Your pet dog may not show a strong physical resemblance to its wild relative, the wolf, but they have a lot in common -- from DNA to pregnancy and birth, social needs and ways of communicating.
Wolves and dogs belong to the same genus (Canis), although they are different species (Canis lupus for the wolf and Canis domesticus for the dog). DNA evidence has shown that domestic dogs trace their ancestry to wolves, although some breeds are many more generations removed than others. When dogs and wolves mate, their offspring, called wolfdogs, also can reproduce -- another indication of how closely related these animals are. Because wolves remain undomesticated, however, dogs with wolf in their immediate ancestry have special requirements and needs that you should be aware of before adopting one. For example, they’re often more difficult to train, and they require a higher-protein diet than most dog foods provide.
Pregnancy, Birth and Pups
Pregnancy in wolves and dogs lasts around 63 days, or nine weeks. (If your dog’s pregnancy extends past 65 days, take her to the vet.) Wolves give birth in dens, and you should create a similar birthing environment for your pregnant dog. A small box with a soft blanket or a layer of newspapers provides a secure space for the mother and pups. Wolves and dogs are born with their eyes shut; the eyes open 10 days to two weeks later. Weaning occurs between six and eight weeks. Wolf pups venture out of the den when they’re around eight weeks old, which is the same age at which dog pups can be removed safely from their mother.
Wolves and dogs need social interactions to thrive. Wolves live in packs, working together to hunt, establish territory and raise their pups. Dogs usually meet their social needs with you, their human family, and with other animals in your home. While dogs are known for their loyalty, wolfdogs often form even stronger bonds with their humans. Welcoming either animal into your home means a lifetime commitment to meeting your pet's social as well as physical needs.
While wolves howl more frequently than they bark, both animals use vocal communication to express needs, convey warnings, invite another animal or human to play, and talk to fellow pack members. Dog breeds with close ties to their wolf ancestors, such as huskies and malamutes, also use howling as a means of communication. Wolves and dogs also share body language; they perform play bows when they want to have fun, chase each other and wag their tails. They also use the same postures to show dominance, aggression and submission. Getting to know your dog's vocal and physical signals can help you develop a stronger relationship.
- Wolf image by Petra KohlstÃ¤dt from Fotolia.com