Dog Ancestry: How Wolf-Like is Your Dog?

Dog Ancestry

Dog AncestryIn 2014, Huffington Post released an article covering research on dog ancestry, specifically, our dogs and their wolf ancestry.

The basic points of the article are as follows:

  • Dogs were domesticated very closely to the time when we developed agriculture.
  • fossil evidence of canine domestication goes back as far as 33,000 years.
  • We know that dogs have lived as human companions for at least 10,000 years.
  • The closest wolf ancestors of dogs are now extinct.
  • Modern wolves and dogs do not share the same lineage.

Why am I telling you this? Because so many of us spout that line – “dog’s are closely related to wolves, you know…”

But They’re Not…Not in the Way We Tend to Think, Anyway

The truth is that the lineage of wolves and dogs is thought to have split somewhere between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago with the estimate falling closer to 11,000 to 16,000 years.

Where does that fall on the grand timeline of things? It’s right about the introduction of agriculture (12,000 years ago) and the end of the ice age (11,700 years ago).

The dogs we know today descended from a wolf species that has long been extinct. Dog breeds today are more closely related to each other than any wolf we know of. That doesn’t mean, however, that wolves and dogs today don’t share similar instinctive behaviors.

Dog Ancestry: Why Do Dogs and Wolves Share Similar Instinctive Behaviors?

If modern-day dogs and wolves aren’t as closely related as we thought, why do they share similar behaviors?

Dogs and wolves both belong to the Canis genus and have roots that reach back to more primitive species or as thought in this case, a group of species. (If you want to learn more about the genome sequence of the dog check out this article.)

Like other genera, the species in the Canis genus share many common characteristics. These are the “instinctive” behaviors that you often hear about, the ones attributed to “wolves”.

Examples of these behaviors:

  • Scent rolling
  • Denning
  • Spinning before lying down
  • Face licking
  • Burying “prized” items
  • Curling into a ball
  • Hiding pain

The one things these behaviors have in common is that they are all related to survival – keeping safe, maintaining warmth, hiding from predators, and ensuring food. Behaviors adapted based on the lifestyle of the typical Canis genera.


The next time that you’re tempted to mention dog ancestry and how wolf-like dogs really are, you’ll have a little more information under your belt.

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