DOG = canis familiaris
WOLF = canis lupis
Dogs were the first species of animal to have been domesticated, and the only large carnivorous mammal to have been domesticated. Many people believe domestic dogs are directly descended from wolves; this is not strictly true. While they do share a common ancestor with the Grey Wolf, these diverged from each other genetically between about 40,000 BCE and 20,000BCE. Domestication of dogs did not occur until 15,000 years ago. Modern wolves are not closely related to those which were domesticated many thousands of years ago.
Differences (and similarities) between Wolves and Dogs
- A wolf has a much larger head than a dog relative to body size. Wolves have long legs, narrow hips and chests, and large paws.
- A wolf’s run is smooth whereas most dogs have a bouncing, loping gait.
- A wolf’s jaws are bigger and stronger, however both wolves and dogs have forty-two teeth; a dog’s teeth are much smaller than those of a wolf.
- Eye colour in dogs ranges from blue to brown. Wolves may have blue eyes but they are usually yellow or amber.
- A wolf’s coat is always confined to shades of black, brown, grey, and white.
- Wolves have straight tails, giant paws, and they have two large fore-toes that are webbed. These assist in swimming and walking or running through snow.
- Unlike dogs, wolves are not as socially accepting of strangers. They live in tight family groups and are uninterested in human connections.
- Dog pups develop more slowly than wolf pups.
- Wolf pups are only born in spring; domestic dogs breed year-round.
- Dogs and wolves can breed together (unlike dogs and foxes). The wolf-dog hybrid is a very controversial breed. It can happen and the offspring are fertile (unlike the offspring of, for example, a lion and tiger, or a horse and donkey).
- Wolves howl as opposed to barking.
- Wolves are adept hunters and killers. Domestic dogs, on the other hand, may help humans hunt and may scavenge if feral, but they rarely make a kill of their own.
Wolves are built to survive and thrive in the wilderness. They are fast, stealthy, aggressive, strong, and independent.
Dog Breeds Closest to Wolves
The closest wild relative of the grey wolf is the coyote, differing genetically by 4% of DNA. The domestic dog, on the other hand, differs from wolves only by 0.2% of their DNA. Scientists have studied similarities between wolves and domestic digs, finding those most closely related to their ancient wolf ancestors are the Akita, the Alaskan malamute, the Shiba Inu and, somewhat surprisingly, the Chow Chow.
A wolf can never be truly domesticated – it is impossible. Though it can be trained, domestication results from generations of breeding. While a wolf pup that is raised by humans can sometimes form an attachment to that human, it will never behave in the same way as a domestic dog.
Most modern domestic dogs share little now, in the way of appearance and behaviour, with their ancestors of even just a few hundred years ago. Breeding has dramatically altered dogs as they were specifically bred as companion animals.
Dogs have been altered almost entirely from their wolf cousins – no matter how much some domestic dogs like German Shepherds and Siberian Huskies may look like wolves, they really are very different animals.