Over the centuries, the dog’s best friend, man, has managed to domesticate and prune out most of the gray wolf’s physical, behavioral, and survival skills from the German Shepherd and other dog breeds. Nonetheless, we now seem to rethink this move and are trying to bring back the wolf into the GSD through crossbreeding. So, can a German Shepherd breed with a wolf?
A German Shepherd can breed with a wolf to produce a German Shepherd Wolf Mix, sometimes called Wolf Shepherd. What’s more, breeding a German Shepherd Dog with a wolf produces an interfertile litter that can interbreed to continue the GSD-wolf lineage.
This article will begin by telling you what a German Shepherd wolf hybrid is and if you can breed a GSD and a wolf. I’ll then answer the legal question around owning a wolf mix and tackle the safety issue with the Wolf Shepherd. Let’s get started!
What is a German Shepherd Wolf Hybrid?
A German Shepherd wolf hybrid is a wolfdog created from mating a German Shepherd Dog and a wolf. Breeding the two canines to create a hybrid is possible because they belong to the same genus, canis, which is known as intraspecific breeding.
Because the German Shepherd Dog (canis familiaris) and the Wolf (canis lupus) belong to the same species, their puppies are fertile hybrids that can interbreed to produce a wolfdog litter. A fertile litter is not always the case when interbreeding animals of similar species and is impossible with animals of different species.
You might often hear people describe the offspring of a German Shepherd and a wolf as a “wolfdog” or “wolf hybrid.” The term hybrid is usually used to underscore the expected improved qualities of the German Shepherd and wolf offspring.
In the dog world, however, hybrid is also used to describe the offspring of purebreds. As such, a German Shepherd wolf hybrid results from mating a purebred German Shepherd and a pure wolf.
Instead, German Shepherd wolf-dogs could be any offspring resulting from breeding:
- A pure German Shepherd and a pure wolf.
- A pure German Shepherd and a German Shepherd Wolf Mix.
- A pure wolf and a German Shepherd Wolf Mix.
- Two German Shepherd Wolf Mixes (wolf dogs).
Note that the term exotic hybrid is also used in some contexts to describe the offspring of a domestic pet and a similar wild animal species. With that in mind, let’s explore a bit more the question often asked by the curious fans of dog hybrids:
Can a German Shepherd Breed With a Wolf?
A German Shepherd can mate with a wolf to create a German Shepherd Wolf Mix. Breeding a German Shepherd and a wolf is viable because the two belong to the same canis species and are genetically closely related.
Crossbreeding a GSD with a wolf is something that some breeders did many years ago. In fact, the breed is often considered a product of breeding a dog with wolves in Germany during the early 20th century.
This explains why German Shepherds look like wolves. When I’m out walking Willow, my German Shepherd, it always makes me laugh when I hear a child say excitedly, “Mom, look at that wolf!”
Also, the Saarloos Wolfdog, which is officially recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC), resulted from breeding a female European wolf with a German Shepherd male dog in 1932. The breeder, Leendert Saarloos, consequently bred the offspring to create what we know today as Saarloos Wolfdogs.
The viability of breeding a GSD and a wolf also stays in the fact that a German Shepherd’s DNA (or any dog’s DNA) has a 99% match with that of a gray wolf. They also have the same number of chromosomes (78 chromosomes in 39 pairs).
Because of this genetic closeness, the litter from mating a German Shepherd and a wolf is fertile and will continue to produce wolfdogs.
While dogs and wolves may breed in the wild, this is near impossible for the following reasons:
- Wolves are a territorial species and consider other animals in the canis family as enemies, especially for food resources.
- Wolves are a monogamous species and would attack an outsider animal that tries to enter their park for breeding. Only the alpha wolves have mating rights during the breeding season.
- Wolves breed only once a year between January and April. A stray dog wandering in the wild has a minimal chance of mating a wolf in the breeding season.
What this means is that breeding a wolf and a German Shepherd requires manipulation from humans. However, even though humans may manipulate mating the two, they may not control the interaction of genes in the offspring.
As a result, the German Shepherd wolf hybrids may not manifest the expected phenotype, temperament, and behavior. These unexpected outcomes often raise the question of whether the German Shepherd Wolf Mix is safe.
Are German Shepherd Wolf Mix Safe?
A German Shepherd Wolf Mix is safe for people professionally trained to handle wolf dogs but is not safe for ordinary pet owners, first-time dog owners, and families with children.
Three primary reasons move people to interbreed wolves and German Shepherds, or any other dog breed:
- The desire to create the attractive wolf look in a wolfdog.
- The expectation is that breeding a German Shepherd and a wolf will produce an exceptionally hybrid pup with a balanced blend of the domestic and the wild traits in the two canines.
- The attempt to tame the wild in the wolf and create a fiercer guard dog than the purebred German Shepherd.
Unfortunately, these expectations rarely materialize. Instead, German Shepherd Wolf Mixes can manifest extreme aggression and stubbornness for several reasons.
Let’s take a look at them now.
Uncontrolled Sexual Maturity Changes
Wolves and dogs mature at different rates.
Dogs sexually mature by 6 to 8 months, but they also have less aggressive hormonal changes and a more stable behavioral pattern in the years of sexual maturity.
In contrast, wolves only mature sexually at around 1 to 4 years. The species-specific roles that come with sexual maturity, such as fighting their place in pack roles, can generate aggression and stubbornness and make their behavior patterns extremely unpredictable.
Inheriting the unpredictable behavior of a wolf can make German Shepherd Wolf Mixes challenging to manage. And pruning out the wolf traits in the Wolf Shepherd can be tricky, even with training.
That means having to deal with a difficult-to-manage pet.
A Wild Prey Drive
Prey drive is the instinctive tendency of carnivores to pursue and capture prey, also known as predatory behavior. It is not necessarily accompanied by aggression, but it can make these animals hunt other smaller animals or livestock when they shouldn’t.
Both the wolf and the German Shepherd have a strong prey drive, the first more than the second.
This behavior can make your wolfdog threaten the safety of livestock and other animals when you walk with them or even try to escape to meet this instinctual hunting drive.
Wolves are a territorial species, a trait that German Shepherd Wolf Mixes can inherit. Wolfdogs often show territoriality through urine marking.
But being territorial especially means that the wolfdog will be possessive of things and spaces in the home. As a result, the Wolf Shepherd will tend to be aggressive and defensive when other animals and people approach areas and things they consider to belong to them.
Winter Wolf Syndrome
Winter wolf syndrome or seasonal aggression is the aggression that characterizes wolves and wolfdogs around the mating season. It is linked to the hormonal fluctuations during the wolf’s breeding cycle and is even notable in neutered or spayed wolves and wolfdogs, meaning it’s a natural species behavior.
The manifestation of the winter wolf syndrome can vary from wolf to wolf or wolfdog to wolfdog. Some wolves and wolf dogs may just show a bit of grumpiness, while others can show outright aggressiveness and extreme possessiveness.
In German Shepherd Wolf Mixes and other wolfdogs, the extent of the winter wolf syndrome behaviors may vary with:
- Wolf content: The amount of wolf in a German Shepherd Dog.
- Sex: Males show protective behavior towards females, and females may show aggression towards their fellow females. In both cases, the wolfdogs can direct this aggression towards the owner or other persons.
According to the Colorado Wolf Sanctuary, because of the natural element in the winter wolf syndrome, wolves and wolfdogs owners should be aware that it is unsafe to interact directly with their pet in the five months or more around the mating season.
The resulting question from the discovery that wolfdogs can be unsafe is whether governments allow people to own wolfdogs, even though they can turn violent.
Learn More About The German Shepherd Wolf Mix…
Is it Legal To Own a German Shepherd Wolf Mix?
Whether it is legal to own a GSD Wolf Mix greatly depends on the laws of each state or country. In some states, owning a wolfdog is illegal. Others regulate the ownership of wolfdogs with the same laws set for the ownership of wild animals, while others regulate wolfdogs in the same way as dogs.
When owning a wolfdog is permitted by law, some states and local laws may specify the permissible wolf content in the wolfdog or require owners to get additional permits.
According to the Legal Wolf Dog Ownership Map on the Colorado Wolf Sanctuary:
- Most states in the US like Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico have local restrictions on wolfdog ownership.
- A good number of states, including California, Montana, Idaho, and Florida, have both local and state restrictions on wolfdog ownership.
- Fewer states like Alaska, Georgia, Michigan, and Illinois completely outlaw wolfdogs.
- No state in the US is without restrictions on wolfdog ownership.
As laws are constantly changing, please contact your city, county, and state governments before purchasing a wolf dog.
In other countries like the UK, you require a license to own first-generation (F1) wolf dogs, which are regulated by the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. However, it is legal to own a wolfdog as long as it is 3 generations (F3) from the parent wolf.
In other words, you can own a German Shepherd wolfdog if it is born of second-generation wolfdogs or a second-generation wolfdog and a German Shepherd.
Here are a few take-home notes on the question, “Can a German Shepherd breed with a Wolf?”
- GSDs and wolves are genetically similar and can breed to produce a German Shepherd wolf hybrid.
- A GSD hybrid comes from pure wolves and purebred German Shepherds. German Shepherd wolf dogs can come from other German Shepherd wolf hybrids.
- It’s unsafe for first-time owners, families with children, and people with no professional training to own a wolfdog.
- If you plan to own a Wolf Shepherd, check first with the relevant authority if doing so is legal in your country, state, or local area.
After reading this article, if you’ve decided that a German Shepherd Wolf Mix is not the pet for you, check out my article on my best 21 German Shepherd mixes, including pictures, for some great ideas.
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