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Are bears and dogs related?

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This may seem like an odd question, but when you think about it, it makes sense. Dogs and bears are somewhat similar. Is there more to their relationship than the average person knows? Well, thankfully, science has some good answers about the history and classification of many animal species on Earth. A bear is indeed a bit like a big, thick dog, isn't it? Well, let's make sure: Are bears related to dogs? Let's look at bears and dogs.

are bears related to dogs
Bears and dogs share a common ancestor.


The main question here is about the evolutionary history of bears and dogs. When we ask whether something is "related," we're asking whether two animal species are genetically related to each other.

Quick answer to the question: bears are not directly related to dogs . They do, however, have an ancient ancestor shared between the two species. As a second equally important note, if not more important, each creature is relevant . Humans share a genetic ancestry with jellyfish and fungi, but those relationships go farther than ours with chimpanzees. The real question (and probably the more helpful one) is how closely and how far (in time) the species are related.

You'll soon find out that the common ancestor of dogs and bears lived 62-32 million years ago. Although both animals are mammals, today they have diverged from this common ancestor. Let's dive into more details of this relationship!

Are bears and dogs related?
Bears and dogs belong to the same suborder of animals known as "Caniformia".

© iStock.com/Chalabala

All questions concerning whether one species is "related" to another depend on evolutionary history. Essentially, what one is asking is, "How much common ancestry do these two species share?" Evolutionary research allows us (in several different ways) to look back in time and piece the puzzle together, allowing us to more fully understand Learn about the genetic heritage shared by all living things. If you go back far enough, all living things have an ancestor.

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Humans study the interrelatedness of different species in several ways. Probably the most popular (from the public's point of view) is the fossil evidence. We can often dig up bones or fossil imprints that clearly identify themselves as some quasi-species from which two current (existing) species may have originated. The most recent link between two species is called a common ancestor.

The second and more important way we can look at co-evolutionary history is through DNA. DNA evidence allows us to look back with relative certainty to see how things were related. When two species share extremely similar DNA, they are likely to be closely related and share a not too distant common ancestor.

What are taxonomic classifications?

Are bears and dogs related?
Taxonomy is the process of classifying animals according to their evolutionary history.

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As boring as it is, it's important to understand how scientists classify living things. Without knowing the classification, we have no way of knowing whether things are related! This is a basic overview of taxonomy.

In order to understand "relatedness" on an evolutionary scale, it is important to understand the grouping system humans use to make sense of things. Taxonomy is simply the science of naming living things and grouping them into related categories.

Think of taxonomy as a pyramid, with the most general and comprehensive definitions at the top and the most specific and detailed definitions near the bottom. For example, the six kingdoms (the second largest group) include plants, fungi, animals, etc. The most specific classification, species, includes closely related things such as polar bears, grizzly bears, and black bears.

Are bears and dogs related?
Bears and dogs are related in suborders, but belong to different taxonomic families.


Now, for the sake of the question at hand, how closely related are dogs and bears? We determined earlier that while they are not directly related, there are taxonomic classifications that can reveal the closeness of the relationship. Now, you may have come across other sources that say they are not closely related. However, the truth is that these two animals are relatively closely related !

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Both dogs and bears belong to the suborder Caniformia (literally, dog-like carnivores. This taxonomic division includes dogs, bears, wolves, foxes, raccoons, and mustelids. Many species within this order (the most Specifically) have non-retractable claws and are usually omnivorous.

This suborder split off from Feliformia (cat-like carnivores), from which lions, cats, and other cats originated. Within the suborder Caniformia, nine families currently exist. Dogs and wolves belong to the family Canidae, while bears belong to the family Ursidae.

So, if you compare bears and dogs based on their suborders, they are closely related. However, they belong to different families but share the same suborder, so they are quite related in terms of families. Finally, as far as species are concerned, they are distant relatives .

In short, dogs and bears are related in suborders, but they are different families and species . Collectively, dogs, wolves, and bears are related in their suborders and share a not-too-distant common ancestor.

What was the most recent common ancestor of bears and dogs?

Are bears and dogs related?
Bears and dogs share a common ancestor, called Miacids, who lived at least 32 million years ago.

© iStock.com/christiannafzger

Now that we understand some basics of evolutionary relatedness, let's take a look at the most recent common ancestor of bears and dogs! Remember, this ancestor was the forerunner of bears and wolves/dogs and a few other families.

The most recent common ancestors of bears and dogs were Miacids. Miacids are extinct and lived 62-32 million years ago. They were quite successful and survived for at least 28 million years. These extinct mammals are thought to have evolved the modern basis of the carnivorous order, in which the caniformes and feliformes diverged. They look a lot like ermines and weasels, and some live in trees while others live on the ground.

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Miacids are the basis of all modern carnivores and probably prey on anything smaller than them. As these Miacids spread, they became specialized in their ecological niche. The abundance of carnivorous and social animals in cat-rich Africa likely allowed them to evolve into the super-predators we know as lions and leopards. In North America and Europe, the need for more varied diets has led to the emergence of more omnivorous animals, such as those we see in bears, dogs and otters.


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about the author

Colby Maxwell

Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he's not distracted by the backyard bird feeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him what he's learned recently. There's a whole world to learn, and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much of it as he can!

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