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Are Dogs Any Different Than Wolves?

Updated on April 18, 2017
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr Mark is a veterinarian in Brazil. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

A young wolf is not a dog.
A young wolf is not a dog. | Source

Dogs are not wolves.

Most of us who like dogs also appreciate the beauty of wolves, and many dog owners even think they want their dogs to be wolves. They are not the same thing, and we should be glad about that.

This concept should not be that hard to understand, but again and again I come across people who tell me they are treating their dog in a certain manner because dogs are just like wolves.

But are they alike?

Dog And Wolf DNA Is Not The Same

DNA testing has revealed that dogs are probably descended from wolves. This probably took place at least 15,000 years ago, but maybe even more. A dog skull has been found in Siberia and been dated at over 30,000 years of age!

A lot has happened since then. And just because dogs share a lot of DNA with wolves, and are descended from wolves, time has passed and they are not the same as wolves.

(In fact, their DNA relationship with wolves is similar to that of people to chimpanzees. This is debatable, of course, as are all things related to DNA, dogs, and science.

As the trainer Ian Dunbar pointed out, though, no human couples raise their children similar to chimps. In the same way, dogs should not be raised similar to wolves.)

Goa, India; a cow can rest with a feral dog, but not with a wolf.
Goa, India; a cow can rest with a feral dog, but not with a wolf. | Source

Dogs Have Different Personalities Than Wolves

So if dogs are descended from wolves, why are their personalities so different? There are several reasons. One of them is because of the things around them.

Wolves hunt large game, and the only way to take down large animals is by using teamwork. Dogs are a facultatively social species and act more like coyotes living alone when little large game is available.

They live singly or in small groups, surviving from a food bowl and not needing a pack and not acting like they are part of a pack. Domestic dogs do not need to fight for limited food resources, nor do they need to compete for breeding opportunities.

There is probably a lot of other things going on. Except for a good Jack London story, dogs do not really escape and become wolves. I take care of several feral dogs, and a feral dog is very different than a tame wolf.

From the beginning, the dogs that we have were probably the wolves that were calmest and most tractable. This personality trait has been emphasized over the thousands of years that dogs have lived with humans.

Even if they had not changed much in all of the years, they would probably not be much like the shy wolves that run as soon as they notice any humans.

So treating a dog like a wolf, and assuming he is going to act like a pack animal, is wrong. It should not be assumed that a dog is trying to control resources, like the dominant wolf, nor that he is trying to claim his right to breed.

A dog should not be condemned because he does not fit into the “pack leader and follower” mode. A dog is not trying to dominate you to move ahead in the pack hierarchy. A dog is not doing everything he can to pass on his genes.

A dog is just being himself. Dogs are not wolves.

This is the only kind of dog that lives in a den.
This is the only kind of dog that lives in a den. | Source

Dogs Sleep Differently Than Wolves

Crates are often justified because we are told they are just like the dens used by wolves. There is a big problem with that argument. Dogs are not wolves.

Dogs do not sleep in a den. Even feral dogs, with no home to sleep in every night, only dig a den when they are about to whelp. They use it when the puppies are born and abandon it a few weeks later.

Except when dogs are caring for young puppies or are stressed out, like Elizabeth Marshall Thomas´ dogs in The Hidden Life of Dogs, they do not need or want to use a den.

So why do so many dog owners justify their use of a cage by saying “dogs are just like wolves and it is natural”? It is not natural.

Dogs are not wolves.

Dogs Eat Differently Than Wolves

A wolf and a dog can have very different diets.
A wolf and a dog can have very different diets. | Source

Dogs Eat Differently

“Dogs are just like wolves” is not a reason to feed a raw diet.

A raw diet has a lot of benefits, and I feed my dog a raw natural diet because of those benefits, not because this is what wolves eat. If you choose to feed your dog a cooked food, and use vegetables and other foods that a wolf does not eat, it is not wrong.

Dogs are not obligate carnivores. They are able to scavenge and survive on whatever they happen to come across. Feral dogs tend to look for garbage, kill lizards and rodents, and even eat vegetables or fruit.

Dogs are not wolves.

A feral dog in Egypt is not a wolf.
A feral dog in Egypt is not a wolf. | Source

Allow Your Dog To Be A Dog

Dogs are usually smaller, weighing about 15 or 20 kilos (30 or 40 pounds). Most of them do not weigh as much as a wolf, are not built like a wolf, and do not act like a wolf.

They are social, however, but social in a way that is quite different from a wolf. Do not assume that your dog is part of the pack and is locked into a pack mentality.

Just remember:

  1. Dogs do not compete for food and other resources like wolves.
  2. Dogs do not compete for the right to breed like wolves.
  3. Dogs are not den animals, like wolves.
  4. Dogs do not hunt and eat in the same way as wolves.
  5. Dogs do not have a pack structure like wolves.

You can own a dog that looks like a wolf. No matter what your dog looks like, though, it is not a wolf.

Allow your dog to be a dog.

This is the way that wolves hunt. Dogs do not act like this.

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    • DrMark1961 profile image
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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Sad but true. The old Fila female that belongs to a neighbor is having a lot of health problems. She is 11 and he will probably put her down next week. He wants to replace her with a Rottweiler.

      Most of the Indian breeds I wrote about are also close to extinction.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Dr. Mark,

      You wrote, "One of my clients wanted to give me a Fila Brasiliero last week, and I thought "I sure wish Suhail lived closeby.""

      Hahaha. Yes, now that is one dog breed that I would consider to be living nearby of.

      Mark Derr states in his book 'How the dog became the dog' that local breeds are under threat from imported fancy breeds. I am sure it is true for all native breeds that are out of close registry like Fila, Bully, Boerbol, etc.

    • barbat79 profile image

      B A Tobin 4 years ago from Connnecticut

      I believe theories, as long as they are within a realm of reason and the outcome is a positive one, are needed to fuse the base of the notion of any training or idea which is expounded upon.

      I like your hub very much and in my mind at least, my dogs must know I am the "leader" and in charge so that there can be order amongst them and in the household. They each have their own tendencies and personalities.

      Your insight has been very helpful, Drmark1961. As you have already read, I had my own style of training and it suited me, but was not the standard.

      What I like most is that the dogs still have the freedom to be themselves.

      One thing I will never agree with is the cropping of tails and other "cosmetic" procedures. The tail tells me so much about how they are feeling. I have one Jack that came with his tail already cropped, so I can't control that it was done already. I need to read him in different ways.

      I believe the true form of a dog is the most beautiful. So, either your theory or "the dog whisperer", I think would agree. Correct me if I am mistaken. Thanks for this hub and the ongoing dialog you are having with all the hubbers. It is very interesting reading!

    • bac2basics profile image

      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Hi Drmark. I can´t speak for the rest of the poulation here in Spain but I do enjoy his show very much, and there is another show in Spanish where the trainer uses exactly the same techniques as Cesar, with the exception that to stop a dog getting bad tempered at meal times he actually gets down on his hands and Knees and stands over the food bowl..I couldn´t believe he did that and was waiting for him to get his face ripped off.

    • DrMark1961 profile image
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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Hi bac2basics thanks for that interesting comment. A lot of people do not agree with the pack theory espoused by Cesar Millan, but the man does have great personal presence and of course a good platform to air his views. Is he popular in Spain, as he is here in Brazil? A lot of people here follow his word to the letter, and since his shows are available in Portuguese many people like to watch him. There are no shows that do not support the wolf pack theory so it is an uphill battle to discuss that here!

    • bac2basics profile image

      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Hi Dr Mark. A very interesting hub. I have two dogs and they have a huge big kennel outside for use in inclement weather, or to get out of the sun when needed. One dog love´s being in there and the other loathes it and only goes in when he absolutely has to. When the weather is really bad and I need them to stay in there to keep dry, the dog who loathes it actually busts the catch off the door so he has an opening to get out of if needed. There are two windows in the kennel so it´s not as though they are shut in the dark either. It´s interesting that your views are so totally opposite from Cesar Millans, but I do agree that all dogs have their own characteristics and some could be problematic if treated with a heavy hand pack leader attitude

    • DrMark1961 profile image
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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Hi wetnosedogs, as you mention, they are nice to watch. I too prefer the company of my dog.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Suhail. I agree with "derived from wolves" but there has been a lot of changes and, as we have seen by selective breeding, they can change fairly fast. I am glad they are different

      One of my clients wanted to give me a Fila Brasiliero last week, and I thought "I sure wish Suhail lived closeby."

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Awesome hub! I liked it.

      There are many sub-species of wolves and each one has got its niche. Dog is a special wolf that has developed its own niche - to be with its humans.

      I have read many dog experts - Cesar Millan, Stanley Coran, Ian Dunbar, Alexandra Horowitz, Mark Derr, etc. to name a few and have my own definite mindset now LOL. I do agree with Mark's take on the subject matter though.

      Dogs are definitely derived from wolves. However, this happened much before the Last Glacial Maximum. They are social animals. They resemble wolves in some habits, but are different on most accounts, because they occupy a different niche.

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 4 years ago from Alabama

      Interesting reading the difference between wolves and dogs. I'm glad my dogs are dogs cause we can interact with each other. I would love to watch a wolf in real life, but I know I couldn't go up to him like he was one of my dogs.

      I certainly enjoyed reading all these comments, too.

    • barbat79 profile image

      B A Tobin 4 years ago from Connnecticut

      LOL ..they listen to her..it is amazing. All she does is put her jowls gently around the one who needs to go in and gently moves them forward (guides them) and they listen!!!

      The real job is if one gets loose on the lead in the neihborhood..that is on my watch and boy what a job that is indeed! :)

    • DrMark1961 profile image
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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Your poor Husky!!! Not even an overtrained Border Collie should be forced to herd a bunch JRTs. (That sounds about as easy as making my chickens go inside before it is dark. I have to blame all my grey hair on something, right?)

    • barbat79 profile image

      B A Tobin 4 years ago from Connnecticut

      Thanks for your reply! Yes they are quite an interesting group. I have two males at this point and the larger white husky who takes the maternal role...she will often herd the jacks into the house when I call for inside time. Dogs, pets are so interesting! Love love love them!

    • DrMark1961 profile image
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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Hi barbat79 I cannot see that either of those behaviors are not normal dog personality. My Pit Bull treats my birds (chickens, parrot, geese) like her kids but when I give her a special treat,like a chewy cow´s nose, she will growl when the birds get too close. Your JRT males are probably the same way, guarding the resources they think are precious.

      As far as the females fighting, that is just another example of them being dogs, and not wolves. If there was a wolf pack, and if dogs really acted like wolves, one of the dogs woud be submissive, totally unlike the wolves I have seen and worked with.

      It sounds like you have a really interesting group of JRTs!

    • DrMark1961 profile image
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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Thanks, Sarra, as a Rottie owner you understand that dogs are special for their own reasons.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Not a long rant Dr. Mark, a good answer to my question, thank you.

    • barbat79 profile image

      B A Tobin 4 years ago from Connnecticut

      I found your hub informative, but in my experience with my dogs, how would you explain competition between unfixed males guarding their food and sometimes snarling at the other and competing for attention?

      Also with Jack russells I learned that no two females can be in the same roost. They will fight each other to death even and even with another female breed...they simply are that way. I could never have more than one female Jack.

      You always have interesting material! Thank you once again!

      I would really appreciate your insight. Thumbs up!

    • DrMark1961 profile image
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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Thanks for that, Jaye. Books are hard to get here, but I will definitely put that down on my list! Most of us love wolves, but dogs are really special.

    • profile image

      Sarra Garrett 4 years ago

      Thank you for this article DrMark. I sure hope a lot of people read this as dogs are not wolves and should not be treated as such. Jeez so many people just don't understand this concept.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

      DrMark---I agree with you absolutely! (And, like Oprah and other celebrities who once turned to The Dog Whisperer for advice, I stopped listening to Cesar long ago.)

      If you haven't already read the book, THE GENIUS OF DOGS, by Brian Hare, whose research into the evolutionary science of canine cognition and changes due to many generations of dog domestication is fascinating and refutes the "dogs are wolves" theory, I encourage you to read it. He proves that dogs' true genius is the now inborn ability to get along with people, something totally unrelated to wolves.

      Voted Up+++

      Jaye

    • DrMark1961 profile image
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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      I think crates are fine when not used to incarcerate the dog. As soon as that door is shut, it is just a cage. Even the people that incorrectly claim that dogs are den animals do not claim that dogs are cage animals.

      (I have to put a caveat on here about travelling. It is a good idea, for the dog´s safety, and yours, to keep him in a cage when travelling.)

      I think I have spent a lot more time around feral dogs than Cesar, and have travelled and worked with dogs in many countries. Some of his techniques seem great, but expecting dogs to act in a certain manner because of the pack theory is wrong. Dogs are individuals,as I am sure you have noticed with your Min Pin. She might respond to calm energy, but not to being dominated by an alpha animal. That isn't what dogs are about, and that is not the way dogs should be treated.

      Long rant! Thanks for coming by and reading this.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      This was very interesting Dr. Mark but you seem to be going against convention...Cesar, the Dog Whisperer, insists dogs are pack animals and need to know who the leader is in the pack, namely the dog owner. From reading this hub it seems you are saying that it is not true. You and Cesar are two of my favorite dog experts so I am confused.

      The same thing with crates...den or not many dogs love their crates, including mine. Am I being unkind keeping his crate around? We only use it when we travel but he will go in when he is afraid (of my 4 yr. old grandson) or is not feeling well (after having eaten something he shouldn't have). I'd like to know what you think about these two things.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

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