How has Dog Behavior Evolved from Wolves?

Differences between wolf and dogs
Differences between wolf and dogs | Source

What do Wolves and Dogs Have in Common?

Wolves and dogs appear to share many similarities, so much that many dog breeds look like wolves, and this should not come as a surprise since they share the exact same chromosomes (78 to be be exact, arranged in 39 pairs) and can interbreed freely without any particular problems. While years ago, the dog was classified as ''canis familiaris'' by Carolus Linnaeus in 1758, now better studies reveal that dogs are actually a subspecies of the wolf ''Canis lupus''. The Smithsonian Institute and American Society of Mammologists in 1993, therefore, reclassified the dog as ''Canis lupus familiaris''.

At the same, why do dogs not look like wolves? Other than a few dog breeds that look like wolves, from a physical standpoint dogs and wolves may generally appear quite different, to an extent that telling them apart is fairly easy. Very evident is that wolves have different coat colors, large heads, long legs and narrow chests. Less evident is that wolves have much more potent jaws, larger teeth and females come into heat only once a year, in spring, so to grant higher chances of survival to the offspring. Wolves compared to dogs also give life to smaller litters, generally ranging between 2 and 6 pups, while dogs are known to produce significantly larger litters.

The fact that wolves and dogs share the same number of chromosomes and several other physical similarities, have led to the assumption that wolves and dogs must necessarily also share some common behaviors. As much as this may make sense, there are several considerations to keep in mind.

How have Dogs Evolved from Wolves?

In order to understand how dog behavior has evolved from wolves, one must take a leap back into history. It is estimated that dogs were domesticated and separated from wolves about 14,000 or 15,000 years ago. There are various assumptions on how this exactly happened and scientists seem to not come to an agreement. What however stands out clearly is the fact that humans have played an integral role in the domestication process of dogs. Following are some ''assumptions'':

1: The Orphaned Wolf Cub Theory

Some believe it all started when humans adopted orphaned wolf pups and tamed them to be part of the family. This theory may make sense if one takes a look at how foxes have changed both behaviorally and physically in Dmitri's Belyaev Farm Fox experiment conducted in the late 1950s. This extremely interesting process can be read in detail at this link:

Interesting Studies Concerning Dog Domestication

2: The Promise of Food Theory

Dr. Raymond Coppinger of Hampshire College, on the other hand, argues that wolves as scavengers may have been attracted to trash and food leftovers left at human campsites. The animals with less ''flight instinct'' therefore were the ones more fit to become tame and after reproducing, generation after generation, they went from wolf-like to becoming the first ancestors of the dog (proto-dogs).

How has dog behaviour envolved from their ancestors the wolf

Living side by side with humans for such a long time has caused dog behavior to evolve from their ancestors. It would be therefore inaccurate to portray dog and wolf behavior as similar. Even when wolves are raised from when they are cubs along humans, they grow up to be very different than dogs in various ways. It is very evident that domestication of dogs was accompanied by some significant genetic changes, both in behavior and physical appearance.

Since dogs depended on humans for many years, it was imperative for them to develop more sophisticated social skills and genetic advantages. Behavioral differences have therefore morphed as a result of living side by side with humans.

Dogs, for instance, compared to wolves tend to bark more and in a different context than wolves. This can be because some breeds were selectively bred for their barking abilities, but also because dogs have learned to use their barking to communicate a variety of emotions to humans. Dog indeed may bark to play, out of fear and aggression, or for simple attention getting. Wolves, on the other hand, tend to bark significantly less, and generally bark as a ''warning signal'' for the pack.

There have been cases where humans have compared dog behavior with wolf behavior and have attempted to utilize behaviors seen among wolves in captivity with dogs. The use of such outdated training methods involving ''alpha rolls'' were based on studies of wolves in captivity. The main school of though at that time was that wolf packs were led by an alpha wolf that forcefully asserted itself as dominant over the submissive rest of the pack.

Thankfully, more recent studies conducted on wolves in the wild revealed that wolf packs were actually led by benevolent leaders which were basically the ''alpha pair'', the male and female in the pack that had reproductive rights and raised off spring. The studies conducted by David Mech on Ellesmere island helped debunk the ''alpha dog'' myth once and for all. This link goes over some quite interesting findings by David Mech:

David Mech's Theory on the Alpha Role

Yet, dogs are still not wolves even though they share many similarities. We ultimately cannot disregard the fact that even though the same chromosomes are shared, dogs and wolves at one point of history did split from one another taking different paths. As Ian Dunbar explains it goes a long way ''Trying to train dogs by studying wolf behavior is like learning how to raise a child by watching chimps''. To put it simply, dogs are dogs and wolves are wolves! They may share similarities but also differ tremendously in many aspects.

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Comments 7 comments

Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 4 years ago from Northern California

Wow! Great hub. Voted up and more.

There's an interesting commonality between dogs that I've observed and wolves that I've seen in documentaries. It's a bit of body language. Two canids are facing each other, in a non-threatening way. One dog will suddenly jerk her head to one side. In Dogspeak, it means, "Chase me!"

Cardozo7 profile image

Cardozo7 4 years ago from Portugal

Good hub indeed. The truth is that dogs developed as humans wanted. Humans crossed breeds in order to produce dogs with some specific characteristics like size, hunting skills, etc.. while wolves maintained their "natural" characteristics.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

Yes, and with all that selective breeding unfortunately came along problems such as those encountered in brachycephalic breeds, dogs with long back, skin folds etc...

Diana Lee profile image

Diana Lee 4 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

Good information. Voted up.

LucidWarrior profile image

LucidWarrior 4 years ago from Suburban Philadelphia

I agree with alexadry, we have created some interesting, and some frightening breeds. We need to stop messing with nature.

S4mmyW 10 months ago

Not gonna lie that picture at the top of the page gave me a heart attack. But this is really useful information and just what I was looking for to help me with my assignment.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 10 months ago from USA Author

Haha, that dog is my Rottweiler walking at dusk. His eyes came that way with my camera's flash.

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    alexadry profile image

    Adrienne Janet Farricelli (alexadry)1,687 Followers
    1,247 Articles

    Adrienne Farricelli is a former veterinary hospital assistant and now a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of dog books.

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