Pity the poor Alsatian or German shepherd dog (GSD). Since these dogs were bred to resemble wolves, people not familiar with them often mistake them for wolves. Just their appearance intimidates many people just because they are so wolf-like.
German shepherds share many things with wolves, including pointed ears, a pointed muzzle and the same number of chromosomes.
The differences are most important to remember. German shepherds make wonderful companions, co-workers, and pets. Wolves do not.
One: Differences in Size
Although considered big dogs, only the largest equal the size and weight of the smallest wolf. According to the Integrated Taxonomic Integration System, wolves come in three species, but on average they range in height from 2.2 feet to 2.7 feet. GSDs range from 22 inches to 2.2 feet.
Wolves weigh in anywhere from 51 pounds of a small female to 180 pounds for a big male. Like dogs, male wolves grow taller, longer and heavier than females. In contrast, German shepherds only tip the scales at 49 to 88 pounds.
Two: Differences in Paying Attention to People
GSDs find people fascinating. Their people-pleasing nature made them the dog in demand for jobs where humans and dogs need to work closely together. GSDs make great search and rescue dogs, guide dogs, police dogs and (surprise!) sheepdogs.
On the other hand (or paw) wolves just do not want to know anything about people except how to avoid them. If you point your finger to an interesting object like a tennis ball, the GSD will follow your finger’s direction to the ball. The wolf will either stare at you or ignore you.
Three: GDS Make Better Actors
Because German shepherd dogs love pleasing people, they learn an intricate variety of tricks. They take cues from their owners or trainers readily. This makes them constantly on the large and small screens – often playing wolves.
Because they are so incredibly hard to train and have very little interest in pleasing people, wolves make poor actors. If they were human, they’d constantly be in their trailer. Chances are unless it’s a nature documentary, that wolf you saw in the movies was really a husky or a GSD.
Four: Differences in Hind Leg Shape
German shepherds got their name honestly, as being a sheepdog. In order to mimic a wolf creeping up on the flock, the hind legs permanently crouch.
According to AKC, This has been bred to extremes in America, as seen in the current breed standard at the American Kennel Club’s website.
Wolves do not need a permanent fake crouch because they stalk so well without any modifications from humans. Their hind legs are much straighter, and arguably much stronger than a modern GSD’s.
Five: GSDs Suffer Hip Dysplasia Far More Often Than Wolves
Partly because of the fashion for unusual hind legs and partly because of inbreeding, GSDs suffer from a painful genetic condition mostly unknown in wolves.
This is called hip dysplasia. It appears in GSDs of all ages, but especially in puppies and young dogs, like Riley in this YouTube video.
Do wolves get hip dysplasia? Yes, but it is only seen in very old wolves as a consequence of arthritis, notes author and animal behaviorist Jeffrey Moussaieff Maison in his popular 1998 book, Dog Never Lie About Love.
Six: Differences in Eye Color
Wolf’s eyes come in a wide variety of colors, including pale grey to a brown so deep it’s nearly black. Other colors include yellow, amber, grey-blue and blue-green. In contrast, all GSD eyes are shades of brown.
Other eye colors have appeared in GSDs, especially blue, but they disqualified in the show ring and so are rarely bred to pass that eye color gene along. All dog and wolf puppies are born with blue eyes but their real color comes in a couple of months.
Seven: Differences in Tolerating Extreme Temperatures
You can find wolves living outside in all kinds of weather like blizzards near the Arctic Circle to the searing deserts of the Middle East.
They not only evolved bodies to thrive outside in extreme heat or cold, but they learn from older pack members how to cope in bad weather.
In sad contrast, the GSD needs what we could call “creature comforts.” Any dog, including a seemingly tough German shepherd, needs heat and shelter from the cold and plenty of shade in the heat. They have no one to teach them about the weather except us.
Eight: Differences in Population
The GSD is the second most popular dog breed, according to the American Kennel Club. This means there are millions of GSDs and part-GSDs just in America. The future of our partner, this descendant of the wolf, is secure.
Not so for wolves. Many species teeter on the brink of extinction because they have been hunted ruthlessly by people. According to Wikipedia, only about 300,000 wolves remain in the entire world.
Nine: Differences in Diet
Wolves eat meat all the time, right? Actually, they eat whatever they get a hold of. Meat does seem to be what they like the best, though and their digestive system tackles meat easily.
Dogs eat differently and that may be why they were domesticated, while wolves remain wild. According to Science magazine, dogs have 122 gene differences in their digestive tract to wolves, making people food like rice easier to digest than meat.
Although bred to look like wolves and once known as the Alsatian Wolf-dog, German shepherds are very different from wolves.
Smaller, lighter and friendlier, they look out through dark brown eyes. They are far more popular with people than wolves.
Everyone loves a GSD but not a wolf. This has led to the noble but independent creature at the brink of extinction. It’s as if they would rather die than have to get used to living with us.