The Call of the Wild

While the American Kennel Club officially recognizes 140 various breeds, it is said that there are more than 400 different, identifiable breeds of dogs worldwide. And while you probably can't tell by looking at them, scientists now agree that the lineage of each of those 400 breeds of dogs can be traced back to the wolf. After reviewing years of scientific data, The American Society of Mammalogists announced in 1993 that genetically, the wolf and the dog both belong to the same family, "Canis Lupis." This announcement dispelled prior theories that suggested dogs might have descended from other animals like coyotes or jackals. What accounts for the vast differences in appearance and temperament between the wolf and any one of the 400 breeds, and quite possibly the confusion in heritage, are thousands of years of evolution and breeding.

The link between wolves and dogs lies in the structure of their DNA. DNA is basically the genetic code that identifies and defines what each living thing will be. Evolution is traced by studying strands of DNA for similarities and distinct differences. The greater the differences, the less likely two species of animals or plants are to be related. Research shows us that there is a mere 1 to 2 percent difference between the DNA code of the wolf and any one of a number of dog breeds.

To make that meaningful, scientists found that there is a 7.5 percent difference between the DNA codes of wolves and coyotes. That span of difference is enough to conclude that it is unlikely that dogs evolved from coyotes and more firmly strengthens their link to the wolf. Scientists do not necessarily agree on when it began, but archeological records indicate that between 14,000 and 100,000 years ago, early humans began the work of domesticating wild wolves for companionship and work purposes.

As time passed, and the environmental needs of the animal changed, evolution and breeding eventually lead to the dramatically different look of today's modern dog. These differences generally include smaller heads and teeth, more rounded and more forward looking eyes and a more curved lower jaw. Many dog owners are not necessarily happy about the genetic link to the wolf if for no other reason than the wolf has been historically seen as an aggressive and dangerous animal. It is hard to look down at Spot as he rests in his place in the sun and wonder if beneath his shimmering coat there lies the fierce traits of a wolf. Again, scientists and history have tried to resolve these fears. According to an article published in AnimalNews, wolves are social animals who live in packs and who are, for the most part, afraid of people and try to avoid them.

Amazingly enough, to this day, while over a million dog attacks are reported each year, there has never been a documented case of a deliberate attack on a person by a healthy wolf in North America. Identifying and solidifying this link between wolves and dogs benefits the general public as well. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)tests and approves rabies vaccines according to species. By reaffirming the genetic link between wolves and dogs and finding them to be of the same species, the path is clear for administering rabies vaccines to these animals, which include over 2.5 million wolf-dogs and wolves which are in constant contact with people all across the country. Groups like the Timber Wolf Alliance and the U.

S. Fish and Wildlife Service, support wolf recovery programs through education and captive breeding initiatives. They promote the benefits of having wolves in our world and consider them a valued part of what works to maintain the balance in our ecosystem.

Gene Sower is publisher of the DOG BYTES newsletter and owner of


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