Though it is hard to imagine a Pomeranian, a Shih Tzu, or Yorkshire Terrier as anything other than a dog, the truth is that all of these breeds trace their roots back to the wolf. It is believed that the modern dog is directly descended from the wolf and only began to establish its own unique heritage between 15,000 to 40,000 years ago. It is only within the last couple of millenia that some of our most popular dog breeds were developed, and many breeds only came into existence within the past century or two.
How Did the Modern Dog Evolve?
The modern dog came into being when wild animals began to realize that by linking themselves with human beings they were able to gain access to important resources such as food and protection. In their earliest attractions to man, wild dogs began to understand that people left behind a lot of waste; waste that could not only be useful to the dog but also essential to his continued survival. Because of this, these wild dogs began by waiting for the right time to scavenge things left behind or not in use when the people were sleeping or busy. Over time, these wild creatures became less frightened of humans and began to develop friendships with them. As these tamer animals mated and produced offspring, many retained that tamer nature; an important step towards domestication. In time and over many, many years, the wild dog moved from its native roots to an animal that was bonded to man and that thrived on his companionship. These domesticated creatures soon learned to understand how to communicate with people and also came to love their owners, even choosing to willingly protect them when the need arose.
What are the Differences Between Dogs and Wolves?
Wolves and dogs are members of the same species: the canis lupus. Though to many, they appear very different, they share greater than 99 percent of their DNA. Though it does not happen often any more, wolves and dogs could successfully mate and produce offspring. Though dogs do share a great deal in common with wolves, there are still some very important differences between the two.
Here are some of the main differences between the domestic dog and his ancestor, the wolf:
- Wolves and dogs have different conformation
Wolves and dogs both possess the same number of teeth; however, the skull and jaw of the wolf is bigger and stronger than that of the dog. This physical difference likely lies in how the wolf needed to use its jaws when in the wild. The modern dog’s food is provided for him, and thus, there is no need for them to break through tough materials like hard bone. Since the wolf often had to kill and tear apart its prey for its subsistence, very strong jaws were necessary for its survival.
In addition to having smaller skulls and jaws, the modern dog’s face is rounder in shape and its eyes are also bigger. As the dog’s physical characteristics changed to include such features as distinctive tails and ears, the shape of the dog’s face also evolved into something more suited to its environment and activities.
One quick look at a wolf also shows that the wolf has much larger feet than the modern dog. In addition to this, the wolf’s middle toes on its front paws are longer than the toes located on the sides of the feet. This allows the wolf to move differently. When the wolf needs to spring forward quickly, they are able to propel themselves long distances, an important component of hunting for prey. This critical difference in body shape allows the wolf to travel further while conserving energy for more important tasks.
Another important thing to consider is the actual size differences of the bodies of these two animals. Dogs run the gamut of sizes with toy breeds like the Chihuahua weighing only a few pounds and the statuesque Great Dane ringing in at over 150. The average dog typically weighs between 30 to 50 pounds.
Wolves are much larger than dogs with the smallest variety weighing between 50 and 75 pounds and the biggest up to 175 pounds. Wolves are also longer of body and more statuesque than their canine counterparts.
- Wolves and dogs see humans differently
Though there was a time when the dog could care for himself; today’s dogs are largely dependent on their owners for survival. Some feral dogs still exist in the wild today; however, they are still quite far removed from the earliest wild dogs that were most similar to the wolf.
Dogs can and often will voluntarily learn a number of obedience commands. Why is this? Because most dogs love to please their owners. Savvy owners make use of treats and praise to help motivate their dogs to learn.
By comparison, the wolf frustrates easily. Wolves are acutely aware that they are capable and independent enough to find their own food if necessary, an attitude that makes them less willing to comply with the desires of any human being.
Wolves display a decidedly different approach to human beings than dogs do. They do not bond to people and are not prone to responding as a dog would in a training situation.
- Wolves and dogs mature at different rates
Though most dogs and wolves are completely weaned from their mothers by eight weeks of age, wolves are often onto solid foods more quickly than their modern counterparts. In addition to this, wolves seem to develop more quickly mentally as well. At a very young age, wolves have displayed the ability to work through challenges without succumbing to frustration. This may simply be a matter of having to adapt to their environment as the wolf needs to be able to problem solve in order to survey in a predator and prey world.
At two years of age, the modern dog is still more than willing to be the lifelong friend of those it loves most. Though some wolves will willingly spend time with humans in their earliest months; by six months of age, wolves reach sexual maturity and become hazardous to humans if maintained as a pet beyond this point.
- Wolves and dogs have different breeding cycles
Most domestic dogs experience heat cycles several times a year though this is not always the case in larger breed dogs. However, wolves come into season only once per year. While canine heats can take place at any time and in any season, wolves are typically only fertile from February through the middle of March. This means their pups are whelped in early spring: April and May.
Litter sizes for dogs varies dramatically with the breed and size of the dog sometimes playing one of the determining factors in this role. Wolves most often have four to five pups at the most. Some dog breeds can have as many as 12 pups per litter!
With dogs, it is the mother to provide all of the care for her puppies. Wolves tag team the rearing of their young with both the mother and the father wolves actively involved.
- Wolves and dogs see play differently
Dogs love to play with their families. For them, it is all part of a day’s fun. However, the wolf uses play as an opportunity for learning new ways to survive and interact with other animals. Play plays an important role in helping the wolf to learn how to hunt. It is also a critical part of the wolf learning how to handle conflict with other pack members.
The modern dog also learns appropriate social interactions from play with other dogs. However, dogs also learn from other species and their learned behaviour is largely shaped by the influence of their owners.
- Wolves and dogs eat different things
Though dogs do love to eat meat and do need some in their diet, the modern canine will eat pretty much anything his owner puts in front of him.
The wolf’s digestive system is entirely different to the modern dog’s. The wolf is capable of easily breaking down raw meats. In addition to this, because of the wolf’s environment, its system is designed to go long periods of time without any food if necessary. The nutrients obtained through their nutrition are also processed more rapidly.
Though wolves will eat plant matter if necessary, their preference is to eat meat. The wolf is also capable of eating a much larger volume than the modern dog. They are aware that it could be a long time between meals, so it is best to eat their fill when the food is readily available. Experts claim that the wolf’s stomach can handle between 10 to 20 pounds of food in one sitting. The modern dog eats only a small fraction of that and easily reaches complete satisfaction.
- Wolves and dogs have different personalities
Though many people fear wolves, wolves are not aggressive by nature. In fact, they are well renowned for being quite shy. Their natural reaction is to steer clear of people entirely. A wolf will only respond aggressively if feeling threatened and without any other means of escape.
Are there differences between the wolf and the modern dog? Though 99 percent of their DNA may be the same, there is much difference lying in that remaining 1 percent. The modern dog is the descendant of the wolf but in many ways is very much a different creature altogether.