by   David Hancock

I am surprised that an enterprising and adventurous lurcher breeder has not tried a wolf cross in the eternal pursuit of the best hunting dog, combining cunning with athleticism. In North America the Indian tribes used the blood of the wolf both to improve their sled-dogs and their hunting dogs. The despair over the decline of the German Shepherd Dog in the last half-century is well illustrated by the creation of 'offshoots' like the Eastern European Shepherd, the Saarloos and the Czech Wolfdogs, and, mainly in North America, the King Shepherd, the Shiloh Shepherd and the American Tundra Shepherd Dogs. The Czech and Saarloos Wolfdogs appear at European dog shows and behave just like any other exhibit - no suspect temperament in this stock. When working in Jordan, a local gazelle-hunter assured me that his hounds were descended from the Ethiopean wolf and the latter does look leggy and sighthoundy.

Lurchermen would nod wisely at the words of Mark Derr in his 'How the Dog Became the Wolf', (Duckworth Overlook, 2012): "No matter how they have constructed the study, academic researchers have consistently shown that people who hunt with dogs, independent of any other weapon they use, bring more meat to the table than those who don't..."  He went on to state: "It is nearly axiomatic among dog scholars and wildlife biologists that the structural similarities between wolf packs and human hunters and gatherer bands made it easier, even natural, for the two to get together." In Australia, the local 'wolf', the dingo, was soon used to enhance the stamina and virility of their herding dogs, like the Australian Cattle Dog. Bedouin herdsmen utilised the blood of the wolf to improve the guarding powers of their pastoral dogs, with the Canaan Dog of today being one descendant of such breeding. I see no stigma in the presence of wolf-blood in any contemporary breed, way back every breed did!

The Czech Wolfdog was created by a Czechoslovakian breeder, Karel Hard, in the 1950s, in a programme involving crosses between a German Shepherd Dog and a Carpathian wolf. In 1974, a third wolf was introduced into this breeding programme, with a further wolf cross into the line in 1983, at which time the bloodline was closed. The new breed was accepted by the Czech authorities in 1982; by 1991 over 1,500 had been listed and registered as of the new breed. The breed is valued for its docility, loyalty and immense stamina. The Saarloos Wolfdog was created by the Dutch breeder, Leendert Saarloos, in the 1920s and 30s, after he became concerned about what he termed the 'degeneration' of the pedigree shepherd dogs - starting with a GSD-wolf cross. He found however that the progeny were extremely shy, cautious with any strange situation and unable to cope with novelty. In 1963, he back-crossed one of his wolfdogs with a female wolf, producing majestic handsome animals until his death in 1969. The Dutch canine authorities then stepped in and saved the new breed and promoted their cause. I have been impressed by the stable temperament and physical soundness of the specimens I have seen.

The American Tundra Shepherd, as a wolf-dog hybrid, has been the most successful of a variety of wolfdogs bred in the United States, ten states banning such hybrids outright. But the United States Wolfdog Association, founded in 1986, has worked hard to stabilize such crosses and dispel the 'walking time-bomb' type of scare-mongering. Estimates of wolfdog numbers there vary from 75,000 to 500,000; crosses of Alaskan Malamutes, Huskies and GSDs have produced similar-looking wolfdogs but the Tundra Shepherd, a wolf-GSD combination, has proved the most impressive, strong-willed yet docile, immensely strong and exceptionally athletic, inquisitive and bolder than most wolf-dog crosses and highly intelligent. It does however have to overcome the suspicion of the general public, in a country where wild wolves still kill people. As ever, the choice of breeding stock decides the outcome.

The three examples of this cross contained in the Czech, Dutch and American specimens have impressed all those familiar with them. Undoubtedly, the hostile 'folklore' surrounding the wild wolf has made their acceptance that much harder, but, as the domestic dog suffers from excessive in-breeding, such 'outside' blood should never be dismissed out of hand. Most wolves in captivity are extremely shy and do not provide good breeding material. But the wolfdog breeds already stabilised show that such a cross can be not just successful but produce a better dog. Wolves hunt best in packs, with research showing that the bigger the pack the greater the hunting success. But we all know of packhound-sighthound crosses that have made great lurchers, combining good scenting ability with strong hunting instincts. The wolf is the ace hunting dog and as a breeding ingredient must have something to add to our spectrum of crossbred hunting dogs, but it will take a skilled and brave sportsman to take on such a challenge; it could take him a lifetime!