Today, we uncover the 14 most wolf like dog breeds in existence. If you like your dogs big and fluffy, you’re in the right place!
Wolves have fascinated us for generations, reaching a near-mythical status in many cultures – particularly in North America and across Eurasia. From the mythical she-wolf that raised the founders of Rome to the legend of the werewolf, wolves are deeply ingrained into the folklore and cultural identity of much of the world.
Given how impressive and beautiful wolves are, it’s not surprising that many people wish it were possible to own one. And although it’s illegal (and highly inadvisable, in any case) to keep a wolf as a pet, there are plenty of dog breeds that look like wolves.
14 Dogs That Look Like Wolves
This breed originates from the Republic of Sakha (also known as Yakutia, hence the name) in north-eastern Russia. For centuries, Yakutian Laikas have been bred as working dogs, used for herding reindeer, hunting, and sled-pulling.
In terms of appearance, the Yakutian Lakia is most reminiscent of an arctic wolf – which is unsurprising, given that they also come from an arctic region. They have long, thick coats, usually in a combination of white and black or brown. It’s possible to find pure white Yakutian Laikas for the closest resemblance to a white wolf.
Yakutian Laikas are considered medium-sized, rarely reaching more than 59cm at the withers and weighing between 18-25kg. This makes them about the same size as a Siberian Husky.
Alongside their gorgeous arctic wolf-like appearance, Yakutian Laikas have a reputation for being excellent companions. They’re lively, energetic, gentle dogs that form close bonds with both humans and other animals. Their sociable nature and lack of aggression also make them perfect family pets, provided that they’re given enough opportunity to exercise and expend their energy.
2. Siberian Husky
As the name implies, Huskies originally came from Siberia – specifically, they were first bred by the indigenous people of the Chukchi Peninsula. For the Chukchi people, the ancestors of modern-day Huskies were companions, guardians, and sled dogs.
Nowadays, the breed is well known for its energetic, fun, sociable personality. There’s something of the wolf in the way they interact with the world, too. Bred to work in teams, they’re definitely pack animals who enjoy the company of both their human companions and other dogs. They also have a strong prey drive, which has given them a reputation for being mischievous and a little unpredictable.
Siberian Huskies come in several coat colour varieties with a white base and shades of grey or light brown in a characteristic pattern. If resemblance to a wolf is important to you, consider choosing a light-grey husky with brown eyes – he’ll look just like a smaller version of a grey wolf.
This rare, little-known breed is also sometimes called ‘American Husky’. Originating from the U.S. where they were bred as working dogs, Kugsha are wolf hybrids – which is plain to see in their distinctly wolf-like appearance. To the untrained eye, they look exactly like wolves – complete with a broad head, bushy tail, and rusty-grey coat.
Kugsha are large dogs, reaching even 50kg in weight and 68cm in height – which would be about the same size as a female grey wolf.
In terms of personality, Kugsha are highly intelligent, independent, and – once they’ve bonded with a person – extremely loyal. This mixture of traits, combined with their dominant predatory instincts, makes them quite difficult to train and unsuitable for first-time dog owners or families with children. They’re definitely not suitable for apartment living.
In short, getting a Kugsha is about as close as you can get to owning a real wolf – complete with the predatory, independent streak, which requires careful training and bonding to manage.
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4. Alaskan Malamute
Supposedly first bred by Alaska’s Malemiut Inupiaq people, Malamutes are closely related to Huskies – with both breeds likely originating from the dogs domesticated by the Chukchi people of Siberia.
Unsurprisingly, then, Malamutes are very similar to Huskies in appearance, although they’re considerably bigger. Adult Alaskan Malamutes weigh around 34 to 39 kg, reaching just under 65 cm in height.
Malamutes are largely white, with a pattern of either grey or light brown. To achieve the closest resemblance to a wolf, consider a Malamute puppy with light-grey colouring. When he grows up, he’ll be very similar in appearance to the northwestern (Mackenzie Valley) wolf.
Like Huskies – and of course, wolves – Malamutes are pack animals that display a high level of loyalty and affection towards their human companions. Gentle and loyal, they make excellent family pets that enjoy exercise and play time.
5. German Shepherds
The German Shepherd is one of the most popular dog breeds worldwide, currently in second place in the American Kennel Club breed popularity ranking. In the UK, they rank in seventh place.
There’s a reason for the Shepherd’s popularity: they’re extremely smart, confident, courageous, and loyal to those they love. They therefore make for excellent companions and family pets – given their gentle nature – but also perform very well as watchdogs and working dogs.
German Shepherds have a distinctly wolf-like appearance, evident in the musculature, shape of the skull, body, and ears, and their large size.
To find a dog that resembles a wolf even more closely than the standard black-and-tan Shepherd, consider a black German Shepherd, preferably with a long coat. He’ll look just like an Alexander Archipelago wolf – a black wolf subspecies found in southeast Alaska. A blue German Shepherd will bear an even closer resemblance, if you’re lucky enough to find one – they’re incredibly rare.
6. Saarloos Wolfdog
The Saarloos Wolfdog takes its name from the breed’s Dutch creator, Leendert Saarloos. Originally a German Shepherd breeder, Saarloos wanted to create the ultimate police dog – and figured the best way to do this would be to introduce some wolf genes into the mix.
Having loaned a female Eurasian grey wolf from a zoo in 1935, Saarloos crossed the wolf with a German Shepherd, and then crossed the offspring with German Shepherds again. The resulting breed is three parts Shepherd, one part wolf.
Despite Saarloos’ expectations, the breed turned out to be unsuitable for police work. Saarloos Wolfdogs are independent, intelligent, easy to train, and loyal, but they tend to be untrusting and skittish – more likely to run away than to attack.
So, although in appearance Saarloos Wolfdogs look almost exactly like wolves, they have the temperament of a gentle, slightly shy German Shepherd. They’re also slightly bigger – reaching up to 75cm in height, compared to the German Shepherd’s 65cm. When kept as pets, they need plenty of space outdoors and are not suitable for apartment life.
7. Northern Inuit Dog
In the 1980s, a group of breeders in the UK set out to create a new breed of dog, intending it to resemble wolves as closely as possible. Although we don’t know what dog breeds they crossed in the project, we do know that the Northern Inuit Dog is the result.
Despite not having any wolf blood in them, Northern Inuits look almost exactly like grey wolves. So much so that Northern Inuits played dire wolves in Game of Thrones! They’re about the same size as German Shepherds, though some individuals may be larger (reaching up to 50 kg in weight for males).
Personality-wise, Northern Inuits are even-tempered, gentle, intelligent, and very loyal. However, their intelligence is coupled with an independent streak and often stubbornness, so they’re not a recommended choice for first-time dog owners. As animals with a strong sense of belonging to a pack, these dogs need consistent company and attention.
The Tamaskan breed is closely related to the Northern Inuit Dog, described above. Along with the British Timber Dog and the Utonagan, the Tamaskan is allegedly one of the breeding lines of the Northern Inuit.
The Tamaskan is slightly smaller than the Northern Inuit, weighing up to 48kg. In relative terms, both of these breeds are very new – so little has been achieved in terms of creating an official standard for either of them. In general, however, Tamaskans have similar temperaments to those of Inuits – loyal, intelligent, independent, calm, and friendly.
Tamaskans supposedly require less exercise than Northern Inuits, and may be slightly easier to train. Their resemblance to the grey wolf is just as uncanny: interestingly, a Tamaskan played a wolf on Broadway, in a 2016 production of The Crucible.
9. Czechoslovakian Wolfdog
The Czechoslovakian Wolfdog breed (also known as Vlcak) began with an experiment in a military facility in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. By crossing German Shepherds with Carpathian grey wolves, the researchers were trying to create a dog breed with the temperament of a dog and the endurance of a wolf.
The Vlcak has the appearance of a Carpathian wolf, complete with the large size – the minimum weight for a male is 30 kg with no upper limit. As the researchers had intended, Vlcaks are incredibly intelligent and loyal, forming close bonds with their human companion – but often appearing distrustful towards strangers.
Vlcaks are typically gentle dogs, but not suitable for first-time dog owners. They require consistent training, as well as a close relationship – their pack mentality makes them susceptible to separation anxiety. They’re also very active, with more strength and stamina than German Shepherds – so they need plenty of mental and physical stimulation to live a happy life.
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If you like the look of arctic wolves, you’ll love the Samoyed. There’s a reason why they look so similar – Samoyeds are actually related to wolves.
This medium-sized (up to 30kg) breed originated in Siberia, where the nomadic Samoyede people bred them for herding reindeer, hunting, and pulling sledges. This explains the extremely thick, white coat modern Samoyeds have. Looking closely, you’ll also notice that they always seem to be smiling – this is a quality that prevents drooling and the formation of icicles in arctic weather.
Personality-wise, Samoyeds are friendly, gentle, and very sociable – as well as extremely active. They require at least an hour of fairly strenuous exercise a day to stay healthy, as well as consistent mental stimulation.
Although Samoyeds are quite independent, they do need a lot of attention. As pack animals, they get lonely very quickly when left to their own devices.
11. Akita Inu
The Akita Inu (or Japanese Akita) is a centuries-old breed originating from northern Japan. They were primarily hunting dogs, used for taking down elk, boar, and even bears. Interestingly, the Akita was also a common companion to samurai!
Akitas are large dogs, reaching up to almost 60kg in weight. Sturdy and muscular, they’re somewhat broader than wild wolves, but they still look very similar. Pick a white Akita Inu to resemble an arctic wolf. Although a grey coat is not officially recognised in the breed standard, you can find grey Akitas that will look like grey wolves.
The Akita Inu is a large, powerful, courageous dog that’s not suited for first-time dog owners. Akitas require careful socialisation to ensure that they don’t become aggressive and overly territorial as adults. Typically, this breed tends to be highly loyal and friendly to family members, but distrustful and even aggressive towards strangers.
12. Finnish Lapphund
Not quite ready for a large dog, but still want one that looks like a wolf? Consider getting a Finnish Lapphund. This medium-sized, long-haired breed looks just like miniature wolf – especially if you can find a puppy with wolf-sable colouring.
The Finnish Lapphund originates from northern Scandinavia, resulting from crossing wolf females with dog males centuries ago. Dogs of this breed are highly intelligent, easy to train, and typically eager to please their human companions.
Gentle and active, this breed is a good choice both for families and as companion dogs. Thanks to the long history of herding reindeer, they excel at agility training – and need a lot of activity and attention on a daily basis.
Weighing up to 24kg, the Finnish Lapphund is one of the smallest breeds on this list. It’s also the least likely to be stubborn or strong-willed, so it may be more suitable for dog owners with less experience.
This rare breed originates from the Japanese island of Shikoku, and is sometimes referred to as the Japanese wolfdog – despite the fact that they are not technically wolfdogs.
Just like with an Akita, a Shikoku with a wolf sable coat will closely resemble a grey wolf. However, Shikokus are much smaller than wolves, rarely weighing more than 25kg. Unfortunately, Shikoku dogs are very rare, and finding a puppy of a specific colouring will definitely take time and patience.
Shikokus are tough, muscular working dogs, with a past in boar hunting. As such, they’re intelligent and very athletic, but may be stubborn and difficult to control without proper training. At the same time, however, they’re highly loyal to their human companions once a close relationship has been formed.
Though they can be loving and very affectionate, Shikoku dogs are not the best choice for families with small children or with other pets, particularly smaller ones (such as cats or rabbits).
14. Shiloh Shepherd Dog
In the 1970s, New York-based breeder Tina Barber began a breeding project to create a larger, gentler German Shepard. The Shiloh Shepherd is the result: a combination of German Shepherd, Alaskan Malamute, and several other breeds.
Tina Barber achieved her aim – the Shiloh Shepherd is a ‘gentle giant’, standing taller than a German Shepherd but also showing more affection and patience. These large dogs – weighing up to 60kg – are extremely intelligent, very loyal, and highly trainable.
Unlike many of the other large wolf-like breeds, Shiloh dogs are perfect family pets. They show plenty of patience and care towards children, in particular. The breed forms close relationships with the whole family and has an even temper. Also, they look even more similar to wolves than pure German Shepherds!
Shiloh Shepherds are energetic and active and require at least an hour of exercise per day. They should also be stimulated mentally – they love having a job to do and enjoy training.
The Evolutionary History of Dogs and Wolves
It may be surprising that so many dog breeds look similar to wolves – but only until we remember that domestic dogs descended from these wild predators. This might be hard to believe when we look at modern toy breeds like Pomeranians or Pugs, but they too have wolf ancestors!
The evolution of the wolf is a much-contested issue, since there’s not much evidence to show exactly how these animals developed. It’s thought that the first grey wolf appeared in Eurasia around a million years ago, arriving in North America about 250 000 years later.
When Charles Darwin first developed the theory of evolution, he found it unlikely that all dogs descended from wolves. Darwin theorised that since there’s such a huge variety of dog breeds, their ancestry must have been more complex than that.
Therefore, he speculated that wolves must have mated with another similar species – such as jackals or coyotes – to produce the new species that would become the domestic dog. The cross-breeding between wolves and different packs of wild dogs would explain the large variety of breeds already present in Darwin’s times.
However, more recent studies have found Darwin’s assumption to be incorrect. DNA testing, in particular, has revealed that all dogs have descended from wolves – but not necessarily grey wolves as we know them today.
The dominant theory proposes that dogs and grey wolves descended from a common (but now extinct) wolf ancestor. This idea is still sometimes contested with several alternate explanations, but it’s currently the only widely accepted theory on the topic.
Whether we accept that dogs and grey wolves shared a common wolf ancestor – or believe the alternate explanation that domestic dogs developed directly from grey wolves – either way, a wolf of some species somehow became a domestic dog.
How Did Humans Domesticate Wolves?
How did wolves go from being fearsome predators to becoming man’s best friend?
Just like with the specifics of dog evolution, this matter is not a straightforward one. Wolves were domesticated by humans thousands of years ago, long before any form of historical records could be produced, so researchers have to use fossils and other clues to try to build a possible theory.
According to a 2017 study, wolves were domesticated between 20 000 to 40 000 years ago. They were the first animal humans domesticated, even before cows, goats, or chickens. Exactly how it happened is mostly based on speculation.
Most likely, the domestication happened by accident. At that point in history, humans were nomadic hunter-gatherers. As they moved from place to place, wolves would have followed to feed on scraps.
Some wolves would be more docile towards the humans. They would receive more scraps and better treatment, and therefore be more likely to survive and pass on their genes. In this way, generation by generation, wolves would gradually become domesticated.
This theory is bolstered by the fact that in a way, it would be in the wolves’ best interest to become domesticated. After all, humans had fire for warmth and structures for shelter – and a relationship with humans gave wolves access to both.
Much later, humans began to breed domesticated dogs for specific purposes. The first breeds developed as humans tried to refine specific qualities in working dogs, making them more useful and suited for specific tasks – such as herding, hunting, or pulling freight.
In the last hundred years or so, as the need for working dogs declined in many areas of society, the appearance of dogs became a focus. And that, in very few words, is how we got from wolves to modern domesticated breeds.
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Potential Problems of Owning Wolf-Like Dogs
Wolf-like dogs don’t tend to be aggressive as such, but they do have a strong prey drive. In practical terms, this means that they’re likely to chase after smaller animals – such as squirrels in the park or, unfortunately, the family cat. Some dogs may also see small children as chase-worthy prey.
This impulse is natural to wolf-like dogs, but undesirable for obvious reasons. Thorough puppy socialisation training and consistent obedience practice can help to minimise the risk of unwanted prey-drive behaviours, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind when getting a wolf-like dog.
Another trait that wolf-like dogs retain from their wild ancestors is that they’re definitely pack animals. Wild wolves live in packs (families) that stick together and feature a well-defined hierarchy.
This means that a wolf-like dog will see his human family as his pack. He’ll be extremely loyal towards his human companions, but may be distrustful (or even aggressive, if not properly socialised) towards outsiders.
Another consequence of the pack mentality is that wolf-like dogs are often prone to separation anxiety. They shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time, as this will cause stress, health issues, and misbehaviour.
Wolf-like dogs are almost always working dogs. This means that they are active with plenty of stamina, and require a lot of exercise to stay healthy and happy. It’s not all about physical fitness, either – working dogs need mental stimulation as well, such as training, learning tricks, or playing with their human companion.
Highly intelligent but independent and often stubborn, wolf-like dogs have complex personalities that will usually make them unsuitable for first-time dog owners. Since they’re almost always medium to large – and therefore potentially dangerous – it’s crucial to invest time and effort into careful training.
The investment will be worth it, though – with patience, consistency, and lots of love, you’ll have a lifelong, loyal friend.