4 min read


Can Dogs Understand Wolves?



4 min read


Can Dogs Understand Wolves?


Dogs and wolves are close ancestors, so it makes sense to wonder if dogs and wolves can understand and communicate with one another if given the opportunity. There are plenty of times we see dogs showing wolf-like behavior, and wolves displaying domestic dog-like behavior, even if slight variations in this behavior do exist. Maybe your dog likes to howl when they are trying to speak to you or want a treat. 

It has been found that wolves and dogs can actually understand each other well, at least for the most part. Since they are so far removed from one another, there are differences in the language and communication style for obvious reasons.


Signs of Dogs and Wolves Understanding Each Other

There are a few key things you can watch out for in your pup that are reminiscent of their wolf ancestors. It's likely your dog loves to lick your face when greeting you, especially if they have not seen you in a while. It is found that wolves in the wild also like to greet their pack by licking the other's face. 

Furthermore, your dog generally will hold your gaze and follow your eye movements when you look at them, and wolves will do this as well if they are around humans. They will even follow the gaze of other wolves in their pack as well. Wolves can also understand finger pointing, just like your pooch can when you point to where their toy is or where you want them to sit. If you have a dog that is a howler, this is a very similar trait they share with wolves. Wolves howl in the wild for a multitude of different reasons all the time. 

Wolves and dogs also share similar body language communication. Besides howling, both species will "play bow" when they are ready to play and have fun. Both will also chase each other and chase their tails when they are looking to have fun. 

Dogs and wolves also have the same body language when they are showing their dominance, submission, and aggression. This could be anything from growling, showing teeth, guarding, or pacing. All of these similarities display how wolves and dogs can understand each other in some ways and could effectively communicate with each other. It is important to remember that since dogs and wolves are two very different species, and the chance of miscommunication through body language can still be misinterperated.  

Body Language

<p>Here are some signs you might notice when your dog shows wolf-like behavior :<br/></p>

  • Growling
  • Alert
  • Listening
  • Howling
  • Ears Drop
  • Pacing

Other Signs

<p>These are some other signs you may notice when your dog is showing wolf-like communication :</p>

  • Playing And Chasing Their Tails
  • Greeting Their Pack
  • Needing Social Interaction
  • Staying Close To Their Pack

History of Dogs and Wolves


Wolves and dogs are separated by about 15,000 years of evolution. However, there is still much debate about this timeline, as some claim it was more around 10,000 years while other suggest it dates all the way back to 30,000 years ago. During the evolution process, both dogs and wolves have taken two very distinct turns into different species. 

Due to the interaction of wolves and humans living in close proximity and actively living together for much of the time, the wolf started to morph into the domesticated dog we know today. 

Their heads shrank, their teeth became smaller, and they became docile, loving, and cuddly. 

There is also some debate in history about how exactly wolves became domesticated dogs and who was first responsible for starting this evolution. Domesticated could have happened in Europe, the Middle East, or even East Asia, and both historians and scientists cannot pinpoint exactly where it all began. Furthermore, we are also not sure whether early humans, like hunters and gathers, tamed and domesticated dogs or if it was wolves actually taming themselves by hanging around campfires made by humans or scavenging human remains. 

We still have a lot to learn about the history and evolution of wolves and dogs and how much time it actually took to live with and love the dogs we know so well today. 

Science Behind Dogs and Wolves


There have been quite a few recent studies that shed a little more light on the domestication and relationship of wolves and dogs. In a 2013 study, scientists compared the mitochondrial genomes of 126 wolves and dogs to the fossils of ancient dogs. They found that dogs were likely domesticated in either Europe or Western Siberia anywhere from 18,800 and 32,100 years ago. 

On the other hand, another study suggests wolves have domesticated somewhere in China around 33,000 years ago. The varying data is a result of different bones and fossils being tested. Some scientists aim to close the gap between these two different timelines by insinuating that there was a dual domestication process happening on different continents and at different times. This would explain some of the variations between fossils, bones, timelines, and who actually domesticated the wolf.  

On another note, dogs' and wolves' genes are 98.9% the same. Since there is such a high percentage of similarity that dogs and wolves share, many of the same physical traits, communication styles, social interaction, territorial instincts, and behaviors are still the same.

Through more studies, it was also found that wolves and dogs can understand each other in the sense they can both cultivate human attachment to their caretakers - although wolves are less dependent on their human caretaker than a dog is. Scientists did an experiment to prove this hypothesis by having wolves cubs raised by humans. The wolf puppies were raised exactly how one would raise a regular dog. They also were heavily socialized by humans so any inherent differences between wolves and dogs would be instinctual. 

The study found the wolf puppies readily greeted their caregivers with love, affection, and excitement. The same goes for strangers that were introduced to the wolves. The only differences between the wolves and pups in their greetings were the wolves were a bit more scared of the complete strangers compared to the dogs. None showed any aggression, just like we would expect to see in a dog. 

Training Dogs and Wolves to Communicate


Unfortunately, there is no way at this time to train dogs and wolves to communicate or understand each other, and it is something this is never advised to do. Although they share many traits, communication styles, and genes, they are two inherently different species, and wolves, especially those that are wild, can be very dangerous.

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Safety Tips for Dealing with Wolves and Dogs

  1. If you see a wolf while walking with your dog, give them lots of room. It may even be best to slowly head a different direction.
  2. If you live in an area with a large wolf population, it is advised to keep your dog in an enclosed area and monitor them while outdoors.
  3. Do not ever try to engage a wild wolf. They are dangerous predators and may attack if they feel threatened.

Written by a Samoyed lover Kayla Costanzo

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/08/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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