The Saarloos Wolfhound is wolverine in more than just its appearance. Its reserve, natural flight reflex and hunting instinct are strong wolverine traits and require an experienced owner with lots of expertise, time and empathy.
Although crossing with wolves took place many generations ago, the Saarloos Wolfhound has maintained to this day the primeval and instinctive behaviour of its wild relative. Its natural reserve towards all strangers, pronounced flight reflex and extremely quick reactivity show that wolverine blood truly flows through the veins of this dog breed.
Half dog, half wolf?
Ranging from natural aloofness to outright nervousness, wolverine behaviour can differ significantly from dog to dog. Whilst one Saarloos may act in a rather “canine” manner and approach new situations with an open mind, wolverine shyness overwhelms others. However, all wolfhounds show a certain reserve and wariness. This natural hereditary disposition is explicitly requested by the standard and should absolutely be taken into consideration by Saarloos owners.
Natural flight reflex
When it comes to wolves, the more or less pronounced flight reflex is essential for their survival, but it can lead to problems when keeping dogs as pets. A Saarloos that wishes to flee from an unfamiliar situation or strangers is very difficult for its owner to control. The natural flight reflex overpowers everything – at such moments, the dog is no longer aware of commands. Comprehensive socialisation and consistent training with lots of love and patience are necessary to convince these sensitive dogs that no danger lies with strangers and unfamiliar situations and that they can trust in the authority of their caregiver.
Loyal partners that know their own mind
If the owner succeeds with this challenge, in the Saarloos Wolfhound they gain a reliable partner and loyal family member that is open-minded when it comes to children, other pets or visitors. Wolfhounds are also distinguished by their remarkable loyalty and affection towards their masters. However, blind obedience cannot be expected in these cases. Saarloos Wolfhounds have a proud, independent character and thus always question the point of any commands. They won't stoop to any stupid exercises or constant repetition of the same games. As a Saarloos owner, you therefore have to come up with more ideas in order to satisfy and wear out these demanding and energetic dogs.
Like with the Czechoslovakian Wolfdog, the highly questionable experiment of crossing dogs and wolves also took place with this breed at the beginning. The Dutch nature and dog lover Leendert Saarloos (1884-1969) adored his German Shepherds, but thought the breed was generally too humanised. In order to restore a more primeval dog type better suited to being a working dog, he crossed the male German Shepherd Gerard van der Fransenum with the Siberian female wolf Fleuri. In this experimental phase, he crossed the offspring with the father and ultimately reduced the wolverine blood of his “experiment animals” by a quarter.
Unsuitable as working dogs
Over the course of further breeding experiments, it became clear that these canines were entirely unsuitable as working dogs. Their reserve and nervousness weren't compatible with what was required of a reliable service or guide dog. Nevertheless, these dogs with near-natural characteristics were recognised as a new breed in 1975. The original name “Europese Wolfhond” (European Wolfhound) was later changed to Saarloos Wolfhond in honour of the Dutch founder.
Listed under the standard number 311 with the FCI, the international cynological umbrella association, this Dutch dog breed still has a very wolverine appearance, with a powerful build and very long limbs. However, the head is longer than it is high so it doesn't appear very long-legged. Males reach a stately height of 65 to 75cm, whilst females are somewhat smaller at 60 to 70cm. Depending on the weight and sex, the weight of an adult Saarloos ranges between 30 and 45kg.
Strong similarity to wolves
They possess the wolf's light gait and a typical wolverine facial expression with mainly yellow, almond-shaped and slanted eyes. The wolverine appearance is enhanced by the fur colour and texture. Just as with their wild relatives, the coat is very different in summer to in winter. Whilst the whole body is covered with coarse guard hair in summer, a thick undercoat is most prominent in winter, providing reliable protection and warmth. The fur forms a prominent ruff around the throat in winter. The Saarloos Wolfhound's fur comes in three different colours:
- Wolf grey: black ruddy colour, light to dark shading)
- Woody brown: brown ruddy colour, light to dark shading)
- White: light cream to white
Breeding the Saarloos and the dangerous trend of a wilder nature
Despite the startling similarity to wolves, the last time they officially played a part in breeding the Saarloos was a few generations ago. For good reason, crossing dogs and wolves is now illegal in most countries. The extreme anxiety of these wild, often aggressive wolf hybrids is too uncontrollable. Nevertheless, a dangerous trend of pets having a wilder nature has developed in some European countries and the US. Predominantly wolverine hybrids are sold on the black market, online or on social networks and given away with fake documentation as Saarloos Wolfhounds. High demand for these wild animals as pets is not least demonstrated by the price of puppies, which can reach up to 3,000 euros for illegal wolfhounds. However, these animals often have little in common with pedigree Saarloos Wolfhounds other than their appearance.
Caution when purchasing puppies
If you're interested in a genuine Saarloos Wolfhound, you should take a very close look at the breeder before purchasing a puppy. Responsible breeders are registered in the relevant pedigree dog association and are subject to the FCI's breeding requirements. Their aim is to breed healthy, mentally strong dogs that are socially competent and neither too shy nor too nervous in their behaviour. A good and healthy genetic inheritance is only the start. Responsible breeders start to socialise their puppies in their own home and don't leave this solely to the buyer. They will also closely scrutinise whether you even make a suitable owner for a Saarloos puppy. After all, pedigree Saarloos Wolfhounds should only come into the hands of specialists in possession of sufficient knowledge of both canine and wolverine behaviour.
Price and paperwork
The price for a pedigree Saarloos from good breeding stock that has undergone all health examinations and been socialised at an early stage is generally between 1,000 and 1,200 euros. Insist on receiving all required paperwork, including the family tree and a DNA pedigree certificate. Even if the puppy itself is more important to you than any paperwork, only FCI-certified documentation guarantees responsible, controlled breeding with healthy parent animals and offspring that are likewise healthy and mentally strong.
Thankfully, the Saarloos Wolfhound isn't susceptible to many breed-specific diseases at all thanks to its primeval genetic stock. Mandatory and voluntary genetic tests on the parent animals ensure that the number of defects can be further reduced. The average life expectancy is between 10 and 12 years, but it's not a rare occurrence for dogs of this breed to reach over 16 years in age.
Nevertheless, the following diseases occur increasingly amongst Saarloos Wolfhounds:
- Ocular diseases: Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), which leads to blindness or cataracts (grey star).
- Joint diseases: In contrast, hip dysplasia (HD), elbow dysplasia (ED) and other joint problems aren't an issue for Saarloos Wolfhounds.
- Degenerative myelopathy (DM): A neurodegenerative disease that only commences at an advanced age and can lead to disorders of the musculoskeletal system or paralysis.
- Pituitary dwarfism (PD): The pituitary gland (hypophysis) produces too few growth hormones, meaning that dogs still have the same body size as a puppy. If not treated, this hormonal disorder leads to many further severe ailments, such as thyroid, liver and kidney insufficiency, paralysis or problems with heat, which can not uncommonly lead to affected animals suffering an early death.
- Epilepsy: Repeated seizures (epileptic fits) without a previously recognisable cause.
Nowadays, there are genetic tests for all the diseases listed above (at least for hereditary epilepsy) that can predict a dog's disposition. Excluding affected dogs from breeding ensures that the risk of disease is further minimised.
Good genetic stock isn't enough to ensure that a Saarloos will live a healthy life. Species-appropriate housing and nutrition are further important factors to guarantee healthy development. But what is the right diet for a Saarloos Wolfhound?
It's clear that a primeval dog breed like the Saarloos should eat in the same way as its wolverine ancestors. Since the family relationship with wolves applies to all dogs to a certain extent, this is of course valid for all other breeds too.
The prey principle
Just like wolves, dogs are carnivores too. It's important to know that they shouldn't just eat meat alone, since wolves eat the entire prey, including blood, intestinal contents and bones. As well, they eat plants, berries and fruits. Along with plenty of meat, dogs also need fat and bones in order to be adequately provided for. A diet closely based on the prey principle consists of, for instance, around 80% muscle meat (e.g. beef, chicken, lamb, game or duck), around 15% fat, 10% bones and 10% innards.
Ready-made food mixes or raw food?
In order to achieve an ideal and high-quality composition of the required nutrients, the majority of Saarloos owners opt for species-appropriate raw food. However, you can give your dog a healthy balanced diet regardless of whether you choose raw food, BARF or cooking your own food. A good dog food from the supermarket, pet stores or Internet is characterised by a large proportion of high-quality meat, as well as a lack of excessive carbohydrates like grain.
Training and socialisation
When it comes to Saarloos Wolfhounds, correct training and socialisation are more important than the contents of their food bowl. Along with their food, puppies primarily need you as the owner. You have to express to them a sense of comfort, trust and security so that they can find their feet in day-to-day pet life, which can be very unsettling for these anxious dogs. A trusting relationship between you and your dog is the prerequisite for successful socialisation and achieving training goals.
The aim of socialisation
The socialisation of puppies is of vital importance and determines whether the Saarloos becomes an open, sociable pet or an anxious, aggressive and uncontrollable cohabitant. Ideally, the dog will be continually socialised between the age of 4 and 16 weeks, because curiosity still wins out over fear with puppies, in contrast to dogs that have been socialised too late or not at all. The aim of socialisation is for the dog to get to know as many different things as possible that it will encounter in day-to-day life and for it to grasp that strangers, both human and animal, unfamiliar noises and stranger objects aren't dangerous.
How does socialisation proceed?
In order to not overwhelm and frighten your dog, it's important for you to slowly increase training sessions. Start off with short visits to quiet areas and increase them slowly but surely to longer trips to places where your dog will encounter lots of people or other dogs. You should get your Saarloos used to travelling by car and staying alone gradually and with caution. As with many things, patience is required: don't be unsettled by setbacks and instead calmly stop the exercise in stressful situations and simply try again later. Although it may be tempting to reassure your nervous dog with comforting words or by stroking it, you should avoid doing so, because this only validates its stress and fear. Simply take it out of the stressful situation and give it the protection that it needs at that moment. By doing so, it learns that it can always trust you.
How can training be successful?
Saarloos Wolfhounds are generally considered difficult or impossible to train, but that isn't necessarily true. A Saarloos that has been well socialised from the beginning and has learnt to trust you as its leader is more than able to follow commands. However, you should consider that Saarloos Wolfhounds are highly intelligent and independent, which by nature makes them think for themselves and question the logic of your orders. Hence, some inventiveness is required in order to motivate these pedigree dogs to carry out training exercises. With diverse games and exercises, lots of outdoor access (at least two to three hours per day and ideally lots of variety on the daily choice of route) as well as an owner with enough time, patience, calmness and expert knowledge, training these demanding pedigree dogs can be a real success.