Dear Miss Behavior: Are Dogs Just Wolves?

Miss Behavior: This isn’t really a behavior question, but my Aunt says that dogs are really just wolves in our living rooms.  Is this true?


Though dogs are descended from wolves, they aren’t wolves.  Most studies show that most dog behavior is more like wolf-pups than full grown wolves.

Looking at the interactions between dogs versus wolves, there’s an obvious difference in the way dogs communicate with each other as opposed to wolves.  A lot depends on the breed of dog. According to John Bradshaw, some breeds have actually lost the ability to communicate using visual signals or body language. Ears flop over, hair covers eyes, noses and jaws are altered and tails are held differently.  Bradshaw and his colleagues studied the body language of a range of breeds to determine which dogs were most wolf-like.  He determined that Siberian Huskies’ body language was very wolf-like, but on the other end Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were the least wolf-like.  Other dogs that had similar body language were the German Shepherd, and Golden Retriever.  These dogs “retain a common set of signals that permit a fair range of visual communication” (Dog Sense p. 261)

Conversely, if we look at genetics, the Shiba Inu, Chow and Akita are the most closely related to wolves, Siberians are high on the list, but the German Shepherd is very low on the list.  (National Geographic, 2/12 p.47).  What all this tells us is that though the dog is descended from the wolf, they aren’t wolves.  They are animals though; they don’t intuitively know what’s appropriate in the human world and they react like animals.  They need training and they need supervision.  You don’t need to be afraid of most dogs, but don’t expect them to be people in beautiful fur coats.  


Thanks to this feature goes to Greater Lincoln Obedience Club, who ran the Miss Behavior Dog Advice Column in their newsletter. Appreciation also is extended to Marcy Graybill, a trainer at GLOC and the expert behind this column. She also hosts her own blog, Dog Log, where she talks about training adventures with her dogs.

If you have a question for Miss Behavior, please contact us or post in the comments below and we’ll feature it in a future column.


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