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What’s the difference between a wolf and a dog? Terminology, it seems…

“Try and look as much like a lost dog as possible… That’s the Humane Society over there… “

An anthropologist suggests a new way of looking at the topic:

When distinguishing between a wolf and a dog, we face the classic challenge of being able to sort out differences on a meaningful level. Indeed, one cannot do this without engaging the issue of meaning. Do we have here essentially ‘the same animal’ or two quite clearly different species and beings, as different as humans and Neanderthals, for example (or even more so)? One of the challenges in these questions is that they do not have straightforward scientific or biological answers – we need other toolkits in our conceptual frameworks. One such conceptual framework comes from biosemiotics, an interdisciplinary approach that recognises the fundamental importance of molecules and other biological markers in shaping our existence but also readily acknowledges that there is no hard and fast line between biology and philosophy, or biology and culture.

As a whole, biosemioticians aim to make sense of the signs present in ecology, and track the ways in which such signs both mediate and are mediated by relationships that exist across different organisms. … Katja Pettinen, “Will We Ever Know the Difference Between a Wolf and a Dog?” at RealClearScience

An interesting approach.

Perhaps most groups of canines have never been very separate for any length of time and that fact may have served them well.


Modern dog breeds were created in Victorian Britain. The evolution of the domestic dog goes back tens of thousands of years – however, the multiple forms we see today are just 150 years old. Before the Victorian era, there were different types of dog, but there were not that many, and they were largely defined by their function. They were like the colours of a rainbow: variations within each type, shading into each other at the margins. And many terms were used for the different dogs: breed, kind, race, sort, strain, type and variety. Michael Worboys, “How Humans Created the Modern Concept of Dog Breeds” at RealClearScience

The whole basis of the diversity, of course, is that humans controlled dogs’ breeding while feeding and protecting them. Otherwise, they’d all be wolfhounds in a few generations. Worboys offers some information about the recreation of the giant Irish wolfhound.

See also: A physicist looks at biology’s problem of “speciation” in humans

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Brother Brian:
It’s almost like we are seeing speciation in action.
It’s almost like we are seeing variation within a Kind, in action. ET
Domestic dogs can interbreed with wolves, coyotes, dingoes, and 3 species of jackals. Surprisingly the jackals can't interbreed. OTOH African elephants were recently declared to be two different species even though there are existing hybrid populations. aarceng
From: https://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1004016 "Regarding the geographic origin of dogs, we find that, surprisingly, none of the extant wolf lineages from putative domestication centers is more closely related to dogs, and, instead, the sampled wolves form a sister monophyletic clade. This result, in combination with dog-wolf admixture during the process of domestication, suggests that a re-evaluation of past hypotheses regarding dog origins is necessary." Trumper
It’s almost like we are seeing speciation in action. Brother Brian
Our dog, a golden retriever, has never met a wolf (or a fox or a coyote). He lives with our manpack, and I'm pretty sure he thinks he's a people. He has just turned 1 dog year. I also babysit my grandson, who just turned 4 people years. The similarity between young male peoples and young male dogs is amazing. They both NEED to burn off a lot of excess energy every day (my grandson as a ninja karate master every day or so), and they quite literally LOOK to see where the Alpha wants the pack to go next. Going back inside to watch TV ain't an especially popular choice, but the Alpha IS the Alpha. Darwin, a man THOROUGHLY acquainted with animal breeding in 19th century Britain, declared as Doctrine that there are THREE (3) "species" of dogs, but didn't explain why the answer was 3. vmahuna
According to Wikipedia article: "A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction." If dogs and wolves can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, which they can, then how are they are different "species?" "Other ways of defining species include their karyotype, DNA sequence, morphology, behaviour or ecological niche." Well, okay. Seems arbitrary. I tell my dog that he descended from gray wolves. He seems to like that. mike1962

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