Skip to content

Differences Between Wolves and Dogs

Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Published on
Wednesday 9 June 2021
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
comparison between wolves and dogs
This page may contain affiliate links. We may receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links.

Many dog breeds resemble wolves. These breeds are often large, have thick coats, and bushy tails, which appeals to owners who prefer a more wolf-like breed. You may even know somebody who claims to own a wolf-dog hybrid. But have you ever wondered about the differences between wolves and dogs? What sets our pets apart from their wild counterparts? Do they get along in the wild?

When it comes to wolves vs dogs, the consensus on one thing is clear. Dogs, whether they look like wolves or not, are man’s best friend. Ready to find out more about the differences between wolves and dogs? Read on with us to discuss the key differences as well as breeds that look the most like wolves.

Key Differences Between Wolves and Dogs

Despite being very closely related, wolves and dogs are different in several ways. These differences make wolves unsuitable for keeping as pets, unlike dogs, who thrive when living with human families. Knowing the key differences is important for spotting improperly labeled “wolf-dogs”, too. Many highly adoptable dogs are put to sleep in shelters each year due to misrepresentation.

Physical Make Up

Wolves tend to have larger, broader skulls with longer muzzles and a wedge-like shape, and larger brains. In contrast, domestic dogs’ skulls are highly variable. An Alaskan Malamute, for example, has a broader head with a shorter muzzle and more exaggerated stop. A Siberian Husky‘s head is rounder. A German Shepherd‘s head is wedge-like, similar to the wolf, but the muzzle is long and has a minimal stop.

A pure wolf will not have blue or dark brown eyes, as these are dog traits. Instead, wolves have amber, yellow, or green eyes. Similarly, a pure wolf will not have a pink or partly pink nose. Having these traits suggests some dog ancestry or a condition that affects their skin pigmentation.

Dogs have more facial expressiveness than wolves. One study explains that most dogs have a greater ability to pull the lateral corners of their eyelids towards their ears than wolves do. This ties in with human selection for dogs with “more expressive” facial features, such as exaggerated eyebrow movements. The wolf’s coat is extremely dense, especially in winter. In northern climates, a wolf can rest comfortably at temperatures of −40 °F by placing its muzzle between its hind legs and covering its face with the fail. In line with this, wolf fur is a much better insulator than dog fur.

Reproductive Cycle

Wolves are monogamous and pairs typically stay together for life. However, should one wolf in the pair die, the remaining wolf usually finds a new mate. Wolves become sexually mature at three years old and usually have one litter per year. The mother cares for her pups for three months, where she remains with them in the den and provides them with milk and protection. The father will also bring her food to sustain her and the pups. Once the pups leave the den, both the parents and pups from previous years will regurgitate food for them. Pups don’t become independent until they are 5 to 8 months old but often remain with their families for years.

The reproductive cycle for dogs is largely different. For example, dogs reach sexual maturity between 6 and 12 months, though larger breeds may not reach maturity until they are two years old. Unlike wolves, domestic dogs are polygamous, meaning that they do not form any pair bonds and may have multiple mates in one year. These changes may have occurred because of selective breeding for earlier and more frequent breeding cycles.

Human Dependence

Although they are closely related to domestic dogs, wolves do not live alongside humans as well as dogs do. When in captivity, wolves are less responsive to commands and are more prone to defensiveness and aggression. A wild wolf will socialize with others in its family unit through play and has no need for human interaction. In fact, wild wolves naturally avoid humans and are shy in their presence.

In contrast, domestic dogs are well-known for forming strong attachments to their human companions as well as being highly trainable. Also, many dogs struggle with separation anxiety when apart from their families. Dogs also rely on humans for food every day, whether it be directly in your pet’s bowl or indirectly to a stray through roadkill or discarded food.


The wolf’s diet is varied. Depending on the wolf’s habitat, it will hunt elk, moose, caribou, mule deer, rodents, hares, waterfowl, fish, and wild boar. In times of scarcity, wolves will also feed on carrion. In Europe, wolves will eat cherries, pears, figs, melons, and apples. Similarly, North American wolves feed on raspberries, blueberries, cowberries, grain crops, and the shoots of reeds. And, in contrast to many domestic dog breeds, a wolf is built to navigate harsh terrain, with longer legs to bound through snow and large teeth adapted to crushing bone. These adaptations make the wolf a highly successful predator.

In contrast, many dog breeds are too small or physically unable to hunt these larger prey types. This makes them dependant on humans and their activity for their food. Stray dogs often depend on roadkill and garbage to survive, too. And, unlike wolves, dogs are omnivorous, having developed specific genes that allow them to digest starch-rich foods. This means that dogs can use carbohydrates as an energy source. As such, many dry dog foods contain between 46 and 74% carbohydrates in the form of grains, vegetables, and fruit skins.

wolves are dogs' ancestors
Find out how wolf became a dog’s ancestor.

The Northern Inuit Dog

Many dog breeds are known for resembling wolves. However, the Northern Inuit Dog is perhaps one of the most wolf-like breeds available today.


The Northern Inuit dog is a dog breed originating from the UK in the 1980s. The breed’s founder was Edwina “Eddie” Harrison. She sought to create a dog that would resemble a wolf whilst keeping the trainability and affectionate nature of the dog. So, she experimented with breeding dogs imported from overseas.

Later on, an RSPCA report led to the confiscation and rehoming of her dogs. Because of this, there are no clear records to show what breeds make up the Northern Inuit Dog. However, it is likely that the German Shepherd, Alaskan Malamute, and Siberian Husky were part of the founding Northern Inuit Dogs. Greenland Dogs and Samoyeds are also thought to play a role in the Northern Inuit Dog’s development.

Appearance, Personality, and Temperament

The Northern Inuit Society (NIS) describes the ideal specimen of the breed on its website. According to the NIS, Northern Inuit Dogs are friendly, placid, and outgoing. The Northern Inuit Association adds that these dogs may be shy with strangers. However, they tend to bond for life with their owners and get along well with other animals. They have a dense double coat with a bushy tail. Bitches stand between 59cm and 71cm, while dogs stand at 64cm to 76cm. The breed’s overall balance is more important than its height, however. The coat may be pure white, sable, grey, apricot, or pure black.

The Utonagan was the first breed to diverge from the Northern Inuit Dog. Within the Northern Inuit breeders’ circles, arguments began to ensue about what direction the breed should take. Some breeders wanted the breed to undergo more outcrossing to widen the gene pool and to combat health problems that had become associated with the breed. There were also disagreements about stricter health testing to combat the poor hips seen in Northern Inuit Dogs at the time. So, there was soon a split in the Northern Inuit breed, leading to the birth of the first F1 Utonagan litter in 2002.

The quest for other wolf-like breeds led the club’s founder to Lapland, where she discovered Polar Speed Kennels. The owner of the kennels, Reijo Jääskeläinen, had a similar goal of producing wolf-like dogs. To do this, he crossed Czechoslovakian Vlacks, American Wolfdogs, and Siberian Huskies, producing dogs with extreme endurance and speed. Dogs from this kennel soon became some of the best sled-racing dogs in the world. Naturally, the club’s founder reserved six of these dogs to outcross them to her Utonagans. This would, in theory, enhance the breed’s working ability and its wolf-like appearance at the same time.

However, the Utonagan Society did not seek to include these bloodlines in their program. As such, the founder moved on to create her own breeding program. This was the beginning of the Tamaskan Dog. Northern Inuit Dogs, Utonagans, and Polar Speed dogs came together to produce this new breed, and some breed clubs for the Utonagan soon abandoned the Utonagan as a breed in favor of the Tamaskan Dog.

what is a wolf
Wolves are wild animals.

Wolves vs Dogs: FAQ

Have any more questions about the differences between wolves and dogs? Feel free to refer to our Frequently Asked Questions for more details!

Are wolves stronger than dogs?

The question of whether a wolf is stronger than a dog is not a simple one to answer. In many ways, the grey wolf should be “stronger” than the average pet dog. It is easy to come to this conclusion by their large size, agile build, and sheer endurance when chasing prey. However, many dog breeds have been specially developed to protect livestock from wolves and do so with great efficiency. These breeds include the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Kangal, Kuvasz, Slovak Cuvac, and the Caucasian Shepherd.

It is also worth noting that both dogs and wolves naturally work better in groups when defending their territory or taking down prey. While a group of wolves may be “stronger” than a single dog, a group of dogs may be “stronger” than a single wolf. In addition, we cannot accurately compare the wolf’s bite force to that of the dog with current research. So, are wolves stronger than dogs? Ultimately, it depends on a huge combination of factors. These include the dog’s breed, size, health, temperament, and experience with large predators. For the wolf, its own advantage depends on what subspecies it is, whether it is alone, and its own health, too.

Would a dog be able to beat a wolf?

Some dog breeds are capable of “beating” a wolf. In fact, several breeds were developed for their ability to defend livestock from large predators like wolves. One such breed is the Kangal Shepherd Dog. Working Kangals will naturally place themselves between the threat and the livestock before confronting the intruder. If the intruder is not intimidated, the Kangal will advance to physical confrontation. The Armenian Gampr is another large flock guardian that specializes in defending from wolves. As of 2006, some 2000 dogs of this breed were still in use for this purpose.

However, it is worth noting that the grey wolf subspecies in these breeds’ native regions may differ in size and strength. For example, the Kangal is most likely to encounter the Eurasian or Indian wolf in its homeland. These grey wolf subspecies are generally smaller and lighter than other subspecies, like the much heavier and larger Northwestern wolf. They also tend to travel in smaller groups than other subspecies. These factors give breeds like the Kangal an advantage when it comes to being able to “beat” a wolf.

Which dog breeds are faster than wolves?

Grey wolves have a sprinting speed of 25 to 35 miles per hour whilst moving short distances. One study even clocks their top speed as 40 miles per hour. However, wolves are built more for long-distance hunting rather than sprinting. So, it instead prefers to maintain a speed of about 5 miles per hour as it travels long distances in pursuit of prey. In contrast, the Greyhound can reach speeds of 45 miles per hour within its first six strides, which naturally makes it faster than the grey wolf. Salukis can reach speeds of 42.8 miles per hour, while the Afghan Hound and Vizsla can sprint at 40 miles per hour, placing them in a similar position to the grey wolf. All other dog breeds are technically slower than the grey wolf’s maximum sprinting speed.

Can wolves be pets?

Wolves have been kept as “pets” for many years. However, it is never advisable for a casual animal owner to try to keep a wolf, or a wolf hybrid, as a pet. Wolves and wolf hybrids are best kept by individuals who have a deep understanding of animal behavior, especially wolf behavior. The average pet dog owner is not equipped to handle the behavior and needs of a wolf.

Firstly, a wolf or high-content wolf hybrid is not a domestic animal. Unlike a pet dog, a wolf is not as trainable and does not have the same drive to please or respond to human commands or desires. Despite being highly intelligent, captive wolves are known to ignore the commands of humans, especially those from other people who they are not bonded with. Next, the exercise needs of the wolf exceed the average pet dog by far. And, because of their talent at observational learning, captive wolves will quickly learn how to escape confinement. This becomes a big problem when a wolf can figure out how to open doors, gates, and jump up to 12 feet. Without a very large outdoor area for a wolf or wolf hybrid to exercise in, boredom and stress quickly set in, causing destructive behaviors and aggression.

Sadly, 150,000 wolf hybrids are born in the USA every year to be sold as pets. By the time these puppies reach two to three years old, more than 80% are euthanized, says W.O.L.F Sanctuary. Many wolf sanctuaries are at full capacity and are unable to take more wolves and wolf hybrids.

Are wolves friendly to dogs and vice versa?

Wolves and dogs do not naturally get along. However, they are known to hybridize in the wild. Hybridization in the wild occurs most when the wolf population is disrupted by large numbers of free-roaming dogs, and there is also strong hunting pressure. Wolves would normally be aggressive towards dogs, but a socially isolated wolf may become playful or submissive towards them. In 2019, a wolf-dog hybrid was found living with a pack of 10 feral dogs in the Osogovo Mountains.

Today’s wolves and dogs may be related, but the two are different in many ways. Not only are these differences physical, but they are mental, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *