. "Before a wolf was brought into their classroom, a group of grade-school children were asked to draw pictures of wolves. The wolves in the pictures all had enormous fangs. The wolf was brought in, and the person with him began speaking about wolves. The children were awed by the animal. When the wolf left, the teacher asked the children to do another drawing. The new drawings had no large fangs. They all had enormous feet."

Barry Holstun Lopez
Of Wolves and Men


What is a wolfdog?

What is a wolfdog? It is a cross between a gray wolf and a dog--what some refer to as a wolf hybrid. The term "hybrid", however is used differently in the various scientific disciplines. For reasons explained in Chapter 2: "Canid Genetics", there is some potential for confusion arising from the use of the word "hybrid" when applied to a wolf/dog cross. In the opinion of many, it is more appropriate to refer to these animals as wolfdogs.

In 1993, the dog (Canis lupus familiaris) was reclassified under the species status of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) in Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic & Geographic Reference, the internationally recognized taxonomical publication, printed by the Smithsonian Institute and the American Society of Mammalogists. So the timber wolf (Canis lupus nubilus), the arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos), and the dog (Canis lupus familiaris) are all subspecies under the genetic umbrella of the gray wolf. Some scientists believe that the dog should, more specifically, be referred to as a domestic variant of the gray wolf (still under the species designation of Canis lupus) rather than as a subspecies of gray wolf (i.e., equal to the arctic wolf) because of its domestic status.

Filial Numbers & Percentages

The filial number refers to the number of generations that a wolfdog is removed from a pure wolf.  For example, an F1 wolfdog has one parent who is a pure wolf. The other parent can be a wolfdog or a dog. An F2 refers to an animal that has at least one grandparent who is a pure wolf. An F3 wolfdog is one that has at least one great grandparent who is a pure wolf; so this animal would be three generations removed from a wolf. With selective breeding for tameness, one could achieve domestication by the third generation. 1 (NOTE: The previous assertion pertains to the selective breeding of a line of wolfdogs for tameness, not random breeding, and does not pertain to entire litters, but to specific animals within those litters.) 

Percentage pertains to the percentage of wolf present in a wolfdog. The ONLY importance that the percentage of wolf in an animal might play would be either (1) in the F1's that result from a pure wolf and a pure dog mating or (2) on paper. Once we get into wolfdogs, percentages amount to very little other than correct documentation on paper. The REAL percentage of wolf or dog that an F1 wolfdog/wolf mix or an F2 and above might have can vary among littermates. For example, a litter of F2 animals could have wolfy and doggy acting animals. These littermates would "genetically" not be the same percentage. However, on paper, they would all be recorded at the same percentage.

Because of the problems inherent in ascertaining correct percentages (other than on paper), many wolfdog owners have begun to refer to their animals in general terms as being a low content, mid content or high content. These content ranges encompass a larger spectrum and allow for a little more leeway in ascertaining the wolfiness or dogginess of an animal. For example, a litter of 87% wolfdogs would be deemed high content and all in the litter should look and act more wolfy than doggy; on the other hand, a litter of 25% wolfdogs would be deemed low content and all in the litter should look and act more doggy than wolfy. (NOTE: The aforementioned sentence does not pertain to selective breeding for specific traits but to the generic and rather random breeding of wolfdogs.) Mid contents cover a wide range and, as such, can act and/or look more wolfy or more doggy, even within a given litter--unless that line of wolfdogs had been selectively bred for a specific look and/or behavior.

Taxonomical Overview: The Gray Wolf

L. David Mech (1970) summed up the problems inherent in the taxonomical classification of the various subspecies of Canis lupus , claiming that because of the interbreeding, or intergradation, of wolves, there is a melding of traits that are generally used to determine one subspecies from another. For decades, differences in the pelage, skeletal features, and behavior were used to distinguish among subspecies.

Although E. Raymond Hall and K. R. Kelson  (1959) recognized 24 subspecies of North American wolf, many authorities in the field disagreed, using various other classification systems. Mech (1970), commenting on the problems with the current (ca. 1970) wolf taxonomy, noted that there were "probably far too many sub specific designations . . . in use." It wasn't until Hall's publication in 1981 that the taxonomic division of Canis lupus into 24 subspecies became the single, most widely accepted classification system of North American wolves (Fig. 1).

Though Hall's taxonomy of gray wolves is still accepted today, Ronald M. Nowak and Nick E. Federoff (1996) challenge it, narrowing the subspecies from 24 to five: arctos, lycoan, nubilus, baileyi, and occidentalis (Fig. 2). Research has progressed from pelage, skeletal features, and behavior to include statistical analyses of cranial morphology and studies of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA. Nowak and Federoff (1996) cite various studies focusing on genetic evidence that indicate to some researchers that "there may be even fewer identifiable kinds of gray wolf". Presently, both Hall's (1981) and Nowak and Federoff's (1996) classifications are widely accepted.

Classification Maps:

NOTE:  Nowak and Federoff's 1996 Classification Map (Fig. 2) shows six categories:
five subspecies of Canis lupus (gray wolf) and Canis rufus (red wolf). 
This page focuses only on the gray wolf; the inclusion of the red wolf in Nowak and
Federoff's Classification Map above was merely to accurately portray the map.


Hall, E. Raymond. 1981. The Mammals of North America. John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Mech, L. David. 1970. The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Nowak, Ronald M. 1995. Another look at wolf taxonomy. In Carbyn, L. N., S. H. Fritts, and D. R. Seip. Ecology and Conservation of Wolves in a Changing World. Canadian Circumpolar Institute Occasional Publication no. 35, pp. 409-416.

Nowak, Ronald M., and N. E. Federoff. 1996. Systematics of wolves in eastern North America. Defenders of Wildlife, Wolves of America Conference Proceedings, Albany, NY, pp. 187-203.

Steinhart, Peter. 1995. The Company of Wolves . Random House, Inc., New York.


1.  Dr. Ray Pierotti
asserted that domestication could be achieved within three generations of selective breeding for tameness in his deposition in the James Trivitt v. the City of Arlington, TX on 18 November 1998, Cause # 352-173599-98.

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