Differences between wolves and German Shepherds

Written by arlene mckanic
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Differences between wolves and German Shepherds
All dogs are descendants of the grey wolf. (Getty creative)

Even though the two animals may look somewhat alike with their long muzzles, erect ears and intelligent expressions, millennia of domestication have made the grey wolf and the German Shepherd, also called the Alsatian, quite different from each other.

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The grey wolf is one of many species and subspecies of wolf and one of the largest. The German Shepherd, like all dogs -- even the smallest chihuahua -- is a descendant of the wolf. The grey wolf, thought to have evolved around 300,000 years ago, is the ancestor of all dogs. Dogs have been domesticated for about 16,000 years.


The first German Shepherd originated in Karlsruhe, Germany, under Captain Max von Stephanitz and was exhibited in America in 1907. The average German Shepherd measures between 58 and 63 cm (23 and 25 inches) high at the shoulder and weighs between 34 and 43 kg (75 and 95 pounds). A grown wolf measures between 1 and 1.5 metres (41 and 63 inches) long and 86 cm (34 inches) high at the shoulder and weighs about 38.5 kg (85 pounds). A grey wolf has a larger and heavier head and teeth than a German Shepherd's. The bone-crushing pressure of a wolf's bite is much stronger than a German Shepherd's. The wolf's paws are a little bit longer than the German Shepherd's as well. Though both canines have somewhat sloping backs, the German Shepherd's is pronounced; the sloping back is one of the hallmarks of the species.


The German Shepherd was originally bred as a helping dog, mainly to herd sheep. Of course, the wolf doesn't herd sheep, though his ability to herd prey to a certain place helps the pack take it down more easily.

Barking and vision

A German Shepherd barks more than a wolf. Barking in a dog is a sign of neoteny -- a trait left over from childhood. Barking is a sign of distress used by wolf cubs to summon the adults. The wolf's vision is probably not as good as German Shepherd's nor is its sense of smell as acute.

Other behaviours

People value German Shepherds for their work and companionship. Wolves are still feared and persecuted. Though the German Shepherd is one of the most intelligent of dogs, the wolf's brain and skull are bigger than the German Shepherd's. A German Shepherd comes into oestrus twice a year, but the wolf comes into oestrus once a year. The dog's human owner controls its reproduction. The wolf also has a gland at the base of its tail that sends pheromones to communicate with other members of its pack. The German Shepherd either lacks this gland or, in some cases, has a much smaller one.

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