Species is a Social Construct: Or my Grandfather’s Totally Badass Dog

Coydogs, Wyoming

My grandfather was a badass kind of guy, so of course his dogs were awesome, too.

He lived in a part of the country where coyotes were still a problem for livestock producers (it’s always a bummer when your favorite chicken gets eaten,) so he got this German Shepherd.

The German Shepherd proceeded to kill all the male coyotes in the area.

The next spring, we kept spotting half-German Shepherd, half-coyote pups.


Unlike mules, coydogs are fertile, and can continue making more generations of coydogs–or whatever they happen to mate with. In fact, it appears that most species of the Canis genus–various wolves, domestic dogs, dingoes, coyotes, and some jackals–can interbreed. Foxes and other less-closely related members of the family Canidae, however, cannot breed with canids–they have different numbers of chromosomes, which makes the genetics not really work.

(This is what is up with mule, btw. Horses and donkeys have different numbers of chromosomes.)

The history of different canid species actually gets kinda complicated when you look at the inter-species mixing. According to the Wikipedia:

“…melanistic coyotes have been shown to have inherited their black pelts from dogs likely brought to North America through the Bering Land Bridge 12,000 to 14,000 years ago by the ancestors of the America’s indigenous people.”

” Northern Canada’s Aboriginal populations were mating coyotes and wolves to their sled dogs in order to produce more resilient animals as late as the early 20th century.”

(Well that explains the wolf admixture in National Geographic’s article on dog genetics! I’ve been wondering about that.)

“Some 15% of 10,000 coyotes taken annually in Illinois for their fur during the early 1980s may have been coydogs based on cranial measurements… Of 379 wild canid skulls taken in Ohio from 1982 to 1988, 10 (2.6%) were found to be coydogs.”

From the article on coyotes:

“Coyotes have hybridized with wolves to varying degrees, particularly in the Eastern United States and Canada. The so-called “eastern coyote” of northeastern North America has been confirmed to be of mixed wolf-coyote parentage, and probably originated in the aftermath of the extermination of wolves in the northeast, thus allowing coyotes to colonize former wolf ranges and mix with remnant wolf populations.”

” In 2011, an analysis of 48,000 SNP chips in the genomes of various wolf and coyote populations revealed that the eastern wolf …and the red wolf… both previously labeled as species distinct from the gray wolf, are in fact products of varying degrees of wolf-coyote hybridization. The wolf-coyote admixture resulting in the development of the eastern wolf may have occurred on the order of 600–900 years ago between gray wolves and a now extinct pre-Columbian coyote population. The eastern wolf has since backcrossed extensively with parent gray wolf populations. The red wolf may have originated later, approximately 287–430 years ago, when much of the southeastern U.S. was being converted to agriculture and predators were targeted for extermination. During this period, declining local wolf populations would have been forced to mate with coyotes, with the resulting hybrids backcrossing to coyotes as the wolves disappeared, to the extent that ~75–80% of the modern red wolf’s genome is of coyote derivation.

And jackals:

“…since 1975, Russian scientists have bred quarter jackal hybrids, initially from jackals and Lapponian Herder reindeer herding dogs, called Sulimov dogs in order to take advantage of the jackal’s superior olfactory abilities combined with the Lapponian Herder’s resistance to cold. They are owned by Aeroflot – Russian Airlines and trained as sniffer dogs for use in airports. According to the breed’s creator, first-generation hybrid pups could only be produced by male dogs and female jackals, as male jackals refused to mate with female dogs.”