Dog Myths—Debunked!

Should you yelp when your puppy nips you? What does it mean when your dog sits on your foot? If you give your dog table scraps, are you teaching him to beg? And are dogs really wolves? The Dog Trainer debunks 4 popular myths.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #157

4. Dogs Are Wolves

One traditional definition of a species is “a group of organisms whose members can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.” By that definition, dogs and wolves are indeed the same species. Wolves are Canis lupus; depending on which taxonomist is talking, dogs are either Canis familiaris or Canis lupus familiaris, that is, a subspecies of the wolf. (For more about interspecies breeding, check out my colleague Everyday Einstein.

But there’s more to “species” than who can breed with whom. Dogs and wolves differ anatomically and behaviorally in many ways. A dog weighing the same as an adult wolf (about 100 pounds) will have a brain 20 percent smaller. Dogs’ teeth are smaller and less robust than those of wolves, even allowing for size differences. Wolves get most of their food by hunting; free-living dogs get most of their food by scavenging. Wolves go into estrus once a year; dogs generally go into heat twice a year. Breeding wolves usually form monogamous long-term pair bonds; the breeding behavior of dogs would make Rick Santorum’s hair stand on end. (Just for starters, a litter may have more than one puppy daddy.) Wolf pups and dog pups have different rates of behavioral development. And on, and on, and on.

The message for you? Wolf behavior is fascinating. If you’re interested in learning about it, knock yourself out. Sometimes your dog’s wolf ancestry will be apparent – in body language and communication, for example. (Even then: Adult wolves don’t bark …) Remember, though: Close relatives are just that – relatives. They’re not identical twins. Your best guide for assessing your dog’s behavior is solid, scientifically grounded information about, yes, dogs.

That’s all for this week. For lots more doggy advice, check out my book, The Dog Trainer’s Complete Guide to a Happy, Well-Behaved Pet.You can follow me on Twitter, where I’m Dogalini. I’m The Dog Trainer on Facebook, and you can also write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and though I can’t reply individually, I may use them as the basis for future articles. Thanks for reading!

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About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).