Wolf/Dog Comparison
(This page is under construction)

While there are still conflicting theories on the evolution of the domestic dog, genetic studies first published in the late 1980's create a convincing argument that the domestic dog is very likely a domestication of the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus).  Because of this, in many scientific sources the classification for the dog was changed in the early 1990's to Canis lupus familiaris, a subspecies of its wild cousin.  This classification has become widely accepted in the mainstream scientific community, though there does continue to be some disagreement.

Theories of the process and time lines vary, it appears evident that at some point domestication consisted in a large part of selectively breeding for desirable behaviors.  Specifically, breeding for animals which never fully mature emotionally, with their development arrested at the adolescent level. 

Among the many behavior differences, a mature wolf is generally not very accepting of new people, is very quiet (little or no barking) and is shy and suspicious.  The high prey drive in these animals makes them potentially dangerous to small animals (including children) which might be in their regular habitat.  They do NOT make good family pets.  Contrary to common misconceptions, because of their shy nature they are very poor candidates as guard animals.

Wolf/dog hybrids have a mixed history.  Often the intent is to get the wolf look with the dog personality.  Unfortunately the outcome is generally an animal with an unpredictable, and therefore dangerous, behavior.  In the right setting some of these animals may be excellent family members, but these are individual and rare exceptions, and it is only in the best informed and most experienced (and all adult) homes where this is possible.  The motivation for owning one of these animals is also critical.  Unfortunately the all to often "macho" image is frequently the motivation, which is in direct contrast to the animals natural behavior.  This tends to create the worst possible combination with a high possibility of injury (or worse) to the people and other animals involved.

Physically, since they are essentially genetically identical, wolves and dogs are very similar, though there are a number of general differences that are usually visible.  It must be noted that, with the high degree of variation between dog breeds, any dog (or breed) may exhibit one or more wolf like physical traits without having any "full wolf" anywhere in its recent bloodline.  Because of this, and despite the claims of some individuals, it is absolutely not possible to tell with any certainty if a dog has "some wolf in it".  There is no medical or genetic test that can provide this information.  In the opinion of this author, anyone claiming they can tell if an animal is "part wolf" by looking at the animal (or with any other test) is either severely misinformed or is intentionally lying (often with some hidden agenda).  The mix of certain breeds can easily produce an animal very "wolf like" in appearance, but with a pedigree of champions.  Siberian Husky/Borzoi, Malamute/Collie and German Shepard/Saluki are some examples of mixes that will appear very much like a wolf in both appearance and size, and display many of the "wolf" physical traits listed in the table below.  The often expressed belief that certain breeds (primarily Siberian Huskies, Malamutes, and German Shepards) are closer to wolves has no basis in reality.  These breeds are as distant from their wild cousins as is a Chihuahua or Bloodhound. 

This table is a list of general differences.  As mentioned above, any individual dog (or breed) may exhibit one or more traits that are on the wolf list.  This list is by no means complete.

Wolf Dog
Eyes are more laterally placed Most have more forward placed eyes
Longer snout Most have shorter snout compared to head size
Larger teeth in comparison to size of head and mouth Teeth generally smaller compared to head size
Larger head in proportion to body size Generally smaller head to body ratio though ratio does tend to be greater in small breeds 
Normally walks, stands and trots with tail down Normally walks stands and trots and with tail up
Places feet in nearly single line when moving forward Right and left feet move in separate lines parallel to each other.
Nearly straight tail Curved to curled tail
Amber to brown eyes Also may have blue eyes
Smaller ears as compared to head size Normally larger ears compared to head size
Longer forelimbs compared to upper leg bone in front legs. Forelimbs closer to same size as upper.
Leaner/longer look, especially with wild living animals Generally more stoutly built, with shorter legs in proportion to body mass.  Larger breeds tend to be heavier boned.
Large feet.  Front feet are larger than rear. Feet are smaller in comparison to body size.  Front feet same size or slightly larger than rear.



  More information and a photo comparison coming soon.  

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Revised: Apr 05 2011