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Its unbelievable to think our pet dogs have descended from the wolf. The single Domestic Dog species has animals, if you came across for the first time in your life, you wouldnt even believe were related
Great Danes and poodles, St. Bernards and Chihuahuas. But they all come from one ancestor, the mighty wolf.
Many people, including me, remain fascinated by the wolf. Long maligned; wolves are stunningly beautiful, intelligent and powerful. They could easily rip a human to shreds, but (contrary to common myth), they are not likely to, far less likely than a big cat would be. Theres something majestic and wonderful about these animals. I have had the fortune to meet a wild wolf, while I was holidaying in America. I was riding a horse at the time, in the early evening. And a wolf crossed our path, just stopped dead in front of us. The horse stopped too, but for some reason she didnt seem scared. The wolf just watched us for a minute, looked straight at me with its cool gaze, and then went on its way.
As such a big fan of wolves, when I learned there is a species of dog bred to look just like the wolf, I jumped at the chance of finding out more. Utonagans are a mixture of Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky and German Shepard blood. Some sources say there is actually some wolf blood in these dogs, although Im not sure of the truth of this, it could be true, as wolves and part wolves are occasionally kept as pets in America. Either way, the Utonagan is an unbelievable creature that makes you think you are face to face with a wolf- the name Utonagan means Spirit of the Wolf. The breed standard from the dog is taken from an expert opinion of the Timber Wolf.
Now generally I dont like buy into the trade of pedigree animal breeding. When I get animals they pretty much always come from rescue shelters, I prefer to give a home to a dog that needs it than spend £400 on a pedigree spaniel. I fell in love with Utonagan dogs, and I lucked out and managed to find a pair of young pedigrees in a rescue shelter after a very lengthy search! This was pretty lucky as the Utonagan isnt a common or well-known dog.
What they look like
Utonagans are massive, strong and muscular dogs, but generally quite wiry, like a wolf. Adult males tend to weigh from 70-110 lbs and stand 25-33 at the shoulder. Females weigh in at around 24-26 at the shoulder . They have slightly slanting wolfy eyes which are dark to amber coloured, and pricked ears with rounded tops. They have long bodies and sickle tails, and are usually silvery grey, cream, or brown with dark overlay and sometimes a wolf-life mask. They may also be black or white. They have a long, loping gait.
A bit of breed history
As Ive mentioned, Utonagans were bred from Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies and German Shepards, with the aim of producing the most wolf-life dog possible. They have been bred in Britain since the late eighties, but only recently named Utonagans. Im not sure if they are the same breed as what used to be called the Northern Inuit Dog or not.
Getting hold of one.
Damn near impossible! I really lucked out with mine, but these are still very uncommon dogs. The Utonagan society (http://www.utonagan.net/) has a message board where puppies are sometimes advertised, but if you want one of these kind of dogs, be prepared for a long, hard searching process and possibly travelling a good distance to find them and they cost about £600 plus a puppy!
Utonagans as pets
Naturally, the first thing to notice about Utonagan dogs is that they are rather on the large size. My male Sampson cant be far off the size of a miniature Shetland pony, but doubtless this has a lot to do with the fact that he wasnt neutered until full-grown. To have one of these mutts you need a big house and preferably a garden they can roam in. Weve got a big walled garden they get access to during the day, and they get three walks a day from one or another member of the household. They need a lot of space, and a lot of exercise. They are probably much more the dog to keep on a farm in the countryside rather than the city, although having said this I like in the centre of Edinburgh and my mutts seem to enjoy the city lifestyle, although they usually get a nice long run in the hills or on the beach at the weekend, and we have a very big house and garden.
On this note, Utonagans have the rather husky-like habit of doing a runner when you let them off the leash, so good lead training in the garden is essential before taking them outside of it. If you cant deal with a dog that likes a run, dont get a Utonagan (or a husky for that matter), because its not really fair to keep a dog of that size on the leash all the time.
If you think you can provide this, then Utonagans make fantastic pets. They have quite reserved and aloof temperaments, they dont go into highly-strung hyper drive like a lot of pedigree dogs seem to, they seem to enjoy keeping an air of mystique, like their wild brothers! We have no problems keeping them with other animals, including small creatures like ferrets and rabbits, and although obviously I dont have kids, they have been used to children from a young age, and again, if they are introduced early on, there is no problem. They tend to act fairly aloof with children.
Naturally with a dog the size of a Utonagan you need to set ground rules at an early age. While it might be fun to play rough with a cocker spaniel, and indeed with a Utonagan puppy, it wont be so fun when you have a full-grown Utonagan that likes to play rough and bite! As with all big dogs, I advise serious training from puppy hood to stop biting, but generally I have found them to be exceptionally gentle dogs for their size.
Probably due to their German Shepard blood, mine took to training like ducks to water. They are exceptionally quick learning and clever dogs, I suspect if they were more popular they might well be used in all the same disciplines that German Shepards are.
They are fairly effective guard dogs if well trained. Some of them tend to be a bit friendly to be a guard dog, but they have a very effective bark, and lets face it, if you were a burglar, would you be willing to risk your chances with a dog you would swear was a real wolf?
However, as many doggie people no, intelligence and quick learning skills usually come with a dog that NEEDS to be kept occupied, or it will go mad as anyone who has ever tried to keep a border collie as a house pet will tell you. These dogs need to be given plenty to do. Its not really fair to leave any dog in the house all day alone while you go to work, but if you do it with one of these you will probably come home to find your house destroyed! Mine have the run of the house and garden when Im out and plenty of toys to keep them occupied. Keeping them with another dog will also benefit them as the twosome can keep each other company.
Im not sure if Utonagans are particularly susceptible to any illnesses, as they are a new breed there isnt much information on this front. Its always wise to make sure your puppy has been tested for all the usual suspects, heart and hip problems for example. Dogs with health problems need love and homes too, but often these illnesses mean saying goodbye to your beloved pooch early, and also some illnesses need specialist care.
All in all, Utonagans make fantastic pets for the right owner. If you have the space for one and are looking for an unusual and slightly more reserved character, Utonagans make wonderful pets. They are beautiful animals with charming personalities and endearing habits, and if, like me, you are in love with wolves, you will fall head over heels for them.
And the obligatory bottom line
A dog is a huge commitment. Please make sure you can fully provide for any dog you buy, whether a pedigree or a mongrel, in terms of time, space, love and money. Also bear in mind that there are thousands of dogs, pedigree and otherwise, looking for homes at shelters. Why not give a home to a dog that really needs it, instead of paying massive prices for a pedigree puppy who is more likely to find a good owner than a poor mutt at the rescue shelter?
Utonagan have been specifically bred to look like the Canadia Timber Wolf, exclusively in the UK since the 80's.
They are a fantastic looking dog, with a wonderful temperament, a joy to own and completely addictive. Not only do they look like a wolf, but they howl like one too. They are an amazingly intelligent dog, and good for working or just as a family pet.
Go to The Utonagan Society website for further information:- www.utonagan.com
or this breeder's extensive website for many more details:- www.carrara-utonagan.com