The wild beauty of wolves has inspired tales as old as the founding of Rome, legends of shapeshifters, and modern hits like Game of Thrones. What’s more, wolves are the ancestors of every dog breed from the toy poodle to the Great Dane. Despite their beauty and legendary status, however, wolves should never be pets. They’re wild animals first and foremost.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have a wolf-like dog at home. While many breeds (say, Chihuahuas) don’t look much like the enigmatic predator of their past, these dogs that look like wolves sure do. Prepare to fall in love with eleven breeds that still bear a striking resemblance to their wolf ancestors.
The wolf-like appearance of Czechoslovakian vlcaks, or CSVs, is no coincidence. This breed began with an experiment crossing a German shepherd with a Carpathian wolf during the 1950s. Intended to combine the best qualities of a wolf with the characteristics of a domestic dog, these experiments eventually gave us the Czechoslovakian wolfdog or Czechoslovakian vlcak.
CSVs were popular as border patrol dogs in the beginning, but their intelligent and independent nature has made them excellent candidates for other work. They find joy in everything from herding to search and rescue.
Coming in at close to 50 pounds and 24 inches tall, this wolfdog’s endless energy can make them a challenge to train. Because of this, they do best with experienced owners and require plenty of stimulation.
Also called Kochi-ken, the Shikoku is a Japanese dog whose wolf-like appearance comes in a smaller package than some of the others on this list. They’re energetic, medium-sized dogs between 17 to 22 inches tall that weigh between 35 to 55 pounds.
Don’t let their petite size fool you, though. Shikoku were bred for hunting wild boar in the mountain ranges of the Kochi Prefecture in Japan. They’re as enthusiastic as they are persistent and their endurance makes them excellent for tracking in even the harshest environments.
The Siberian husky is, perhaps, one of the most famous dogs that look like wolves. This hard-working, high-energy breed has a long history of pulling sleds at incredible speeds and distances. Balto remains one of the most well-known huskies of all time, making history for carrying lifesaving diphtheria serum from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska during the dead of winter, across more than 500 miles, in only five-and-a-half days.
In modern times, Siberian huskies have earned a reputation as mischievous, clever companions with a lot to say (and a lot to shed). These medium-sized dogs stand between 20 and 23 inches tall and weigh up to 60 pounds. Their dramatic but loyal personalities have paved the way for their popularity, and the American Kennel Club (AKC) currently ranks them as the 14th most popular breed in the U.S.
Alaskan malamutes are heavier set than Siberian huskies despite sharing the same type of work. Where huskies are racers, Alaskan malamutes are freighters—able to haul heavy loads for long distances. They’re even formidable enough to distract a moose.
Alaskan malamutes are affectionate, loyal, and dignified dogs that weigh up to 85 pounds and stand up to 25 inches tall. Their broad chest, strong shoulders, and dense coat hint at their hardworking nature, but despite their impressive size, well-trained Alaskan malamutes are gentle and great with children.
German shepherds first gained fame as working dogs in sheep pastures. Also known as Alsatians in Britain, these herding dogs also excel as police and military dogs.
According to the AKC, German shepherds are the second most popular breed in the U.S., and for good reason. Prized for their intelligence, confidence, and loyalty, they make wonderful companions. These large dogs stand at up to 26 inches tall and weigh in at up to 90 pounds. They’re hardworking guardians and gentle family pets with all the grace and poise of their wolf ancestors.
These tiny Viking dogs started out herding livestock and riding the prows of longships 1,200 years ago, but today they’re more at home in backyards and on couches. Despite their low-to-the-ground build, a Swedish vallhund’s coat and face calls to mind their wolf ancestors.
These pint-sized canines are also known as vastgotaspets and Swedish cattle dogs. They stand close to 12 inches tall and weigh in at less than 35 pounds, but what they lack in size they make up for in enthusiasm and energy. Swedish vallhunds are cheerful by nature and easy to train.
The Yakutian laika has ancient origins, but it wasn’t until 2004 that this breed was officially recognized by the Russian Kynological Federation. These regal dogs have been beloved family pets, hunters, reindeer herders, and sled dogs. During the 1800s they were even used for mail delivery.
Yakutian laikas originated in the Yakutia region of Siberia. With thick coats and striking eyes reminiscent of their wolf ancestors, these working dogs stand at around 22 inches tall and weigh up to 55 pounds. Gentle and friendly companions, they make energetic family pets who need plenty of stimulation.
One of the oldest breeds in existence, the Swedish lapphund stood by the Sami people of Lappland—later known as Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia—as a hunting dog, herding dog, and beloved companion. This breed faced potential extinction around the mid-20th century. These beautiful dogs are still rare, but they’re now the national breed of Sweden.
Swedish lapphunds, thought to descend from Arctic wolves, have thick coats and petite stature, standing at just 16 to 20 inches tall and weighing in at under 45 pounds. These medium-sized dogs are clever, energetic, and playful. They’re eager to please and naturally hard-working, but they can be independent and stubborn at times, as well.
Belgian Tervurens began as herding dogs, but in recent years these hard-working canines have found a new purpose as military and police dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, service dogs, and even actors. Their striking appearance earned them a spot in The Company of Wolves, with “Tervs” playing the wolves in the movie.
These elegant, medium-sized dogs stand proud at up to 26 inches tall and weigh up to 75 pounds. Although their intelligence, confidence, and hard-working nature can make them a challenge to train, the Teruven, named after a village in Belgium, takes joy in work. Their sense of humor and affection make them wonderful company, though they need a lot of activity.
Despite their small stature, Samoyeds bear a striking resemblance to Arctic wolves with their thick, white coats and rounded upright ears. They’re unbothered by even the most extreme cold. These enthusiastic dogs have their beginnings in Siberia, where they pulled sleds and herded reindeer for the Samoyedic people, but Queen Alexandra’s adoration of the breed helped spread their popularity around the globe.
Samoyeds are highly social, very intelligent, and have a soft spot for mischief. They can be a challenge to train, but these dogs love affection and are cheerful and friendly by nature, making them excellent companions. They stand up to 23 inches tall and weigh up to 65 pounds, and are tireless workers once trained.
Northern Inuit Dog
Of all the breeds on this list that look like wolves, only the Northern Inuit Dog—the official direwolf stand-in on a little show you may have heard of—remains to be recognized by the American Kennel Club. Perhaps that’s because the history of the breed, which, according to the Northern Inuit Society, first arrived in the ’80s, is relatively new to the canine family tree.
Whatever the case, these true wolf lookalikes are purportedly a cross between North American dog-wolf hybrids and breeds such as German Shepherds, Malamutes, and Siberian Huskies.
A medium-sized dog that often resembles a Husky or Malamute with a friendly, outgoing demeanor, thick coat, and fluffy tail, they are described by the NIS as “a suitable family pet [with] a willingness to work and please.” (And from this photo gallery here, just gorgeous, too.)
The Call of the Wild
Whether the Swedish vallhund captures your heart with its pint-sized wolf looks or you’re drawn to the majesty of the Yakutian laika, any of these breeds are bound to bring a bit of wolf magic into your home. And the next time your dog chases after a squirrel, howls in the yard, or tears into a new squeaker toy, take a moment to appreciate their wild heritage.