“Between Dog and Wolf: Understanding the Connection and the Confusion”


By Jessica Addams and Andrew Miller. Dogwise Publishing.  $24.95.

While the footprints of the dog and wolf have similar characteristics there is a whole lot of uncertainty above that ground-level ID to leave even the experts guessing.

But this thought-provoking examination of the pair by two authors with nearly two decades of collective work at Wolf Park, a nonprofit Indiana education and research facility, provides tools for shelter personnel and potential owners to make a better educational assessment of an animal’s ancestry – wolf, dog or a combo of both.

The authors write, “No matter how much experience or knowledge an individual has, no human can determine the actual genetic percentage of wolf in an animal just through observation. At best, one can get an indication of how close to a ‘wolf’ or ‘dog’ stand the animal appears to be on the basis of looks and behavior.”

The pair addresses modern wolf mythology; domestication from wolf to dog; when wolves and dogs combine, a genetics primer; various outcomes, and the difficulty of identifying genetics; practical advice for rescue organizations and shelters; the current state of DNA testing.

The authors’ observations are nicely complemented with photos, differentiating wolf and dog. “Dogs are fairly likely to exhibit behaviors also exhibited by wolves. Generally, the primary difference in expression of behaviors by wolves and dogs is in the degree of expression. How emphatic is the behavior? How often is it expressed? To whom is it expressed?”

Age is a key factor, they emphasize, in wolves’ interaction with man. As older animals’ energy levels wane, “they often become more mellow and relaxed, and often more social toward humans.”

The most valuable chapter targets rescue organizations and shelters working with wolf hybrids, where they skillfully construct criteria for identifying whether an animal is likely a dog or a wolf.  And they waste no time noting, “It seems that the creation of a wolf hybrid can best be described as ‘a mess.’ Two closely related animals, which can be very difficult to tell apart either physically or genetically, breed. Their genes do a complicated little dance and assort themselves unpredictably, while environmental factors alter the expression of the genetic information. Then to top it all off, the parents may not be ideal, ‘textbook’ ambassadors of their breeds, or may even be entirely different breeds than advertised. Behavior, of course, is all over the map.”

The authors’ purpose in writing this volume is to emphasize how dogs can give the wrong impression and be incorrectly labeled a wolf hybrid, hence losing the opportunity to be adopted and most likely resulting in euthanasia.

An arresting and valuable analysis, “Between Dog and Wolf” should be must reading for shelter personnel, veterinarians and anyone even remotely intrigued by the thought of owning an animal with wolf ancestry.