At first glance, the Utonagan's appearances might shock a passerby. They're strong, wolf-like figure might lead one to believe that they originated, or at least were bred, from some type of wolf. However, it is said that there is not a single drop of wolf blood in their veins.
In fact, the intelligent mix of rescue dogs was a strong factor in their looks. Although they may look intense and intimidating, the Utonagan actually makes for a very mild-mannered and amiable pet for experienced dog owners.
What is an Utonagan?
The Utonagan is a rare breed of dog that was created by crossing the Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamutes and German Shepherd. Following its introduction in the UK during the late 1980s, the Utonagan has yet to gain wide recognition due to it being a fairly new breed of dog.
An ancient Chinook Indian tale is where the name of the Utonagan originates, which means "spirit of the wolf." It is quite a fitting name too, seeing as they were bred to look like wildly magnificent wolves.
Very few of these dogs are bred every year, which is why those who wish to adopt a Utonagan must be up for registering with breeders and being put on a waiting list.
In the beginning, the Utonagan was originally called the Northern Inuit Dog. The breed was developed during the 1980s by Edwina Harrison, whose goal was to produce a dog that held a wolfish appearance but still had the gentle and sweet nature of domesticated dogs.
It all started when Harrison decided she wanted to create a dog that she would deem perfect. When she wanted to fulfill that dream, she then had a Siberian Husky, an Alaskan Malamute and a German Shepherd imported from the States and other parts of Europe.
It isn't clear whether she also imported a wolf dog from Canada and seeing as Harrison is no longer alive, the beginnings of the Utonagan is still unclear. However, as mentioned, many argue that there really isn't any kind of wolf in the genes of Utonagans.
Once the breeding of the Utonagan had begun and a few puppies were already being handled with the assistance of Harrison's helpers, it caught the interest of others who saw that the dogs has a good nature and were intelligent enough to be an actual breed.
However, despite that fact, up until now, it still has not caught the official attention of the American Kennel Club due to it not being an established breed yet.
Now, as it always is with humans, conflict began to stir up as the years went on. There were disagreements in the breed progression, with a group wanting to add new lines, another disagreeing with the breeding practices and another being discontent with their appearance.
The founding breeders split into 2 groups and, due to the close breeding of related dogs, some began developing serious health issues that began with epilepsy. However, this was also partly due to the filthy living conditions that most members kept their dogs in.
Nevertheless, up until now, there are still disagreements between breeders, mostly about adding more lines or following proper breeding etiquette.
As mentioned previously, despite their wild appearances, Utonagan's are actually very friendly. In fact, they are commonly used as therapy dogs in hospitals, schools and hospices due to their intelligence and adaptability to new surroundings and people.
Since they were bred to provide love and companionship, they are quick to get along with not just people, but smaller dogs and possibly cats as well.
Utonagan's aren't likely to show signs of aggression, but this still shouldn't be a permit to try and provoke them for safety reasons. They are very gentle and even-tempered, as long as they get the required amount of physical and mental exercise, since they are very active animals.
Destructive behavior and escaping may be common in them if they are often left alone, as they have a strong pack mentality. So, if you aren't able to provide them with full-time attention, one way to solve this is to get another pet for them to bond with.
Despite their gentleness, they can be quite dominant. Thus, they require an owner who can be strict and is able to set clear boundaries to establish authority.
Seeing as the Utonagan is a fairly new breed, it's safe to say that their looks are still a developing feature. Although, as stated earlier, they all have wolf-like appearances.
That said, the average male is 63-84 cm tall and weighs 32-40 kg, while the average female stands at 61-71 cm with a weight of 25-41 kg. They're often described as graceful, slender and powerful-looking creatures with wedge-shaped heads.
Their erect, triangular ears are set at a proper distance on top of their heads. Moreover, they have black noses and their eye rims are black too — this enhances the sharp look of their eyes. The Utonagan have powerful hind legs, contributed by their ancestry and how active they are.
They also sport a full tail which rests peacefully when they are resting, but swings behind them when they're active. Their thick double coats thin noticeably during the summer, so as to ensure that they don't experience too much heat.
Their colors can be silver-gray, cream, or brown and black. However, there is one thing that’s for sure and that’s their wolf-like faces.
The Utonagan has a thicker coat in the winter than it does in the summer. As a result, expect grooming to be very high maintenance during the winter, while the summer will be a little easier on you.
During colder months, you’ll need to groom your pup more often, although twice weekly will be fine in the summer to remove loose or dead hair.
By the time you get to the end of the summer though, you’ll need to remember to groom your Utonagan even more, since they’ll be molting by that time in preparation for the cold. While you’re grooming your dog, also remember to check its ears.
This doesn’t have to be done as often as regular grooming though. As long as you check on a regular basis, you will be able to prevent painful wax buildup and possible ear infections. Every now and again, just take a quick look before you take the brush out for their fur.
At this point, you’ve no doubt fallen in love with the Utonagan. They are adorable after all, but before you run out to pick up your puppy, be sure that you will be able to provide the right environment for them. First off, if you live in an apartment, you may want to try another breed.
This is because the Utonagan is not great in small spaces like an apartment, since they like lots of space to run around. They can only live in apartments if they’re well-trained and get enough exercise.
If you’re getting an Utonagan, remember that they do best in a large, fenced-in yard. As stated, they like to exercise and run around as much as possible and need the space to get all their energy out.
Moreover, with those heavy coats, they do very well in colder climates. If you do live in a hot area though, be sure to give it proper shade, air conditioning and water for when it’s outside.
Possible Health Problems
For the most part, your Utonagan will have a life expectancy between 10 and 15 years. Just be sure to feed it good quality food that will meet its nutritional needs for the longest and healthiest life possible.
However, they’re still such a new breed that we’re learning more about their health every year. It was only in 2004 that we learned about conditions they were predisposed to, but which you are now able to keep an eye on.
Have your dog’s eyes tested and check out its hips too. You’ll most commonly see eye problems as they age and hip dysplasia over time. This is because many of these dogs have been bred poorly, while pups with existing health problems have continued to be bred with bad breeding tactics.
Thankfully, the Utonagan Society has banished these unscrupulous breeders and enforced a strict breeding program of its own in an attempt to reduce possible health problems.
Known Health Issues
However, even with the diligent efforts of the Utonagan Society, there are still reported cases of health problems. For the most part, besides hip dysplasia, you are also able to expect cataracts.
But, there have also been reported cases of Addison’s disease, anal furunculosis, cerebellar hypoplasia, cryptorchidism, epilepsy and Von Willebrand's disease. Look for possible symptoms to keep your Utonagan as safe and healthy as possible.
They’re very high energy dogs and so, they need lots of daily exercise and mental stimulation for them to be happy and well-rounded. Be sure to give your dog at least 60 minutes of exercise a day, preferably off the leash if there’s a safe space it can run around in.
Even long walks will work well and short walks in the mornings if you are able to manage. Without proper exercise, the Utonagan quickly gets bored and starts to have hostile behavior in your home to relieve stress.
They’re not a hyperactive breed though and will just need to release that energy to feel comfortable. Moreover, be careful of their dense coats when you take them out for exercise. This is because they can easily overheat, so walks when it’s cooler are best.
Is This Breed a Good Family Dog?
You have a family, but you want an Utonagan dog. So, you might wonder:
How well do they play with children, or other pets?
Well, the Utonagan are known to be very good with children, so even though they’re large in size, they can still be very gentle. That being said, they do tend to be boisterous and may not be great if you have very young or small kids.
They can knock those kids down by accident, but they’re not an aggressive type of dog though. As mentioned, the Utonagan has a great temperament, making it a perfect breed to have around other pets.
They’ll do better by socializing with other pets from a young age and can be trained to be around children safely with supervised playtime.
Since Utonagans have a habit of running around a little wildly when let off the leash, it is best to train them properly. They are very intelligent creatures and learn quickly, so if you train them from a young age, you will be able to prevent bad behaviors while instilling good ones.
In addition to that, always be consistent and fair when you’re giving instruction. Otherwise, it will only end up confused. In other words, handle your Utonagan with a firm, but gentle hand. They’re happier when they have a task and need their training to be as interesting as possible.
Keep training sessions short and don’t have too much repetition. You want your dog to stay as focused as possible so they don’t get bored. That being said, don’t be too harsh when you’re training either.
These dogs are sensitive and won’t respond to harsh correction or heavier-handed training. Use lots of positive reinforcement, change up tasks quickly and don’t do too much training in any one day.
Many problems were involved in the history of the Utonagan but we can't help but be grateful that we've been presented with such a dog. These therapy dogs that are highly adaptable are truly what Edwina Harrison believed to be the perfect dog.
The grace and power they exude, along with their intelligence, are unmatched. So, if you've ever wanted to own a wolf, but are sensible enough not keep one in your home, we recommend that you register with a breeder and wait as long as you are able to in order to get a Utonagan.
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