, particularly the Catahoula and Lacy dog, have a bit of wolf ancestry.  Several reindeer-herding and hunting spitz breeds from Finland and Scandinavia have also been found to have some wolf blood.

The hound described in the text is some sort of griffon, which is why someone tried to pass some of them off as otterhounds. Otterhounds do have some blood from the French griffon hounds, especially the Griffon Nivernais.

It’s not entirely clear if any modern hounds that derive from these French hybrid wolf hound packs.

It’s certainly possible, but one should not necessarily assume that all of these are wolf dogs in the same way as the Saarlooswolfhond.

However, this account is yet another example of humans using wolf blood to improve working dog stock.

And it’s also one of the reasons why I don’t use Canis familiaris as the scientific name for domestic dogs. That name assumes that it is a true species.

But the truth is it is nothing more than a very successful subspecies of Canis lupus.

And there have always been relatively significant amounts of gene flow between both wild and domestic Canis lupus populations.

Whether we want to admit it or not.






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Whoever is running West Virginia’s Wildlife Center at French Creek must know nothing about wolves.

Here’s why:

In the picture above are 13-week-old puppies. I would have instantly thought they were malamute puppies.

But that’s not what the West Virginia Wildlife Center in French Creek, West Virginia is claiming that they are.

This image comes from an article in the Charleston Gazette:

After spending several weeks getting acquainted with each other, three 13-week-old gray wolf pups given to the West Virginia Wildlife Center by an anonymous donor in January have bonded with the center’s resident 5-year-old gray wolf.

“They’re a pack now,” said West Virginia Wildlife Center Superintendent Gene Thorn. “The older wolf kind of adopted them.”

Thorn said the three male wolf siblings were initially placed in a quarantine cage, which was in turn placed inside the enclosure inhabited by the 5-year-old wolf, allowing the juvenile and adult wolves to see, smell and hear each other without risk of injury from possible aggressive behavior.

“Wolf researchers told us if the pups were all male, which they are, the male adult would adopt them,” he said.

But in case the adoption process did not go smoothly, “we had all hands on deck when we put them all together in the same enclosure,” Thorn said.

As it turned out, the mature wolf “was running from the pups at the beginning, because they mobbed him,” Thorn said. “But he’s the boss now. He doesn’t like the pups getting too close to humans. It’s been an interesting process to watch.”

Gray wolves once ranged across most of West Virginia, until the late 1800s when farmers concerned about livestock kills, mainly sheep, successfully pushed for a bounty system. The last gray wolf in West Virginia is believed to have been killed in 1900 in the Pickens area, in the mountains just east of French Creek.

Thorn hopes the wolf pups, which he described as “still in the cute stage,” will help attract off-season visitors to French Creek, where wildlife species now found, or once found, in West Virginia can be seen in a series of enclosures along a 1.25-mile walk. From now until April 1, there is no admission fee.


I’d like to know who gave them these wolves, because they are about the least wolfy wolfdogs I’ve seen in a while.

Wolves aren’t like dogs.

They don’t breed year round.

Mating season for wolves runs from January to April. Most North American wolves have their mating season in early February.

These pups were 13 weeks old on February 29.

Now, it is true that wolves will adjust their mating seasons a bit in captivity. Females might come into season during the first year, instead of their second.

But the general mating season runs from January to April.

If one goes back 13 weeks,these puppies were born in December of last year.

That means their parents mated in October.

I’ve never heard of wolf mating in October.

I suppose it could happen under some weird circumstances.

Then, let’s look at the pups themselves.

At thirteen weeks, they still have floppy ears.

Wolf pups, unlike dogs, usually have fully prick ears by the time they are four weeks old.

The pup in the middle looks so much like a reddish malamute that I bet one could easily mistake it for one.

I’d like to know what expert at the Wildlife Center thought these were wolves.

A simple Google search can lead you to sites that clearly show how you can tell a wolf from a wolfdog.

The best is this page from Wolf Park.

Dogs and wolves are the same species, but if you’re going to conserve wolves or educate people about them, you’d better get the animal right.

You don’t reintroduce wolves by turning golden retrievers loose in Wyoming.

And you’re not providing an accurate picture of wolves by having wolf hybrids at a zoo.




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A study suggests that some Norwegian elkhounds and other Scandinavian and Finnish spitz-type dogs have recent wolf ancestry.

A reader named Margaret sent me a link to this study.

The study came out in May 2010, but I missed it.

This is an mtDNA study, which found that a particular haplogroup called d1 was most common in a certain group of dogs– the reindeer herding spitzes and the hunting spitz breeds of Scandinavia and Finland.

It can be found in all Scandinavian and Finnish spitz breeds, but in the elkhounds and the reindeer herding spitzes, it is very common. In the breeds sampled, 60 to 100 percent of these dogs had this haplogroup.

The origin of that haplogroup was traced to wolf and dog hybridization that happened 480 to 3,000 years ago.

Peter Savolainen was involved in the study, and Savolainen is best known for his findings that suggest all dogs were derived from southern Chinese wolves that were domesticated 16,000 years ago. (This finding has been challenged recently. I have a short piece in The Bark about it.)

The original purpose of the study was to see whether Scandinavia could be a potential area of wolf domestication.  Of course, one must be willing to accept Savolainen’s methodolgy and general acceptance that domestication happened only once.

But it is an interesting find, for it suggests that there always was a gene flow between domestic and wild C. lupus. We are finding more and more evidence of this as time goes on. The fact that there isn’t much of one right now doesn’t mean that this has always been the case.

What is also of interest that hybridization between wolves and dog gave these particular animals some selective advantage over other dogs in the population. One wonders what that advantage might have been. Perhaps it was simply heterosis. Maybe it made it easier for them to survive harsh weather conditions. Perhaps it made it easier for these hybrids to compete with other dogs for mates.

Now, one must be careful reading too much into this study, for one of the reasons why our understanding of the exact time and place of dog domestication is that it happened a very long time ago. It is further complicated with the influx of wild wolf genes.

And that is further complicated with the influx of dog genes into the wolf population. (See the recent finding on black wolves for the most notorious example. Also see the sudden appearance of dewclaws on the hind legs of some Italian wolves for another.).

It is because of findings like this one about Scandinavian and Finnish spitzes that I am very cautious about thinking of dogs and wolves as separate species.

I think it is far wiser to think of them as part of an unusually diverse species.

This diversity has allowed C. lupus to survive and even thrive with the success of our species. I know of no other large carnivore that has so benefited from this thing we call civilization.

Think of all the other large carnivores, and every single one of them exists at only a small fraction of their former glory.

Domestic C. lupus has been successful where others have vanished.

And that is something remarkable.


The best analysis of how this process may have happened is found in this essay by Mark Derr.

I have always had skepticism about the view that dogs are nothing more than degenerate wolves that evolved to live off of our waste.

It’s a popular view. It is easy to explain, and it even makes for a compelling narrative for a television documentary.

However, the real process that happened is far more complex than can be explained in a forty-five minute documentary.


So are we now going to call Norwegian elkhounds wolf hybrids?

I doubt it.

But it something to keep in mind.

I’m never going to look at a Norsk elghund in the same way again.

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