Wolf Size Comparison: Just How Big are They?

wolf howling on top or rock
Allison Coffin/Shutterstock.com

Written by Megan Martin

Updated: September 19, 2023

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When a lot of people think about wolves, they may think of them just like they would a dog. However, while the Twilight Saga might have exaggerated how big the ancestor of man’s best friend is, wolves are surprisingly bigger than many people think. But how big are they exactly? We’ve created this wolf size comparison guide to give a better look at how their size compares to humans and even prehistoric wolves like the dire wolf!

Hopefully, this will give you a look at how big wolves are without getting to know one up close and personal (which isn’t recommended, especially in the wild)!

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Types of Wolves and Their Sizes

wolf howling on top or rock

When a wolf howls, it is simply communicating with members of its pack or competing packs.

There are almost as many types or subspecies of wolves as there are dog breeds – well not exactly, but there are several found right here in North America. Most of these fall under the category of the grey wolf (also known as the gray wolf or timber wolf) and include:

  • Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos)
  • Northwestern wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis)
  • Great Plains wolf (Canis lupus nubilus)
  • The Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi)
  • Eastern wolf (Canis lycaon)

There’s also the red wolf, though they’re only found in a small region in North Carolina. Red wolves tend to be much smaller than gray wolves and appear to be more closely related to a coyote with their small size of 80 pounds and length of 4 feet.

The smallest wolf is the Arabian wolf. At its full adult size, it usually only weighs an average of 45 pounds. For reference, that’s around the same as a miniature American shepherd. They also don’t tend to get larger than 25 inches at the shoulders.

Arabian wolf

The Arabian wolf is a critically endangered species.

However, male wolves of different species and subspecies have been known to grow past 150 pounds! In fact, the largest wolf ever recorded weighed 175 pounds!

There have also been many-a pictures taken of wolves on their hind legs seeing eye to eye with their human caretakers.

Wolf  Vs. Human Size Comparison

Wolf Size Comparison - Dire Wolf vs. Great Dane vs. Wolf. vs. Coyote vs. Human
A human versus a dire wolf (top), great dane, wolf, and coyote

Did you know wolf attacks on humans are one of the rarest of all top predators? Even wild sightings are rare because of how wary they are of humans. However, if you were to come across one by chance, how do you think you’ll measure up against them?

If you were to happen to come across the Arabian wolf, it would be similar to meeting a Labrador retriever – at least in size. For an adult, this means that they would most likely be at eye level with your upper knee.

However, for some of the largest species of wolf, you may find that they come up to your waist. And, if they were to stand on their hind legs, they would likely be able to rest their front paws on your shoulder and be at eye level with you. Talk about the most dangerous hug.

Wolf Size Comparison to a Great Dane

Wolf Size Comparison - Dire Wolf vs Great Dane vs Wolf vs Coyote vs Human
Great Danes are taller than wolves

Titan, one of the largest Great Danes ever, held the record for having a shoulder height of 42 inches. While this outshines even the largest of the wolves, who usually don’t boast more than a maximum of 32 inches (about 1 envelop length shorter than Titan the Great Dane).

But do wolves stand a chance against the average Great Dane?

For the female Great Dane, it’s a close maybe. Females have an average height of 28 to 32 inches, with an estimated maximum of 130 pounds. Larger wolves, such as the timber wolf or Mackenzie Valley wolf, may be larger than this, but smaller species like the tundra wolf, Mexican wolf, or Arabian wolf would be a few inches shorter.

Wolf Size Comparison to a Coyote

coyote vs wolf
Coyotes are much smaller than wolves

Depending on your region, it can be difficult to tell a wolf from a coyote due to their similarities. One of their few differentiating qualities is their size – or the coyote’s lack thereof.

A close match for many of North America’s top predators, wolves, especially timber or grey wolves, are known for their lean but large size. In fact, with coyotes only reaching a maximum weight of 50 pounds, grey wolves are nearly double their size. Wolves also tend to be around a foot taller than coyotes, meaning that they won’t exactly see eye to eye unless the wolf drops into an offensive, snarling position (and who wants to be on the other side of that?).

From snout to tail, wolves also win in length by growing up to 5 to 6 feet long – the average height of an adult human. Coyotes, on the other hand, usually don’t get any longer than around 4 feet, the average height of a five-year-old child.

There’s even a difference in the size of their paws! On average, wolf paws are exactly double the size of a coyote’s paws – all the better to support their larger bodies with.

Wolf Size Comparison to a Dire Wolf

Wolf Size Comparison - Dire Wolf with Baby Mammoth

Dire wolves would have lived in an environment with megafauna like mammoths

That’s right: dire wolves exist beyond the world of your favorite fantasy shows. Or at least, they did.

While they’re extinct now and have been for tens of thousands of years, dire wolves used to be one of the top predators in America and Asia, and they’re the ancestors of modern-day wolves. Surprisingly though, there aren’t too many differences between these canine family members, even when analyzing and comparing their sizes.

Dire wolves are most comparable to the gray wolf, where they’re a tad bit heavier. To be more specific, the lean and athletic gray wolf usually maxes out around 145 pounds, while dire wolves were known to be bulky, strong hunters with an estimated maximum weight of 175 pounds. In general, dire wolves were about 25% heavier than today’s gray wolves.

While they tend to see eye to eye when it comes to height, dire wolves were known for their large skulls and jaws, which has the opportunity to give them a height advantage over the gray wolf.

The largest wolf subspecies today would be the Mackenzie wolf. As noted earlier, the largest one ever caught weighed 175 pounds, meaning the wolves in the Yukon Territory and Alaska could be the closest modern approximations of dire wolves!

Where Do Wolves Live?

Wolves are extremely adaptable and are found in very different biomes throughout the northern hemisphere. Species can live in deserts or forests and even high up in the snowy tundra. They are often found across North America and Eurasia. However, their range has been reduced due to habitat encroachment and conflicts with humans.

Wolves occupy large territories in which they hunt for prey, live, and raise their young. In images and movies, wolves are in caves, but they don’t actually live in caves. A female wolf, while pregnant, will prepare a shelter or den for her pups. These dens are only for them and only for the time it takes the pups to mature enough. This den may be dug into the ground or use tree trunks or boulders that are well hidden by undergrowth and vegetation.

There are wolves in sanctuaries or zoos. They have trained professionals who will work with the animals to rehabilitate them and reintroduce them into the wild or take care of them in the best way possible.

Can Wolves Make Good Pets?

A portrait of a red wolf

Wolves are not meant to be pets.

We have probably all seen a few movies where someone, either the protagonist or antagonist, raises and trains a wolf to be tame and listen to their master. While this makes for compelling storytelling, making a wolf into a pet in the real world is a very bad idea.

Wolves do not have the benefit of centuries and centuries of breeding and interbreeding qualities that help make dogs the great family companions that we know them to be today.

Research does show that wolf pups can become attached to humans that help raise them. This may seem like a good idea and probably is for zoo employees and anyone handling them, but it does not ensure in any way that the wolf would be safe to be around anyone else. On top of that, the wolf could still very easily become aggressive to even the humans that helped raise it.

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About the Author

Megan is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is birds, felines, and sharks. She has been researching and writing about animals for four years, and she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in biology and professional and technical writing from Wingate University, which she earned in 2022. A resident of North Carolina, Megan is an avid birdwatcher that enjoys spending time with her cats and exploring local zoological parks with her husband.

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