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Are Bears Related to Dogs and Wolves? (Sort of…)

are bears related to dogs and wolves

Dogs and bears are not closely related. Their common ancestor is the miacid, but they likely diverged on the evolutionary chain about 33 million years ago.

Similarly, wolves and bears are not related. Their common ancestor is also the miacid, which has been extinct for many millions of years.

Dogs have only been a distinct species for 30,000 years, having diverged from wolves, not bears.

Despite the fact bears and canines have not had common ancestors for about 33 million years, there are some similarities between them:

  • Bears, wolves, and dogs are all mammals (so, too, are humans)
  • Bears, wolves, and dogs are all carnivores
  • Bears, wolves, and dogs all belong to the carnivora sub-class caniformia (which distinguishes them from feliformia such as meercats and hyenas)
  • Bears, Dogs, and Wolves all have tails! (Although bears tails are vestigial remnants of a common evolutionary ancestor)

We can determine from this that wolves and dogs are more closely related to bears than they are to cats and hyenas. Nevertheless, they’re still very distantly related.

How Closely Related are Bears, Dogs and Wolves?

grizzly bear

Bears, dogs and wolves probably had a common ancestor around 50 million years ago. At that point, they went down different evolutionary routes.

Overall, they’re not closely related at all. There is a big pool of carnivores who all share a common ‘dog-like’ ancestor, including seals and raccoons!

Nevertheless, we can see that they do have some evolutionary similarities. They eat similar diets, have canine teeth, and even still live in the same areas.

Related: Are Bears Canines?

Scientific Classifications of Bears, Wolves, and Dogs

dog

The Darwinian classification taxonomy is an instructive way to understand how closely related animals are.

It can show use exactly where the animals branched-off in the evolutionary timeline.

You can see below that bears split from wolves and dogs at the level of carniformia. Wolves and dogs are much more closely related, having only split at the species level.

Black BearDogWolf
KingdomAnimaliaAnimaliaAnimalia
PhylumChordataChordataChordata
ClassMammaliaMammaliaMammalia
OrderCarnivoraCarnivoraCarnivora
Sub-OrderCaniformiaCaniformiaCaniformia
FamilyUrsidaeCanidaeCanidae
GenusUrsusCanisCanis
SpeciesU. americanusC. familiarisC. lupis

This shows us that wolves and dogs are extremely closely related, while bears are of the same order, but not the same family or genus, as the other two.

To give you an idea of just how different these animals are, the common ancestor of dogs, wolves and bears probably went extinct well before modern-day humans (homo sapiens) walked the earth.

Related: Are Bears Related to Cats?

What is the Bear and Dog’s Common Ancestor?

black bear

The common ancestor of bears and dogs is miacids.

Miacids existed for 32 million years, between 65 and 33 million years ago. Miacids were early carnivores (now extinct) with thin bodies and long tails that lived on the ground. They preyed on smaller mammals and invertebrates.

The miacids evolved into many other distinct species of animals that we today know as the order carnivora.

Descendants of miacids include bears, wolves, dogs, cats, tigers, foxes, walruses, hyenas, raccoons, meercats, and seals (among many others).

Related: Are Bears Afraid of Dogs?

What are the Similarities between Bears, Wolves, and Dogs?

wolf sleeping

Bears, dogs and wolves are all carnivores. They also all evolved in northern Eurasia and North America, making them part of the carnivorous superfamily Caniformia.

1. Habitat

Bears and wolves still share the same habitat to this day. You can find both wolves and bears throughout Canada and parts of the United States.

Both wolves and bears were also widespread in northern Europe before human expansion pushed them out.

Dogs, on the other hand, are domesticated, meaning nearly all dogs live amongst humans rather than in the wild.

2. Diet

bear eating fish

Being a part of the family Caniformia, these animals all have a similar diet. They have evolved to be capable of eating meat.

Nevertheless, some species of bears (such as the Giant Panda) further evolved to primarily eat omnivorous and even vegetarian diets, while wolves and dogs are primarily meat eaters still to this day.

Related: Are Bears Herbivores, Carnivores, or Omnivores?

Why do Some Dogs Look Like Bears?

Most people think dogs and bears might be related because some dogs look like bears. But to get to that point, dogs went through evolutionary changes from wolves, not bears.

All dogs have ancestors who were more like wolves than bears. The big, fluffy, cute, bear-like dogs you see today had to evolve from looking like wolves to looking more like bears.

In other words, their evolutionary route to looking more like bears than wolves has nothing to do with any closer ancestry with bears than wolves.

In fact, today, many dogs look the way they do through selective breeding conducted by humans, not through natural evolution at all!

Dogs that Look Like Bears

There are some dog species that look remarkably like bears. Remember, that doesn’t mean dogs and bears are related. But here are some great dog breeds that have a striking resemblance to bears.

1. Chow Chows

chow chow dog

The thing that gives the Chow Chow its bear-like look is its thick fur. This resembles the fur of a bear. The fur is particularly thick and clumped-up around the neck, much like that of a fat grizzly bear.

Chow Chows are a very old breed originating in Northern China, but they’re definitely not evolved from bears!

2. Newfoundlands

newfoundland dog

Newfoundlands are scruffy working dogs who also have very thick fur. It’s this thick fur that gives them a bear-like appearance. Their fur often flops up around their eyes. Their great size and (often) black coat also can make you mistake them for a bear if you cross one on a nature walk.

As their name suggests, they come from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada.

3. Caucasian Shepherds

Caucasian Shepherd

Caucasian Shepherds are large, furry dogs that originate from the Caucasus mountains in southern Russia. Their breed is believed to have emerged in the 1920s. They quickly became popular dogs for bear hunting and protecting sheep from bears. Nonetheless, they are canines, not bears.

4. Leonbergers

Leonberger

Leonbergers are a cross between the Newfoundland and Great St Bernard breeds. They originated in Germany in the 1830s. They are very large, fluffy dogs reaching 80cm in height, which is why you might confuse them with a bear.

5. Eurasiers

Eurasier

Eurasiers also originated in Germany, but are a relatively new breed. They were bred in the 1930s as a cross between the Chow Chow and the Wolf Spitz. They are not as big as Leonbergers, only measuring about 60m tall, but do have the characteristically furry coat of Chow Chows.

Conclusion

Both dogs and bears are fascinating species of the animal kingdom. While not closely related, the two do share a common ancestor – the miacids and have a handful of similarities, like being carnivores. However, because bears and dogs belong to distinct families (the Ursidae and Canidae), they’re not directly linked. They probably are separated by over 50 million years’ of different evolutionary paths.

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