How Are Wolves & Dogs the Same?

By M.B. Lachlei

Dogs and modern day wolves evolved from a common ancestor some 33,000 years ago. Since that time, Dogs and wolves have shared many traits that have linked them throughout the millennia. Thought to have been self-domesticating, dog ancestors found it advantageous to hang around human settlements. In return, humans found that these early dogs made good alarm systems and great hunting partners. Since that time, humans have sought to focus on certain traits within dogs that help them specialize in their duties. However, dog still share much with their wolf ancestors.

Genetic Similarities of Wolves and Dogs

Wolves and dogs share much of the same genetics, so much so that wolves can be bred to dogs and produce viable offspring which can produce offspring. Wolves and dogs are genetically 98.8 percent identical. Depending on the breed, some dogs share a majority of wolflike genetic attributes. The reason is largely due to interbreeding and focusing on wolflike genes as well as breeding in wolves in the past. Because of the genetic similarities, both dogs and wolves share behaviors, physical attributes, social interaction, territorial instincts and forms of communication.

Physical Attributes

When comparing the wolf and a dog, it's easy to see how they are related. Besides the four legs, four paws, wet nose and a tail, dogs are member of the biological family Canidae. The wolf's scientific name is canis lupus. The dog's scientific name is canis lupus familiaris, suggesting that the dog originates from the wolf. Indeed, dogs and wolves are carnivores, although dogs are more omnivore than carnivore because of a genetic change in dogs that allowed them to process starches better. Dogs and wolves have similar life expectancies, 7 to 20 years for the dog, and about 7 years in the wild or 15 years in captivity for the wolf. Wolves have larger brains, longer legs, bigger feet, longer muzzles and their skulls tend to be broader. Dogs tend to have a wider variety of traits because of domestication, including short to long hair, brachycephalic to normal size heads, and a variety of coat colors and ear carriages.

Behavior Similarities

Dogs and wolves are, for the most part, pack animals. Dogs assimilate humans into their pack, hence the ability for them to become domesticated. Both dogs and wolves show similar displays when greeting, being friendly or when aggressive. Wolves seldom lick others' faces, but dogs will be happy to lick peoples' faces. They both have the ability to hunt prey using their senses. Dogs are said to be prey driven when they chase after other animals. Wolves are high activity, whereas dogs can be active or sedate. Wolves seldom bark, except in alarm; dogs are natural barkers. Dogs and wolves howl, but dogs may add yips to the howl. Both dogs and wolves can be territorial, but wolves are likely to kill interlopers as competition or food. Like dogs, wolves dig and can be terribly destructive if left to their own devices.

Differences in Wolves and Dogs

Wolves mature when they are 2 to 3 years old and do not become sexually active until then. Dogs, however, can become sexually active at 6 to 8 months. Dogs can go into estrus twice a year; wolves only mate once each year. Wolves have eyes that are varying shades of yellow; dogs have either brown or blue eyes. Wolves have splayed feet; dogs have oval shaped and more tightly compacted feet. Wolves are somewhat trainable, but are not willing to socialize with newcomers. Dogs hold onto their juvenile wolf characteristics, known as neoteny, and are more open to socializing with newcomers.