Even though dogs and wolves share many similarities, they’re two different species because of different evolutionary paths that meant there are some differences between the two.
Historically, dogs and wolves came from the same superspecies. It is estimated that wolves and dogs split into different species around 6000 to 14.000 years ago (sources vary), when dogs first started being domesticated in Asia.
Are Dogs and Wolves the Same Species?
Dogs and wolves both belong to the Canis Genus but are from different species. (See here for the difference between genus and species).
Gray wolves are known as Canis lupus, while domestic dogs belong to the subgroup of Canis familiaris.
According to Carl Linnaeus’ taxonomic differentiation of species from 1758, dogs and wolves belong to the same class of animals (Canis, or Canidae), but they are different subspecies based on the features and their DNA structures.
This means that they do belong to the same group of animals, so they have a lot of similarities. They have a similar DNA structure and their physical appearance is very similar, but in practice, this also means that there are slight differences between the two that mean they’re different species.
Throughout the evolution of dogs, they have been conditioned to human manipulation, which created new breeds – and some of them are today very different from wolves. Other dog breeds are much closer to what wolves are, although, despite these similarities, they still belong to the Canis Familiaris species.
Canis Lupus, on the other hand, also has some subspecies although they’re not as varied as they are with dogs.
For instance, you’ll find wolf subspecies based on their habitats, like the tundra wolf, or the Arabian wolf, steppe wolf, Mongolian wolf, arctic wolf, and other subspecies that may be considered as breeds.
Similarities Between Dogs and Wolves
So now that we’ve established that dogs and wolves are different species but belong to the same group of animals (Canidae), let’s take a look at what makes them so similar.
- Appearance. The first thing you’ll notice when you compare a dog and a wolf is their appearance. Yes, the wolf is slightly larger than a dog (at least some breeds), but they are still bulkier and also stronger than dogs. The overall appearance, though, is similar.
- DNA. While they do have some slight differences which make them different species, their DNAs are very close and have the same number of chromosomes. This is why interbreeding is possible between the two and there have been many hybrids between dogs and wolves.
- Life expectancy. Both wolves and dogs have a similar life expectancy of between 12 and 20 years, depending on both individual and external conditions.
- Both can be domesticated. The main premise of a dog is that it’s a domesticated animal, although even wolves can be domesticated. If they are conditioned to human confinement and some other factors, they might become like dogs, although there will still be differences between domesticated dogs and wolves.
Differences Between Dogs and Wolves
Despite sharing many similarities, there are some big differences between dogs and wolves that make them different species.
- Wolves form packs. One of the main differences between dogs and wolves is that wolves form packs, while dogs don’t have that tendency. For wolves, living in a pack allows them to survive and catch food, and the pack can also be considered as a family in human terms.
- Behavioral differences. There are also some very clear differences in the behavior of a wolf or the behavior of a dog. Wolves will rarely form a bond that’s so close to humans as dogs can. Also, wolves are much shyer when it comes to meeting strangers, while dogs aren’t that much.
- Wolves are larger, stronger, and have larger paws. Yes, their overall appearance is quite similar, but you cannot overlook some obvious differences between the two. Wolves are larger, even than the largest dog species. They have stockier bodies and also have larger paws.
- Wolves are predators. While dogs also sometimes exhibit predatory instincts, wolves are far more predatory than dogs are. They rely on their predatory prowess to survive in the wild, while dogs don’t have to do that, which means that their instincts and senses are not as sharp as that of a wolf.
Dog Breeds that are Close to Wolves
We’ve already touched on dog breeds briefly and how different they can be, but there are some breeds that are much closer to wolves than others.
Kugshas are dogs that look most like wolves. They have the same gray-white coat and a slightly sharper face, which makes them look like wolves. They also have a lot of stamina and like running, which means that some people associate them with wolves. It’s likely that this breed didn’t develop so close to humans as some other breeds.
Huskies are also often closely connected with dogs, or so some people believe. First, there’s their appearance. They have a similar coat and while some huskies are brighter than wolves, it still seems they look very much like a wolf. Huskies, too, like running a lot and have a lot of stamina, and they are also good hunters when needed.
3. German Shepherds
German shepherds might not look much like wolves, but they have retained many features that we can trace to wolves. For instance, they are very good at hunting and controlling herds, which is why they’re often used on farms to control larger herds of animals. They’re also lean and powerful, so many people associate these features with wolves.
4. Saarloos Woolfdog
Saarloos wolfdog is a species that was only developed around the 1930s and it is believed that this species was developed through breeding wolves and dogs. This means that this wolfdog retained some specific features from wolves, including their appearance and some behavioral features, making them a nice blend of dog and wolf-like features.
Despite many similarities, wolves and dogs are different species in the end. They belong to the same family of animals (Canis), but they have developed separately for thousands of years.
Dogs came from the wolf species and have retained some interesting features – some breeds more so than the others. However, dogs and wolves cannot be the same species because of differences in their DNA and some other differences that were first recognized already in the 18th century and earlier.