How Are Dogs and Wolves Alike?

You may have heard that dogs are descendants of wolves, but have you ever thought about their specific similarities?

Nov 5, 2023By Jen Osborn
how are dogs and wolves alike

Let’s delve into the subject and talk about how dogs and wolves are alike. The way they communicate, their physical attributes, their carnivorous diet, and more.
It might surprise you how close the two really are.

How Dogs and Wolves Communicate

wolf howling at the moon

Dogs “talk” to other dogs, as well as other animals. We like to think that two dogs that go back-and-forth with each other barking, are kind of cute. But dogs, as well as wolves, are masters of body language.

Although they do bark and howl at each other to protect their territory or to seemingly extend a greeting, most of their communication is done with their bodies.

The two species are also experts at using their olfactory senses, and it’s the number one way they communicate. They’re keen to know if a new animal is male or female, if a familiar one is healthy, or exactly what the one across is up to.

One of the age-old questions about their behavior is why dogs walk in circles before they lie down. It’s not completely understood, but it may be that wolves behave this way to create their space, a nest, and that it has been hard-wired into dogs. Pushing foliage down would be one of the reasonable explanations given for this interesting behavior.

Another way the two communicate is by nipping or biting. Mothers tend to nip their pups to teach, corral, or discipline them. Biting humans is often due to one of these reasons:

  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Dislike
  • Pain

These feelings are often preceded by pushing their ears straight back and/or raising the hair on their backs. Since they usually give these warning signals before an attack, it would be wise to listen to them, avoid eye contact, and retreat.

wolves biting

Additionally, dogs and wolves are predators, which goes a long way in explaining why dogs sometimes bring home “gifts” like rabbits or squirrels. This could be explained by their need to provide or just by wanting to communicate. So don’t be too upset if your dog brings home an unwelcome visitor.

To not talk about howling would be like not mentioning nuts when you talk about squirrels. Wolves may be best known for it, but I’ve been the guardian of many dog packs. All of them have joined in chorus at one time or another.

This behavior is instinctual and also serves the purpose of looking for a mate and making others aware of their presence.

Physical Similarities

wolf dog eyes

Even at a glance, the two have obvious things in common, like fur, long tails (not all but most dogs), and body shape.

Taking into consideration that there are around 300 dog breeds, the two creatures almost mirror each other.

Here are some breeds that may have you looking twice to see exactly what animal is roaming in your backyard:Siberian Husky, Tamaskan, Samoyed, Alaskan Malamute, German Shepherd, Northern Inuit, and the American Alsatian.

Their Need to Stay on the Move

wolf pack

Dogs and wolves not only love to be in motion, but they also need to travel. One of the most critical yet underutilized responsibilities of dog owners is taking them for walks.

Most people take a quick trip down the street, but even walking around the block isn’t sufficient for many dogs to satisfy their need to walk. One reason for this is their inherent desire to smell.

Have you ever seen a dog in a yard that cocks his head back and puts his nose in the air? He’s sniffing the world. Smell is their number one sense, and it’s imperative they have the opportunity to investigate their surroundings through it.

A long dog walk gives them the opportunity to discover things through their sense of smell. The habit also gives them the exercise they need for their bodies and minds.

Wolves are constantly walking. Their need to move is for the protection of the pack and to find sustenance. Their very existence depends on it.

Raising Their Pups

dogs with puppies

The guidance, discipline, and love that dogs and wolves give their young is admirable. Both use physical contact to teach what’s accepted and what’s not.

From birth, the pups/puppies are licked and prodded. The members of a wolf pack are directly related, so the responsibilities of feeding, protecting, and teaching are divided between them.

The wolf pack helps raise the family, but since puppies usually come into a human family without one or both parents, seeing that behavior in dogs is rare.

Young wolves love to play, and the way they stalk and jump on each other prepares them for hunting. Although there’s little reason for puppies to hunt, this behavior still exists between them. They also still lick around the mouths of their mother due to instinct. Wolf pups do this to get extra food that may be present.

Their Behavior When Injured

northern inuit dog

When a wolf is injured, it can be dangerous for the rest of the pack. Predators smell and sense weakness. The tendency to cover up pain and give no signals is prevalent in wolves and has been passed down to dogs.

That said, some do broadcast what’s happening. Just like humans, all animals are unique, but here are ways dogs and wolves may communicate when they’re in pain:

  • They get vocal and whine, bark, or howl.
  • They stop eating.
  • They growl or bite.
  • Their breathing becomes labored.
  • They lick excessively.
  • Their personality changes.

Wolves do what it takes to survive, and if that means being stoic when they’re injured, so be it.

Both are Carnivorous

dog eating bone

Meat is king. If you’ve ever given your dog the choice between commercial dog treats or a hot dog, you’ll know what I’m talking about. However, most of us don’t have the time, money, or knowledge to prepare meat properly for our dogs.

The teeth of dogs and wolves are made for tearing and crushing meat and bones. It’s humans who have introduced the quick fix of serving dogs what’s in the nearest food aisle. Even though we’ve pushed their diet on dogs, their innate desire to eat meat remains.

We may never know how many ways these two species are alike, but one thing’s for sure: These majestic, powerful animals have long been connected.

Their beauty and dignity are a beacon, and we can learn many lessons from watching, studying, and honoring them.

Jen Osborn
By Jen Osborn

Born with a pen and a deadline, Jen considers writing a vocation, an art, and a release. She’s a freelance content and copywriter who specializes in the pet industry. Previously, she was the founder/director of an animal sanctuary, taught classes to middle school students about dog behavior, and has lived a life full of devotion to animals and their welfare. She currently lives with four delightful canines who encourage her to put her head out the car window more often.