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Wolves And Dogs Compare And Contrast Essay

Dogs vs Wolves

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Many people assume that since dogs evolved from their wolf-like ancestors, we can and should easily draw parallels between the two, and use what we see in wolf behavior to help explain how to understand our domesticated dogs.

Bad idea.

Even though dogs and wolves are genetically similar, they are separated by at least fifteen thousand years of domestication that has changed them in many important ways. Today’s domestic dog is approximately as genetically similar to the wolf as we humans are to chimpanzees. When you consider the evolutionary and behavioral chasm between chimps and ourselves, it becomes clear that although wolves and dogs share certain physiological and behavioral traits, they are far more different from each other than traditional pack theorists would have you believe.

Dogs are not socialized wolves. Not only has domestication set them apart physiologically, but it has greatly influenced their emotional development as well. The difference in developmental stages between wolves and dogs in early life is acute enough to affect their ability to form social relationships throughout their lives.

Although dogs generalize their social relationships to humans and are good at adapting to changing situations, wolves are very specific about their social attachments and do not adapt well to novelty, even when raised in captivity with or near humans.

So if the captive wolf model has led us down the wrong path, what model should we use to help us understand the dynamics of a modern dog pack?

Observing feral dogs gives us a much more accurate picture of the domestic dog’s social structure than either wild or captive wolf packs. It is more likely that modern domestic dogs are descended from solitary feral dogs that scavenged human garbage for food than from a true familial pack. Scavengers do not need a team to track and bring down prey; they are usually more successful when operating by themselves rather than being reliant on other members of their group to find food.

Thousands of years of separation from the wolf have also altered the social behavior of feral dogs, because they do not stay in fixed family packs. Although the only wolves that mate in a pack are the breeding pair, in the feral dog population mating is unrestricted; it can occur among dogs within a family group or between dogs of different groups.


Bottom Line

Although their similar appearance and genetic proximity to one another make it tempting for us to assume that dogs and wolves behave the same way, they are dissimilar enough to warrant two different, separate studies of their behavioral tendencies.

When we fail to comprehend these differences and misapply behavioral understandings from one to another, it can lead to gross misconceptions. Indeed, the most important distinction we can draw between dogs and wolves is that, other than the fact that they are both animals whose primary natural instinct is to be safe and survive, dogs and wolves learn in very different ways and place contrasting premiums on the value of interaction with other species.
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Tags: alpha dog, alpha wolf, dogs and wolves, dogs vs. wolves, dominance, pack leader, pack theory, top dog, wolf pack


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Lots in common but also many differences. Let's take a look at some differences between wolves and dogs from a physical, biological and behavioral standpoint.

Physical Differences

Physically, wolves and dogs today appear as almost different species if we think about the diversity in dogs we see when taking a look at the over 300 breeds of dogs. However, some breeds of dogs have conserved a much wolf like characteristic. The malamute and husky breeds for instance closely resemble the wolf in appearance.

Wolves have much more potent jaws than dogs. While wolves and dogs share the same number of teeth, a wolf's teeth are larger so to crush through the hardest bones. They also have large heads, (dog heads are about 20 percent smaller with smaller skulls and smaller brains), long legs and narrow chests.

Reproductive Differences

One main difference is seen between the wolf's and the dog's breeding habits. Female wolves for instance, come into season only once a year, in the springtime. This allow the pups ample time to grow and flourish before the harsh winter comes along. Female dogs on the other hand, typically come into heat twice a year, suggesting that domestication has allowed them better chances of raising their off spring. One exception is the Basenji dog breed coming into heat once a year.

Wolves also typically give life to two to four pups per litter. Dogs on the other hand can give life to much larger litters often even up to twelve per litter. Again, perhaps this suggests that domestication has provided a more prolific environment to dogs than wolves in the wild.

Behavior Differences

One interesting difference between dog and wolf is the fact that dogs seem to resemble more juvenile wolves. It is almost as if dogs never go past their adolescent stage and remain permanent juveniles when compared to wolves. This may be due to the fact that over the years dogs were bred based on their docility and helpfulness. Friendly canines of course were easier to tame. Dogs also have a longer period of socialization compared to dogs, allowing them to longer time to get acquainted with humans and objects in their environment. (Horowitz, Inside of a Dog)

Wolves also rarely bark, whereas dogs have made of barking an important mean of communication with other dogs and humans.Dogs were also selectively bred for their barking, a quality treasured back in times when livestock had to be protected from potential thieves and predators. Wolves however appear to howl more than dogs.

Behaviorally wolves have very strong prey drives so important to help them survive. They also have a strong instinct to procreate. Pack drive is very strong as well and they give much importance to their position in the pack. After all, wolves are born into a pack where they often stay until they are a few years old.

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