(33) My Other Service Dog is a Wolf

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


The Call of the Urban Wild

Sitting by the fireplace in Cabelas, a national chain store of “manly” things, I hear a wolf cry. A waterfall bubbles in the background. Despite the soothing call of the wild, I look around to observe the customers. Men comprise about 75 percent of the people entering the store. Of the wives accompanying their husbands, most sit in the lobby with me or wait in the deli.

Men love the outdoors, the rustic, and adventure. The more outdoors they bring indoors, the greater their comfort level—or so I am told.

If William could choose a service dog, he would select a male wolf—a big one with gnarly teeth. The wolf would receive training for guard duty as well as for brace and balance. The assistance prescribed for his PTSD would come from the natural traits of the wolf, such as, creating a barrier between him and a stranger.

When William and I met 21 years ago, we fell into the stereotypical pet ownership. William owned an Alaskan Huskie and I owned a miniature French poodle, a hypoallergenic choice for my asthmatic child. Of course, neither dog served as an assistance animal. William loved his Huskie but put her down when she bit his daughter’s hand, requiring emergency medical care.

If given a preference, many disabled veterans would also select a wolf. Realizing that option fails the “highly trainable” test, veterans often choose the bigger breeds such as the German Shepherd, Great Dane, Mastiff, or the Saint Bernard. Perhaps the same may be true for female veterans, however, I do not know many female veterans with service dogs.

Research suggests that dogs and wolves came from a common lineage. Centuries of breeding dogs for domestication and uses as hunting, search and rescue, and farming forced an even greater distinction between dog and wolf, separating one out from being able to assist humans

The Dog Wins 

The superior trait that makes the dog the best animal for companionship and assistance is eye contact. A dog will make eye contact with a human and a wolf generally will not. The ability to make and maintain eye contact with humans serves as the primary skill that allows and facilitates communication. Without communication, there can be no assistance and no training.

John Ensminger in his book, Service and Therapy Dogs in American Society, describes other canine behaviors that remain unique to the dog. These include playing one-on-one with a human; yawning when seeing a human yawn; barking (wolf pups bark to alert the pack to an intruder or claim territory only); an ability to learn from humans; and, finally laughing, which he described as ‘”breathy pronounced forced exhalation.”’

Depends on the Task

Ensminger discussed that one’s selection of a service dog depends on the work needed. Large breed dogs help best with brace and balance. Small breeds make excellent companion dogs. He noted that while the earliest known service dogs were German Shepherds, the Labrador and Golden Retrievers take first place as the most preferred service dog. This may change as the breeding for domestication continues.


Did you know that according to the American Veterinary Medical Association dog years differ based on the size of the dog? Here is the data:

Small to Medium Dogs Large to Very Large Dogs
Dog Years Human Years Dog Years Human Years
7 44-47 7 50-56
10 56-60 10 66-78
15 76-83 15 93-115
20 96-105 20 120
Front profile of Molly

Molly is older than she appears

Golly, Miss Molly, first I needed a CPAB machine to prevent your snoring. Now, I’m going to need to find you some doggy dentures!

Post your Comments:

If you could choose any breed for your service dog, what would it be and why? Please comment below.

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her husband, William, and dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.