Canine Genetic Alphabet SoupBy Jennifer Stoeckl, MAT - Dire Wolf Project CEO, April 8, 2022
What do eastern timber wolves, French German Shepherd Dogs, Blue Bay Shepherds, and Timber Shepherds® have in common? While they may sound distinct from one another, in fact, they are all genetically related in a blended mélange of canine alphabet soup.
Here is the tangled story.
In the 1990s, a woman named Vicki Spencer from Palm Bay, Florida developed a wolf dog breed, like Karel Hartl did with the Czechoslovakian Vicak in the 1950s. Although Vicki Spencer's breed ancestry is shrouded in secrecy, the origin of its wolfdog lineage can be traced back to an eastern timber wolf and blue German Shepherd Dog mix named Sterling from Southern Breeze Kennels. Vicki Spencer worked with enthusiasm over the next twenty years to develop a separate line of wolfdogs in hopes of achieving a sweet, biddable temperament suitable for the average family with the natural beauty of the wild wolf. She called her wolfdogs Blue Bay Shepherds because of their unique blue coloring and Florida origins. While a mysterious concealed lineage still hangs over the breed, Vicki Spencer now claims to have achieved a unique line of wolf dogs five generations away from any pure wolf.
A Blue Bay Shepherd next to a Coonhound
Then, in 2010, after many years of searching, Vicki discovered Legend of Darkness Kennels in Normandie, France. Since 1988, this French breeding facility maintained long-haired, dilute, off-standard German Shepherd Dogs. Could these fluffy blue Alsatian Wolf Dogs (alternate name for the German Shepherd Dog during WWII) have originated from the French breeders admonished by English German Shepherd Dog breeders in the 1930s for breeding wolf into their lines? I wonder. (If anyone knows the origin of the Legend of Darkness German Shepherd Dogs, please email me.)
In a mutual agreement, Legend of Darkness Kennels partnered with Vicki Spencer to blend their dogs together. Some of Vicki's wolfdogs traveled to France, while two blue, long-haired German Shepherd Dogs from France, a male and female, found their way into the foundation stock of the new and improved Blue Bay Shepherd. In 2011, Vicki Spencer declared, "The Blue Bay Shepherd is a new breed in progress that I have been working on for over 20 years. The first litters were finally produced in March 2011." Similarly, Legend of Darkness Kennels changed their name to Timber Shepherd® in 2011. The French kennel, now named Le Pacte des Loups (The Pack of Wolves), states on their website, "The adventure with wolfdogs began in 2010, with the sending to the United States of several of our German shepherds for the creation of a new breed from wolfdogs, the Blue Bay Shepherd... The TIMBER SHEPHERD® (we named it thus according to its genetic specificities, it now includes the Blue Bay Shepherd) is a dog that has a certain percentage of wolf genes (from 10 to 40% depending on the litter)."
With the addition of these blue German Shepherd Dogs from France, Vicki believes her breed can finally begin to take shape as a domesticated companion dog with a wild wolf look. Vicki states on her website, "They [Blue Bay Shepherds] will not carry the stigma of the name 'wolf', 'wolf dog' or 'wolf hybrid' since one of the parents is a full German Shepherd and the other parent is 5 generations away from any pure wolf in their line. This makes the first Blue Bays F-6." If Vicki were to DNA test the offspring of her new sixth generation Blue Bay Shepherds, it is likely that these dogs still show some wolf content. After all, the French Timber Shepherd breeders share that their dogs test anywhere from 10 to 40% wolf content with the addition of Vicki's Blue Bay Shepherds. Robert Thomas, writing for Marvelous Dogs in his article entitled Blue Bay Shepherd: Everything You Need to Know, shares that "Vicki wants to keep around 6% wolf for the final genetic profile."
The question is, then, does this mean Blue Bay Shepherds are suitable family pets? Will the Blue Bay Shepherd eventually attain a consistent level of domesticated dog behavior without any fearful, nervous, territorial, or roaming wild wolf tendencies because of the increased distance from the original wild eastern timber wolves? For the time being, it appears that Vicki Spencer is going to keep full control of her breeding program until such time as she feels her dogs breed true enough to allow other breeders to increase the Blue Bay Shepherd population. Only time will tell.
So, what became of the original blue German Shepherd Dogs from France and are they still available without wolf content? As it happens, a woman named Lucie acquired several purebred German Shepherd Dogs from the same Legend of Darkness Kennels and breeds them exclusively in the Netherlands. Her dogs consistently DNA test with 0% wolf content, so it does appear that she has retained the original blue strain of French German Shepherd Dogs. Her kennel name is Fenris Fangs.
Blue German Shepherd Dog from Fenris Fangs Kennels in the Netherlands.
DireWolf Dogs™ bred by the Dire Wolf Project™ incorporate 100% domesticated dog breeds without any wolf content whatsoever. The following breeds have contributed their genes to DireWolf Dogs living today:
- German Shepherd Dog
- Alaskan Malamute (M'loot)
- English Mastiff
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
- Great Pyrenees
- Anatolian Shepherd Dog
- Irish Wolfhound
DireWolf Dog Stanley (Boss/Shenanigan)
The Dire Wolf Project is dedicated to breeding only domesticated dogs in order to continue to take advantageous of the 15,000 years of dog domestication. As Dire Wolf Project founder, Lois Schwarz, explains, "The wolf is not a domesticated animal; it is a wild animal. Dogs are domesticated and no one should breed any domesticated animals with wild animals. It defeats the purpose of being domesticated." Hundreds of DireWolf Dogs have now been DNA tested. You can view a comprehensive list of them here: DNA Health Database.
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Jennifer Stoeckl is the co-founder of the Dire Wolf Project, founder of the DireWolf Guardians American Dirus Dog Training Program, and owner/operator of DireWolf Dogs of Vallecito. She lives in the beautiful inland northwest among the Ponderosa pine forests with her pack of American Dirus dogs.