WOLF VS. DOG: To understand the behavioral differences between wolves and dogs, it is important to understand that dogs are essentially perpetual puppies and never achieve the mindset of a mature, adult canine, while wolves and wolf dogs do. This means that when a wolf dog reaches adulthood (usually around two to four years of age), there is often a noticeable shift in their personality as well as changes in their interactions with their owners, animal companions, and strangers. It is important to know that these changes do not necessarily make the animal dangerous but can make caring for them more challenging. Many owners are unaware this shift happens and struggle to adjust to their wolf dog’s new attitude when it occurs, usually prompting owners to confine or give up the animal in frustration.
TERRITORIALITY: Wolf dogs have many similar behaviors to wolves, which is not always ideal in a home setting. Wolves are territorial, and this means a wolf dog may become possessive of things in a home, which may lead to urinating and/or aggression in the home. It also means that many wolf dogs will likely see unfamiliar dogs as intruders and react defensively or aggressively when encountering a new dog. This is something all wolf dog owners should be cognizant of and take precautions for if exercising their animals where there is the possibility of encountering strange dogs.
MOUTHINESS: Wolf dogs, like wolves, are very energetic, curious creatures and, if not given proper enrichment, exercise, and companionship, can become destructive. This is because the way that wolves explore the world is with their teeth. As a result, wolf dogs are much more mouthy than dogs, both with their environment and their “human pack”. While this behavior can be trained out of dogs, it is very difficult to train out of wolf dogs.
TRAINING: Wolves, and most wolf dogs, are very intelligent, independent, and persistent, making them skilled problem solvers, which owners often find frustrating. This is because wolves, unlike dogs, did not have evolutionary pressures that made them rely on humans for their survival and are more determined to find solutions to perceived problems on their own. As a result, while wolf dogs are just as capable of learning every command that dogs can, wolf dogs are generally unmotivated to please their owners without a valuable reward being offered in exchange, thus making them less likely to obey commands reliably.
PREY DRIVE: Another issue that is extremely hard to train out of wolf dogs is their high prey drive. Though there are many definitions and usages for the phrase “prey drive,” what we are referring to here is the instinctive inclination of a carnivore to find, pursue, and capture prey, also commonly known as “predatory behavior.” In wolf dogs, this can lead to issues with the animal hunting small creatures like cats, chickens, squirrels, and birds, and in some cases livestock, such as goats, if given the opportunity. They may also escape, and travel far from home. It is important to note that prey drive is not the same as aggression. A wolf dog can have a high prey drive but not be aggressive towards its owners and/or its companions.
WINTER WOLF SYNDROME: Many wolf dogs, especially high content wolf dogs, will experience what is known as Winter Wolf Syndrome (also called seasonal aggression) to varying degrees. Winter Wolf Syndrome is a seasonal change in an individual’s behavior that typically occurs sometime between November and April. It is associated with the hormonal changes that occur with wolves’ natural breeding cycle and can sometimes even be observed in spayed or neutered individuals. Behavioral changes are extremely variable and individualized, ranging from mild grumpiness to extreme possessiveness and aggression. This means that owners must be aware of seasonal behavior changes and be prepared for the possibility that they may need to be able to care for a wolf dog with whom it is unsafe to interact directly for up to five months out of the year.