Truly speaking, GSD colors, pigments, and patterns should be sought after but many other factors like anatomy, temperament, and health, are more important than German Shepherd’s colors. GSD colors and coat colors in any other dog breed hardly influence the dog’s working ability – which the German Shepherds have actually been bred for. Acceptable and desirable German Shepherd colors are black and tan and all shades of black and tan except any dilution. The black is a result of eumelanin (which is a black-to-brown pigment produced by melanin). The black blanket in German Shepherd Dogs varies in its degree of extension throughout the body. On the other hand, the tan markings or colors in German Shepherds are actually produced by the pigment pheomelanin (which is golden yellow to reddish-brown pigment produced by melanocytes). The tan colors in German Shepherds vary in richness depending on the dogs’ lineage.
It is desired from a well-pigmented dog to exhibit an extension of black over around 50% of its body, with a strong, uniform tan ranging from a golden tan to rich, reddish mahogany markings, accompanied by a very good facial mask. The black mask which again varies in the degree of coverage or extension throughout the face and front head region is highly important and is one of the most important desirable features in a good breed and well-pigmented GSD. The depth and the patterns of German Shepherd colors have been categorized into 4 distinctive categories, in the order from highest to lowest dominance, viz. Sable, Black, and Tan (B&T), Bi-color, and Solid Black. Regarding the German Shepherd’s colors, the SV has specifically stated, “the color of the GSD is in itself not important and has no effect on the character of the dog or on its fitness for work and should be a secondary consideration for that reason. The final color of a young dog can only be ascertained when the outer coat has developed.”
Specific words defining German Shepherd colors cannot always explain exactly what a dog of specific colors or patterns should look like. Most often terms defining German Shepherd’s colors and patterns tend to confuse people to a great extent, as a specific German Shepherd color may represent a range of colors and patterns in the GSD breed. Quite unfortunately, the variations in the range of GSD colors and patterns have not yet been listed separately by any club or organization. Almost all kennel clubs in the world have listed a pretty wide variety of German Shepherd colors and patterns, and the list includes Black & Tan, Black & Red, Black & Sliver, Sable (Gray), Solid Black, Blue, Liver, and Solid White although not all of these fall under the GSD standard concerning GSD colors. When it comes to GSD colors, desirable is that the breed must have rich, strong colors. Diluted colors in German Shepherds are not desirable. The list of German Shepherd colors also interestingly includes Liver, Blue, and silver, which are genetically diluted colors and are NOT bred by responsible GSD breeders. Amongst the solid colors in German Shepherds, i.e. Solid Black and solid White, both are pure breeds. When we talk about German Shepherd’s colors, we cannot skip off talking about the genes governing the GSD colors. White is a recessive gene and has been recognized (on a provisional basis) as a breed by the FCI on 26/11/2002 as the “Berger Blanc Suisse”. It is to be remembered that the black gene is also recessive to all German Shepherd colors.
1. Sable German Shepherds
German Shepherd has an original wolf color, with a pale ground color, covered by the mantle of a hard black-tipped guard coat. In a sable German Shepherd, this ground color is usually tan, having a heavy overlay that seems to be black when viewed from distance. Dr. Malcom B Willis Dr. Willis – a senior lecturer in Animal Breeding and Genetics, Faculty of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, The University, Newcastle upon Tyne had discussed the existence of two alleles for sable that are grey and yellow. It is to be remembered that similar variations in German Shepherd colors can also be found in Black Tan dogs.
A Sable German Shepherd can be identified quite easily. Sable German Shepherds (also known as agouti or wolf gray, in various colors of comparatively paler shades) usually have multi-colored individual hairs throughout the body. The Agouti gene actually determines if the coat color of the German Shepherd is banded agouti coat color or solid non-agouti coat color.
Studies on mice have shown that the Agouti gene gives the mice pale coats accompanied with having a tendency towards obesity, which may or may not hold good for dogs. Sable German Shepherds may also be masked by dark or black guard hairs. Concerning the color genes, the order of dominance of German Shepherd’s colors in the Agouti Series is as follows… golden sable, grey sable, saddle marked black-tan, bicolor black-tan, and solid black. In a sable German Shepherd Dog, the sable color is dominant over all the other German Shepherd colors and patterns. The variation of shades in sable German Shepherds can be categorized into Rich saddle sable, black sable, and faded sable. Sable may not improve the pigmentation in breeding just because the subjects are sable German Shepherds. In a Sable German Shepherd Dog, possibilities are there that the sable can be as poorly pigmented as other patterns. If a sable German Shepherd is comparatively more melanistic (darker) than an average Blach and Tan GSD, it will appear equally dark, which in turn brings forth relatively better pigmentation to breeding than a less melanistic subject, because the dog is genetically more melanistic (darker).
Sable German Shepherds are known for their multi-colored individual hairs, though they may have good dark masks or black guard coats as well. The color different blends of colors in the individual hairs consequently lead to a range of shades of colors and patterns that may largely vary from sable German Shepherd to sable German Shepherd. The Sable German Shepherd Dogs appear in many shades ranging from silver, gray, gold, or mahogany colors. Most often sable German Shepherds have the dark mask, although at times masks tend to to be fade or sometimes almost absent. Agouti or Sable German Shepherds usually undergo many stages of coat color development – towards both the lighter side as well as the darker side, until they become fully matured i.e. around the age of three.
Sable German Shepherds are born all tan. The typical black tipping starts showing up as they reach a few weeks of age, followed by a continual process of change – either lightning or darkening until the puppy reaches an age of around three years. Sable German Shepherd puppies hence undergo a dramatic change of coat colors during their growth process. Most of the time the Sable German Shepherd puppy ends up with either a darker or lighter shade.
2. Saddle Back German Shepherds
If you ask two hundred GSD people about what color their German Shepherds are, most of them will describe their dogs as “saddleback with black mask”. Another group will describe their shepherds as “saddleback with dark/black mask and black-tan combination”.
Saddleback German Shepherd Dogs with a black mask and black and tan or rich tan is the traditional look of German Shepherds, as 95% of German Shepherds fall within the wide range of extremes of coat colors and patterns – black and tan or black and red. The saddle is a pattern typical to the German Shepherd breed and is characterized by the typical appearance of black blankets made up of guard hairs over the back. The Black and Tan GSD also exhibit exceptional tan grounds, but usually have black saddles or blankets. It is desirable that the black mantle should cover the neck nape, shoulders, almost the entire back up to the region of croup and tail, and sides up to the region of belly.
A saddleback pattern in GSD is highly desirable when it comes to the color and patterns in German Shepherd Dogs. With saddle back any GSD coat color shade is acceptable, but its rich markings have always been preferred in the GSD breed. Washed-out shades – that means pale colors for instance blue and liver are serious faults and are barred out from the rings in GSD breed shows. The color/pattern combination in the German Shepherds is by far most commonly found in the Saddleback pattern with various degrees of tan intensities.
The poor saddle is not desirable in this breed. Deep dark nails are the indication of general mantle pigmentation. It is to be noted that dogs without rich saddle backs usually have pale, fleshy colored nails, although it is acceptable to have less amount of saddle coverage, but must not be poor in the depth of color.
Saddle German Shepherds can come in a wide variety of coat colors and patterns that may range from a very little amount of black to almost extreme black, which may apparently look like a solid black GSD. Some German Shepherd Dogs exhibit few markings with a lot of dark colors in the back and side, for instance, the bi-color saddle back German Shepherds have a lot of dark blankets with less amount tan. In such cases, it is usually considered blankets instead of a saddle, although they are actually Saddle back dogs. On the other level, many GSDs display traditional saddleback colors with more tan or red, or silver and less of saddle parts.
A saddleback black and tan or black and red German Shepherd puppy is almost totally black and as they reach adulthood they develop the original saddle-back pattern. As they grow up the lighter ground color tends to spread throughout the entire body, including the legs, chest area, abdomen, and around the face and ears, only leaving the back as a saddle or blanket. It is to be noted that the saddleback marking can get considerably faded as the puppy grows.
3. Black and Tan German Shepherds
The black and tan German Shepherds also show a rich tan marking but have black saddles or blankets which are black varying in intensity. The black mantle in a standard black tan German Shepherd should cover the nape of its neck, the shoulder, and the dog’s back and sides down close to the belly region, and croup and tail. It is noticed quite often that the tan or grey markings show at the region of the neck and down the tail. At the same time, if this is noticed over the croup or along the sides of the dog or if the tail does not end up with a black tip, it is an indication of pale color in German Shepherd Dogs.
As we are talking about black and tan German Shepherds, we should talk about a pattern that appears like a “Salt and pepper mix look” in the region of back and withers. This is very common in German Shepherd females and is sometimes found even in darker females too. This pattern is found, although not too frequently, in faded male German Shepherd Dogs. There are very faded black-tan German Shepherd Dogs that are easily confused with light sable GSDs. At times the black and tan German Shepherds tend to be so faded in pigmentation that judges usually consider them faulty. Most people who are not very much acquainted with the German Shepherd Dog breed mistakenly believe that there is only one color and that is typical ‘black and tan’.
Very dark black and tan German Shepherds are often confused with bi-color and may come up with nearly solid black heads, necks, and bodies. Melanistic black and tan German Shepherds look quite similar to bi-color ones. They usually show a few tan markings around the base of the ears and have very few or no black hairs down the region of pasterns, and on the toes and hock portions.
The black and tan German Shepherd puppies are born all black.
4. Bi-color German Shepherds
Bi-color German Shepherd Dogs are not found as often as black and tan ones. Bi-color German Shepherds are typically black dogs with tan points very similar to Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers. The tan markings in a bi-color German Shepherd Dog are actually very less, and sometimes for melanistic bi-color Shepherds, the mask is strong black, accompanied by a wider extension of the black with a black undercoat and with only very little amount of tan markings on the feet. It is due to this heavily wider extension of very strong black that the melanistic bi-color German Shepherds appear to be almost solid black at times.
However, bi-color GSD usually exhibits a good amount of tan around the vent and feet, but quite a lot of evidence is there to prove that strongly melanistic bi-color German Shepherd Dogs have only very little tan – just enough tan marks to say that it is actually a bi-color GSD and not a solid black dog. A paler version of a bi-color German Shepherd Dog, on the other hand, looks much like a black sable, exhibiting a wider extension of black over a ground of light grey undercoat. The pale bi-color German Shepherds usually exhibit tan or gray along the lines of the harness, as well as over the nape of the neck, and black markings on the legs and feet. These pale bi-color German Shepherd Dogs have the gene that governs the fading of the black mantle and still can appear quite dark.
In bi-color Shepherds, the color intensity can vary to a great extent exhibiting a wide range of tan and black shades and can be categorized into three broad categories viz. rich bi-color GSD, Melanistic Bi color Shepherds, and faded bi-color German Shepherd Dogs. The tan points of lighter markings are often seen in the bi-color German Shepherds that are categorized as faded bi-color German Shepherd Dogs, which however, genetically exist in almost all patterns in GSD. In the case of the brindle pattern in GSD, the bi-color shepherds could have shown dark stripes –just like brindle boxers – over the tan ground. We – the “About German Shepherd Dog team” – guess that bi-color German Shepherds of brindle pattern used to be quite attractive, but we do not like to take any risk defining a bi-GSD of the brindle pattern because none of us here has personally seen brindle pattern bi-color GSD.
5. Black German Shepherds
An original Solid Black German Shepherd Dog is quite acceptable as a pure gene, although this pattern/color is not as common as sable or saddle GSD. Seemingly black color German Shepherds are really very striking, perfectly solid black GSDs are seldom seen. Most back German Shepherds have a little bit of tan around their toes and beneath the tail. In some cases the rectal regions & pasterns in black GSD also have tans. In some cases, the solid black German Shepherds also exhibit gray undercoats over the areas like shoulders and neck. Experienced breeders like Maur Ray kennels (the 1940s), an American show line GSD kennel specializing in blacks documented that black GSD bred of blacks only for many generations would show fewer and fewer light hairs until they were absolutely pure black, born without any tan. There are different schools of thought in regard to pigmentation in the German Shepherd Dog breed, alike any other breed. Some of the contemporary well-versed GSD breeders do not recommend breeding blacks to blacks in order to improve the richness of black pigments unless the pedigree of the dogs consists of a history of dark dogs of other patterns. Quite a lot of instances are there to prove that pale Black and Tan German Shepherds can also throw solid black puppies, and these puppies, on maturity, may produce pale Black and Tan puppies.
In the solid black German Shepherds, the specific gene controls the formation of black pigment in the GSD – not the hair color. In the German Shepherd Dogs, alike any other canine breed, the dominance orders of coat colors is as follows: Black pigment including the leather color of the nose, the rims of the eyes and pads; Carrier for liver color; Liver color – brown black colors, brown or faded black nose, non-black rims of the eyes and pads.
The recessive gene that governs the coat color in GSD, alike other dog breeds – be it black or non-black coat color can be carried for several generations before the right coloration is achieved. Just because a recessive color does not exhibit on the pedigree dog does not mean that any of the dogs listed siblings weren’t a recessive color. This means if black has not been exhibited in your dog’s pedigree for several generations, it does not mean that any of your dos siblings had not come up to be black.
Solid Black or All Black German Shepherd Dogs are gorgeous specimens that can make real companions. There is no difference in temperament, behaviors, and working ability between a solid black German Shepherd and that of any other coat color. Owing to its unparalleled beauty, many people have seriously devoted themselves to breeding All Black German Shepherd Dogs staying focused chiefly on coloration. May backyard all-black GSD breeders have ended up with mediocre quality dogs, while really serious breeders have earned a great deal of repute as Black GSD breeders.
6. White German Shepherds
Spanning back to the history of the German shepherd Dog breed, documentation has shown that the white recessive gene had been an integral part of the breed since its very inception of the making of the breed.
Contrary to the myth, the White German Shepherd Dogs are NOT albino, as long as they have normal dark body pigment that can be assured by the jet black color of the nose leather, eye rims, nails, paw pads, and leaps. To stand against the myth again, the correctly bred white German Shepherd Dogs are anatomically, behaviorally, and medically not different than German Shepherd Dogs of any other colors and patterns. It was due to the lack of adequate knowledge of genetics that the White GSD had been considered disqualification, following the myth that they were albino. Sometimes in the past, the gene for albinism had been the only known white gene, which consequently made dog lovers show the wrong attitude towards the white GSD.
Years of extensive research on the color & pattern genetics of the White German Shepherd Dog have revealed that these are pure-breed German Shepherds and are mentally and anatomically fit as working dogs. Studies have shown that there can several variations of White GSD. For the German Shepherd puppies to be white it is essential that both the dam and sire have to carry the white recessive genes, although it is not necessary that the parents have to be white. To put this in a simpler way, the non-white German shepherd dam and sire can be capable to produce white German Shepherd puppies, if they are the carriers of a white recessive gene. Since this particular gene is recessive it can skip off generations – not showing up for several generations.
The White Recessive gene – irrespective of the breed is a gene that is entirely different from the genes that are responsible for albino and white spots in non-white dogs. It is worth enough to mention that on very rare occasions white spotting can be found even in German Shepherd Dogs, due to Irish White Spotting Gene resulting in puppies with a white muzzle, which is considered as the deviation from the standard and hence considered at fault.
White German Shepherds are not at fault anyway. The presence of a pair of white recessive genes results in masking the dog’s genetic color and marking pattern. Henceforth the white color covers the dog’s base coat colors, which are tan, red, cream, silver, etc. In the process, the white also covers up the dog’s marking color such as agouti, two-tone, or solid.
Reasons for decreasing popularity of White German Shepherds
It is due to the myth that most people are not intended to buy white German Shepherd puppies. As a matter of fact, White German Shepherd puppies can descend from two pure-breed GSDs carrying a white recessive gene. Unfortunately, the White Recessive gene has been kept untouched due to the lack of knowledge about the white gene. It is due to ignorance that the white German Shepherd puppies used to be considered at fault. Also partly owing to the political wrinkles the white recessive gene had been overlooked and neglected. White coat color in the German Shepherd Dog breed was disqualified in the breed standard of the German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany in the year 1933, when the club went under the control of the Nazi party of Germany that took over almost the entire German society in February 1933 when Hitler declared a state of emergency. The German breed standard remained unchanged as most of the reputable German GSD breeders repopulated the breed in the years following the end of WWII.
7. Brindle German Shepherds
Acceptable colors in the shepherd coat are in fact a wide range of variations of black and tan. The color Black is due to the presence of the eumelanin pigment and varies in its degree of extension over the body. The Tan, on the other hand, is due to the result of phaeomelanin pigment and varies in richness or depth of color. A German Shepherd with good pigmentation will exhibit the Black extending at least over 50% of the body, accompanied by rich and uniform tan ground. The richness may vary in the degree of depth of the color and may range from Golden to deep Mahogany marks.
As a matter of fact, the genes and alleles controlling the coat colors and patterns in the German Shepherd Dog breed or any other canine breed have not been clearly understood yet, which is why it seems that much of this subject is still in the dark, although breeders, researchers, and genetic scientists have explained a good deal stuff in this regard. Here are the explanations of the Blue and Liver genes in German Shepherds.
8. Blue German Shepherds
The blue gene is a recessive color gene. This means, for a dog to exhibit blue coat color, both of his parents have to carry this color gene. The blue German Shepherd puppies at birth will be blue and will not turn out to be the regular black that we usually find in German Shepherds. On maturity, this blue will change to grey or silver coat color or maybe any shade in between. This will give the impression that this color has diluted the black coloration… and this is a fact. The blue gene is a dilute gene, which dilutes the entire black pigment, which consequently results in a grey-dusted look, which is grayish nose leather. A blue German Shepherd Dog will have light eye color that is usually blue during puppyhood. With maturity, the eye color generally turns yellow or faded brown. The blue coloration in the GSD breed may come in a wide range of variations starting from a very light and faded dusty look to very dark blackish blue, which cannot be distinguished as what we call “blue”. The blue gene causes the black pigmentation in the skin and coat to turn into steel grey, often very dark. The tan ground on the other hand remains much the same or may cause a slight silver tone.
9. Liver German Shepherds
Alike the Blue, the Liver color gene is also recessive. The Liver gene, being a dilute gene, dilutes all black pigments just like the Blue gene, which results in brown nose leather color, brown coat color, and faded brown eyes pigments that may come in a wide range of color shades. The liver gene, alike the Blue, causes the black pigmentation in the skin and coat to turn brown. The liver gene in GSD produces a wide range of liver shades starting from faded liver brown to dark chocolate brown.
Blue, Liver, and Silver are indications of diluted or paling pigmentation, which is not desirable. It is important to identify if the dog is the carrier of the diluted color gene, which is easily identified in the case of a dog with a faded mantle and paling. In the dogs with strong dark mantle and dark masks, having the ground with silver coat color may probably carry the gene for partial albinism, which is not again desirable. Pink toenails indicate the presence of an undesirable white spotting gene. Toenails with fleshy and dusky look may come out with the poor saddle and gives an indication of poor pigmentation and is hence undesirable. Dark black nails indicate good mantle pigmentation.
According to variations in shades and patterns, there can be different versions of diluted genes – Blue and Liver. This difference in patterns can be categorized into four distinctive types.
Read more: Liver German Shepherd: Gorgeous and Companionable Dog
Note: The colors of the eyes and toenails are not related to the coat color and patterns. In very melanistic dogs even the skin under of black coat region will be ice blue-white and the part under the tan marking is usually pinkish-white. Almost all regions of the skin should be black in melanistic dogs except for the vent and ear flaps. A very melanistic GSD comes with gums partially brownish black and a black spot in the tongue are quite commonly found. Nails have to be jet black.