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The Differences Between Dogs and Wolves

How are dogs and wolves the same?

How are dogs and wolves the same?

Apples to Apples, Dogs to Wolves

The dog and the 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 renamed ''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 be the ancestor of man's best friend.

Sharing the same amount of chromosomes (78 to be exact, arranged in 39 pairs) dog and wolf indeed can mate and give life to offspring. 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 indicate that dogs were domesticated at the end of the Ice Age. To be precise, the first domesticated dog was found in Germany dating back to 14,000 B.C according to (although there are several conflicting dates on this).

Doesn't he look like a dog?

Doesn't he look like a dog?

Differences Between Wolves and Dogs

Dogs and wolves have 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 stronger 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 allows 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 offspring. One exception is the Basenji dog breed, which goes 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 sometimes 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 dogs and wolves 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 barking an important form 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 a very strong prey drive, which is 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 for 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, and 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 into the dog and owner relationship.

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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What are the similarities between dogs and wolves?

Answer: Dogs and wolves share four legs, they are both digitigrade, belong to the same genus (Canis), and genetically they are 99.6 percent identical. They both have pregnancies that last around 63 days and share several ways of expressing their emotions through body language. Dogs and wolves have a similar life expectancy, and they both cool down by panting. There are for sure many other similarities.


julia tautolo on April 16, 2020:

why do huskies look like wolves and others look like a plain one

Tre on March 15, 2019:

You can't domesticate a wolf. Dogs are more related 2 foxes than wolves

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 22, 2018:

Janis, I haven't heard that, can you cite your source?

Janis on April 13, 2018:

I heard that there is one extra chromosome found in the dog than that of the wolf. Is this true?

prabhakaran on November 16, 2015:

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

j on July 09, 2013:

You spelt people wrong

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 01, 2012:

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!

Sally on April 01, 2012:

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

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 07, 2012:

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

Eiddwen from Wales on March 07, 2012:

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 from Julian, CA on January 15, 2012:

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!

devon on October 13, 2011:

its radical

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on April 14, 2011:

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.

john on February 07, 2011:


tyler on January 25, 2011:


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 22, 2011:

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 from US on January 22, 2011:

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.

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on December 23, 2010:

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

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on October 28, 2010:

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 on July 29, 2010:

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

bayoulady from Northern Louisiana,USA on July 28, 2010:

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

Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on July 28, 2010:

Interesting hub.. thanks for sharing.

valeriebelew from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA on July 28, 2010:

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

India Arnold from Northern, California on July 27, 2010:

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.