Examples of “unusual” wolfdogs - these are all animals with verified lineage, ranging from low-content to upper-mid. Each threw a unique trait usually seen only in dogs, which has apparently caused some confusion for people attempting to phenotype them. This is a PSA that phenotyping is not always as easy as it seems, especially in unique circumstances wherein strange genetics come into play.
Starting from top left: A pure white wolfdog with pink skin and pale green eyes. This is likely the closest thing to true leucism I have personally seen in a verified wolfdog. According to the owner, other pups from this same litter had liver coloration. These dilutes, while not uncommon among domestic breeds like German shepherds and huskies, are rare in wolfdogs. But even so, this pup has a very wolfy cheek ruff, somewhat wolfy ears, and, in other photos, a lanky body structure typical of low-content wolfdogs.
Beside the white pup is a unique black-phase upper mid-content wolfdog with bi-colored eyes. One is brown, while the other is husky blue. Wolves do not carry the genetic markers to produce blue eyes, so this feature obviously comes from the animal’s dog ancestry. It is further proof that phenotyping wolfdogs is about much more than simply putting check marks next to a list of wolf vs. dog traits. If someone said “it’s impossible for wolfdogs to have blue eyes!” then the animal above would obviously not be a wolfdog. But looking past this one unique discrepancy, it’s obvious to see that there are still many wolfy characteristics in his color, build, and even movement (note that he is single-tracking as he walks!).
The big blue beast below the bi-colored pup is actually Jude’s uncle (full brother to Jude’s mother, Kai). He is part of the Blue Bay Shepherd breeding stock, and is an upper mid-content wolfdog. Obviously, he carries the genetic markers for the blue dilute that Jude, and indeed, most BBSs, have. He’s also got white socks, which is not common in wolfdogs. Even so, Dillon still has a wolfy coat, cheek ruffs, tail, ears, muzzle, eyes, legs, and posture.
Next are Leroux and his younger half-sister, Tundra, bred by Northernwoods Wolfdogs. They both express the liver dilute, but Tundra also had husky blue eyes! Despite these dog traits, she still displayed a wolfy coat, body type, and, according to the owner, a typical low-content wolfdog personality to boot. Unfortunately, she recently passed away when a store-bought vaccination failed to perform properly in keeping her safe from canine parvovirus.
The black-and-tan wolfdog below Leroux and Tundra is a fascinating animal to me personally because it closely resembles some of the wolves I’ve worked with as pelts for taxidermy purposes. Its black-and-tan coloration is uncommon in pure wolves, but in wolfdogs, it’s not unheard of, especially in lower-contents. This one, however, is likely a solid or upper mid-content animal crossed with German Shepherd. You can still see that he has a narrow wolf-like muzzle, small angular eyes, rounded well-furred ears, and a wolfy body type.
Next to him is Soldier, a mid-content wolfdog also owned by Northernwoods. He has one of the most unique faces I’ve ever seen in a mid-content animal, because it is surprisingly dog-like in structure, especially around the muzzle. Wolfdogs typically have tight lips with no droop to their jowls. Despite this doggy look, Soldier’s wolf heritage is highly evident in this photo from his coat, ears, and lanky limbs.
Next up are a some adorable low-content pups also produced by Northerwoods Wolfdogs. They are actually Soldier’s offspring! One has piebald marking and bi-colored eyes; another has piebalding and atypically dark eyes. Their pale-colored sibling looks much more wolfy than either of the black ones. A final pup produced in the same litter was almost solid blue.
Lastly, there is the adorable ball of fluff known as Zo. Zo is a mid-content wolfdog who threw a woolly coat. This is not typical of the breed, and a few folks have attempted to phenotype Zo as a low/no-content animal on account of this fact alone. But misrepresentation works both ways. Imagine someone adopting a mid-content animal, expecting it to be a low/no, because it happened to have a few more dog traits than usual. Phenotyping is about looking at the bigger picture! This means taking into account multiple aspects of the pup’s genetic make-up, and not dismissing it simply because of one or two unique traits. Zo acts quite wolfy, has a an incredibly long, narrow skull, and has a very smooth stop to her brow. As she continues to grow, her woolly coat has become less and less poofy, revealing long legs, a narrow chest, and wiry frame. She will look very wolfy by the time she is a year in age.
In conclusion, a wolfdog with a few dog traits is actually perfectly normal, even if they are unique. Genetics are, after all, very diverse, and so the ‘rules’ of phenotyping are not set in stone.
Does this mean that any woolly, liver-colored, pointy-eared dog with blue eyes is a wolfdog? No. Most certainly not. In order for an canine to be a true wolfdog is must show wolf traits as well as dog ones, which is why I have pointed out aspects of both dog and wolf in each of the animals above.