Howling wolf
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For information contact:
David McFarland
Carnivore specialist
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Canid identification: wolves, coyotes and dogs

To the untrained eye, it can be difficult - especially at a distance - to tell the difference between a wolf, coyote and domestic dog. In general, wolves are larger and bulkier while coyotes are shorter, sleek and lighter on their feet.

Wolf characteristics

The following wolf characteristics were designed to help non-biologists determine if an animal is wolf, dog, or hybrid. They are the average measurements taken from 24 adult wolves. Certain characteristics may vary with animal's age and health status, such as canine wear and fur conditions. If an animal has at least 8 out of 10 of these characteristics, there is a high likeliness that it is at least part or mostly wolf, but in some cases DNA testing may be needed to confirm its status.

  1. Head is relatively large, with broad cheeks ~ 5.75 inches (~15 cm) across, below the eyes.
  2. Face markings are well blended, lacking distinguishable borders.
  3. Well furred erect ears rounded at tip ~ 4.75 inches (~12.1 cm.) long.
  4. Light colored slanted eyes, ranging from amber to yellow.
  5. Normal coloration is rusty brown (cinnamon) with black tipped guard hair, winter coat has thick under fur and guard hair.
  6. Elongated snout (non-dished) with black nose and large ~ 1.0 inch (~23 mm) inward curved canine teeth.
  7. Narrow keeled chest and hips, front feet slightly toed out, shoulder height ~ 28 inches (~73 cm).
  8. Long legs with large ~ 3.5 inches (9.0 cm) long by ~ 2.6 inches (6.7 cm) wide front feet and smaller back feet
  9. Ruff of fur around neck and shoulder area resembling four layer cape appearance. Chest girth ~ 24 inches (~ 60.5 cm)
  10. Straight busy tail with black tip, black spot (precaudal gland) on top of tails base. Tail bone length ~ 17.5 inches (43.5 cm)

Comparisons between wolf, coyote and dogs

General differences between canid species
    Wolf Coyote Dog
Color Mix of tan, brown, black, gray & especially cinnamon on ears. Some are black. Mix of tan, brown, gray & some black, but usually lighter than wolf. Highly varied but usually not the mix of tan, brown, gray & black of wolves. Often more solid colors.
Hair Furry Furry Often flat & short.
Ears Erect, rounded & furry. Erect, pointed & furry. Floppy or erect, lack fur in ears.
Head Large, long, blocky snout, low forehead. Long, pointed snout, low forehead. Short, blocky snout, high forehead.
Tail Held flaccid or out straight, no curve. Held flaccid or out straight, no curve. Usually curved tail and some curl over back.
Precaudal gland Black spot on back of tail. Black spot on back of tail. Usually no black spot on back of tail.
Chest and legs Narrow chest, legs close together. Narrow chest, legs close together. Often broad or barrel chest, legs spread apart.
Weight (adult) 50-100 lbs. 25-45 lbs. 5-150 lbs.
Shoulder height 27-33" 20-22" 10-32" (few are greater than 25")
Total length 5-6 ft. 3 1/2 - 4 1/2 ft. Highly variable.
Scat Distinct, cylindrical with tapered fringes of hair. Most are full of deer, beaver, or sometimes snowshoe hare hair. Usually over 1" in diameter. May be as wide as 1.5" and 4-7" long. Usually less than 1" diameter, and often full of small mammal hair. Lack of hair, lack of tapered fringe and full of cereal matter.

Tracks

image of wolf, coyote and dog tracks
Last revised: Monday November 04 2013