Are Dogs Really That Different From Wolves?

How are dogs and wolves similar and different? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Oliver Starr, wolf handler, wilderness advocate, on Quora:

How are dogs and wolves similar and different? In a word? Intensity. Take any behavior exhibited by even the most uninhibited dog, then turn it up to thirty-seven and you've got that same behavior in a wolf.

Put another way, dogs dig holes; wolves dig mines. Dogs might rip up your sofa, a wolf will reduce one to feathers,splinters, springs and bits of fabric no more than a one-inch square.

I like to call wolves "raw dogs", "proto-dogs", or "the blueprint". Even with captive bred wolves, they exhibit a broader and more complex range of behavior than what I've experienced with dogs.

Even primitive dog breeds (more "wolf like" dogs) seem to be less adept at solving problems and more inclined to look towards a human for help.

Wolves have around 33% more gray matter than a comparably sized domestic dog. In general, I've witnessed the ability among wolves and high content wolfdogs to solve problems quickly that stymy dogs until they give up.

Aqutaq [my wolf], for example is incredibly adept with a lead line. She fully understands the concept of the line and that it connects us in such a way that we must be on the same side of any tall obstacle. She might be sixteen feet in front of me and on the wrong side of a tree, yet she'll anticipate this issue, and alter course such that she moves to pass the tree on the side that matches mine.

If she becomes entangled while moving through brush, she also understands to retrace the path of the line to unwind it.

Physically, they're very similar, although domestic dogs can eat foods that contain many more carbohydrates as a result of their long-term association with people. Wolves are also only reproductively active once a year, whereas dogs can cycle multiple times. Pound for pound wolves are stronger, have better endurance, have a much greater bite force, and are faster than all but a very select few breeds of dog.

For those that are curious, in my life I've had many different breeds of domestic dogs including:

  • Malamutes
  • Shepherd-Collies
  • Border collies
  • Dachshunds
  • Pomeranians
  • Heinz-57 mutts
  • Varying wolfdog mixes
  • Selectively bred high-content wolf dogs
  • Wild-caught wolves (the one that ate me)
  • Offspring of same wild caught wolf
  • Offspring of lower-content wolfdogs

This question originally appeared on Quora. - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

More questions:​