Containing your wolfdog is something that is very important and often overlooked. This should be something that is considered way before adopting or purchasing an adult OR puppy!
While some people think keeping a wolfdog "behind bars" is cruel, it is no different then keeping your dog in the house- which is an area of limited space. Setting up a proper enclosure for your wolfdog(s) could very well save their life.
So what exactly is considered proper containment?
While there are many variations and ideas that have been thrown about over the years, a few have been put together as a general guideline for starters. So before we even begin, there are a few questions to ask yourself BEFORE getting a wolfdog:
Do I have the space to build a proper enclosure?
Do I have the funds?
And is it allowed on my property or in my neighborhood/are there any deed restrictions that might prevent it's construction?
The minimum size requirement for one wolfdog should be a 25ftx50ft enclosure. Add 10-20ft per additional wolfdog. This is often considered the absolute minimum, with few exceptions. Many owners opt to build larger enclosures (especially for multiple animals) for a number of reasons, one of which is to help curb boredom and problem behaviors such as pacing and excessive digging.
Are there any exceptions for a smaller enclosure? Yes, and there can be other factors that play a role in the size of an enclosure. For example, an animal that spends most of it's time in the house and is only placed in their enclosure when the owner is away from the house (similar to crating a dog), might do ok in a smaller pen (such as a 25x25). A couple other factors could include the temperament of the animal and also how much time that animal actually spends in the enclosure. Even for a higher content or more active wolfdog, an animal that gets A LOT of social interaction/mental stimulation, exercise and out time (such as walking/hiking or being allowed in a large, secure play yard) might also do well in a smaller enclosure.
SECURITY and MATERIALS:
Having a large enclosure is only part of the proper containment equation. A proper enclosure also means a secure enclosure, one that should be as escape proof as possible. Some animals try to escape due to boredom and others might try due to fear or the extreme stress of being in a new environment. Either way, it is the responsibility of their human parent to make sure they are as safe as possible.
Wolfdogs are known for being escape artists and over time, have accomplished some amazing feats. Can all wolfdogs scale a 10ft fence, chew threw 9 gauge chainlink or dig 6 ft undergound and out of their enclosure. No...and many don't. Not to say that they can't, but when provided with proper enrichment, care and a secure enclosure, most wolfdogs do not care to challenge that. However there are some that will regardless. And once they know they can get out, fence testing can be a very difficult AND dangerous habit to break. No one wants to come home to see their woofer hung up on the side of the fence by their collar or their mouth torn up from trying to bite thru the fencing that was so easy to chew up last time.
The sayings- "do it right the first time" and "better safe then sorry" come to mind when building a wolfdog enclosure!
The minimum fencing height for an enclosure should be 8ft tall, followed by climb proofing- sometimes referred to as lean-ins or tip-ins (like barb wire arms pointing inward instead of out) extending 2-3 ft out, dig guards extending 2ft down (if possible) and 3-4ft out and a double gated entry to prevent unwanted escapes while trying to enter or exit the enclosure.
Lower gauge, heavy duty fencing should be used, such as 9 gauge chainlink or the even thicker 4 and 6 gauge hog/cattle or utility panels. NOTE: The terrain can affect the type of fencing that needs to be used.
Are there any exceptions for the height, gauge or security of the enclosure?
Yes. For example, a wolfdog that is known for being an jumper/climber might need 10 or even 12 ft fencing. And animal that is known for being a digger might even need a completely bottomed enclosure. Higher contents generally require a much more secure enclosure, but there are some low contents (and even regular dogs) that must have Ft. Knox type containment! Some animals might be ok behind a 6ft fence with just dig guards, such as your older/arthritic animals and/or animals that are well socialized and have shown no inclination to chew, jump, climb...etc. Bottom line is- know your animal. It is up to you to determine the best type of enclosure for your baby and whether or not you want to take the risk if you decide to opt for shorter fencing or no dig guards.
Some additional materials that will be needed are: fence posts, concrete, materials for housing/bedding, roofing (such as sheet metal), hog rings or wire to secure fencing and U-nails.
One of the most dreaded questions...how much damage will a secure enclosure do to my wallet?
The answer...honestly it depends. The average cost for a nice minimum size/height enclosure runs between 800-1,200$. The types of materials used and WHERE you get them from can make a huge difference. I know many people that have built larger and more secure enclosures for much less by finding used or excess materials on sites such as craiglists or the classified ad's in the newspaper.
This is also another reason to build your containment BEFORE you purchase or adopt your wolfdog(s). Having the chance to browse, compare prices and snag some good deals on fencing and other materials over the course of a few months can make a might big difference. Having to rush to put up an enclosure in a few weeks can hit hard on the pocket book and cause a lot of unwanted stress...sometimes hard enough for owners to call it quits and turn to giving up their animal.
Are there other types of permanent containment?
To be honest, no...not really. At least not any types I would consider safe or humane...especially not for wolfdogs.
Chaining/Ariel Cables: Can cause severe territorial aggression, neurotic behaviors (which can also lead to aggression) such as constant pacing and guarding. If chained in an open area, it leaves the animal exposed to outside threats/possible dangers (both ways) such as other dogs/wild animals and children. Most animals that live their lives on chains have a wide variety of behavioral issues.
Invisible Fencing/Shock Collar: Does not work for most strong willed dogs. If the animal does decide to pass thru the shock line, many times that animal does not want to come back onto the property because it knows it will be shocked (even if the animal does not get shocked). Wolfdogs are usually pretty sensitive animals, and negative corrections can result in trust issues and other problematic behaviors that are fear related.
So...what about enrichment?
Keeping your wolfdog entertained is a big part of responsible ownership. Not only is a bored woofer is a woofer looking for trouble, but many times lack of proper enrichment and mental stimulation can lead to issues such as increased and/or more frequent destructiveness (sch as excessive chewing or digging), attempts to escape and/or challenge containment and behavioral issues such as nervous type pacing, territorial aggression (or any behavior that may be exaggerated due to boredom) or even aggression (possible redirected) related to frustration and/or excitibility whenever someone (new or recurring) comes to give them attention.
All in all a wolfdog that is exposed to different forms of socialization, mental stimulation and enrichment on a daily basis makes for an overall happier AND healthier wolfdog physically, mentally and emotionally. It can also help to strengthen the bond between them and their owner and provide a form of trust and confidence building in shy or timid animals.
So what exactly is enrichment you ask?
Enrichment should be something rewarding, fullfilling and stimulating. Whether it challenges the animal physically, mentally or both, the outcome should be something postive and satisfying!
Wolves alone are incredibly smart, very curious, extremely active/athletic, independent opportunists. Most of the dog breeds used in breeding wolfdogs share very similar personality qualities, which in turn is often coupled by a strong working drive of some sort (such as the GSD being a herding and guardian type dog). This effectively makes wolfdogs difficult animals to keep occupied!
Having various types of enrichment that can be rotated between days is very helpful in keeping them entertained without losing their interest in that particual item, game or whatever is being used.
Types of Enrichment!
There are many, many different types of enrichment that can be provided to different woofers! The key is to know what your animal(s) like and how they react to whatever stimuli they are being presented!
If something really scares them, it might be best to avoid that until they gain confidence by being slowly introduced. If they really like it, don't burn them out by using the same item or game every single day. The key is to keep them interested...and most of the time if they are having a good time, it will hold their interest!
Permanent and basic types of enrichment.
Basic/free play toys:
Providing them with good chewing items, such as KONGS, antlers, and other fun toys such as large rope toys or squeaky toys can be quite the fun time for many a woofer. However, caution must be used with animals that not only rip toys up, but also eat them! Obstuctions/blockage can cause serious issues and be fatal if left untreated. KNOW YOUR WOOFERS!
Wolfdogs love being able to survey their domain and being up high is something that never seems to get old. Constructing a multi-level platform where they are able to stand, sleep and play on can be the highlight of their day! Just be sure it is not near the fence...don't want them getting any ideas!
Another thing that never seems to lose their interest is water! Especially in the summer months, most wolfdogs greatly enjoy being able to cool off in their tubs. Having a couple large tubs (between 150-600 gallon) can keep them occupied for a couple hours! Adding bags or blocks of ice during the summer months is also lots of fun!
Non-moving toys: These could be toys that can be hung/attached to the fence or ground that provide the animal with a little more of a challenge. Attaching a large rope toy or KONG to the fence can be great fun for the woofer, also expending more energy by playing tug-of-war with an immovable object!
Daily types of enrichment.
This is a much longer list and really brings out your creative side!!! Not all of these may work for you or your wolfdog, but it is a good starting point and can be tweaked to fit the needs of you and your woofer!
Food related items/games:
Serving breakfast or dinner in a closed carboard box (no tape).
Serving their meal portion frozen (summer).
Freezing treats/meat/toys in a block of ice (mainly water and adding some chicken/beef blood or broth can help keep them interested).
Feeding whole (small-med sized) watermelons (summer) and pumkins (fall/winter). Make sure they properly chew them up.
Hiding treats/food around the enclosure (if possible, remove animals for this so there is no cheating on their part!)
Utilizing treats/food for a quick basic training/command session. Make it fun!
Food/treat stuffed KONGS (frozen is best) or other "buster cube" type toys.
Feeding large whole prey like deer or goat (if able) or smaller whole prey like rabbit or chicken.
Scent related items/games:
Most wolfdogs enjoy different smells and scents and you can definitely use that to your advantage!
Spray a small amount of different perfume/cologne in several different areas in their enclosure.
Fill a cardboard box with different toys that have been masked in different smells such as musk spray, fresh fish guts/oil, orange peels, or natural fly spray.
Hide different scented items around their enclosure.
Visual, physical and sound related items/games:
Placing a large item(s) such as a tree stump, large rocks, large stuffed animals or moving something in their enclosure can really get their attention. Most of the reactions at first will be fear based but it is good to provide this type of stimulation IN MODERATION. If you see your woofer is not interested in investigating and is more fearful, then make that call and try something else. Again, know your animal!
Utilizing different sounds can also be fun. Letting the woofers listen to recorded wolf howling or a siren can get their attention for a few minutes!
Getting a truck load of fresh dirt is also lots of fun for woofers. Not only can they use it to climb on, but also to dig however much they want without destroying their enclosure or your backyard, and they also seem to enjoy running circles around it in a game of woofer tag.
By the end of the day your woofers should look like this...
And you should be preparing for the next day of activities!