Wolfdogs and wolf-like dogs are not a recent ‘invention’. In reality, the link between dogs and wolves has always been present. Wolves and dogs are genetically very similar and now dogs are classified as a ‘sub-species’ of Canis lupus (wolf), rather than being classified as an entirely different species.
ANCIENT HISTORY: While fossils of dog-shaped animals have been found up to 18,000 years old, DNA evidence suggests that the ‘strain’ of animals that would become dogs separated from wild wolves much sooner. This implies that while we lived a natural hunter-gatherer lifestyle, we lived alongside domesticated canines for many thousands of years which still looked much like natural wolves and retained many natural behaviours. It was only as we began farming and settled into permanent villages that we developed the different ‘shapes’ and purposes of dog breeds that are present today.
HISTORICAL WOLFDOGS: DNA evidence now shows us that in rural areas, wild wolves and domestic dogs, such as flock guarding breeds, have continued to occasionally crossbreed over the centuries. All dogs have wolf DNA but some of those genes within the DNA have mutated to give the cosmetic differences we see today in our dogs. Now wolves also carry those “mutated genes” (for example, black wolves have a colour allele inherited from a dog ancestor).
RECENT HISTORY: In the last 100 -150 years, wolf ownership and wolfdog crossing has been much better recorded. In 1912 it was first reported in the news the story of James Damrell in the USA who owned several wolves (or wolfdogs) and trained them to pull a cart. The foundation of the German Shepherd Dog and several sled dog breeds include a small percentage of wolf to dog crosses. Between the 1930s and 1950s, several specific breeding programmes were developed in Europe to create breeds from crosses of European Wolves and German Shepherd Dogs, while in America the trade of wolf fur farming contributed to domestic wolfdogs which looked very wolf-like but behaviourally were more domesticated and therefore easier to farm.
CURRENT DATE: These days, almost all wolfdogs and wolf-like dog breeds are well established breeds/types in their own right. There are a variety of different wolfdog breeds including both working and companion types with their own breed standards and characteristics.
It is almost unheard of to find modern breeders making recent crosses between wolves and dogs. In the very rare instances where they do, they almost never cross those wolves with a pedigree dog breed – so for example, it’s almost impossible to find first generation wolf cross malamute (although many puppy farmers will misrepresent their animals as these crosses in the hopes of achieving a higher sale price). The vast majority of wolfdogs and natural type dogs are NOT recent wolf to dog crosses – those few that are, live in zoo’s, sanctuary’s and private licensed or research establishments. These are not available to the domestic pet market. Do not fall victim to a puppy farmer misrepresenting their dogs for a higher sale price!