Differences Between Dogs and Wolves

Updated on November 15, 2016

Dog and wolf: two different species but yet, so much in common. Dogs were originally classified as ''Canis familiaris '' by Linnaeus in 1758. However, later in 1993, dogs were reclassified as a subspecies of the gray wolf, and therefore re-named as ''Canis lupus familiaris'' by the Smithsonian Institution and the American Society of Mammalogists. While it is true that there have been speculations that dogs may have descended from several species of canines, this myth appears to have been debunked and the wolf appears to ultimately be the ancestor of man's best friend.

Sharing the same amount of chromosomes (78 to be be exact, arranged in 39 pairs) dog and wolf indeed can mate and give life to off spring. There are chances indeed, that in the past the two species may have interbred whether because feral dogs may have escaped from being domesticated or because some wolves may have separated from their pack and started looking for a soul mate. Today, matings between wolf and dog give life to what is called ''the wolf hybrid'' exhibiting characteristics from both wolf and dog.

It is believed that the domesticated dog people own today was the first animal to be domesticated. The first archeological findings, predict that dogs were domesticated at the end of the ice age. To be precise, the first domesticated dog was found in Germany dating back 14,000 B.C according to PBS.org. Yet, there are several conflicting dates on this.

wolves and dog similarities, jak, morguefile.com
wolves and dog similarities, jak, morguefile.com

Differences Between Wolves and Dogs

Lots in common but also many differences. Let's take a look at some differences between wolves and dogs from a physical, biological and behavioral standpoint.

Physical Differences

Physically, wolves and dogs today appear as almost different species if we think about the diversity in dogs we see when taking a look at the over 300 breeds of dogs. However, some breeds of dogs have conserved a much wolf like characteristic. The malamute and husky breeds for instance closely resemble the wolf in appearance.

Wolves have much more potent jaws than dogs. While wolves and dogs share the same number of teeth, a wolf's teeth are larger so to crush through the hardest bones. They also have large heads, (dog heads are about 20 percent smaller with smaller skulls and smaller brains), long legs and narrow chests.

Reproductive Differences

One main difference is seen between the wolf's and the dog's breeding habits. Female wolves for instance, come into season only once a year, in the springtime. This allow the pups ample time to grow and flourish before the harsh winter comes along. Female dogs on the other hand, typically come into heat twice a year, suggesting that domestication has allowed them better chances of raising their off spring. One exception is the Basenji dog breed coming into heat once a year.

Wolves also typically give life to two to four pups per litter. Dogs on the other hand can give life to much larger litters often even up to twelve per litter. Again, perhaps this suggests that domestication has provided a more prolific environment to dogs than wolves in the wild.

Behavior Differences

One interesting difference between dog and wolf is the fact that dogs seem to resemble more juvenile wolves. It is almost as if dogs never go past their adolescent stage and remain permanent juveniles when compared to wolves. This may be due to the fact that over the years dogs were bred based on their docility and helpfulness. Friendly canines of course were easier to tame. Dogs also have a longer period of socialization compared to dogs, allowing them to longer time to get acquainted with humans and objects in their environment. (Horowitz, Inside of a Dog)

Wolves also rarely bark, whereas dogs have made of barking an important mean of communication with other dogs and humans.Dogs were also selectively bred for their barking, a quality treasured back in times when livestock had to be protected from potential thieves and predators. Wolves however appear to howl more than dogs.

Behaviorally wolves have very strong prey drives so important to help them survive. They also have a strong instinct to procreate. Pack drive is very strong as well and they give much importance to their position in the pack. After all, wolves are born into a pack where they often stay until they are a few years old.

Similarities Between Wolves and Dogs

Do dogs look like wolves? Other than several dog breeds that look like wolves, most dogs do not look like wolves at all! Despite the thousands of years that separate one species from the other, dogs still conserve many characteristics of wolves. Dogs still share many physical similarities with the wolf, even though these are more striking in breeds that look like wolves such as Siberian Huskies and Malamutes. These two breeds of dogs indeed are preferred to cross with wolves to give birth to ''wolf hybrids''.

Dogs, like wolves, still retain a good dose of pack drive and demonstrate the need of social relationships with other dogs and people. They may be seen greeting owners in the same way wolves greet the alpha pair. This is called ''active submission''. Dogs may walk with their head carried low, tail between legs, an averted gaze upon greeting the owner. They may then lick as a form of respect to say hello.

Dogs still have prey drive even though to a much lower extent than wolves. Owners can see this when their dogs prick their ears up upon seeing a rabbit or squirrel. This instinct has remained even though most dogs today are fed dry kibble or canned foods.

When studying canine communication, often researchers still look back at wolf studies. Yet, it's important to acknowledge that dogs are not wolves. David Mech, a researcher who studied wolves on Ellesmere Island for instance, was able to debunk some old myths about how wolf packs were formed and brought out some interesting facts that helped provide insights on the dog and owner relationship.

Many things in common but also many differences. The connection between wolf and dog may appear to be so close, but yet so far. Perhaps this is what makes studying these two species so intriguing and interesting.

More differences between dogs and wolves


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      prabhakaran 2 years ago

      it is cleared to me ,how the dog is closer to wolf. i have Siberian husky dog it looks like wolf . manimaran

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      4 years ago

      You spelt people wrong

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      My reference link is:


      A good amount of the info is taken from there, but you can do further research by reading books about wolves and comparing them to books about dogs, best wishes!

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      Sally 5 years ago

      Does this have good facts to put in as a project?

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you, happy you enjoyed by dog hubs, I have more than 800!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      Am amazing hub once more on man's best friend.

      I am so glad I came across these hubs and I now look forward to reading many more by you.

      I wish you a great day.


    • Kevin Schmelzlen profile image

      Kevin Schmelzlen 6 years ago from Julian, CA

      Actually, Brett Winn's comment is incorrect. Canis rufus (the red wolf) is considered by almost all researchers to be its own species, not a subspecies of gray wolf (Canis lupus). Also, the subspecies of gray wolf currently recognized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service are the Alaskan, or Rocky Mountain, wolf (C. lupus occidentalis), Arctic wolf (C. lupus arctos), Plains/Buffalo wolf (C.l. nubilus) and Mexican wolf (C.l. baileyi).

      I enjoyed the article!

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      devon 6 years ago

      its radical

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 6 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Very informative. I know it for sure that there is a wolf somewhere in my Canadian Eskimo Dog. My Kuvasz puppy's father looked like a great white wolf at the breeder.

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      john 7 years ago


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      tyler 7 years ago


    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 7 years ago from USA

      Thank you for the clarification, I updated the hub and have perhaps others to update as well as some of my articles are quite outdated. I appreciate your help!

    • Brett Winn profile image

      Brett Winn 7 years ago from US

      Great hub, but one correction. After two centuries of being different species, in the fall of 2003, dogs were reclassified as wolves by the American Society of Mammalogists in association with the Smithsonian Institute. They jointly published the reclassification in the "Second Edition of Mammal Species of the World, a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference." They changed from canis familiaris to canis lupus familiaris whereas wolves are canis lupus tundrarum (Alaska's Tundra Wolf) or canis lupus rufus (red wolves) etc.

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      Helen Murphy Howell 7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Great hub. I absolutely adore dogs and wolves - so this hub is a great wee gem for me. Thanks.

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      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Very interesting.We used to have a cross between a German shepherd and Husky, whether Siberian or Alaskan I don't know. People often asked he she was a wolf. We know have a dog rescued from a shelter that is largely siberian and an unknown mix, maybe collie. People also ask if she is part wolf.The previous dog very seldom barked but did howl.

    • Varenya profile image

      Varenya 7 years ago

      Very informative hub, as usual! Thanks for sharing, I love so greatly both dogs and wolves, two so wondrous animals!

    • bayoulady profile image

      bayoulady 7 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      A lot to learn in this hub! It would make a wonderful venn diagram for students!

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Interesting hub.. thanks for sharing.

    • valeriebelew profile image

      valeriebelew 7 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

      I am an avid dog lover, and find this topic interesting. Thanks for a good informative hub. (:v

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 7 years ago from Northern, California

      I love this hub! Very informative and knowledgeable. Our K9 friends have so much to offer us, they are just a beautiful being. They bring me joy on a daily basis! Thank you for bring this hub to us.