Almost everyone has a secret desire to bring home a pet as exotic as a wolf. And while we believed that the closest thing we could ever get to petting one is the Siberian Husky, we’re glad to have been proven wrong when we saw the American Alsatian. The Siberian Husky has all the wolf-like features you could ever hope for, but it’s specially bred for work. For most of us, we don’t need working dogs. What we want are lap dogs that can also serve as our venerable companions as we live out our years. The American Alsatian may have the fearsome look of a wolf, but believe us when we say it has a Teddy Bear temperament that will melt your heart. It looks like a working dog, but it’s a giant lap dog. It could very well be the pet you’ve been waiting for all this time.
History of the American Alsatian
You’ll never see the American Alsatian in any dog registry or kennel organization across the globe. For starters, it’s not a purebred. It is a lot closer to a mixed breed, however, since a variety of purebred dogs were used in its creation. You can call it a designer breed if you want.
But the real question is why would someone create a wolf-looking dog yet give it the temperament of a cuddly Teddy Bear?
It all started with the childhood of Lois Denny (now Schwarz). In 1969, Denny met a German Shepherd mix that had the features of a wolf. She fell in love with the hound. Almost 2 decades later in 1988, Denny initiated the Dire Wolf Project that sought to create a dog that is intelligent and smart but with very minimum work and prey drive. She also wanted a dog that displayed a loving disposition. In an obvious twist, Denny decided to put this loving and gentle temperament into the physique of one of the ancient world’s most fearsome predatory dogs – the Dire Wolf.
Despite its name, the Dire Wolf is not really a wolf, but rather a really ancient dog that lived sometime between the epochs of the Late Pleistocene and the Early Holocene. This topnotch carnivore roamed the vast expanses of land of North America some 9,440 to 125,000 years ago. It competed with another North American predator, the saber-toothed tiger. One can only imagine how massive and fearsome this apex predator of the North American plains can be, squaring off with one of the most famous prehistoric large cats.
It is not known why Denny chose the Dire Wolf (literally translated as ‘fearsome dog’) as the model for the creation of the American Alsatian. It could be because it had a much closer resemblance to the modern dog than the wolf.
Creating a dog that will closely resemble the Dire Wolf is a remarkable achievement. First, one can only rely on fossilized skeletons of unearthed Canis dirus species. Second, while digital graphic rendition of such skeletons can help provide a picture of the possible appearance of the Dire Wolf, no one can be absolutely certain as to how it looks like in real life (for starters, it’s already extinct). Third, choosing from hundreds of different modern dog breeds to form the basis for the creation of the American Alsatian can be especially challenging.
Obviously, Schwarz overcame all of these challenges by carefully laying out a series of steps that would mix different breeds one at time until the desired results are achieved. Schwarz started by crossbreeding a purebred German Shepherd with a purebred Alaskan Malamute. The English Mastiff was then added because of its large head and bones and short muzzle and tail. The Great Pyrenees was also added into the mix to elongate the body and further create a bulkier and bigger size. The Anatolian Shepherd and Irish Wolfhound were also added for their height. These dogs are also known for their friendliness, intelligence, and intuitiveness.
Each crossbreed generation was tested for temperament, health, and strength. Only the puppies that exhibited the desired characteristics were chosen to continue with the breeding process.
The main goal, however, was not to create a dog that is an exact copy of the Dire Wolf. Instead, Schwarz aimed for the temperament that she wanted – gentle, even-mannered, and well-behaved. In other words, Schwarz wanted a living Teddy Bear – cute and cuddly, lovable and adorable, yet highly trainable to be by your side always. The look of the Dire Wolf was only secondary. It only came once the desired temperament has been fully cemented into the dog’s DNA.
This requires exceptional discipline and a clear understanding of the different temperaments of purebred dogs. This is the only way one can create something that strongly adheres to the goal. And for that, owners of American Alsatians are truly proud of the work of Schwarz and her team of breeders.
In 1988, almost at the same time as the initiation of the Dire Wolf Project, the North American Shepalute Club was formed. It took Schwarz and the Dire Wolf Project a dozen years to come up with the desired temperament of the so-called giant Teddy Bear dog.
In 2000, the dog already displayed homogenous characteristics that it was already quite easy to predict a variety of standards. By this time, the mixed breed dog was already showing conformation standards that Schwarz and her team began introducing it to the American dog-loving public.
It wasn’t called American Alsatian yet. As a matter of fact, when it was introduced to the public in 2000, it was known as the North American Shepalute. Four years later, the name was changed to Alsatian Shepalute. It’s not known why Alsatian was chosen. Perhaps it is with reference to the German Shepherd that Schwarz fell in love with as a kid. Or it could be a reference to the foundation purebreds of the dog, the German Shepherd and Alaskan Malamute. You should know that the German Shepherd is called the Alsatian in both Ireland and Britain. We also found literature that says the Alsatian is coined because of its ‘wolf-looking’ meaning, although we’re more inclined to believe in the German Shepherd-Alaskan Malamute cross.
The name did not last, though. The “shepalute” sounded like a hybrid between a German Shepherd and Alaskan Malamute. This is not entirely true, of course, since the two provided only the foundation for the dog. However, there are also other breeds thrown into the mix. As such the ‘Shepalute’ was dropped and “American” was added to the Alsatian in obvious reference to the origins of the dog. Hence, as of 2010, we now know the Alsatian Shepalute as the American Alsatian.
Regardless of how remarkable the journey towards the creation of the American Alsatian is, unfortunately it is not recognized by the American Kennel Club nor any other large kennel or canine organization for that matter. This did not dampen the spirit of Schwarz and the others so they formed the North American Shepalute Club in 1988 and renamed it as the North American Alsatian Club. As breeders of the American Alsatian grew in number, the North American Alsatian Breeders’ Association was also formed to make sure breeders will adhere to the strict requirements of the designer dog.
Many say that the American Alsatian is a giant wolf-looking hound. And while it is not recognized by any of the big-name dog and breeder organizations out there, the NAAC nevertheless has standards that it wants to see from any dog claiming to be American Alsatians.
- Males should be no shorter than 26 inches and no taller than 32 inches. Females, on the other hand, should grow anywhere between 25 and 28 inches.
- There is no weight ceiling to an American Alsatian. As long as it meets the minimum required 90 pounds for males and 85 pounds for females, the dog can be considered to conform to the standards.
- American Alsatians always have two types of coat, one for the winter and one for the summer. The winter coat is characterized by a moderately coarse, moderately dense, slightly wooly, and slightly oily outer coat. During the summer, the coat of the American Alsatian is characteristically shorter because it sheds most of its undercoat around this time.
- The American Alsatian is a heavy shedder, especially during the longer days of the year.
- When it comes to the color of its coat, wolf gray silver or sable is preferred, although the gray sable, silver sable, and golden sable are also quite popular. There are also those that come with tri sable colors, tri sable golden gray, black silver sable, tri silver sable, silver, and solid cream. Dogs with solid-colored coats are discouraged from being used in any breeding program since one of the fundamental aims is to create a wolf-looking dog.
- Its body is well-proportioned. It has a slightly longer body than it is tall.
- It comes with strong muscles, a broad back, wide chest, heavy bone, and broad thighs.
- The skull should be slightly rounded, broad, and gradually flattens and narrows as it reaches the eyes.
- The eyes take on the shape of an almond and set rather obliquely towards the midline. The eyes can be medium or small with special preference for light-colored irises since these can give the American Alsatian its wolf-like appearance.
- The ears are triangular with rounded tips and are set wide apart.
- The neck is well-muscles, powerful, robust, and strong. It is short yet has a large circumference.
- The back is muscular, solid, and broad.
- The chest is also broad with the rib cage well-sprung.
Things You Should Know
The American Alsatian may have the look of a mighty wolf, but its heart will forever be that of a Teddy Bear. These are basically the two fundamental objectives of the Dire Wolf Project – to create a dog that looks like the Dire Wolf but behaves or has a temperament that is lovable, amiable, sociable, and a true family companion. Do you think you’re the right person to bring home an American Alsatian? Why don’t we find out?
Training the American Alsatian is always a joy to perform. Why? Well, one of the essential characteristics that its creators wanted was for the dog to display intelligence and obedience. After all, having some of the world’s easy trainable purebreds in its blood should make it exceptionally easy to train.
American Alsatians were never intended to be working dogs. As such, they don’t need to go through advanced obedience classes. However, they should still be trained in the basics such as housebreaking and potty training as puppies. Simple yet very useful commands such as come, stop, sit, and down will prove handy when snuggling with this gentle giant. It’s a gigantic Teddy Bear, after all.
Being easy to train doesn’t mean you can employ any tactic that you desire. Like other canines, the American Alsatian responds best to positive reinforcement. Offer treats, plenty of hugs, and even extended cuddle time as rewards for following your commands. Whatever you do, don’t use a strong-handed, hard-headed approach on this dog. Although it is never aggressive, it will shut off and become a four-legged recluse. You don’t want that.
We always say that the amount of food that we give to our dogs should be commensurate to their weight, activity level, life stage, and other factors. For American Alsatians, however, you’d be surprised that Schwarz strongly encourages pet parents to allow their puppies to gorge. As such, Schwarz recommends starting with a good quality dog kibble and work your way from there. Initially, the puppy should be allowed to eat all it can until it is full. Anything left on its food bowl should not be discarded. Instead, additional flavors should be added and given for the next meal.
Puppies should be fed 4 times a day with good-quality dog kibbles and lots of homemade dog food that can include blended meat, bone meal, cottage cheese, yogurt, and anything else you may find in your kitchen that is safe for dogs and puppies to consume. By the time the puppies reach 6 months of age, they can go on thrice-daily feedings. By the first year, American Alsatians can be fed twice a day. This will continue until their second year where they can be moved to a once-daily feeding schedule.
There is one very important thing that all American Alsatian owners need to know – they have to get their dogs to reach 100 pounds by their first birthday.
They may be large and muscular, but the American Alsatian was never meant to work. As such its energy level is substantially lower than most dogs. It wouldn’t really mind if it is going to stay at the foot of your couch all day long while you’re watching TV (which is good news for couch potatoes).
However, just because it doesn’t have the energy of a Yorkie or a Siberian Husky doesn’t mean it will not appreciate a quiet walk anymore. You don’t need to run or jog or even ride a bike. Hiking is definitely not their thing. Thirty minutes of casual walking should be fine with this dog and help keep its muscles from atrophying.
It doesn’t fare well in cramped spaces, however. What it needs is a large backyard for it to walk around. Besides, this is a very large dog that can literally bump into things inside your home, albeit non-intentionally. They’re not bred for apartment-dwellers and are best suited for those with a lot of space in their homes.
Being a giant lap dog means the American Alsatian can easily get along with almost anyone. It is friendly with other pets, having been especially bred to be as docile as possible. Its prey drive is low and will never look at smaller animals as prey. However, if it sees that its master is giving more attention to a particular pet, the American Alsatian can easily get jealous. The good news is that it never retaliates or even go after the other pet. What it will do is to become a lot friendlier in an attempt to ‘win back’ its master’s attention.
What is very charming in this giant Teddy Bear of a dog is that if it gets annoyed, it will never snap, bite, or even let out a growl just to let the other party know enough’s enough. What it will do is to move to another place where it is calmer, more peaceful, and away from whoever is annoying it.
If there is one thing your kids need to understand about this dog, it’s that when it is its time to rest or sleep, you’d better give it its space. After all, once it wakes up from its slumber, it can give you all its love.
This is one area where potential pet parents have to be prepared for. The American Alsatian has a thick, dense double coat that tends to shed heavily during the summer months. It is during this time of the year that you’d have to make sure your pet hair vacuum is in tiptop shape as it will get overworked. Deshedding brushes and combs can also help minimize the amount of hair that it blows on the surfaces of the house. You’d also need to strengthen your hand and arm muscles as you’ll be brushing its coat every single day. During the winter months, brushing can be done at least twice a week since this dog doesn’t shed that much in this time of the year.
You can also give the American Alsatian quarterly or even semi-annual baths just to help preserve the health of its coat while retaining the natural oils on its skin. The nails need to be trimmed once every 3 to 4 weeks while the ears have to be inspected and cleaned every week. Dental care needs to be observed every day especially during its growth years as you’ll be allowing it to gorge. If it’s not possible, twice weekly dental care is enough.
Being a relatively new kid on the block, it is not yet clear just what kind of health issues the American Alsatian may have. However, it would be safe to assume that it can also be predisposed to some of the more common ailments that afflict large and giant dog breeds. These can include hip dysplasia, allergies, heart problems, seizures, arthritis, bloat, and wobbler syndrome, among others.
Get an American Alsatian if…
- You understand basic dog training
- You can employ positive reinforcement techniques in training
- You don’t mind combing or brushing its coat every day
- You have kids but not younger than 8 (these are giants, remember)
- You love cuddling a giant dog
Forget the American Alsatian if…
- You’ve been diagnosed with allergies
- You have a relatively small home with cramped space
- You don’t like a giant dog in your house
Fearless and bold, the American Alsatian easily uses its appearance to ward off any potential threat. Any person who doesn’t know this dog will instantly stop on his or her track asking himself or herself why is there a big wolf walking down the street. But the American Alsatian is never aggressive or hostile. Sure, it may be aloof to strangers; it surely takes time to warm up. It is inquisitive, poised, and self-confident. It is never nervous or timid. However, it does have a very laidback temperament that can be misconstrued as fearful.
Ever approachable, the American Alsatian makes good on the promise that it can be friends with anyone and with other pets. Unfortunately, its size alone can scare little pets. It doesn’t have a strong prey drive, making it fully capable of living in peace with other animals. It quietly stands with willingness and admirable confidence. It is the epitome of a dog with a sound mind and a beautiful body.
There is nothing more that an American Alsatian would want than to be close to its human master. It is for this reason that it doesn’t want to roam or even to wander. The puppy is clownish and is best known for cuddling up to its master just to make sure that it gets his undivided attention.
Despite looking like a giant wolf, the American Alsatian is a softy. It is a cuddly Teddy Bear that will never leave your sight. It was bred, after all, as a gentle giant lap dog.
- The American Alsatian Breed Guide – Things You Should Know – Animal Corner