• Beau Elliott

Dogs Vs. Wolves: What's the Difference?

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

A comparison between the canine carnivores of the modern world!

While it can be hard to believe when looking at Pugs or Labradoodles, the modern dogs of today are considered to be descendants of the great gray wolf (Canis Lupus). The domestic dog is considered to be related to the modern gray wolf, however, the direct wolf-ancestors of dogs are considered to be extinct. Many of the dog breeds we love today are visibly quite far removed from the wild wolves of the world, but besides the obvious, how do wolves actually differ from dogs? Well first, let’s start with a little background.

How Did Wolves Turn into Dogs?

While it is common knowledge that dogs came from the domestication of ancient wolves, not many know exactly how that process happened. According to a study conducted at Stony Brook University, the domestication of wolves was not a worldwide phenomenon, but rather a single incident originating from one geographic location in Europe! This means that almost all dogs are likely descended from a single group of domesticated wolves.

By inspecting the fossils of ancient dogs, Stony Brook researchers speculate that the first dogs were domesticated sometime between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago! How and who domesticated the first pack of wolves all that time ago remains a mystery that has not yet been solved. Numerous researchers even predict that the first wolves were domesticated by accident, as they followed human hunters and ate the leftovers of their hunts.

So, Why do Dogs and Wolves Look So Different?

Well, despite domestic dogs being descendants of the great wolves of old, generations of selective breeding have created the dozens and dozens of dog breeds we now know today. However, this is not the sole reason why there are so many differences between wolves and dogs today.

Dogs also have a very high ‘genetic plasticity’ meaning that the species has a large amount of possible genetic variations in their DNA. This plasticity has allowed humans to breed dogs with a myriad of different traits and skills specific to what that group required in their animals. Today, many dogs are bred based on appearance and other visual traits, but that was not always the case.

Thousands of years ago the first dog breeds were created based on the needs of that group of people. If the group or village had a problem with rats or mice, they bred small and quick dogs to hunt them, giving us the Jack Russel Terrier! In African tribes, they bred large, strong dogs who could fight off lions, giving us the Rhodesian Ridgeback!

What’s the Difference Between a Dog and a Wolf?

Genetically, wolves and dogs are more similar than you might think, even the small Chihuahuas of today are closely related to the wolves of old. While the specific differences between certain dog breeds and wolves will vary slightly, many of the differences are not as different as you might think.

Dog Vs Wolves: Visual Appearance

While many of the visual differences are obvious (I mean just look at pugs) the most common differences between the appearances of dogs and wolfs might not be. Wolves’ heads and jaws are much bigger than dogs with wolves heads being much larger in comparison to their bodies. Wolves also have smaller bodies, longer legs and giant paws, helping them move lighter and quicker through the wilderness on long hunts. The teeth and jaws of wolves are also far larger than dogs, as wolves require the excess in size and strength when breaking the bones of their prey.

Eye color is another major difference between wolves and dogs. The domestic dogs of the modern world always have eyes ranging from brown to blue, while wolves only have eyes in a range of colors from amber to yellow. The colored coats of dogs have also been bred in a vast array of different shades, but the wolf will only have a coat of gray, white or brown, as they depend on the camouflage for survival.

Wolves Vs Dogs: Personality and Behavior

Thankfully for us, the way dogs and wolves behave is quite different. The dogs of today are far more sociable and even-tempered than wolves, making them suitable counterparts in human society.

Wolves are close and caring for the family they grew up with, but are seldom comfortable with strangers, including other wolves. Wolves are never friendly or tolerant with humans and should be given ample space if seen in the wild.

Wolf puppies are also only born in Spring, as they need the warmer months to mature and learn before the harshness of winter in the wild. Dog puppies mature far slower than their wolf counterparts, as wolves do not have the luxury of growing up in safe and protected environments, making them far sturdier and tougher animals.

Are Wolves Smarter than Dogs?

Well, that question largely depends on how you define ‘smarter.’ If you define the word as meaning being resourceful on their own and finding ways to survive in the wild, then wolves are definitely smarter. If you define intelligence as being able to adapt to your surroundings and read the emotions of those around you, then dogs are perhaps more intelligent than wolves!

However, by logic standards, Live Science determined that wolves perform better than dogs on many tests of cognitive logic. In the studies, dogs often followed human instructions on tasks, despite more logical solutions to problems being available. Wolves on the other hand often made more logical choices based on observations.


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