The Joys of 'Seasonal Breeding
Behavior'* In Wolfdogs
*Also known as "Winter Wolf Syndrome"
Wolves breed one time per year, most often in late winter, so that the pups are born in early spring. That gives them time to mature some and become useful members of the pack before winter hits again. Both males and females are normally infertile at other times of the year.
Female dogs usually are in 'heat' twice a year, and domestic dog males are fertile year round. Some of the Northern Breeds tend to cycle more like the wolf.
Female wolfdogs may take on the breeding cycle of wolves and breed once a year; or the cycle of the dog and be fertile twice each year. They may breed at the time wolves do, or if they cycle more like dogs it could be any time of the year with late fall most probable.
Male wolfdogs may have the reproductive system of the wolf, and be fertile only during the late winter breeding season, or be fertile year round like a dog, depending on the genes inherited.
Those wolfdogs that inherit the wolf reproductive system tend to be most prone to intense hormonally driven behavioral changes during breeding season. In recent years those changes have been lumped together and been dubbed Winter Wolf Syndrome, hereafter referred to as WWS.
Typically very high content wolfdogs have the reproductive cycle of wolf, and low contents the cycle of the dog. Mid content wolfdogs can inherit either. It's a crap shoot, just like any other wolf or dog traits inherited in the blueprint of 'wolfdog'.
Behavior changes triggered by seasonal hormonal changes can range from simple grumpiness, to all out aggression whenever a person tries to enter the pen. Grumpiness may mean that the animal that normally loves to be petted is suddenly shying away from petting or even growling or showing teeth when the owner attempts to pet it. Or the normally very obedient animal is now defiant. Wolfdogs that are heavily socialized and people oriented normally become merely grumpy or disobedient.
Others may become very protective of their possessions or their mate, and present up to a full out challenge to the owner wanting access to the pen in order to feed, water, or clean.
Many people have said that at two years of age (the beginning or climax of sexual maturity - normally between 2 and 4 years of age) the previously loving wolfdog turned on them. Typically the animal has merely begun experiencing WWS. Such challenges may and have resulted in serious injury to owners and visitors.
During this time, your animal may become much more same sex agressive with other canines. If signs of this are observed, it is often recommended that the agressive animals be separated permanently. A number of people have been hurt getting between two females that would just as soon see each other dead.
They may also show a more intense prey drive. Keeping them separated from prey type small animals and birds may become crucial during this time. That may include young children who run around and scream like wounded prey.
WWS behavior toward you will also depend much on whether you have established yourself as ALPHA during the maturation/socialization period, although even a domineering human alpha will most often not completely deter WWS behavior.
When you buy that CUTE little fuzzball at 3 or 4 weeks of age, do you KNOW which end of the WWS behavior spectrum he/she will inherit? It can be partially judged by the actions of the animal's parent's at and before breeding time, which means you must visit the breeder BEFORE the pup is conceived.
Will neutering "fix" WWS?
In males it will remove the testosterone overload driving breeding behaviors. In most cases, if the animal is neutered early, you will see much less seasonal behavior than in an intact animal. If the male is neutered after maturity, or after breeding, then many of the behaviors may have become habit, and those will not be decreased significantly for some time, if at all.
In females, the overload of hormones is only present while she is in estrus (heat). Though again, LEARNED behaviors may not be extinguished completely with a spay. In wolves/wolfdogs that heat cycle can be as long as 6 to 7 weeks.
How long does WWS last?
In most cases, owners should be prepared for a MINIMUM of grumpiness from October through March. It may not last that long, or begin later and last later -- every animal is an individual. That means that for up to 5 months of the year, your cuddly little fuzzball COULD become the demon-dog from hell. It could also mean that during this time neither you nor anyone else will be able to enter the enclosure to feed, water, or clean the pen. Or if you are real lucky you will be living with a wolfdog with nothing more than PMS.
What precautions should I take to deal with WWS?
Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. If you are a responsible wolfdog owner, you already have a large escape-proof pen outdoors. During the seasonal breeding time most wolfdogs will have a serious desire to roam, so make sure they DON'T get out. Time in the house may significantly decrease.
Make sure they have an enriched environment with lots of playthings. Keep children and toddlers out of harms way. In animals with serious WWS you should never enter the pen alone, always have another adult with you and at least one of you should be carrying a shovel, or broom, or similar object. This object will not prevent a challenge nor should it be used as a weapon, but often an object such as these can be used as a deflector for a bite and can allow you precious seconds to escape the enclosure safely.
WWS encompasses a spectrum of natural behaviors occurring in wolf packs. It exists in the wild to keep the social and breeding protocols of the pack. It is not abnormal, nor is it something to be taken lightly. It does not translate well to captivity.
WWS is one of the little talked about pitfalls of owning a wolfdog and as a result many wolfdogs end up in the rescue system or dead because of WWS and the behaviors that accompany it. Even if your animal only gets the seasonal grumpies, you may find the behavior difficult to accept from your normally loving and docile animal.
WWS is a natural part of being a wolf. It is not natural in most dog breeds. It is part of the package you will be buying when you hand the $$$$ to the wolf hybrid breeder. Did your breeder tell you about WWS? If not, why not?
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