We all know that dogs were domesticated from wolves, but what exactly are the real differences between them? What traits has the dog left behind, and what ancestral traits still remain? Here's a rundown of the fascinating differences between dogs and wolves- and a few surprisingly stubborn similarities.
1. JAWS OF VICTORY- Wolves' canine teeth are larger, more curved, and thicker than a domestic dog's teeth. They can crush huge bones in a single crunch. Dog teeth are… not quite that strong.
2. HOWLIN' MAD- Dogs might howl sometimes, but their howls can’t compare to those of a wolf. Wolves howl for an endless variety of occasions- whether in mourning, or excited, or on the hunt, or just to announce their presence. And wolves, meanwhile, don’t bark like a typical domestic dog. They do have an alarm bark that sounds like “a rapid blowing, fast puffing like sound"- though humans are unlikely to ever get close enough to hear it.
3. I SHED YOU NOT- Wolves shed once a year, in the later spring/early summer, while dogs shed twice a year. A wolf's fur never matts up like a dog's fur does. And while dogs can shed a number of hairs every day, a wolf's fur won't shed nearly as much day to day. You can leave your lint rollers at home, wild-wolf owners!
4. THE THRILL OF THE CHASE- All canines have a "prey drive," meaning an instinct to chase after anything that runs. For dogs, this usually means a happy scamper. For wolves, the chase instinct can very quickly morph into something much more lethal.
5. THE EYES HAVE IT- Wolves don’t have blue eyes- they don’t carry the gene for this. Only domestic dogs have blue eyes. Wolf puppies might have blue eyes at the start, before they age in a few months to their final color (perhaps amber, or yellow, or green.) And sometimes a wolf’s pale green eyes might be confused for blue. But if you see a blue eyed wolf, it’s not a pure wild woof.
6. TAIL IT TO ME STRAIGHT- Domestic dog's tails have a curl to them- even dogs with relatively straight tails will exhibit a curl when they run. Wolf tails, meanwhile, are very straight. They are, however, very expressive- depending on the wolf's mood, the tail can contort to a number of positions.
7. THEY SAY IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY- While dogs are born year round, wolf pups are always born in the early-to-late months of spring, once a year. Whether in the wild or captive, the wolf's birth calendar is consistent.
8. CAN YOU DIG IT?- Your pup isn't just digging in the dirt for fun. It's another characteristic that goes back to his wolf roots. Wolves will dig holes to search for food, or to make a den for pups to be born, or even, in the hot summer months, to make a cool, shady retreat.
9. ONE TRACK MIND- Wolf tracks form a straight line, with their back paws precisely aligned with their front paws, in a style called "single tracking." Dog tracks are staggered.
10. GREENER POSTURES- In their standing position, wolves legs are cow hocked- meaning their legs turn inward, and thus their toes point outward. Wolves also have long, lanky legs, and narrow chests, shoulders & butts (for faster acceleration.)
11. IT'S A GLAND THING- Wolves have a scent gland about 3-4 inches down from the base of the tail, generally called the precaudal gland, and it leaves a small mark on the tail. Relatively few dog breeds have this marking, and only one breed has the fully functional gland- the Rhodesian Ridgeback.
12. APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION- You'd want to train your puppy not to tear everything to shreds. But for wolves, this behavior is a sign of normal curiosity, and encouraged in the wild. Adult wolves give their pups free reign to explore and experience their environment, and if that means grabbing just about anything and chewing it to pieces, then so be it.
13. TOO SHY SHY- Wolves can't compare to the social nature of Man's Best Friend. The shyness of the wolf is a protective trait, helping to keep them safe from hunters in the wild. By the time a wolf is 14-16 weeks old, the pup's chances of socializing to a newcomer are already fading.
14. I, ME, MINE- Ever played tug of war with your dog? It's an instinct that goes all the way back to their wolf ancestry. Life in the wild means a constant battle for resources, and once a wolf can lay claim to an object (aka food), they'll guard it fiercely.
15. PAWS IN THE CONVERSATION- While dogs have smaller, rounded feet, wolves have extra large feet, with two very large protruding front toes. Their feet are also webbed, which helps with swimming, traction, and walking on snow. And wolves, unlike dogs, don't have any sweat glands in their paw pads.
16. IS THAT YOUR NATURAL COLOR?- Unlike a dog, a wolf’s fur changes color as it ages. In black phase wolves, this is especially noticeable- they can be born pitch black, and gradually turn white or bright silver by age 6. Black dogs, meanwhile, pretty much stay black for life.