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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Coyote And Wolf Hybrids....Bad Idea

Paula emailed me with this situation and question. 

I got a puppy in September. A beautiful red German Shepherd cross that looked identical to a coyote pup. We got him from an Amish farmer in Michigan near Ohio, who's Shepherd came into heat, got loose and returned home pregnant. The farmer was mad about the puppoes and weaned them at 6 weeks and locked them in a barn until they were all sold. I christened him Yohann Gutenberg, he grew rapidly and had a vigorous appetite and eternal thirst for water. He reached 50 pounds, went from red to gold all over his body and became aggressive. We thought originally he was fearful as he did not like people or other dogs, and we thought it odd other animals avoided him and people backed off from him. He continued to become aggressive, attacking my aunt and quivering and salivating when my uncle came over. He stalked our dogs and attacked them and eventually stalked and attacked my five year old brother. The more passive the personality the more apt he was too attack them. My sister spent the entire seven months we had him insiting upon his being half coyote. We blew it off. Then she googled traits and pictures of coyote half breds, it was as though I was looking at and reading about my dog.
Despite his being ulte-aggressive he was also ultra loyal. I could tell him to do whatever I wanted and he'd do it. I loved him.
At 7 months we euthanized him and the vert confirmed he was half coyote. Evidently it is very common for dogs and coyotes to breed near the Ohio border.
Have you ever had or heard of cases with coyote hybrids, or coydogs as they're called?

Her situation brings up some good discussion topics, so let's jump in.
Dogs, wolves, and coyotes are very closely related species, and therefore can interbreed rather easily.  The reason why it doesn't happen more is due to the behavior of each species that typically keeps them from getting together when a female is in heat.  A dog usually doesn't get along well with a wolf or coyote, and those wild animals aren't usually of a temperament to peacefully mate with a dog.  However, exceptions do happen, so pairings and matings do happen.  Unlike many hybrids (such as mules) these offspring are usually fertile and can breed and pass on their genetics.
Wolf or coyote hybrids do NOT make good pets!  There are significant behavioral differences between dogs and their wild cousins that allow dogs to be good companions.  Dogs have been  bred over thousands of years to bond with humans and be relaxed around most of our species.  Wolves and coyotes have a natural stand-offish disposition and wariness of humans shared by most wild animals.  Behavioral traits can be inherited and these tendencies have a strong genetic component.  This fact is why we can selectively breed dogs for personality, trainability, and temperament as well as for physical appearance.  The wild behaviors of wolves and coyotes are strongly influenced by their genes, and therefore hybrids of these species will share many of the behaviors.  The dog genes really don't significantly mellow the wild genes.
One of the biggest risk of wild hybrids is their unpredictable temperament and tendency for aggressiveness.  The loyalty and companionability of the dog competes with the shyness and wariness of the wolf/coyote.  It is not unusual for them to bond with one or two people and show severe aggression towards others.  But it's also not uncommon for them to turn on this bonded person at some point in their life. 
Some people will likely read this blog and have a wolf hybrid themselves, and will want to tell everyone how wonderful their pet is.  But if you ask any behavioral specialist, you simply cannot treat these hybrids in the same way that you would a dog, and you can't predict their behavior as you would a dog.  They have to be trained and handled in very specific ways that are often quite different from how we work with dogs, and will have to treat them differently for their entire lives.  Only someone with a strong understanding of these techniques and dynamics should attempt having a dog hybrid as a pet.
Wolf/coyote hybrids with dogs are a potentially significant risk to the owners and any pets or people around them.  Unless you have specific training with these animals, please avoid ever considering one as a pet.