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14 Dog Breeds That Are Closest to Wolves Genetically (with Pictures)

Kit Copson

By Kit Copson

wolf in the wild

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes and—with some more than others—it’s easy to forget where they descended from. Between 27,000 and 40,000 years ago, the dog as we know it today evolved from prehistoric wolves. It is estimated that dogs first became domesticated around 15,000 years ago. Dogs are a separate breed from wolves but share a similar genetic blueprint.

With some breeds, it’s easy to tell their origins because of the physical similarities they share with wolves. With others, it’s far less obvious. Picture, for example, a Shih Tzu with a cute bow keeping their long fur out of their eyes.

Physically, in some breeds, the wolf-like traits are long-gone, but the genetic makeup remains very similar. Without further ado, let’s explore the 14 dog breeds closest to wolves genetically.

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The Top 14 Dogs That Are Closest to Wolves Genetically

1. Siberian Husky

Siberian Husky standing outdoor
Image Credit: BARBARA808, Pixabay

Siberian Huskies are so physically similar to wolves that some people question whether or not they are actually wolves. Siberian Huskies are not wolves—there are several distinct differences between them. Author Pontus Skogland of Harvard Medical School has claimed, however, that a portion of the Siberian Husky’s genome traces back to ancient Siberian Wolves.

Siberian Huskies originate from, as their name suggests, Siberia, where they were highly valued as working sled dogs. These dogs were perfectly adapted for the environment they were raised in and capable of surviving below-freezing temperatures. Siberian Huskies make wonderful companion dogs in many homes today.


2. Alaskan Malamute

a Giant Alaskan Malamute on the street
Image Credit: Tatar CCube, Shutterstock

Just one look at an Alaskan Malamute with its thick double coat and “wolfish” features and it’s not hard to believe that this gorgeous dog breed is one of the closest to wolves genetically. The Alaskan Malamute, like the Siberian Husky, has its origins in Siberia. The name comes from the Mahlemuts, an indigenous tribe.

Luckily, the Alaskan Malamute doesn’t share its ancestor’s unfriendliness. These dogs are said to make excellent family and companion dogs due to their playful, affectionate disposition.


3. Akita

akita inu puppy peed in the carpet
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

Researchers found that Japan’s Akita Inu is one of the breeds most genetically close to ancient wolves. The dignified and regal Akita is an ancient Japanese dog breed of many talents. As well as being excellent hunters, they’re also often trained as police dogs and make wonderful family dogs.

Akitas are much loved in Japan and are considered something of a national treasure. The celebrated author Helen Keller brought the first Akita to the United States. Her Akita, “Kamikaze-go”, had been gifted to her by the Japanese government when she visited the country and expressed a fondness for the breed.


4. Chow Chow

Chow Chow in snow
Image Credit: Serhii Khomiak, Shutterstock

The Chow Chow is an ancient Chinese breed said by researchers to be one of the first to emerge after the domestication of dogs. It is of basal lineage like other indigenous Chinese and East Asian breeds and one of the very closest breeds to gray wolves genetically.

As family dogs, Chow Chows are said to be very devoted to their owners but wary of strangers. For this reason, they likely make excellent guard dogs. They also have a history of being used as farm dogs in China.


5. Shiba Inu

Shiba Inu female dog in the room
Image Credit: Sergiy Palamarchuk, Shutterstock

The Shiba Inu sits right at the top of the graph showing the level of “wolf-likeness” in dogs. A breed famed for its hunting capacity, the Shiba Inu is another member of what we call the “basal breeds club” along with the Chow Chow. The Shiba Inu is another ancient breed and originates from the mountains of Japan.

Shibu Inus are “fox-like” in appearance and due to their history as hunters are highly alert and energetic. They are also reputed to be suspicious of unusual objects, animals, and humans outside of their immediate family.


6. Basenji

Basenji-outdoor
Image Credit: Verbitskaya-Juliya_Shutterstock

The Basenji originated in central Africa. This breed is known for its unique bark, which sounds more like a yodel. Basenjis are also one of the closest breeds to wolves genetically, carrying plenty of “wolf-like” DNA.

This breed is short-haired, slight, and an excellent hunter. Because of this, they’re full of energy and require at least 40 minutes of exercise per day. They make great family dogs but, like their basal breed brothers the Shiba Inu and Chow Chow, are said to be reserved with outsiders.


7. Shih Tzu

Shih Tzu walking outdoor
Image Credit: Rachel Nelson, Pixabay

The first six dogs on this list probably didn’t come as too much of a surprise. The Shih Tzu is a breed more likely to raise an eyebrow, but the truth is that this breed is highly genetically similar to wolves. Shih Tzus originated in Tibet and were long favored by Chinese emperors as pets.

More likely to be found on their owner’s lap than working, chasing, or hunting like the Shiba Inu or Basenji, the Shiz Tzu is a popular family pet today. Don’t let their small size fool you, though. The Shih Tzu is a vocal breed with a big personality. They also can’t get enough of digging, so keep an eye on your garden if a Shih Tzu is about!


8. Shar-Pei

Chinese Shar pei puppy portrait at garden_Waldemar Dabrowski_shutterstock
Image Credit: Waldemar Dabrowski, Shutterstock

The distinctive Shar-Pei is another ancient Chinese breed with its origins in the south of China. Believe it or not, their genetic makeup is very similar to that of ancestral wolves. Shar-Pei have a history of being used as guard dogs and even guarded the royal palaces in ancient China.

Perhaps their history as guardians accounts for the fierce loyalty Shar-Pei are famed for today. Archeologists found monuments resembling Shar-Pei that date back to around 200BC.


9. Afghan Hound

Portrait of two Afghan greyhounds_wildstrawberry_shutterstock
Image Credit: wildstrawberry, Shutterstock

As the name suggests, the Afghan Hound has its origins in the mountains of Afghanistan. The Afghan Hound is one of the oldest dog breeds and is another one of the “basal breeds” along with the Chow Chow, Shiba Inu, and others on this list.

This breed is a little like a dog world supermodel—tall, with a long shiny coat and long, slender face, Afghan Hounds turn heads wherever they go. Though they certainly don’t look like wolves, their genes are remarkably similar.


10. Lhasa Apso

lhasa apso
Image Credit: kshitijprakash, Pixabay

The Lhasa Apso looks as far from a wolf as it’s possible to look, but DNA doesn’t lie. Yes, this sweet, funny canine’s genetic makeup is very close to that of wolves. They originate from Tibet and, despite their small size, graced palace doors as guards just like the Shar-Pei in China. They also served as watchdogs for monasteries.

Like other former watchdog breeds, Lhasa Apsos are not to be messed with when it comes to the people they’re loyal to. These are dogs that belie their small size and are said to be extremely protective and courageous.


11. Samoyed

Samoyed dog in the summer forest
Image Credit: Nik Tsvetkov, Shutterstock

The gentle Samoyed is certainly a sight to behold. We challenge anyone to try and walk past these fluffy white dogs in the street and not feel the urge to give them a cuddle! The breed was historically used as a working dog and as blankets for the Samoyedic people—Samoyeds used to lay upon their owners to keep them warm during cold Siberian and Russian nights.

It may surprise you to learn that the physically wolf-like Samoyeds are slightly less closely linked to ancient wolves than Lhasa Apsos and Tibetan Terriers are. That said, they’re still pretty close.


12. Tibetan Terrier

Tibetan Terrier in winter
Image Credit: Tatyana Kuznetsova, Shutterstock

The Tibetan Terrier was bred as both a watchdog for Tibetan monasteries and also as a companion dog. Tiny but strongly genetically tied to wolves, the Tibetan Terrier is built for life in the snowy mountains. Their flat feet stood them in good stead when navigating the Tibetan mountains.

This breed is energetic, playful, and smart. Tibetan Terriers do better with owners that provide them with plenty of mental stimulation and exercise.


13. Pekingese

pekingese
Image by michel kwan from Pixabay

Who would have thought that this adorable little lapdog would be one of the breeds most closely related to wolves? Historically beloved by the Chinese royal family, the Pekingese was an imperial companion dog and lapdog rather than a guard dog.

The name “Pekingese” is a reference to Beijing, also known as Peking. Pekingese dogs are still popular family dogs today because of their affectionate, gentle nature. They do require a fair bit of grooming, though, to prevent their coats from getting matted.


14. Saluki

a saluki dog in a meadow
Image Credit: Elisabetta Bellomi, Pixabay

The Saluki is also known as the “Persian Greyhound”. While not quite as strongly genetically close to wolves, the Saluki still has a stronger connection than many breeds. The breed originates from the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East.

Elegant, slender, and calm, Salukis are naturally shy and need a patient owner. They’re also not considered the easiest breed to train, being very independent and strong-minded despite their timid nature. This breed does best when socialized as early as possible.

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Conclusion

Though all dogs descend from wolves, some breeds are more closely linked to ancient wolves than others. While some retain more obvious “wolfish” physical features like the Akita and Alaskan Malamute, others look nothing like their ancestors. Aesthetics aside, what’s important is that domesticated dogs don’t share their wild ancestor’s inability to bond with humans.

Fortunately, evolution managed to leave out the scary stuff and produce many wonderful dog breeds for us to share our homes and lives with today.


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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