Are German Shepherds Part Wolf?

Many people wonder if German Shepherds are related to wolves. You may even wonder if your domestic GSD has a significant percentage of wolf genetics. After all, this breed does somewhat resemble a wolf in size and physical makeup. But is your dog really part wolf?

Are German Shepherds Part Wolf?

Once called the Alsatian Wolf Dog, German Shepherds are not part wolf. They are, however, descendants from gray wolves in the same way that most domestic dogs are. Domestic dogs are part of the biological family known as Canidae, which also includes species such as wolves, foxes, and dingoes.

Clearly, some dog breeds such as the German Shepherd, resemble wolves more than other breeds. No one would look at a miniature poodle, for instance, and think, “That dog is part wolf.” However, appearances can be deceiving.

So, how can we tell how closely related the modern day German Shepherd dog is to the wolf?

Origins Of The GSD Breed

Originally, in the 1800’s, the most common herding dogs were called “continental shepherd dogs.” This group was made up of the Belgian Shepherd, German Shepherd, and Dutch Shepherd dog breeds. However, the GSD was not yet recognized as an official breed.

The German Shepherd breed was officially recognized in 1899 when Max von Stephanitz founded The Society for the German Shepherd Dog. Von Stephnaitz began breeding with a Thuringian cross show dog, which became the original sire of the GSD breed.

The Thuringian breed somewhat resembles the gray wolf in appearance, exhibiting traits like erect ears, shaggy gray hair, and a curled tail. Much of the wolf-like appearance we see in the modern GSD can likely be attributed to Thuringian genes as DNA tests indicate that this breed is more directly descended from the gray wolf.

However, there are other contributors to the genetic makeup of the GSD, including the Wurttemberg Sheep Dog and the Swabian Service Dog.

The Wurttemberg Sheep Dog was introduced into the bloodline in order to temper the Thuringian’s tendency towards high energy and lack of focus. The Wurttemberg was more docile and easily trained. This breed also added a sturdier body structure, denser bones, and higher stamina to the GSD, all ideal traits for a working herd dog.

The Swabian Service Dog is the largest of the breeds used in the GSD bloodline. The Swabian added not only size, but also an even temper and a courageous personality, both traits the GSD is known for.

Has The Breed Changed Much Over Time?

There is some debate amongst breeders and owners as to whether the GSD breed has changed much since the late 1800’s. Some question whether or not more recent breeders have added additional wolf genetics to the line. However, there is no proof, either through paper or DNA tests, to validate this theory.

So, how closely related is your GSD to the wild gray wolf? Probably no more than most domestic dogs. However, you can see some of the characteristics of the wolf in your dog’s noble appearance and courageous personality.

7 Comments
  1. This is very untrue. It is rarely talked about so the breed isnt viewd as “agressive” but in the late 1800’s wolf was bred into the German Shepard bllod line. This makes a purebred German 10% wolf or maybe even a little less Over the years.So yes they are more ‘wolfy’ than your avergad dog breed.

    • I have one, a GSD and would love more info. I have alway felt he looks very much like a wolf. The long legs and the long lean muzzle., are very wolf like features. I would love to know more, if you have any good info beyond the internet please let me know. I know there is more info out there. Thank you so much – GSD dog and wolf lover–

    • Hi Corrin,

      Everything you have just stated is wrong on pretty much every level.

      Sorry, thank you though.
      Len

  2. I would like to see proof, not heresay that grey wolf was introduced into the GSD. I have spent a lot of time around wolf/GSD hybrids and GSD’s in my lifetime, and am facinated with grey wolves. I have owned many “wolf-like” dogs:(especially gsd’s and Siberian malamutes.) These two breeds exhibit very wolf-like behaviors. It is also believed that German Shepherds cannot be part wolf because they are gentle. It is a myth that wolves are not gentle. They are very protective of and gentle with their own pack members. They have also been known to take in and nurture humans and other animals throughout history. When a wolf pup is brought up around humans from birth, it will bond with and accept the humans as part of its pack. However, it is still a wild animal and can be unpredictable. Now let’s look at the GSD: the pup when not properly socialized during its upbringing will behave just as unpredictably as the gray wolf. And as for the Siberian Malamute, many people think that these are unintelligent dogs because they are so elusive in behavior. They behave this way because they are highly intelligent and independent and do not look to humans to solve their problems. This is very wolf-like behavior. I once owned a purebred Siberian Malamute. He behaved very much like a gray wolf but he was more docile. Working with him was very much like working with a wolf hybrid. I currently own and am working with a GSD rescue; a 90 lb. black male. When he is in the house or on leash his behavior is typical GSD. However when he is in his closed in yard left to his own devices his behavior is very wolf-like. Under these conditions he is very cunning, evasive, and highly intelligent. He is always ten steps ahead of you and will not let you catch him, not even with high value rewards. This behavior is very wolf like. We have had his DNA done and the results did not indicate that he is a wolf hybrid , he is purebred GSD. This is an ingrained GSD behavior. most of the GSD’s that I have worked with in my lifetime exhibit this behavior under the right conditions. One can not help but wonder why they are so wolf-like. It is also very difficult to believe that they are not genetically connected to the gray wolf in some way. These dogs were bred specifically to outsmart the wolves that preyed on the flocks of sheep. In order to outsmart the wolves they had to be able to think like the wolves. If you were going to breed a dog that could do this wouldn’t you introduce wolf? Also, other sheep dog breeds also exhibit this behavior. It is necessary for the dogs to behave like a wolf to control the sheep. The sheep recognize this body language and respond to it. If sheepdogs did not behave like walls they would not be able to do their jobs as effectively as they do. How is it that all these dogs exibit behavior that is so wolf like? Very interesting subject hi, I would like to know more.

    • Apparently, proof does exist that wolf was bred into the line. Good luck getting it. The documents are the breeding records of Max Von Stephanitz, and in 2 pages there are 4 instances of wolf crosses.

      • Horand von Grafrath’s father was “Kastor”. Kastor was grey. Kastor’s father was “Pollux”. According to his pedigree, he was described as “a well-built, strong and tall dog, grey. Having a course head, he resembled a wolf, and his opponents considered him “more suitable for the Zoo than for guarding the herds”.

        Wow, I had never seen that. I’m guessing the answer would lie in Pollux, but I see no records…..

      • Thank you for your response Dr. I apologize for taking so long to reply. I set this aside and forgot about it. I would love to view these records but I have not seen them yet. I have always felt that there is more to the GSD than meets the eye, and not everyone can see just how different they are from most dogs. I think most GSD owners get it, although they may not know exactly where it comes from. The proof of wolf DNA in the GSD remains to be seen, however I will remain intrigued by the subject whether proof as given or not. Most dogs at one time or another exhibit small examples of wolf like behavior, after all they are all descended from wolves. However, this behavior stands out in the GSD. Malamutes may be more wolf-like, but I think because they look like wolves we just expect it. But because the German Shepherd is so refined these traits really enhance the breed. F Y I: the GSD rescue that I am currently working with is now 100 pounds and remains a Willey and cunning challenger to my patience and training ability. This behavior is relentless……dog or wolf; you be the judge!

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