Do Domesticated Foxes Exist?

A photo of a pet silver fox with the text "Domestic Foxes?" over the image

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Do Domesticated Foxes Exist?

 Short answer: No. Truly domesticated foxes do not exist.

Long answer–Still no (ft. the Russian Silver Fox Experiment)

With the rise in popularity of pet foxes on social media, I often find myself telling people “Actual domestic foxes are not real, and anyone who is trying to sell you one or claims they have one as a pet is lying to you.” To which people are quick to respond “But what about the Russian silver fox experiment?” The answer is no–the Russian silver foxes are not actually domesticated. Allow me to explain…

The Russian Silver Fox Experiment conducted by Dmitry Belyaev and his colleagues at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics was an attempt to determine if selective breeding based on behavioral traits was how wolves ended up turning into dogs. And while the study produced fascinating results, it is crucial to understand that the foxes involved in the experiment are not truly domesticated.

In the late 1950s, Belyaev initiated his experiment with a population of captive-bred foxes from fur farms. The experiment involved selectively breeding the foxes based on their tameness toward humans in an attempt to replicate the domestication process. Initially, the researchers chose the least aggressive foxes and allowed them to breed. However, over several generations, the team became more specific with their selective breeding requirement. Now, instead of choosing the foxes that were simply the “least aggressive”, the researchers sought out and bred the foxes that displayed the most approachable and friendly behaviors. This selective breeding did manage to change the whole population’s temperament.

After approximately 30 generations, most of the selected foxes exhibited distinctive traits commonly associated with domestication. These included changes in fur coloration, floppy ears, shorter tails, and alterations in reproductive behavior. Additionally, some of the foxes became more socially tolerant and displayed an increased affinity for human companionship.

“So they’re domesticated foxes, right?” No. 

a photo of a domesticated fox from the russian silver fox program
A photo of a russian silver fox taken by Darya Shepeleva

Even though there were significant changes made to the population’s behavior and physical appearance, the animals in the Russian Silver Fox Experiment are not considered truly domesticated. Domestication is a complex process that involves not only genetic modifications but also cultural, environmental, and co-evolutionary factors. It also takes thousands of years. For reference, the Russian silver fox experiment only lasted around 50 (although the ancestors of these foxes are apparently still being bred and sold.) 

 Additionally, the selective breeding process in the Russian Silver Fox Experiment was based mostly on tameness towards humans, which is only one aspect of domestication. Domestication involves the development of traits such as reduced aggression, increased social tolerance with other animals, adaptability to human environments, and altered reproductive patterns. Domestication also involves a range of major genetic alterations that influence an animal’s physiology. A simple example is the diet of a domestic dog vs a wolf. A domestic dog can thrive on a diet comprised exclusively of dog kibble–a wolf cannot. The genes of domestic dogs evolved over thousands of years to enable them to survive and thrive on the diet they eat today. The lack of major genetic and behavioral change in these so-called “domestic foxes,” is further evidence they are not truly domesticated.  Furthermore, although they did become tamer, the foxes retained wild behaviors such as scent marking and trouble potty training. These behaviors are not typically observed in fully domesticated species. And although the Russian silver foxes are far easier pets than red foxes you will find from a breeder here in the US, they are still not pets like cats, dogs, or rabbits.

In conclusion, while the foxes involved in the study did display many characteristics associated with domestication, they are not examples of truly domesticated animals. That is not to say the experiment is without value, however. The Russian Silver Fox Experiment did a wonderful job of shedding light on the potential for rapid behavioral changes through selective breeding, and further validated the theory of Domestication Syndrome.  However, in the end, domestication takes thousands of years, and “domestic foxes” still do not exist.

P.S. Belyaev’s experiment was also inherently flawed due to the fact he did not start with wild foxes, but instead foxes from fur farms that had already been highly selectively bred over hundreds of generations. 


Goldman, Jason G. “Man’s New Best Friend? A Forgotten Russian Experiment in Fox Domestication.” Scientific American Blog Network, 6 Sept. 2010,

Gorman, James. “Why Are These Foxes Tame? Maybe They Weren’t so Wild to Begin with (Published 2019).” The New York Times, 3 Dec. 2019,

Kaiser, Sylvia, et al. “Domestication Affects the Structure, Development and Stability of Biobehavioural Profiles.” Frontiers in Zoology, vol. 12, no. Suppl 1, 2015, p. S19,

Pennisi, Elizabeth. “Diet Shaped Dog Domestication.”, 23 Jan. 2013,

Wilkins, Adam S., et al. “The “Domestication Syndrome” in Mammals: A Unified Explanation Based on Neural Crest Cell Behavior and Genetics.” Genetics, vol. 197, no. 3, July 2014, pp. 795–808,,


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