Wolf/Dog Hybridization is considered by some wolf biologists to be harmful to the species. After all, wolves and dogs are not the same animal, even though they share the same number of chromosomes, and may have, depending on the species of dog, been interbred with wolves in ancient times. Interbreeding adds to an ecological risk in terms of effecting wolf counts, which may remove the species from the Endangered category. It poses a personal risk to each wolf hybrid living in the wild, whose very hybridization takes away its fear of humans - the one enemy it has that can annihilate it. Finally, it is an unnatural act that occurs rarely in nature. It is, instead, a testament of man’s continued desire to shape nature to his will, whatever that might be.
Diversity and Mutation
One of the effects of human interference in animal diversity is seen in the incredible variety of dog species available today. Normally, natural selection would encourage those traits that sustain survivalability. Humans, instead, have modified and encouraged those undesirable traits, or what has been called “harmful canine mutations” by Fuller, as objects of curiousity.
Today, dogs exhibit extremes in diversity unknown in humans or any other similar species. A Great Dane can weight as much as forty times more than a Chihuahua, for example. There is nothing like that difference among humans. In fact, there is nothing like that among any species of wild animals. It would require, at a minimum, that a wild species be free of the pressures of predator selection.
Human interference in natural selection, and in the deliberate breeding of desired traits, have resulted in the following defects as reported by Fuller and Scott:
- Shetland Sheepdogs produce litters with hereditary obesity;
- Cocker Spaniels, in breeding for a broad forehead with prominent eyes and a pronounced angle between the forehead and the snout, inherit a brain defect;
- German Shepherds are often found with hip dysplasia, due to the breeders preference of a downhill carriage, in which the shoulders are higher than the hips. As a result, they breed lame dogs;
- English Setters frequently show signs of hereditary hemophilia.
Simply put, when the wolf is interbred with a dog, the hybrid will gain in one area, and lose in another. J.P. Scott and J. L. Fuller, in their landmark book Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog spend considerable time elaborating the point that there is no overall gain for the wolf species - no “super wolf”, so to speak. At best, specialization results in a characteristic such as speed or agressiveness which will exceed that of the wolf, but other characteristics will fall short. Terriers are more aggressive, Greyhounds are faster, Trail Hounds are better trackers, Sheep Dogs are better herders and Pointers are better bird hunters. On the other hand, Greyhounds sacrifice the heavy jaw muscles of wolves for their speed. In times of scarce food, those powerful wolf jaws can rend bone for food. Most dogs cannot. In fact, the authors point out that it is “inconceivable” that any domestic breed could compete with wolves under natural conditions, with the possible exception of the Alaskan sled dogs. And even they would be impeded by their smaller teeth and jaws.
One reason given for the interbreeding of wolves and dogs is to conserve the species. A recent article in the journal Conservation Biology by Vila and Wayne have this to say:
“Although dog-wolf hybrids have been observed in the wild, significant introgression of dog markers into wild wolf populations has not yet occurred. Our investigation suggests that hybridization may not be an important conservation concern even in small, endangered wolf populations near human settlements. The behavioral and physiological differences between domestic dogs and gray wolves may be sufficiently great such that mating is unlikely and hybrid offspring rarely survive to reproduce in the wild.”
The further point here should be made that, when left to natural selection, wolves and dogs do not mate (see The Clade Evidence above), even when conditions were ripe for it in the early twentieth century in the western states (Nowak, 1995).
The universal consensus among both wolf and dog experts is that wolves make poor pets. They’re not good watchdogs, as they are naturally timid and will avoid contact with humans unless cornered. They view small children and pets as prey, and attack them with often fatal results. They require miles of terrain in which to run and hunt, so they do not do well in confinement. In Mark Derr’s excellent book Dog’s Best Friend, he quotes an expert Schutzhund (protection dog) trainer as saying “the wolf is everything we’ve been breeding away from for 10,000 years”.