What is the Closest Legal Dog to a Wolf?

Explore the different dog breeds that resemble wolves, including their physical and behavioral characteristics, and learn which breeds are most similar to these wild canines.

Feb 17, 2024By Natasha Elder
what is the closest legal dog to a wolf

Most people know that the domestic dogs we share our homes and hearts with today are descendants of the gray wolves that roam the wild. Yet, few know just how similar the two are; wolves and dogs share 99% of their DNA. So while all dogs are related to wolves, some look and act the part more than others. Let’s meet them!

How Are Wolves Different From Dogs?

eurasian wolf snowy landscape hunter
Image credit: Wikipedia

Before we dive in, let’s explore the connection between wolves and dogs to get the full picture. The fact is that, genetically speaking, wolves and dogs are VERY similar. They’re the same species: Canis lupus. They’re so similar that they can even breed together (which is how a lot of the dogs in this list came about!)

Genes aside, there are far more differences between dogs and wolves than there are similarities. The physical characteristics of wolves can be summed up as follows:

  • Low tails
  • Pricked ears
  • Yellow or gold eyes
  • Narrow chests
  • Broad heads
  • Long noses
  • Long legs
  • Massive paws

They also don’t have defined masks like some dogs do. Physical characteristics aside, wolves:

  • Are naturally distrustful of humans (while dogs love us)
  • Hunt and flee rather than herd or protect
  • Produce pups less often than dogs (they have just one breeding cycle in a year, while dogs have two)
  • Form unbreakable bonds with their pack, whereas dogs bond with their humans

The Alaskan Malamute Is the Most Wolf-Like Dog

alaskan malamute snow face
Image credit: Wikimedia

First up is the dog breed that is the closest legal dog to a wolf: the Alaskan Malamute. This ancient dog breed has been around for centuries. Because it is such an old breed, Alaskan Malamutes have the largest percentage of wolf genetic variants in their DNA. This is because of the history of breeding wolves with sled dogs.

The Alaskan Malamute has a thick double-coat with distinct patterns, and it is most often found in typical wolf colors, such as gray, agouti, sable, and seal. It’s the characteristics of the coat that give it its wolf-like appearance.

image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In addition, Alaskan Malamutes are incredibly strong, hardy, and far more pack-oriented than other breeds. They also have a very strong prey drive and a fierce independent streak that is a nod to their wild cousin. So, while owning one is rewarding, it’s not without challenges.

Although Alaskan Malamutes look just like wolves from a distance, there are a few noticeable differences on closer inspection. Wolves have narrow chests, while Alaskan Malamutes have wider, more rounded chests. Wolves have yellow or gold eyes, while Alaskan Malamutes have deep brown eyes. The tail of a wolf is low, but the Alaskan Malamute’s tail is high. The list goes on.

Czechoslovakian Vlcak Wolfdog: Another Contender

czechoslovakian wolf dog snow
Image credit: Wikipedia

Next up is the Czechoslovakian Wolfdog. This beautiful breed was created in 1955 after a man by the name of Karel Harti, who was the Head of the Border Guards in Czechoslovak at the time. He cross-bred a gray wolf female named Brita with a German Shepherd Dog male named Cezar as part of a scientific experiment.

In those early days, the Czechoslovakian Wolfdog was used to help with border patrol duties because of how wolf-like it was in its behavior. The breed was physically strong, prone to pack mentality, had incredible stamina, and increased night vision. But it also had the trainability of a German Shepherd in it, so it did its job well. This was a working dog breed through and through, and it remains so to this day, although it’s put to use in different ways.

Czechoslovakian Vlcak Wolfdog in snow again
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Breeding between wolves and dogs was put to an end in Czechoslovakia in 1983, and Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs were added to the banned breeds list in countries like Iceland and Norway. The Czechoslovakian Wolfdog we see before us today is much more dog-like than wolf-like. Nonetheless, this is one dog breed that still looks distinctly wolfy.

Siberian Huskies Resemble Wolves

siberian husky blue eyes snow
Image credit: Stephanie Cantu on Unsplash

Another dog breed that is uniquely wolfy-looking is the Siberian Husky. In fact, since it’s probably the most well-known dog breed on this list, “Siberian Husky” is likely the first dog breed that comes to most people when asked to picture a wolf-like pup. This spitz breed dog was developed for pulling sleds and keeping the Chukchi people of Siberia company.

The Siberian Husky is genetically closest to the Taimyr wolf that once roamed North Asia. They, like the other breeds mentioned so far, have a typical pack mentality and are incredibly active. Siberian Huskies are also prone to roaming, so if you don’t meet the dog’s exercise requirements, they may jump the fence and go for unsupervised walkies.

In terms of their appearance, Siberian Huskies are significantly smaller than wolves, and their eyes are also a key difference. While wolves, as you now know, have gold or yellow eyes – most (40%) Siberian Huskies have piercing blue eyes, green, brown, black eyes, or two different-colored eyes, known as heterochromia.

Shih Tzus Are Descended From Prehistoric Chinese Wolves!

adorable shih tzu dressed up
Image credit: Edson Torres on Unsplash

And last, but by no means least, is a surprising addition to the list of wolfish dogs: the Shih Tzu! Genetically speaking, these pint-sized pups are strikingly similar to wolves. Hailing from Tibet, this small dog breed has a long and rich history, and it is thought to be descended from ancient Chinese wolves.

In the looks department, apart from their loose coloration, there aren’t any physical similarities between the Shih Tzu and the wolf. It’s hard to believe they are so genetically similar! But when it comes to behavior, these two have more in common than you might think. Like their wolf ancestors, the Shih Tzu is independent and active and tends to be Alpha in their household.

Shih Tzu dogs also howl! They’re one of the quieter dog breeds out there, but in the right circumstances, they will howl their little hearts out in a distinctly wolf-like manner. They’re not going to be mistaken for a wolf anytime soon, but there’s no denying that they definitely have more in common with their lupine ancestors than most other dog breeds.

Natasha Elder
By Natasha Elder

Natasha is a mother, a wife, a writer, and a serial cat owner. Though she is currently in mourning, her heart not ready for another feline family member just yet, she has always lived life with four paws beside her. She loves – you guessed it – cats, as well as creatures of the fluffy, scaly, and finned variety. Natasha longs to meet Sir David Attenborough one day and is passionate about responsible pet ownership