Your Primitive Dog is Not a Wolf

Yes the title of the website hosting this blog is Couch Wolves, however this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, because while primitive dogs may have “primitive” characteristics, they are still bound by domestication.

Domestication isn’t something to flippantly ignore. Nature has done a fine job of helping animals adjust to coexist with people. Since the late Pleistocene and early Holocene humans have been experts in influencing generation after generation of animals. While history is fragmented, we have a growing pool of data that shows that early “dog” ancestors certainly existed and that there was no leap directly from wolves to domestic dogs. This common ancestor (or ancestors as the case is likely for multiple separate transitions towards domestic dog ancestors in multiple locations around the globe) developed over multiple generations and thousands of years to become the dogs we know today. Even the primitive ones.

Though it is common to hear primitive dog owners declare that their dog is the oldest breed in the world, that is a misnomer on many levels. Misrepresentation of genetics is usually to blame. Articles come out frequently labeling some primitive breed as having the most wolf DNA or similar to cave drawings or the remains to those of an ancient burial mound. However the pool of “breeds” being included is usually very small, only AKC recognised, or based purely on phenotypic date. Not to mention, there is a major skew on the numbers in the first place.

All dogs are 99.9% the same genetic makeup of a wolf. However that 0.1% of DNA that isn’t wolf, is important. That difference is the gap that allowed your dog to become your companion. Inside that tiny gap is the collection of genes that influence behaviors that keep your dog comfy on your couch instead of eating it. Here are some other numbers to consider…
Humans and dogs share 84% DNA. Humans and chimpanzees share 99% DNA. The domestic dog genome, as well as the human genome, have around 2.5 billion DNA base pairs. A dog’s DNA pairs that are unique from a wolf = 25 million! That’s not insignificant.

In addition, no wolf in captivity acts like a dog. It is easy to fantasize about having a deep emotional connection to a wolf. However actually spending time with one, you would observe that they maintain an emotional distance to humans that dogs do not. Connecting to a wolf the way we do with dogs is impossible. Sure we can teach a wolf behaviors the same way we would teach any other species, from doves to dolphins, but that doesn’t make them a dog.

Dogs are something far more important that we should not be dismissing.  Exchanging the dog to worship the wolf in their long extinct ancestry is to ignore the heart of the dog. Dogs are highly adaptable, intelligent, and resilient. They have been adaptable enough to allow humans to change them in size, shape, and even behavior to extreme degrees. Something we have not done to this scale with any other species since. 

So when a website calls a breed “the closest to a wolf”, you should be asking, by what scale was used to measure this, and frankly, how does that matter? Our dogs deserve our understanding about who we they are today. And if we want to preserve certain qualities via selective breeding, we need to honor and respect those qualities. 

This is why Couch Wolves exists. To educate the public, and foster respect for primitive dog characteristics that we have chosen to maintain in the lineages of our dogs, while dispelling deeply held mythologies that prevent humans from understanding and embracing their dogs true selves.

In closing this article, forget about “packs”, “alpha”, “hierarchy”, “dominant”, “wolf, wild, or ancestor” nutrition, or any of the other wolf labels we stick on our dogs. They didn’t earn that scarlet letter. They are dogs. Strong, resilient, adaptable, intelligent, and independent dogs, that we invited into our living rooms and on to our couches. Let’s introduce ourselves to them and leave the wolf outside in the forest where it belongs.