Comparative Analysis Of Communication Among Wolves And Dogs


Communication as we know it has been around a long time, especially communication for animals. Communication has been a key element to any form of socialization ever since the development of life, whether that be in humans or animals. The canine family has been around for thousands of years and they thrive on socialization. Like humans, dogs are social beings, therefore, communication composes a large part of their life. Understanding the ways canines interact with each other will help understand why they use certain signals. Canines have a lot of similar signals like their relative, the wolf. One-way dogs and wolves interact is by vocal communication. Vocal communication is usually when an animal expresses sound to show how they are feeling. These signals can then trigger an emotional and physical response from other members of their species. Canines also have a lot of ways to showing non-vocal interactions. Most of the time these canines show non-vocal communication by facial expressions, body language, and chemical communication. The purpose of this review is to compare the ways the domestication process has had on the effect of how these canines use their signals in different scenarios.


Dogs were the first animals to be domesticated and have been around humans for over 14,000 to 135,000 years ago. Dogs are the ancestors of the territorial wolves (Canis Lupus), and they share a lot of similar traits such as morphological traits and behavioral traits. When the first set of wolves were domesticated, most of them had been gathered by hunters that were on the go. The wolves they found had to be friendly towards humans to have been able to domesticate them. The ancestors of the modern-day dogs were associated with humans, but then some fossils that had been found showed that the relationship with dogs and humans had changed. It was found that dogs were being used for selective breeding about five to ten thousand years ago. Humans bred dogs to help them with jobs like hunting, herding, guarding, and pulling sleds. 

Wolves are known as the top predator, but a few thousand years ago it was a very different situation. Recent studies have shown that wolves are found in Europe, Asia, and North America. In addition, evidence shows that wolves evolved during the Pliocene and early Pleistocene period. Wolves during the Pleistocene period had to survive through harsh environments. When temperatures decreased, they retreated to safer environments (Kurten 1968). Wolves today have lost a large part of their genetic diversity.

Communication is a process in which information is exchanged between others through signs, signals, or behavior. Communication, in dogs, occurs when the actions of a dog’s signals changes the behavior of another dog. Vocalizations are usually divided into different types of communication. Signals are when information is transferred either visually or chemically. Functions are a process that is transferred out by a system. Vocalizations used by dogs often provide signals to other dogs or humans. Vocals signals occur in sequences, and can physically be seen. Visual communications or non-vocal communications come and go, and it consists of movement of the body parts from head to tail.

Vocal communication behaviors between dogs and wolves

Canines use different communications to determine moods and behaviors. Dogs and wolves mainly use barks and howl to establish communication. Signals that are used by dogs to interact with other dogs are also used to interact with humans. Looking at canines, vocal communication is important to understand emotional and physiological information that form social bonds and relationships with humans. Humans are also able to distinguish the different types of vocalizations dog use.

Dog barks are useful when it comes to communicating with humans when a dog is in a motivational or emotional stage. Dogs’ barks are emitted in numerous situations. They can be taught to bark in response to different stimuli.

Dogs usually tend to bark a lot. Dogs that are used for gathering livestock are selected to bark to gather in a herd. For hunting, barking is not necessary because they need to stay quiet in order to not scare any animals away (Fox, 1971). Alaskan Huskies don't bark when they are running, but when the handler shows them the harness they start barking because they are excited. Since dogs tend to live in very small spaces and depend a lot on humans, they will use barking to communicate their needs. For example, when a dog needs to go outside, wants to go for a walk, or is hungry they will bark to get their owner's attention. 

Another instance can be seen in a study that was done in Italy on stray dogs and they found that these dogs only barked in two circumstances. These dogs barked in sessions to head back to a certain area, and they also only barked when fighting occurred.

Wolves in many cases rarely bark, they only use 2.3% of vocalizations (Schassburger, 1987). In most cases, wolves only bark when it’s to alert that there is danger near or for territorial reasons. When a wolf barks it sounds deep and coarse (Joslin 1966). For example, the article shows that a wolf only barked when they had made a fresh kill. Wolves only have two types of barking. One bark is used as an alarm bark and it tends to be a very short bark. According to the book a man named Joslin has heard a threatening bark twice, he said that the barks consisted of a pattern. The bark was sharp and then it followed with a drawn-out bark, which led to a softer bark. 

Wolves frequently howl in the wild. A wolf can detect another wolf miles away just by howling. Howls are usually a harmonic sound with more than 1,000 Hz for adult wolves. At the beginning of a wolves howl the frequencies are high, but when the sound starts to fade the frequency gets lower. A single wolf can howl to about fourteen seconds, but it usually lasts three to seven seconds. Chorus howls are between more than one wolf. A single wolf will start chorus howling and then other wolves will start incorporating their howls as well. The frequency of a howl is usually at 15 Hz. Chorus howls usually last 30 to 120 seconds.

One reason for wolves to howl is to form reunions. When a lone wolf is trying to find a pack, they tend to howl relentlessly. When they find their way back to the pack they start to howl, the lone wolf howls to other members of the pack and they will either recognize them as a pack member or as a stranger. 

Howling is a natural response in dogs when they are separated and left alone (Lund and Jorgensen, 1999). When a dog is left at home alone, they sometimes tend to have anxiety or separation problems. Dogs with separation anxiety will start howling when their humans leave them alone. For example, a study was done to record dogs when left alone at home. Only five dogs howled, and did not destroy anything.

These canines both use howling and barking in different ways to communicate. Howling and barking are repetitive and louder than other vocalizations. Dog barks are more efficient when it comes to communicating with humans when a dog is in a motivational or emotional stage (Molnar et al, 2006). Some dog breeds howl when they are in states of arousal. Wolves howl to bring in other pack members before they go hunt or to obtain social interaction with other wolves.

Non-vocal communication behaviors between dogs and wolves

Facial gestures in dogs and wolves are not very hard to distinguish. Most of the body parts are used in facial gestures. The gestures are the position of the dog ears, the eyes, muzzle, how they show their teeth, how the hair is, and the tail (Kaminski, J., & Nitzschner, M. (2013). The message that is most commonly conveyed in both dogs and wolves is aggression and submission (Adams, L. 2004).

In dogs and wolves, there are two types of submissive signals, active submission and passive submission. For active submission, a dog or wolf will go up to another one with a low posture, a bit crouched, ears back, and the tail is low (Adams, L. 2004). They also will wag their tail or try to lick the other dogs or wolves’ mouths. When a dog or wolf is in a submissive position they will lie on their back, the tail will be curved between the legs, and the ears are flat.

A dog or wolf will show submissiveness when the dominant dog or wolf comes around to show these signs to them in order to respect the dominant canine and not get attacked. When a dog or wolf is in a passive submission position the dominant canine will usually go up to them and sniff the submissive canine. If the dominant canine wants to smell a certain area of the submissive canine’s body they are allowed to move. Unfortunately, there are cases where the submissive canine does not escape unharmed from the dominant animal. For example, a wolf that wanders around alone may start being submissive when they encounter a pack. The dominant canine will attack and kill the lone wolf even if they have fully submitted to them. If the wolf is able to escape the dominant canine before the pack comes, they get away unscathed (Mech 1993a).

One-way dogs and wolves show facial features is by ambivalent signals. When a dog or wolf is unsure of how they are feeling in a situation they will show alertness, change and be attentive, with their ears and tails raised.

When a dog is feeling unsure of a person or another animal, they will usually show those facial expressions. For example, a study was done by a photographer that got a police K9 to show different emotions in pictures. The photographer got the handler to get a nail trimmer which the K9 doesn't like. The K9 was unsure of how to feel when his handler started using the nail trimmer.

Dogs and wolves will show aggressiveness or be self-assertive. Aggressiveness usually consists of signals. When a dog or wolf is showing aggressive signs, they will have a high body posture, the hair along the back will stand, the tail and legs be stiff, and they will move slowly. Usually, dogs or wolves that are dominant show offensive aggression, and non-dominant canines show submissive signals. They both show two types of signals which are submissive signals or flight behavior (Packard 2003). Some dog breeds show a different number of signals. For instance, a German Shepherd has nine threat signals in contrast to Norfolk terriers which only show two signals. Another example is that a solid-colored cocker spaniel shows more aggression than a particolored one.

Dogs and wolves will fight for territory, resources, other group members, and food. Domestication has different effects on group aggression in dogs and wolves. Physical contact has the potential to cause pain and it's described as inhibited signals. When dogs and wolves have a limited amount of food, their tendency for aggression increases. Both of these canines do not like strangers on their territory. For example, wolves tend to be extremely aggressive at other packs of wolves. In situations like these wolves are usually killed (Miklosi, A. 2008).

Similarities, differences, and uniqueness of communication in dogs and wolves

Dogs and wolves can easily be told apart, even if the dog belongs to the same breed. According to the book, Linnaeus noticed dogs that had sickle-shaped tails, which has never been observed in a wolf. Dogs have strong relationships with humans and are usually working or emotional support dogs. Dogs also tend to have regular visits to a veterinary clinic (Miklosi, A. 2008). Dogs are usually able to learn how to be part of a human family, but wolves are not capable of this.

Dogs and wolves also share similar characteristics when it comes to chemical communication. They both mark frequently in areas that their scent stays or if they smell another canine’s urine in that same spot. Male dogs and wolves mark a lot more in areas that are unfamiliar to them. Canines usually will lift their legs to mark. Females usually don't raise their legs to urinate, instead they will lift one leg forward while squatting (Adams, L. 2004). A study was done on castrated male wolves and spayed female wolves. The castrated male wolf was treated with testosterone which increased urinary components that are high in their breeding season. For the female spayed wolves, they were given estradiol or progesterone decreased their want to urinate more frequently (Brown and Johnston, 1983).


Although the strategies canines use may sound different, they ultimately share many similarities when it comes to communicating within a species. Both of the canine species communicate in vocalizations by barking and howling. They also show other vocal communications like yelping, groaning, and growling. These signals and functions in canines show us understand vocal communication and why dogs and wolves communicate in such ways.

Vocal communication in dogs and wolves varies on the type of situation that they are in. I think that dogs communicate better when they bark, show facial expressions and body language. As humans we understand when a dog barks and shows us certain signals. These signals help us understand what dogs are trying to tell humans. Luckily humans have been able to understand how canines communicate for quite some time now. Dogs usually tend to bark a lot more then they howl. They bark more because they use barking as a way to get attention from humans to get what they want. Howling on the other hand is not very common in a lot of dog breeds. Only breeds that tend to look like wolves have more of the howling vocalization to them than other breeds.

In contrast, wolves use howling in an array of situations. Barking is not very much used in wolves like dogs. Wolves have a very special way of communication when to comes to howling. One of these distinct howls is known as chorus howling. Chorus howling is when a pack of wolves are in sync and start to howl all together. Additionally, wolves tend to howl to communicate with each other on how far they are in a certain area or when food and territorial issues arise. Barking for a wolf is uncommon and is only rarely used. Usually it is mixed in with other types of vocal communications.

Non-vocalization communication helps humans distinguish what the dog is trying to tell them. Facial expressions, body language, and chemical communication all play an important role when it comes to non-vocal communication. Facial expressions help us know whether a dog is upset, happy, scared, and timid. Body language falls right next to facial expressions because dogs and wolves also use their bodies to help other animals or humans know what they are expressing. Dogs will use their facial expression to get what they want from a human. Wolves will use these different types of body languages and facial expressions to communicate within members of their pack.

Chemical communication was briefly discussed in one of the paragraphs above. Dogs and wolves share many similarities when it comes to chemical communication. There is not really much of difference when it comes to this type of communication. Both of these canines use chemical communication for the exact same reasons.

As for domestication, dogs and wolves have evolved in very different ways. They are still related to each other in some ways, but there are various differences between the two species. Dogs were domesticated a very long time ago. For years humans used selective breeding to breed dogs into what they want. Humans have used dogs for hunting, guarding, herding, pulling sleds, and as emotional support (Morey 2006). The domestication of dogs has not only given them new jobs that has also changed the way that they interaction with humans. Dogs have now learned behavior that enhances their interaction with humans such barking for attention, and learning how to do tricks such as sitting, laying down, shaking paw, and speak. These are things that have neem taught to dogs to receive treats.

Wolves on the other hand just stayed in the wild fending for themselves away from human contact. Wolves learned for a very long time how to survive without any human interaction. Some wolves today are in captivity due their inability to survive because their numbers have dwindled so much due to excessive hunting and environmental destruction. Wolves do not do any of the thing’s dogs do to get a human’s attention.


In conclusion, there are various forms of communication done by canines. In dogs and wolves alone, communicating takes on different forms which can be seen when they communicate with themselves and others. The domestication of dogs has caused them to communicate in ways that are different than wolves. Although both dogs and wolves share similar vocal and non-vocal communications, the function of these signals varies in each species. Vocal communication and non-vocal communication in dogs have been seen to be used primarily to communicate with humans. For wolf’s vocal communication and non-vocal communication has been seen to be used in communicating with other pack members in the wild and for other various reasons. A lot of research has not been conducted on dogs and wolves. It was a bit difficult to find a vast amount of research on this specific topic. Research also hasn’t been done on specific types of vocal communication in dogs. Domestication is mainly something scientist have not done much research on. There’s a lot of theories on why dogs where domesticated and how wolves became domesticated, but I believe that there should be more research conducted to understand exactly how these canines came to be. 

16 August 2021
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