Wolves vs Dogs: What makes them different?

The grey wolf (Canis lupus), commonly known as wolf, is known to share genetic similarities with the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris). While they both share some similar characteristics and genetic material, their physical appearance and behavioral attitudes differ largely.

The main reason for the physical and behavioural differences between dogs and wolves would be domestication.

“Dr. Temple Grandin, animal behavioral geneticist at Colorado State University, claims that domestication is best defined as “a process by which a population of animals becomes adapted to man and the captive environment by some combination of genetic changes occurring over generations” (Grandin & Deesing, 1998).

As a dog undergoes domestication when it is young, it stays in the same behavioural state as that of a wolf pup.

The biological process of domestication resembles natural selection because the parent animals are forced to be reproductively isolated from the wild population.

The small founder group of captive animals is, at first, very inbred; however, in time it will undergo a process of genetic drift, which is an accumulation of random mutations that occur in small populations. Over successive generations, the domesticated animals will also undergo genetic changes in response to their new, human environment (Clutton-Brock, 1995).

Domestication also affects different behaviours such as a dog barking and a wolf howling. Barking is commonly seen to be developed through domestication as a warning system to humans.

Domestication has altered the physical appearance of dogs. Dogs present a striking example of neoteny, the retention of juvenile characteristics in the adults. They are similar to young wolves in many of their mannerisms and physical features, such as large heads, flat faces, large eyes, submissiveness and vocalizing – all of which are exhibited in wolf puppies.

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