Breeding dogs for that extinct-wolf look

American Alsatian may be the link to recreating largest canid to ever live

Jennifer Stoeckl, president of the national and Colorado American Alsatian clubs, talks about the Dire Wolf Project on Saturday at Santa Rita Park with her two American Alsatians, Nadine, left, and Prudence at her side. Stoeckl believes the breed could be the link to breeding a tame, dire wolf lookalike. Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Jennifer Stoeckl, president of the national and Colorado American Alsatian clubs, talks about the Dire Wolf Project on Saturday at Santa Rita Park with her two American Alsatians, Nadine, left, and Prudence at her side. Stoeckl believes the breed could be the link to breeding a tame, dire wolf lookalike.

The mellow American Alsatian mother and five sleepy pups with Jennifer Stoeckl on Saturday would hardly seem to be a link to the largest canid ever to walk the Earth.

But Stoeckl, who raises American Alsatians in Vallecito, thinks the breed is the path to producing a modern version of the dire wolf, which went extinct with the end of the Pleistocene Age about 10,000 years ago.

The dire wolf is believed to have reached North America via the Bering Strait or through migration from South America.

The long-term project will require the expertise of paleontologists and perhaps geneticists before a dire wolf look-alike will appear, Stoeckl said, while displaying her dogs in Santa Rita Park.

Stoeckl is president of the National American Alsatian Club as well as the Colorado American Alsatian Club.

The goal of the Dire Wolf Project is to re-create the bone and body structure of the dire wolf, with its large, round bones, massive feet and broad head, Stoeckl said.

The dire wolf measured about 2.6 feet tall at the shoulders, 4 feet long and weighed 175 pounds, she said. American Alsatian males weigh about 130 pounds.

“The temperament and good health of the breed is more important than the looks, however,” Stoeckl said. “We won’t sacrifice those traits for looks.”

The nonbarking American Alsatian is bred as a companion dog, she said.

A reasonable facsimile of the dire wolf would complement nicely the musk oxen seen in Gates of the Arctic National Park in Palmer, Alaska, Stoeckl said. The musk ox is a descendant of musk oxen that roamed North America in the Pleistocene Age.

Only domestic dogs will be used in breeding, Stoeckl said. No wolf or wolf-crosses will be used.

Stoeckl’s mother, Lois Schwarz, who lives near Medford, Ore., began breeding dogs for the dire wolf look in 1987, although she didn’t have a name for the concept.

“I wanted a wolfy look but not the skinny wolf we have today,” Schwarz said by telephone from her kennels in White City.

Schwarz, who started breeding guinea pigs at age 9, has experimented with a number of breeds in her quest for a dire wolf look. The list includes the malamute, mastiff and Great Pyrenees.

“I think we’re close with the American Alsatian,” she said.

In 2014, the National American Alsatian Club plans to meet in La Brea, Calif., where tar pits hold many skeletal remains of the dire wolf, Stoeckl said.

daler@durangoherald.com

Nadine Enlarge photo

Nadine

Nadine, an American Alsatian, keeps close tabs on her puppies. Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Nadine, an American Alsatian, keeps close tabs on her puppies.