Most dog lovers know that wolves and dogs are related species of animals, and for many decades, accepted wisdom stated that today’s domestic dogs are direct descendants of wolves.
Whilst there is evidence to suggest that grey wolves were originally partially domesticated by humans, modern schools of thought usually follow the principle that wolves and dogs evolved side my side, from an older shared ancestor, rather than dogs necessarily being immediate and direct descendants of wolves per se.
Whatever the truth of the matter, we all know that wolves and dogs – even small toy dog breeds like the pug – share a lot of traits and similarities on a genetic, physical and behavioural level. However, they also differ in many interesting ways too, and this is what we’ll look at within this article.
Read on to learn more about eight interesting ways in which wolves and dogs differ from each other.
Dogs have wolf teeth, which might fairly make you think that your dog’s dentition is the same as or very similar to the wolf’s. However, a wolf’s canine teeth are significantly larger than those of even the largest domestic dog breed, and well as being stronger and more acutely curved. They also have much stronger jaws, enabling them to exert more pressure to tear up their food.
Wolves need large, strong teeth to break up and consume downed prey, and whilst domestic dogs enjoy chewing on a bone, they don’t need the same strength to do so that wolves do!
Wolves don’t bark to communicate like dogs do, and the nearest similar sound they can make is a kind of harsh, reedy huffing sound that is used to communicate distress or danger to the rest of the pack within close quarters.
In the place of barking for vocal communications, wolves howl – and they can howl much more loudly and clearly than even the most tuneful Siberian husky! Wolves howl to express excitement, a good find of prey, and to let other wolves know that they are around. Dogs, on the other hand, may well howl now and then, but they don’t have such a detailed language of howling sounds at their disposal.
Many dogs require regular brushing and grooming to keep their fur from knotting and matting up, but wolf coats are rather different. Wolves don’t get matted coats, and they don’t tend to shed as heavily as dogs on a day to day basis either.
However, wolves do blow their coats, usually once a year, around springtime. During a very short period of time, they shed their entire winter coat to grow in a finer coat for the warmer months, and as the weather turns again as autumn approaches, a wolf’s fur begins to grow more densely once again.
Domestic dog tails come in a huge variety of lengths, shapes and sizes, but it is a rare dog that has a completely straight tail with little to no curve in it. Wolves, on the other hand, have straight or nearly-straight tails, but they use them to express emotions and communicate with other wolves in the same ways that dogs use their own tails.
If you compared a wolf with a similar-sized dog, you’d notice that the paws of the wolf are much larger compared to the rest of the size of their body, and they also have particularly large toes as well. Another difference is that wolves have webbed feet, which help to provide grip and traction as well as making them stronger swimmers when they need to be!
A final difference is that whilst dogs don’t have anywhere near as many sweat glands as humans, they do have a small number on the pads of their paws – which are entirely missing in wolves.
Distinctive blue-eyed wolves (often with snow-white fur) are a common sight on TV and in films, but adult wolves cannot physically possess blue eyes – which is one way to know that the “wolves” involved are actually wolfy-looking dogs!
Wolf cubs may be born with blue eyes like dogs, but blue eyes are not so much a colour as an absence of colour, and when the cubs reach a few months old, their eyes will have turned to amber, brown, or even possibly green – but they won’t stay blue, as some dogs’ eyes will.
If you spot fresh tracks in the snow or earth, would you be able to tell the difference between dog tracks and wolf tracks, particularly if the dog in question was a similar size to a wolf?
This is actually easier than you might think, because the way that dogs and wolves walk and so, the tracks that they leave behind, are rather different.
Dogs leave tracks that consist of pairs of paw prints side by side on a slight diagonal, whereas wolves align their front and rear paws when walking, with the hind legs stepping where the front legs were, leaving just one single set of tracks behind.
Films and TV would often have us believe that wolves are human predators, actively hunting lost people in the woods and across large distances. Whilst a starving wolf pack might theoretically consider taking down a lone human who doesn’t appear to present much of a threat, this is vanishingly rare, and wolves tend to avoid contact with humans as far as possible.
This helps to keep wolves safe in the wild, and they’re not directly reliant on humans for food either, so they don’t need to be diplomatic about making friends with us!