Are Huskies Related to Wolves? (It’s Complicated)

Huskies have fluffy tails, pointy ears, wedge-shaped heads, and thick, double coats. So do wolves. Either animal could star as the big, bad wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. In fact, the two animals look so much alike that Huskies are often used as stand-ins on film sets for their more wild counterparts. With all the similarities, one can’t help but wonder, “Are Huskies related to wolves?”

Huskies and wolves share most of their DNA and can successfully breed together, but they are not actually family.

In this article, we’ll discuss how dogs and wolves are related, and how Siberian Huskies are specifically related to wolves. We’ll dive into the most recent research on the topic of the domestication of dogs. Plus, we’ll explore how two almost identical species can be so alike and so different all at the same time.

Why You Should Trust Me

I have over 10 years of experience researching and writing articles on animals and pets. For this article I scoured journals on genetic research, and read about wolves living in the wild and in captivity. I also found out what animal behavior specialists have to say on the subject. Plus, I own a Husky and live in Montana, which has given me personal experience with Husky demeanor and wild wolves roaming their natural habitat.

bogey the husky dog
My Husky called Bogie

Are Huskies Related to Wolves? The Murky Genetic History of Dogs and Wolves

Huskies are, in fact, a particular breed of dogs. So, to answer the question, “Are Huskies related to wolves?” one must first ask whether or not dogs are related to wolves. Genetically speaking, the answer to this question is, emphatically, yes. The explanation of exactly how dogs and wolves are related is more complicated.

The same genes

Based on DNA, researchers have found that dogs and gray wolves actually share similar genetic blueprints.

Gray wolves and dogs share so many genes that they can even successfully interbreed.

The ability to interbreed successfully means dogs and gray wolves could be considered the same animal species. However, there are notable differences in their appearance and behavior that suggest otherwise. This leads most biologists to think of dogs and wolves as separate species.

Although they share most of their DNA, however you look at it, every breed of dog shares more DNA with other dogs than they do with other wolves and vice versa.

If dogs and wolves are different species, then how are they related?

Separate species

For a while, the popular belief was that dogs evolved from gray wolves (the same species we hear howling in the woods today).

More recent genetic evidence, however, seems to tell a different story.
Recent sequencing of ancient wolf genes indicates that dogs and gray wolves might have evolved separately. With both species descending independently from a much-older, now-extinct common ancestor.

However, the two managed to evolve: there’s no question about their genetic similarities.

Why Do Huskies Look Like Wolves?

Of all dogs, it can easily be argued that Siberian Huskies share the most visible similarities to their gray wolf relatives.

The similarities

They have similarly shaped heads and features, thick double coats to keep them warm, and pointy, upright ears. They look so similar that Huskies are often used to portray wolves in movies and television shows.

The differences

Huskies look like wolves, but there are many ways to tell the two apart.
Notable differences between Huskies and wolves include their tails, eyes, and color patterns.

  • Huskies have fluffy, curled tails, and wolves have fluffy, straight tails.
  • Huskies eyes can be brown, blue, or a combination of both, but a gray wolf’s eyes are usually either a yellowish-amber or brown in color.
  • With their distinct patches of white, black, and brown, Huskies have more obvious color patterns than the general gray and brown blend of wolves.

A quick wolf vs. Husky size comparison reveals significant differences.

Wolves are much taller and heavier than their medium-sized dog counterparts.

Like Huskies, all dog breeds are related to gray wolves. Even teacup Poodles, sleek Malteses, and spritely Papillons share genetic material with wolves.

So, why do Huskies look more like wolves than all the other dog breeds?

Are Huskies More Closely Related to Wolves Than Other Dog Breeds?

Before genetic evidence suggested that dogs evolved from gray wolves, rather than a common ancestor, it would have been assumed that all dogs shared the same gray wolf ancestry. However, new evidence points to both gray wolves and dogs having evolved from a single common ancestor, an ancient species of wolf.

As a result, it seems that certain dog breeds do actually possess older genes, giving them more in common with the ancient ancestor. Siberian Huskies are among the modern dog breeds carrying more ancient genetic codes in their DNA than other dog breeds. Also included in this possible list of old breeds are:

With more genetic similarities to modern dogs and wolves’ common ancestor, the Siberian Husky would theoretically be more like this ancestor than other dogs are. This might explain the Husky’s wolf-life looks, but what about the Husky’s behavior?

Do Huskies Act Like Wolves?

Both Huskies and gray wolves are pack animals that enjoy a good howl.

They also have strong prey drives, meaning they love to chase small animals.

The similarities between their behaviors, however, pretty much end there.

Although Huskies don’t look much like sausage dogs or pugs, they share more traits with these other dog breeds than with gray wolves.

Huskies are domesticated animals, and wolves are wild animals.

Despite their similar looks, they have very different temperaments.

Wolf behavior

Wolves are pure carnivores. They do not possess the gene that enables their bodies to metabolize the starches found in plant-based foods.

They are highly intelligent animals. Also they have the ingenuity and necessary level of aggression to hunt down prey, feed themselves, and survive in the wild.

Despite their high level of intelligence, wolves are incredibly difficult to train. While they can be taught some tricks, they’re not nearly as responsive as dogs, nor are they as willing to please as their domestic counterparts.

Rather than coming when called, wolves tend to shy away from humans. Apart from visiting an occasional farm looking for prey, they prefer to inhabit and hunt in remote territory, where humans aren’t likely to be.

They also do not rely on or interact with people in the same way dogs do. Even wolves raised in captivity generally don’t bond with people or look to humans for help. Though they might become familiar with the people who worked with them and grow comfortable with their more domestic surroundings. They do not, however, learn to generalize these relationships. Conversely, they continue to mistrust the new people and the unfamiliar things they encounter.

Husky behavior

Huskies, on the other hand, thrive in the company of people.

They make eye contact with people, bond with their human families, enjoy playing, and seek affection from their families.

Huskies can generalize these relationships with humans, other pets, and their domestic surroundings to unfamiliar situations. In other words, once a Husky puppy learns to trust people and pets, they’ll understand that they can trust other people and pets, too.

Huskies are less intelligent than wolves. While most Huskies have a stubborn streak, they can still be trained with relative ease, unlike wolves. With a moderate level of smarts, Huskies cannot survive as well on their own in the wild. Instead, they look to their humans for help. They count on people to provide food, protection, and shelter.

Like other dogs (but unlike wolves), Huskies are omnivores. They have genes that enable them to metabolize plant-based foods, allowing them to thrive on a diet that combines proteins, carbohydrates, and starches.

Huskies enjoy rough playtime, but they aren’t nearly as aggressive as wolves. In fact, they don’t even make good guard dogs. Although they love their humans, Huskies won’t take bold risks to protect them.

They Might Be Related, But Huskies and Wolves Are Very Different

Like all other dogs, Huskies are related to wolves. However, these unique personality traits separate Huskies (and other dog breeds) from their wild relatives. Their extreme temperament differences compel most biologists to think of dogs and wolves as entirely separate species, despite their genetic similarities.

So, the next time you spot a growling Husky posing as a fearsome wolf in a movie, you’ll recognize the differences and relax, knowing that the animal you’re watching on television isn’t nearly as big or scary as he seems.

Other Articles You May Be Interested In

Huskies are a great outdoor dog breed. That’s why we’ve written a lot of articles about them here at Outdoor Dog Fun.

Jennifer

Jennifer's best four-footed friend is a husky mix called Humphrey Bogart who goes by "Bogie" for short. They first met at a local animal shelter, where Bogie, then Kevin, had been turned in with an injured paw. He and Jennifer hit it off right away, and newly-minted Bogie went home the same day. In spite of his one floppy paw, Bogie's a speedy runner who loves to be off his leash, when his owner lets him. He's full of energy and enjoys playing fetch when he isn't busy chasing the rabbits that frequent his backyard. On hot summer days, he swims in the river, but winter is his favorite season. Every time the snow falls, Bogie sprints out of the house and dives in.

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