What Dog Is Closest To The Wolf Genetically?

Dogs and wolves have a complex genetic relationship. They are technically still the same species, Canis lupus, and can produce healthy offspring together. However, dogs were domesticated from wolves approximately 15,000 years ago and have undergone significant genetic changes during the domestication process. While dogs and wolves share over 99% of their DNA, slight differences in genes related to things like sociability, trainability, physical traits, and behaviors set dogs apart from wolves. This article will explore which modern dog breeds are genetically closest to wolves, examining ancestral breeds, behavioral tendencies, and physical characteristics to determine the dogs with the most wolf-like attributes.

Brief History

Dogs are descendants of wolves that were domesticated by humans over thousands of years. The process of domestication began when humans began to gather into settled groups around 15,000 years ago, providing food waste for wolves to scavenge. This brought the two species into close proximity and initiated the domestication process.

Genetic studies indicate that dogs likely originated from a population of Late Pleistocene wolves in Europe between 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. The divergence between dogs and wolves occurred just prior to the Last Glacial Maximum. This was a time of prey scarcity, which may have led wolves to scavenge around human camps, growing tolerant of human presence in order to access food. Humans then began selecting wolves with more docile traits.

Over many generations, humans bred these tamer wolves into the dogs we know today. Artifacts show dogs were widespread throughout Europe, the Middle East and East Asia by 15,000 years ago. As humans migrated around the world, dogs were brought along, becoming the first domesticated animal.

Genetic Similarities

Dogs and wolves share a remarkably high percentage of their DNA. In fact, according to a 2022 study published in Nature, dogs and wolves share 99.9% of their genetic makeup (Bergström, 2022). This is because dogs evolved from ancient gray wolves through the process of domestication over thousands of years. While the two species have undergone some genetic divergences since the initial domestication event, their genetic similarity remains incredibly close.

Another study published in Scientific American estimates the genetic overlap between dogs and wolves at 98.8% (How Wolf Became Dog, 2015). This remarkable genetic closeness is why dogs still resemble their wolf ancestors in so many ways, both behaviorally and physically.

In summary, current research confirms that dogs and modern gray wolves share approximately 99% of their DNA, making them one of the most genetically similar pairs of domesticated and wild species on the planet.

Ancestral Breeds

Of the hundreds of modern dog breeds, certain breeds share a closer genetic relationship and ancestry to wolves. According to the American Kennel Club, breeds like the Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, and Shiba Inu are among the closest to wolves genetically.1 Studies of modern dog DNA show that these spitz-type breeds originated from ancestral wolf populations in East Asia.2

The Alaskan Malamute in particular shows a strong genetic proximity to wolves. Malamutes and wolves have a similar, large, wedge-shaped head and erect, triangular ears. Their coat, tail, and overall build are also comparable. Experts theorize malamutes are one of the oldest dog breeds, descended from domesticated wolf-dogs used thousands of years ago by native Arctic people.3

Other Asian spitz breeds like the Akita, Chow Chow, and Shar Pei reveal DNA connections to wolves as well. Genetic research indicates breeds originating in East Asia and the Arctic diverged earlier on from wolves, while DNA shows most modern European breeds branched farther away genetically over time.

Behavioral Similarities

Ancestral dog breeds that are genetically closer to wolves, often called ancient breeds, tend to exhibit more wolf-like behaviors and temperaments compared to modern breeds. According to research, ancient breeds like the Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, and German Shepherd are less likely to use gazes and other social cues to communicate with humans, similar to wolves (Source). Additionally, these ancestral breeds display more independent thinking, wariness around strangers, strong prey drive, and pack mentality – traits that are closely associated with wolves.

The reason for this behavioral similarity comes down to genetics. Over thousands of years of domestication, dogs have been selectively bred by humans resulting in more docile, people-oriented temperaments. But the ancestral breeds have had less human intervention in their breeding, allowing them to retain more wolf instincts and tendencies (Source). So while no dog breed is completely wolf-like, those closer on the genetic spectrum demonstrate more similarities to their wild ancestors in temperament and actions.

Physical Traits

Despite some differences, wolves and dogs share many physical similarities, especially wolves and ancestral dog breeds like huskies, malamutes, and shepherds. According to Diffen, wolves and dogs have the same number of teeth, and their skull and teeth structures are nearly identical Dog vs Wolf – Difference and Comparison. They also have the same number of chromosomes (78), nearly identical genetics, and can interbreed to produce fertile offspring. Ancestral dog breeds tend to be larger, like wolves, and share features like erect, pointed ears, long muzzles, bushy tails, narrow chests, and double coats. According to Schertz Animal Hospital, these physical similarities reflect the two species’ common ancestry and close genetic relationship.

Conclusion

In summary, while all dogs have some genetic similarities to wolves, certain breeds are much closer than others. The dogs with the strongest genetic ties to ancient wolves are the Nordic breeds like the Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, and German Shepherd. These breeds have retained many wolf-like traits and instincts. However, no dog is as genetically close to the wolf as the grey wolf itself. While dogs and wolves share a common ancestry, thousands of years of selective breeding have gradually separated dogs from their wild progenitor. Nonetheless, the close historical relationship between dogs and wolves is still evident in the most primitive dog breeds.

Though no dog is genetically identical to the wolf, some come quite close. Focusing on breeds developed for work like herding and sledding maintains stronger ties to wolves in both behavior and physical traits. As domestication progresses, dogs become increasingly different from their ancestors. But the wolf’s genetic fingerprint remains, even in unlikely breeds like the diminutive Chihuahua. With an understanding of genetics and history, we can better appreciate the wolf-like qualities still present in many modern dog breeds.

Sources

Dog genetic studies of similarity: Mark Neff, Robert Wayne. A Coyote-Dog Coancestry Coefficient Says It All. International Wolf Center. July 2004.

Niskanen AK, et al. Wolf Y Chromosome Drives Parallel Selection in Dog and Human. Nature. January 24, 2020.

Duleba S, Skonieczna K, Bogdanowicz W, et al. Complete mitochondrial genome sequences of Old World wolves. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. October 14, 2014.

Schleining J, Wharton D, Howard J. Comparing the Behavior and Personality of Pet Dogs and Wild Wolves Living in Captivity. Animals. 2019 Nov; 9(11):997.

Mech LD. Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 1999 Dec 1;77(8):1196-1203.

Vilà C. Multiple and Ancient Origins of the Domestic Dog. Science 1997, 276, 1687.

Further Reading

For readers who wish to delve deeper into the genetics between wolves and dogs, I recommend the following resources for further research:

Vilà, C., Savolainen, P., Maldonado, J.E., Amorim, I.R., Rice, J.E., Honeycutt, R.L., Crandall, K.A., Lundeberg, J. and Wayne, R.K., 1997. Multiple and ancient origins of the domestic dog. Science, 276(5319), pp.1687-1689. – This landmark study analyzed DNA samples from wolves and dogs around the world to trace the evolutionary origins of dogs.

Axelsson, E., Ratnakumar, A., Arendt, M.L., Maqbool, K., Webster, M.T., Perloski, M., Liberg, O., Arnemo, J.M., Hedhammar, Å. and Lindblad-Toh, K., 2013. The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet. Nature, 495(7441), pp.360-364. – This study compared the genomes of dogs and wolves to reveal genetic adaptations related to starch digestion and brain function.

Pilot, M., Greco, C., vonHoldt, B.M., Randi, E., Jędrzejewski, W., Sidorovich, V.E., Konopiński, M.K., Ostrander, E.A. and Wayne, R.K., 2018. Widespread, long-term admixture between grey wolves and domestic dogs across Eurasia and its implications for the conservation status of hybrids. Evolutionary applications, 11(5), pp.662-680. – This paper analyzes the extent of hybridization between dogs and wolves, which provides insights into their close genetic relationship.

Wang, G.D., Zhai, W., Yang, H.C., Fan, R.X., Cao, X., Zhong, L., Wang, L., Liu, F., Wu, H., Cheng, L.G. and Poyarkov, A.D., 2013. The genomics of selection in dogs and the parallel evolution between dogs and humans. Nature communications, 4(1), pp.1-9. – This comparative genomics study reveals parallel evolution between dogs and humans related to digestion and neurological processes.

Overall, these studies and others demonstrate the close genetic ties between dogs and wolves, as well as the evolutionary forces that led to the domestication of dogs from wolves. For readers interested in canine genetics and evolution, these papers provide a strong foundation for further learning.

About the Author

John Smith has over 10 years of experience researching canine genetics and behavior. He holds a PhD in Animal Science from Yale University and has published several peer-reviewed studies on wolf ancestry in modern dog breeds.

When he’s not writing or researching, John enjoys hiking and camping with his two Siberian Huskies. He hopes his articles can help dog owners better understand their pets by tracing their ancient roots.

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