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Evolution of grey wolf to modern dogs

Updated on October 16, 2015

The domestic dog was considered to be a species of animal in itself but strong evidence from various disciplines led to believing the gray wolf is the ancestor of all present day dog breeds. As a result the domestic dog has been reclassified in 1993 as Canes Lupus Familiarus, or a subspecies of gray wolf, Canis Lupus by the Smithsonian Institution and The American Society of Mammalogists, according to Wikipedia’s article on the dog. The gray wolf includes the timber wolf, arctic wolf, buffalo wolf, and the Mackenzie wolf. The domestic dog is “…the most widely kept working, hunting, and companion animal in history,” Wikipedia states. Possibly dogs were the first domesticated animals and I think the easiest way to follow the evolution is by a timeline.

  • · Sixty million years ago Paleocene wolf ancestors were developing.
  • · Twenty million years ago Miocene canines and felines developed as a separate species.
  • · Tomaretus, wolf ancestor, fifth toe became vestigial and became dew claw on modern dogs and wolves. Possibly in the early Pleistocene, three million years ago: first gray wolf, canis lupus,
  • · Eurasia early 750,000 years ago canines migrated to North America
  • · Dire wolf, canis dirus, bigger and heavier than gray wolf. Evolved sooner and they co-existed in North America for about 400,000 years.
  • · Dire wolf became extinct 7,000 years ago and gray wolf survived as canine predator in North America.(information from “The wolf Almanac” by Robert H. Busch)

Wikipedia estimates that present day domesticated dogs split from the gray wolf about 15,000 years ago. Yet, remains of domesticated dogs have been found in Siberia and Belgium dating to33,000 years ago. None of these lineages, however, seem to have survived the last Glacial Maximum, according to Wikipedia,

Mexican  grey wolf
Mexican grey wolf | Source

DNA tests now indicate that dogs and wolves may have split about 100,000 years ago. Prior to 33,000 years ago no specimens of domesticated dogs seem to exist and most of today’s dog breeds are less than a few hundred year old. Dogs have been used for hunting, herding, pulling loads, protection, police and military work, companions and in various roles, assisting humans who are handicapped. They have been selectively bred for these various purposes and have led to a variety of breeds with different sizes, temperaments and abilities. No other species reflects the variety that dogs do.

We now understand that “domestic dogs inherited complex behaviors from their wolf ancestors,” states Wikipedia. These ancestors were pack hunters and had complex body language. The “forms of social cognition and communication” could be why the dog is trainable, playful and able to fit into human social situations, Wikipedia explains. Experts generally agree that that interaction with humans helped shape the domestication of the dog. It probably occurred in separate areas such as Siberia and Europe. Our current lineage of dogs was probably domesticated between 15,000 and 8500 years ago. Dogs spread around the world after that.

It seems to be generally believed about 15,000 years ago, it would be about the time of “a large expansion of human territory,” and the development of agriculture, according to Wikipedia. Some biologists think that this would be an influence on domestication of dogs because established human settlements would have meant “a shift in human lifestyle,” according to Wikipedia. That would have meant more food and a barrier between wild canines and domestic dogs.

Which are oldest breeds?

“Data suggest dogs first diverged from wolves in East Asia…oldest groups of dogs…most similar to their wolf ancestors, are primarily Asian and African breeds,…basenji, Lhasa Apso, and Siberian Husky.” Wikipedia states. On the other hand some breeds once “thought to be very old, such as the Pharaoh Hound, Ibian Hound, and Norwegian elkhound,” are more recent.

Although the greywolf and domestic dog are still related enough that they can interbreed, the evolution of the domestic dog, with the help of selective breeding has diverged into several basic dog groups.

· Sight hounds: or gazehounds seek game by focusing on the horizon hunting by sight. Their characteristics are good vision, a long jaw and long neck to assist in sighting game. A lean and muscular body, deep chest and strong legs help in following fast and agile game.

· Scent Hounds: Rather than being fast and agile, the scent hound needs endurance. They can follow a scent for long distances over various terrain, even water. They have large noses, with deep. Their lips are loose and moist. Their ears are long and helps concentrate the scent on the nose.

· Working group: These are dogs that do herding, droving, pulling, hauling, hunting, rescuing and guarding.

· Sporting dogs: Include Retrievers, Pointers, and setters

· Terrier Breeds: Originally used to hunt and kill rats, mice and other animals that may raid a farmers livestock and produce

· Non-sporting Breeds: These are breeds that were developed originally for things like bull baiting when that was considered entertainment.

· Toy dog breeds

Note: Information on dog groups cited above is from the Dog names and breeds article on History and evolution of dogs website.

List of ancient dogs

The following list can be found in Wikipedia, dog, and other sources.

1. Afghan Hound

2. Akita Inu

3. Basengi

4. Chow Chow

5. Lhasa Apso

6. Malamute

7. Pekinese

8. Siberian Husky

9. Shar Pei

10. Shiba Inu

11. Saluki

12. Samoyed

13. Shih Tzu

14. Tibeta Terrier


It wasn’t until the use of DNA evidence that scientist were able to trace the relationship of the domestic dog to the greywolf and to better understand the evolution of the dog. Some dogs which were once thought to be very old breed turn out to be more recent and other dogs are discovered to be older breeds. The modern dog is very much a product of selective breeding over time for particular reasons and the various groups of dog classification reflect that.


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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for reading the article on the evolution of Dogs. I am glad you found it interessting.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      The evolution of dogs has always captured my interest. I guess DNA proves a lot. This is an interesting and well written article.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for reading and commenting Chris. I think I have wondered about the evolution of dogs since I was a kid. This information was not available back then, though.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      This is a very educational article that is easy to read and enjoy. It answered some questions I've had about the history of dogs.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      midget, thanks for reading and commenting.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, wolves are in the same genus as all domestic dogs. The yowling they do is a sure sign of that! Thanks for sharing this, Don!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for reading and voting. Since I was young I wondered about the relationship of dogs to wolves. It seems that just as we think we know something, it is changed by new science. DNA has changed a lot of thinking on the subject but it is still in the beginning stages.

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 

      5 years ago from Central Virginia

      What a wonderful hub for all of us who love dog's and have an affinity for the wolf too. I have always felt that the wolf was one of the "near perfect" creatures for their loyalty to their mate and the pack. I am equally amused by man's desire to breed bigger and better or smaller and smarter, even hypoallergenic hybrids. I've had some wonderful companions through the years as a result and, I've had some experiences that I could have done without regarding certain breeds.

      This hub was well researched and very informative. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks! Voted up.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Dolores, thanks for visiting and commenting. Certainly some old concepts have been upset. I like you creation story. It has the ring of truth. The action scenes in Terhune' s dog stories are still the best, I think.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      5 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Isn't that interesting, how DNA is telling us so much about the past, and how dogs evolved! I once read an old creation story in which the Creator set people and animals on the Earth where a great rift grew between them. As the rift widened, at the last possible moment, the dog jumped the chasm to join the humans.

      (And I remember Albert Payson Terhune's books, read them when I was a kid and loved them to death. When Lad died, I cried my eyes out)

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      B.Leekley, thanks for commenting,voting and sharing. I don't know a lot about biology, but one could probably,in theory, create a wolf. I am not sure what purpose it would serve, but selective breeding of dogs with wolf traits would probably result in a wolf.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared.

      I wonder if it would be possible to reverse breed dogs to create a wolf?

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Vern, I appreciate your reading and commenting.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Dexter. Thanks for reading and commenting on my hub. Glad you liked it.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      drjb, thanks for the comment. For a long time there has been speculation about the relationship of wolves to dogs. For others the dogs have qualities they like and are not concerned about ancestory.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      QudisaP1, Thank you for reading and commenting..

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      DoItForHer, Off hand I think the coyote and fox is a wild dog and also comes from the wolf. As far as independence is concerned, many dogs such as the Siberian Husky is very closely related to the wolf are also pretty independent. There is still a lot to speculate about. DNA research is still in somewhat early stages since a fairly small sampling has been done as far as I know. Thanks for your comments.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Interesting summary, Don. Thanks!


    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 

      5 years ago from United States

      Hi Dahoglund! Your hub is certainly informative as are the comments and responses. Voted up! Great learning here.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      5 years ago from south Florida

      I am a dog lover, Don, and your fascinating hub provided much information that was new to me. Whether dogs evolved from wolves or were a separate species is not significant to me. What is important is that they make such wonderful, loyal, intelligent pets.

    • QudsiaP1 profile image


      5 years ago

      How very interesting, as a child I was always fascinated by wolves. Thank you for sharing. :)

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      For years I figured that some breeds probably came from coyotes. Why not? If one wanted a more independent breed, this would be a good pick. There's lots of Coy dogs, too. In some areas coyotes are breeding with wolves. In Russia the domestication of foxes has been quite a success, which reinforced my hypothesis.

      Turns out DNA disproves that. That surprised me. Perhaps the strong hierarchical nature of wolves really lends itself to domestication.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks Sis. It seems that dogs through the ages have been bred to adapt to human lifestyles, with a trade off between humans and the dogs. Dogs are useful to us and we give them some security in providing food on a regular basis, among other survival advantages. I appreciate your comment.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 

      5 years ago from Central Texas

      Great Hub -- I have a big, black, cur dog (1/2 Lab) and my significant other has 3 wolves (Golden Canadians). All four animals play together and interact BUT there's still a huge difference -- and it's very apparent -- between the physical and mental attributes of my dog and the three wolves. The wolves accept him and they all get along (for the most part) but the difference between plain old dog and purebred wolf is there and very obvious. Your Hub was very informative and interesting. Thanks for a good read. Best/Sis

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting nicomp. I am not sure I understand your question. I never knew that evolution necessarily led to improvement, but it is a long time since I was in college. When I was, evolution was presented as change and maybe adaptation. Maybe technically the changes are not evolution since they are due to the hand of humans. However, the dogs have adapted to living with humans throughout changes in living for humans. By adapting to the human lifestyle they have more certain availability of food etc.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      5 years ago from Ohio, USA

      The changes from a wolf to a dog seem to be a loss of information rather than incremental improvements. Certainly a wolf species has more survivability in the long run than a dog species. What is the evolutionary advantage?

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting Larry.

      there have been a lot of speculation about what breed was closest to the wolf. Albert Payson Terhune who wrote stories about collie,often his own champion dog, claimed the collie was closest to the wolf. It doesn't seem like any of the herding dogs are that old. It appears to me that the breeds developed in the order of their usefulness to humans. Hunters before herders.

      We have had dogs from shelters, currently a Siberian Husky. We can only handle one at a time.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 

      5 years ago

      As the owner of three beagles (scent hounds) I found your Hub very interesting and informative. I always assume the wolf was related to the Alaskan Huskey and the German Sheppard, but did not realize that it was the ancestor of all the dog breeds. I am very glad the domesticated dog did develop. Two of my beagles were rescue beagles, because one had been left abandoned in the woods, and the other was apparently a pet who escaped an abusive situation. The third was a puppy we purchased at a flea market--where else would you buy a dog. I am not a hunter, but as I write this, I have the oldest of the three at my feet because she is afraid of rain and thunder. The shelter estimated she was on the streets for several months because she moved to fast to be caught by the animal control people. She is one of my best friends.

      Voted up and interesting.


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