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The German Shepherd Dog and its Relatives

 Reviewed 5 June 2019 share-a-picture Or go to discussion?join-the-discussion dogphoto

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Distant Relatives: The Origin of Dogs

Wolf looksAccording to fossil founds, some 33000 years ago a few wolves that weren't as shy of humans as others in their pack narrowed in on human settlements in Siberia in order to ... scavenge some food remains. Yes!

This was much easier for the wolves than hunting other animals, and such motive certainly helped to reduce their shyness (called flight distance).

The behavior intensified within these particular family lines of wolves, and soon these wolves stayed close to the human settlers all the time.

human settlementThe human settlers liked the company of the wolves. One reason probably was that, in 'exchange' for the scavenged food leftovers, the wolves protected the people from dangers. Because the wolves would hear anything coming close long before our own ancestors could hear it. It was a win-win for both parties really.

This moment was the start of ALL of our modern domesticated dogs!

Soon our ancestors must have ventured into targeted breeding of those wolves which demonstrated specific traits that our ancestors particularly liked.

Since wolves (like dogs) mature early, they created a new offspring every year, and very quickly the early settlers had bred dogs: Wolves that were markedly different in their behavior to the initial wild wolves (who would attack people when they see a chance).

Dog Evolution

From generation to generation these new wolves (dogs) became increasingly docile towards people, while remaining hostile towards all other dangers. So much, that at some point these domesticated dogs became so different to their ancestors that these dogs even protected the people from the wolves! (It is not clear at what time historically this transition took place.)

Now canines had become human's best friend!

This targeted breeding continued, and dog domestication was of course multiregional. Hence soon, not only the behavior but also the looks of these early dogs became more and more different from that of wolves. It can be assumed that probably within a few thousand years these earliest dog family lines had changed so much that in terms of size, shape, and behavior they no longer resembled wolves.

We can easily see this by looking at the oldest dog breeds.

Oldest Dog Breeds

Gene analysis found that the oldest dog breeds (closest to wolves in terms of their genes) are:

Afghan Hound Afghan Hound

Akita Inu Akita Inu

Alaskan Malamute Alaskan Malamute

Basenji Basenji

Chow Chow Chow Chow

Saluki Saluki

Shar Pei Shar Pei

Shiba Inu Shiba Inu

Siberian Husky Siberian Husky

Indeed, only 4 of these 9 ur-dogs show facial features that remind of a wolf: the Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Akita Inu, and Shiba Inu. But even these dogs look overall very different to wolves. And, as said before, all dogs behave very different to wolves.

Gene analysis also found that 36 regions of the genome set apart the wolves from all dogs. For example, the modern dog has ten genes that allow dogs to break down fats and digest starches!

In particular, dogs have more copies of the AMY2B gene, which allows for amylase production. Amylase is an enzyme that helps to digest carbohydrates, like from grains. In dogs, this gene is 28 times more active in the pancreas than in wolves.

This is why today's canines can eat most of what we humans eat (but not all)! We will discuss this (often misrepresented) fact in an upcoming MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL.

One of the best books that covers dog breeds in general, and with beautiful photos too, is Caroline Coile's Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds.

German Shepherds - Wolf Lookalikes?

Black GSD Wolf

So, in terms of their genes German Shepherds are more distant to wolves than many other dog breeds.

In terms of their looks however (in my personal opinion) GSDs have - after the Siberian Husky (see above) - the closest resemblance with wolves.

Variety of Wolves...

According to, both height and weight of the wolf also are spot on with those of the German Shepherd Dog: Average height of the North American Wolf ranges from 26 to 32 inch at the shoulder, and average weight ranges from 40 to 175(!) pounds.

Even coat color is spot on: Wolves can be grey, tan-brown, black-brown, solid white or solid black!

Indeed, it is fair to say that in terms of height and weight and coat color GSDs resemble wolves as much as in terms of overall looks.

...and Variety of Germans Shepherds

GSD street sign

From last week's Periodical, German Shepherd Dog Global Pedigree Differences, you already know the standard height, weight, and coat color of German Shepherd dogs. You may now be inclined to wonder whether wolves are slightly bigger than GSDs?

However, last week's Periodical also showed that overall 74% of German Shepherds are Non-Standard.

German Shepherd height and weight is what we now want to look at in more detail in the next three chapters of this Periodical.


Breed Standard German Shepherd

As a reminder: The breed standard height and weight as defined by the SV Augsburg, Germany and adopted by all GSD membership organizations associated through the World Union of German Shepherd Dog Associations (WUSV) in 78 nations in 5 continents is:

GSD female

GSD male standard

Typically (but not always), German Shepherd puppies reach their full height around age 9 months.

The age when GSDs reach full body mass obviously depends on feeding, exercise, and general upbringing, but typically they fill out until age two-and-a-half or even three years.

However, already years ago, the more I researched GSDs and compared the height and weight that German Shepherd owners reported online, the more I realized that - at least for the USA - the above breed standard measurements of the German Shepherd Dog are not the standard!

Note that most such online reports are from North-American GSD owners, because the largest German Shepherd population by far lives in the USA.

Now, unless you want to claim that US owners of German Shepherds systematically mismeasure (is this a word?) their GSD, these results mean that the actual breed standard is very different to the official breed standard as defined by german functionaries!

This is another reason why we have the incredibly detailed subscribe form on MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG: Personally, I wanted to find out more than what the 'official' figures of the GSD membership organizations have to say...

Based on all this research I came up with the definition of a 'Large Breed German Shepherd Dog'. And, no surprise, meanwhile the data obtained from our subscribers through the mentioned subscribe form and the GSD online health assessment tool has confirmed this earlier hypothesis.

Note that while in some online sources you can read about a "large breed GSD" and that "the large breed GSDs are of old German/American lines", this is wrong. The large breed GSD is a new invention, it evolved from (and thus came later than) the mass exports of GSDs from Germany to the USA. The old German GSD lines were actually mid-sized dogs only.

What most people don't know: Long before he finally established the SV in 1899, v. Stephanitz wrote the first German Shepherd breed standard already in 1891 - where he set out an average height of 50 to 55 cm for the dog (just 19.7 to 21.7 inch), which is clearly medium-sized!

Horand v. GrafrathThe first registered German Shepherd ever then became v. Stephanitz' Horand v. Grafrath, 61 cm (exactly 24 inch) in height. Which at that time was already considered a large dog in v. Stephanitz' own words. - Since I grew up in Germany I can read all this in its original german language. wink

Similarly, be wary of texts even on presumably accurate sites such as - even the quote(!) there is nothing but made up. Obviously v. Stephanitz never said anything like that, refering to 'of that time', 'even for the present day', 'the entire dog was one live wire', and again 'at that time' - all quoted as having been said by "Captain von Stephanitz Originator of the breed". A fairy tale - nice, but ridiculous.

Large Breed German Shepherd

So, how can we define the 'large breed German Shepherd' height and weight, based on the actual data that we gathered from GSD owners across the world?

GSD female large

GSD male large

Although these large breed German Shepherds originate from breeding programs in the USA, some of these lines have been re-imported into Europe, resulting in greater variance and improved genetic health (thankfully!).

Meanwhile there also exist sizeable populations of distinctly Australian GSDs and Asian GSDs (particularly in India), but these are typically not the large breed exemplar.

Here is an association of large German Shepherd breeders:

Modern German Shepherd Siblings

Apart from this large breed GSD, what other exemplars exist of the German Shepherd dog?

Two dog breeds really stand out here. Both look like the bigger siblings of the German Shepherd (but are even younger than the GSD):

The next larger genetic variations of the German Shepherd are the Shiloh Shepherd and then the King Shepherd. An 'Emperor Shepherd' has not yet been bred, and hopefully never will.

Although we do have a few subscribers with markedly small adult GSDs, I am not aware of any defined 'Mini Shepherds'. Are you?

Shiloh Shepherd

Shiloh Shepherd and German Shepherd

This photo is a perfect comparison of the Shiloh Shepherd with the German Shepherd dog. The Shiloh Shepherd is up to ca 30 inch tall, meaning 16% taller than the GSD.

The greater height and bigger chest perimeter translate to a considerably higher weight too: up to ca 130 lb (59 kg). Meaning, the Shiloh Shepherd can be 45% heavier than the standard GSD.

More info here:

King Shepherd

King ShepherdThe King Shepherd is a cross of German Shepherd, Giant Alaskan Malamute, and Pyrenean Mountain Dog.

The King Shepherd is up to ca 33 inch tall(!), meaning 27% taller than the GSD.

The once again greater height and bigger chest perimeter translate to a considerably higher weight too: up to ca 150 lbs (68kg). Meaning, the King Shepherd can be 80% heavier than the standard GSD! These are truly massive dogs.

More info and beautiful photos here:

Other German Shepherd Relatives

Belgian Shepherd Dog - Malinois

Belgian ShepherdPer breed standard, the Belgian Shepherd or Malinois is a short coat dog, with a coat color of beige-brown to mahogany-brown with black markings.

In reality however, the Malinois too exists in a short-hair and a long-hair version.

Black Belgian ShepherdHeight and weight are typically about the same as for the GSD, but weight is in a narrower range:

Female height:22 - 24 in. Male height:24 - 26 in.

Female weight: 55 - 66 lb. Male weight: 64 - 75 lb.

Dutch Shepherd Dog

Dutch Shepherd

The breed standard of the Dutch Shepherd Dog allows for a lot flexibility, for example the coat may be short-haired, long-haired, or wire-haired.

Female height:21.6 - 23.6 in. Male height:22.4 - 24.4 in.

Weight is not standardized, but the breed standard describes the dog as: "middle-weighted".

Saarloos Wolfdog

Saarloos WolfdogThe Saarloos Wolfdog is defined as a dog 'close to nature', meaning it shows less signs of domestication. Reason: It is the late offspring of a cross of a German Shepherd sire (named 'Gerard van der Fransenum') with a dam (named 'Fleuri') of a ... Wolf (you guessed it!).

One of the many problems that unfolded is diplomatically described in the FCI-Standard N° 311: "He obeys only of his own free will; he is not submissive" - a character trait not enjoyed at all by the modern dog owner.

Female height:23.6 - 27.6 in. Male height:25.6 - 29.5 in.

Again, weight is not standardized but despite much more height weight is clearly no more than that of the average German Shepherd, because the standard describes the Saarloos Wolfdog with the words: "The outline is rather slim".

This Periodical was meant to provide a backdrop for next week's 'life-or-death' Periodical that's at the heart of this site's founder Tim Carter. An absolute MUST-READ! Well, more watch, in this case. A MUST-SEE Periodical, yes, that's it!

And certainly a MUST-THINK Periodical too. wink



  • The origin of dogs
  • Oldest dog breeds
  • Breed standard German Shepherd
  • Large Breed German Shepherd
  • Shiloh Shepherds
  • King Shepherds
  • Belgian Shepherd Dog – Malinois
  • Dutch Shepherd Dog
  • Saarloos Wolfdog

Top book on dog breeds in general: Caroline Coile's Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds

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