A wolf howling in the forest.

Are Wolves the True Ancestors of Dogs?

6 mins |

It is a well-known fact dogs and wolves are related, and also that dogs are an evolution descended from wolves. Then, why do Toy Poodles, Beagles, and Great Danes seem to have so little in common if they all have a common ancestor? And how about all of the differences between dogs and wolves? Are wolves the true ancestors of dogs?

Humans have been selectively breeding dogs for many years, which has led to the “artificial evolution” of many different varieties of canines. Researchers nowadays state with certainty dogs are not descended from the gray wolf species that still exists but rather both species are descended from an unidentified and extinct wolf.

Evolution Of The Dog: The Different Theories

From Pekingese to St. Bernards to Greyhounds, dogs come in so many incredible varieties that it is easy to forget they are all members of the same species. There are currently at least 150 distinct dog breeds, which is the product of intensive, intentional cross-breeding over the last 150 years.

The Theories

Many hypotheses exist on the evolution of the dog as we know it today and its relationship to the wolf. One of them says that domestic dogs are actually tamed wolves. The gray wolf, Canis lupus, has a close relationship with the dog, Canis familiaris. 

Domestic dogs differ physically from wolves in addition to their altered temperament, as they are typically smaller, have shorter muzzles, and have fewer teeth.

Selective breeding has been used for thousands of years in many domesticated species, not only dogs. The first animals selected for breeding for specific behavioral features rather than anatomical traits were our canine pals. However, it is still a mystery as to when and where specific dog breeds first appeared.

Another perspective holds that the Victorian Explosion, which occurred in the past 150 years, is responsible for the bulk of dog breeds that exist today. Due to extensive and widespread dog breeding during this time in Great Britain, many of the dog breeds we are most familiar with today have their origins there. 

Darwin’s theories had an impact on Victorians, who became very interested in breeding for a breed’s ideal traits. Many of the conformational traits we now consider typical for a particular dog breed were developed during this time.

Dogs were once thought to be direct descendants of gray wolves, according to biologists. Recent genetic research has shown that, rather than having a single direct ancestor, dogs and wolves actually share an ancestor.

Numerous studies indicate that between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago, an ancient wolf that resided in Europe or Asia was dogs and wolves’ common progenitor. Along with mammoths, gigantic sloths, and saber-toothed tigers, several subgroups of prehistoric wolves went extinct around 10,000 years ago.

Dogs And Wolves: The Key Differences And Similarities

A wolf in the forest with snow falling.
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Whatever theory of evolution for dogs you agree on, everyone can agree dogs and wolves have many similarities. There are differences too though. To help you know what they are, we’ve created the below list. Let’s start with their physical characteristics.

Physical Characteristics

On the outside, wolves and dogs resemble one another quite a bit. Since they both originated from the same ancestor, this makes sense. 

In terms of size, wolves have longer legs, wider, longer muzzles, and larger jaws. Their heads are also bigger. Their little chest is pressed up against their forelegs. 

The elbows are pointing in while the feet are pointing out. Wolves often have yellow eyes while dogs typically have brown or blue eyes.


Dogs come in a stunning variety of sizes. While Mastiffs and Great Danes can reach weights of 150 pounds, Chihuahuas can weigh as little as 4 or 5 pounds. Dogs often weigh between 30 and 50 pounds, though. 

Wolves, on the other hand, are typically bigger. The smallest grey wolves can weigh as little as 50 to 75 pounds, and the largest individuals can reach 175 pounds. Wolves are taller and longer than dogs.


Like a lot of other wild creatures, wolves give birth at specific times of the year, usually in the spring. This is crucial because wolves have a far harder time finding enough food in the winter than they do in the spring, summer, or fall. 

Intact (not spayed) female dogs have two cycles a year, compared to one for female wolves. Only the alpha male and alpha female in a wolf pack reproduce. Dogs may have an informal hierarchy within their pack, although it’s typically not very strict. 

Social Skills

While the wolf may excel in some areas, the dog triumphs in the social ability test. This makes sense because, in contrast to wolves, dogs have undergone around 15,000 years of selective breeding to make them fit in with human culture.

Compared to their wolf cousins, dogs are more lively and less frightened. Dogs typically develop greater bonds with individuals, whereas wolves prefer to build stronger family structures within their packs.


The lifespan of a wolf is similar to that of a dog of the same size (12-14 years in captivity).


Dogs mature at 6 to 8 months of age, whereas wolves don’t until they are 2-3 years old.


In general, wolves are more clever and conscious of their surroundings than dogs. But when it comes to friendliness, dogs tend to be friendlier to other animals and sometimes to pets in general.


Dogs should only consume meat, much like their wild counterparts, according to many people who claim they are carnivores. However, although wolves are carnivores, dogs are considered to be omnivores.

The more you look at the differences between the two species, the more distinct they become. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Got some more questions on your mind about dogs and wolves? Here are some thoughts we have for you.

What was the first dog on earth?

It is known as Miacis. Modern carnivorous mammals of the order Carnivora are assumed to have evolved from Miacids. The order of eutherian mammals known as Carnivora are wolves, dogs, cats, raccoons, bears, weasels, hyaenas, seals, and walruses.

Miacis evolved into the first real dog between 30 and 40 million years ago.

Can wolves and dogs mate?

When a wolf and a dog mate, a wolf-hybrid can come about, but the offspring of this “hybrid” can also bear children. This proves they are of the same species. 

In Conclusion: Are Wolves The True Ancestors Of Dogs?

So, when it comes to whether or not wolves are the true ancestors of dogs, the answer is pretty clear. Dogs and wolves are quite similar when it comes to what we see, but when we dig deeper we find a lot of differences. Gray wolves were once thought to be the true ancestors of dogs, but recent genetic research has shown that, rather than having a single direct ancestor, dogs and wolves actually share an ancestor.

That means that they have a common ancestor that lived thousands of years ago, and are related as “cousins or siblings” rather than a “son and father”.

Did this information surprise you? Let us know in the comments below!

Sandra is a veterinary undergraduate student based in Macedonia. She combines her two passions: veterinary medicine and writing, and she also tends to raise awareness about animal welfare as much as she can. As a student, she has attended many seminars and conferences related to the veterinary profession, and currently, she is focused on veterinary content writing. Although she owns a cat, she strongly claims that “dogs are her favorite people”.