Saarloos Wolfdog

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Saarloos Wolfdog

A wolf-dog hybrid created by Mr. Leendert Saarloos in the 1930s in Holland, the Saarloos Wolfdog was produced in an effort to establish a breed that was strong and healthy, and that could work diligently as a service dog.

Unquestionably wolf-like in their appearance, the Saarloos Wolfdog has just a ‘hint’ of German Shepherd on display. Often shy, this breed requires a patient owner who is compassionate and willing to work long hours with them to build their confidence and provide them with the stability that they crave.

About & History

Mr. Leendert Saarloos was a Dutch dog breeder with a passion for the German Shepherd dog, who was keen to create a less domesticated dog that would make a superb working animal. His wish was that the dogs he would create would be capable of serving the police force and of being used as seeing-eye dogs, amongst other services. While he was keen for his new breed to have the sharp senses and strength of the wolf, he recognised the importance of the breed being trainable, healthy and capable of bonding to humans. He always maintained that he bred the dogs based on their character rather than their physical appearance; on which he put little emphasis. He was quoted as being disappointed with the personalities of the initial dogs produced, with many of them being shy and with little desire to attack.

His first cross was carried out using a female Siberian wolf called ‘Fleur’ (a name that Mr. Saarloos would give to all his breeding she wolves) from Rotterdam Zoo, and a well-respected male German Shepherd dog called ‘Gerard van Fransenum’, whose ancestors served in the First World War. The very first litter of pups was produced in 1936, though all are said to have died, likely due to an infectious disease, such as Distemper. Mr. Saarloos persevered, and over the next few years produced several successful litters via the ‘close inbreeding method’ and by the introduction of more German Shepherds. Keen to maintain control of the breed, until his death, Mr. Saarloos deemed himself the decision maker when it came to the mating of any of the dogs produced and would not sell on any puppies for the public to breed. While he chose the name ‘Europese Wolfhond’ for the dog hybrids, they were later renamed to the ‘Saarloos Wolfdog’ in his honour.

Over the next few decades, the breed came close to extinction on several occasions. In one instance, in 1950, the kennels run by Mr. Saarloos is said to have suffered a disease outbreak from which few dogs survived. While Mr. Saarloos constantly attempted to gain breed recognition through the years, he was rejected time and time again by the governing bodies. The Saarloos Wolfdogs were officially accepted by the Dutch Kennel Club in 1975, and by the UKC in 2006; the same time as their breed standard was finalised.

Recent genetic studies confirmed the presence of wolf DNA within the breed; more wolf DNA than in any other dog breed in the world. Somewhat popular in Holland and the States, the breed remains largely unknown in the rest of the world, and puppies can be both difficult to come by and very expensive.

Appearance

Saarloos Wolfdog Large Photo

Undeniably wolf-like, it is clear that the physical traits of the Siberian wolf were passed on with far greater potency than those of the German Shepherd. Large and powerful, the male Saarloos Wolfdog can measure up to 76cm, while the female may reach heights of 70cm. They typically weigh around 36 to 45kg. Despite their muscular physique, dogs are agile and swift in their movements.

Their ears are tall and always erect with a large surface area, sitting on top of a wedge-shaped head. Their almond shaped eyes may be brown or yellow. Their body should be rectangular in shape with a straight back. Their tail should be broad and densely covered with fur.

Their characteristic coat is short and coarse. Most breed members are ‘wolf grey’, some are ‘wolf brown’, and few are white. Their double coat offers good protection from the weather, and changes with the season.

Character & Temperament

Retaining many of its wolf ancestors’ instincts, the Saarloos Wolfdog has a pack mentality and appreciates the company of other dogs. Their senses are heightened in comparison to the typical domesticated dog and they are incredibly sensitive.

Often described by their owners as ‘demanding’, this breed is absolutely not for the novice, and certainly should not be a family pet for an inexperienced young family. Owners need to put time into the relationship to build up the confidence of the Saarloos Wolfdog and to ensure that they are aware of their place in the pack.

Intelligent and curious, they can become bored easily and require plenty of mental and physical stimulation to keep them occupied and content. While many assume that Saarloos Wolfdogs will make formidable guard dogs, this is not the case, as they tend to be fearful when stressed and rarely bark. They are, however, highly suspicious of new people and experiences. They will generally try to escape the situation by running away before resorting to any form of aggression.

Trainability

In the right hands, this breed can become highly trained, and will thoroughly enjoy the time spent with them while doing so. Highly motivated and sharp on the uptake, they delight in the opportunity to learn new things and to prove their willingness and dedication to their master.

Very early training is absolutely essential in this breed to ensure a successful outcome. Training is lifelong and must be extremely consistent and repeatable. Failing to provide the Saarloos Wolfdog with a solid foundation and rules will cause them to question their place in the pack, and potentially act out.

Health

When it comes to the health of the Saarloos Wolfdog, they have a tendency to suffer from many of the same conditions as the German Shepherd, as listed below. For the majority of the conditions listed, there are standardised tests available for the screening of breeding dogs.

  • Hip Dysplasia – A malformed hip joint that leads to improper load bearing and localised inflammation and pain is known as a dysplastic hip. The predecessor of the Saarloos Wolfdog, the German Shepherd, is the poster boy for this condition. It is essential when choosing breeding stock to attempt to breed the parents with the healthiest hips as this condition is known to be genetic and can lead to crippling arthritis and pain in later life – often accounting for the reason that many elderly animals are put to sleep.
  • Elbow Dysplasia – The Saarloos Wolfdog is also predisposed to the joint abnormality known as Elbow Dysplasia. Signs typically present themselves in young dogs, and in some cases, surgery may be recommended – though is not always efficacious.
  • Spinal Spondylosis – When bony growths occur along the spine as a dog ages, this can result in pain and stiffness. Spondylosis may be picked up on X-rays or a CT scan, and some dogs do not seem to be affected by them, while others will feel a great amount of pain and discomfort associated with their deformed spine.
  • Ocular Conditions – Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), Glaucoma and Hereditary Cataracts are all conditions of the eye that the Saarloos Wolfdog is prone to developing.
  • Degenerative Myelopathy – In this debilitating condition, the spinal cord progressively loses its ability to function, with affected Saarloos Wolfdog’s becoming poorly coordinated and weak in their hind limbs. The condition will inevitably get worse with time, though keeping the dog slim and active can help.
  • Pituitary Dwarfism – A Growth Hormone (GH) deficiency in the Saarloos Wolfdog is an inherited condition that causes abnormal growth, difficulty breathing and kidney failure, among many other issues. In some countries, hormone treatments are available, though have varying success rates.

Exercise and Activity Levels

With a relatively high exercise requirement, the Saarloos Wolfdog requires a minimum of two long walks or jogs a day and would also ideally have access to a large fenced-in area outdoors. Time spent exercising and playing with other dogs in their pack is highly beneficial to them. Owners must be cautioned to not overdo things when a Saarloos Wolfdog puppy is still developing, as this can lead to, or worsen, any underlying joint abnormalities.

Grooming

Quite a low maintenance breed when it comes to their upkeep, their coat is kept in good condition by brushing it once or twice a week. They are moderate shedders; typically experiencing two sheds a year. Over-bathing will diminish the dog’s natural oils and can interfere with the weather-proofing ability of their coat, so bathing should not be carried out excessively.

Famous Saarloos Wolfdogs

Not well known outside of their native Holland, there are no famous Saarloos Wolfdogs.

Cross-Breeds

The Saarloos Wolfdog is a recent cross of a wild wolf and the German Shepherd, and the breeders are working hard to maintain the line.

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