Because of Dollo’s law of irreversibility, it is impossible to “breed back” a domestic animal in such a way that resembles its wild ancestors if those domestic animals have since lost the traits of those wild ancestors.
However, in domestic dogs, there are still breeds that have roughly a similar phenotype to that of wolf, and if they have a similar phenotype, it’s actually possible to selectively breed from breeds with that phenotype until we get something that approximates a wolf.
That’s what these black canids are. The official name is the Alaskan noble companion dog.
They do look very much like black wolves– and yes, black wolves can have a white spots on their chests.
Now, it should be well-known that no domestic dog breed has all the wolf-like traits. Malamutes are too robust and stocky. German shepherds have sloping backs. Siberian huskies are too small.
So the breed’s founder, Ann Dresselhaus, used a variety of dog breeds to introduce certain lupine traits that typical wolf-like dogs don’t necessarily have.
This breed has Siberian husky, German shepherd, and Alaskan malamute in it, but other traits have been added through adding Great Pyrenees, the border collie, the Labrador retriever, and the greyhound. The greyhound would, of course, be useful in adding a more graceful, wolfish form to this cross, and the Labrador and border collie would introduce higher levels of trainability into the strain.
This is currently a “breed in progress.” My guess is that because of Dollo’s law and the desire of the breed founder to have dogs that have passed health screenings, rigorous temperament tests, and even pass the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test, it is quite difficult to get this breed established. The fact that this breed includes ancestry from such diverse dog stocks also means that throwbacks to one of the less wolf-like breeds are going to be commonplace in the earlier generations.
The goal is to produce a docile and biddable animal that looks like a wolf:
These animals are also a major affront to some of Coppinger’s theories about the correlations between phenotype and behavior in domestic dogs.
These dogs look a lot like wolves, but they are as tractable as any easily trained breed of dog.
Dogs and wolves have been exchanging genes ever since there were dogs.
We’ve bred lots of wolfdogs in the past, but it’s only now that we’re starting to try to breed dogs that look like wolves simply by using the diversity that already exists within domestic dog breeds.
This is not the only project that is trying to a wolf-like dog without doing outcrosses to actual wolves, but this is the only one I know of that has placed such an extreme emphasis on trainability and temperament and also includes a large number non-wolf-like breeds in the program.
You cannot breed back wolves through crossing domestic dogs, but you can select for the wolfish phenotype through selective breeding.
But if one could not find dog breeds with wolfish traits, this project would simply be impossible.