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.

20 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…..

        • do you ever think the “proof” is hidden for a reason. they act like this breed didnt come to exist until after being recognized by a kennel. all breeds created start out for years existing prior to being recognized. theyre hiding this dogs genuine back ground.

      • 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!

  3. Wolf… (traits at least) as compared to most dogs. It’s common knowledge that all dogs are defendants of wolfs. In fact their domestication marked a huge advancement in our history by facilitating migration. These domesticated wolves allowed us to venture further out into unknown territory as we had someone to stand guard as we slept.

    I’m in my mid 50s. I bought a 7 week old GSD puppy 8 months ago. He’s my 8th dog and have raised 6 of them from pups. This dog was my most expensive and is pure breed from imported German sire and dam. He is a stunning black and red, large boned beauty. What a challenge he’s been compared to my other dogs. Smart, strong and independent minded.

    After many years in deed restricted communities we moved out to the country and my wife wanted another larger breed for peace of mind. I wanted to share that he has little in common with my other large dogs including a Black Lab and full-sized Labradoodle. All dogs I’ve owned do a great job of being God’s origional alarm system. But…all I’ve owned so far would more likely lick an intruder to death than aggressively bite. And BTW, these dogs are not into licking but would rather mouth you. This can be a bit alarming to visitors. As far as obedience goes, my Labradoodle was my first large dog that could be off leash in public. I can only hope my GSD will get there one day… As an early poster stated, this guy will only return when he wants too. It is a liability that people should consider when deciding what breed to buy or adopt. These dogs are intimidating and need to be closely managed as you don’t want them free, scaring the neighborhood. My GSD also has a prey instinct; all my dogs have chased and sometimes cornered small animals but this is my first that will actually kill and consume them. Also noteworthy is the dog’s teeth; they are much larger than my previous dogs.

    I love my German Shepherd and will stick by him. It’s fun to interact with and train such a smart animal. I can say I may not have chosen a GSD if I knew how demanding they are. They will not be denied your time and attention. All of this being said he is the right choice for what my wife was looking for. He’s a step above just another alarm and I believe he would defend with intelligent force if needed.

    • I have a pure bred black shepherd myself which i got when he was 10 weeks old. The training began the day i got him. He is now 5 months, and top of his service class training to become a service dog. He has been off leash since 11 weeks. His barking is minimal and his territory is nothing out of hand. He has been in obedience class, he goes to dog park three times a week, and he goes out in the city three times a week. Socialization has been key in reducing aggression, attention demand, and behavioral issues. I have denied him my time and attention on many occasions in a healthy format for the benefit of himself and being independent. My GSD contradicts almost everything you spoke of. So I’m going to take your reply as a case by case thing. It depends on the upbringing and it sounds like your shepherd was significantly more sheltered than mine was.

      • I agree that it’s a case-by-case thing. My GSD is 17 months now and is much more focused on “people pleasing”. He often sticks to my side like Velcro. Our other 2 dogs are chihuahuas which was fine when he was a pup but probably leaves him longing for a playmate. I exercise him many times a day to fill the void; & for both our benefit. I will start trying a dog play park. He has had considerable obedience training. In the end a correction collar was recommended to get his attention refocused when needed My GSD has a calm disposition but remains much more independent minded than the other large breeds I’ve had.

  4. Von Stephanitz choose not to use wolf crossings because he could only get poor prodgeny. The gray color doesn’t come from the wolf but from a mix of dominant and ressesive traits.

    The German Shepherd dog has no major or minor Wolf traits, ie,a dorsel gland,oblique eyes, course top line fur, undefined stop,overly thick undercoat,which is three times as thick as the German Shepherd undercoat.
    Also, German Shepherd inner ear canal is much smaller than a wolf or wolf-type dog.
    This subject has been and always will be controversial, but the physical traits,and more importantly the innate and reflex behaviors of the two canines,albeit autonomic system don’t constantly match.

    • John, you seem to be referencing the conformation frog leg GSD’s. So unfortunate. Anyone reading/contemplating a GSD, please get a straight back working line. My Izzy comes from the Easten European line of working GSD’s. Ask yourself, when you see military working dog GSD’s, what is the dominant color? Umm, bi-color. As a former supervisor of mine in the USMC MIlitary Police and Handler/trainer once told me, there are dogs and then there are German Shepherd Dogs! I do appreciate the Belgian Malnois as well, however, too high strung fior a family pet compared to GSD. As I am typing, Izzy, my 6 year old Bicolor GSD is underfoot as she always has been. When I get up to go anywhere in our home, she follows and patiently waits for her pack leader to return. She has never been left alone for more then 3 hours. When she wants her belly rubbed, she rolls onto her back and gains my attention by vocalizing the way GSD owners can understand. You must socialize early and often, give them as much daily exercise as they can handle, provide them with constant training and reward positive behavior. Never, ever, discipline this or any other breed, physically. Finally, as a former United States Marine/US Intelligence community, I have earned the required experience to speak to this matter. May God continue to bless you all! YODA!

    • OH BUT YOUR WRONG LAST YEAR ON HULU ME AND MY SISTER WATCHED A DOCUMENTARY ON GERMAN SHEPHERDS AND WOLVES IT SAID THEY ARE THE CLOSET THING TO A WOLF BESIDES HUSKY AND MALAMUTES WE USED TO HAVE 2 MALAMUTES SPIRIT SILVER EAGLE AND JAKE I MISS THEM ALOT BUT THEY’VE GOT NEW OWNER’S WHO ARE SISTERS AND MY SISTER HAS A BEAUTIFUL PURE BREED GERMAN SHEPHERD PUPPY NAME SHEBA SHE’S A JOY AND THEY HAVE SAID THAT GERMAN SHEPHERDS ARE RELATED TO GRAY WOLVES SO DON’T UNDERESTIMATE IT

  5. I have a gsd black and tan that I have for 2 months now. He is 4 months old now from a German working line dad and a mix of American and German working line mom. He is a bit feisty as you would expect in a gsd this age but easy to train if you are willing to be persistent and firm. My wife has raised many GSDs and understands them well. You cannot let this puppy be the boss of the house. I will recommend a daily regiment of walks, play, mind games if u want. This is definitely a dog you want to raise inside the house, they want to be loved and they will please you. It is a great family dog. I have so many dogs in the neighborhood and proud to say mine is maybe the best behaved. And if possible feed them raw food only. You will thank me- they will shed less, have shiny coats, no bad smell, small hard poop that is easy to pick. And yes, as far as I know they are 10% or less wolf. How would you explain such wolf like features and behaviour.

  6. I have a 16 month old blask gsd from czec lines..He is so amazing! Trainable..crazy drive..sweet.fierce..his whole focus is gusrding me and kids..when he was 11 weeks old we all went to park..kids played on equipment..I tried to walk him away to sniff aroung trees..hw wouldnt budge..had to sit and watch kids..was so cute..and he did until they came back to me..also: a couple weeks ago he witnessed something he has never seen…me snot crying over a tragedy..he buried his head under my chin then lifted his head and howeled..I have to watch him when stragers come into my space when he is on leash..he will bite if i dont correct him.this is something we are working on with treats.though he is super friendly otherwise..once I give approval he is all lovey dovey..its just the initial introduction..he is super dominant..always challenging me..but I stick to my guns..he has never given his belly to another dog (or person)..even as a pup he would not submit..pissed a lot of dogs off..one went at him when he was 4 months old..he stood his ground..lowered his head..groweled and snarled..cried..until i intervened (he was screaming and other dog was attacking)..but did not submit even though he was scared..I love this dog! He will do anything for me..even if he doesnt like it..such HEART! Cant wait till we do bite work..he will love it

  7. I have my 9 month German Shepherd i got it when he is 12 Weeks old in his 9th month he sized as we cannot imagine this breed is King Champion line very intelligent and obedient, i could train him as quickly, i amazed many times. His appearance is as same like Grey Wolf, And before i had Black American Labrador, She was very lovely and gentle with my 1 1/2 year son. My German shepherd also very gently with my son if he sits on him also allowed by my GSD. I love my GSD really a very interesting and lovely pet. He will call us for his exercise all the time when he wanted and always in active mode, If you doing something in computer he will come and lay down and place his head on my legs, really it is very lovely breed i have ever had. I am staying in Abu Dhabi where restrict for pets to keep and take in public which authority allowed, but in my area he is very calm and quiet and on leash he will walk without any bad behaviors which i never trained to be a good shepherd, he got his all good behaviors from the blood line. Really it is very amazing pet that you can keep with your family. If he looks like Grey Wolf even.

  8. I was told at one time gsd were bred to the boxer collie/sheep dog is this true

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