What are the different colors found in German Shepherd coats? For most people, the mention of “German Shepherd” brings up one color combination and perhaps it’s the most common – black and tan.
It’s not surprising given the black and tan coat tends to be pretty common among German Shepherds. But there are several other coat colors that are also prevalent in this breed, some are more popular than others and some considered to be a more desirable.
Some of the different color coats are not considered to be acceptable by various kennel clubs around the world, and in fact the American Kennel Club, considers blue and liver to be a serious fault in breeding. But hey, we love them all.
So despite some colours being ruled out just because kennel clubs disapprove of them, here are some of the most common:
Black and Tan
As mentioned, this is by far the most common coat color among German Shepherds dogs and has come to represent the breed as we know it.
The tan covers the legs, neck, and underbelly. The black coloration on the other hand is usually around the muzzle, ears, or the entire face giving the appearance of a black mask. The black is also further spread on the dog’s back either on a small patch like a saddle or entirely as a blanket.
For German Shepherds with this coat color, the colour combination doesn’t become apparent until they’re well past their puppy stage – over 3 years, but many are easy to call black and tan from just a few weeks onld.
A German shepherd puppy that’s slated for the black and tan coat leans more on the black side than tan and will lighten as they grow.
The Black German Shepherd
Black German Shepherds can be hard to find! According to estimates, just about 6.8% of all GSDs are black. And contrary to popular opinion, these guys are purebreds, recognized by the American Kennel Club.
The rarity of black German Shepherd is all thanks to recessive genes that influence the color. So if your’e breeding dogs with the aim of getting solid black puppies then you may consider using two black parents.
And just so you know – a solid black is required for a German Shepherd to be recognized as black. Any different-colored spots mean the dog will be referred to as bi-color instead of just black.
White coated GSDs
White German Shepherds have drawn some flak ever since the GSD breed became popular.
The fallout began back in the dog’s native land of Germany, spearheaded by the Nazis, and of course, led by Hitler himself. From 1933, the white-coated German shepherds were banned from registration. But outside Nazi Germany, the white coat flourished with the establishment of dog clubs exclusively for these white dogs.
Part of the reason for the emotion against this coat color is the thought that it’s somehow a genetic defect which is far from the truth. Like pretty much any color, the recessive white gene only affects the dog’s appearance.
In terms of temperament and other characteristics, white-coated German shepherds are pretty much like their other counterparts.
Sable Colored German Shepherds
Forget the black and tan dogs that have come to represent the breed. Sable was the color of the very first German Shepherd. For some reason though, the color pattern has been edged out significantly even though it’s caused by a dominant gene.
Unique to sable coats is that a single fur can have bands of different colors like golden, tan, or gray. But one thing remains constant – the black hair tips.
That’s why you’re sure to run into several different varieties of sable coats like black over cream which is by far the most common. Other possible varieties include silver over cream, liver over cream, and black over red.
Black and Cream
This coat color is basically a lighter version of the black and tan pigmentation. So the pattern is pretty much the same – the cream on the legs, underbelly, and legs. Black, on the other hand, is around the face and the back.
Most dog shows don’t allow black and cream GSDs but of course these dogs can still take part in obedience competitions.
Blue Coated German Shepherds
This is quite an interesting German Shepherd color and also one of the rarest. Just like black or white, the whole coat appears to be one single color to the observer. In reality, though, the blue coated dog has three variations, that is blue and black, blue and sable, and blue and tan.
And whilst The American Kennel Club recognizes blue German Shepherds but the color is still considered defective.
Panda German Shepherds – have you heard of this one?
This is yet another rare color found in the breed. But unlike the other variations, it’s actually considered a defect. The panda coat results from a rare genetic mutation first observed in a female German Shepherd back in 2000.
So what exactly does a panda German Shepherd look like?
These canines will have three colors – white, black, and tan. The white covers a significant part of the face, chest, belly, and part of the front legs. The rest of the coat will have the characteristic black and tan pattern.
Initially, panda German Shepherds weren’t considered purebreds due to their rather peculiar appearance – which is kind of understandable. But a series of DNA tests by the American Kennel Club confirmed these dogs as purebreds.
Black and Silver, aka Silver
This is a slight variation of the common black and tan coat. The black coat remains on the dog’s back and face while tan on the belly, chest, legs, and neck is replaced with silver. A black and silver German Shepherd can also be referred to simply as silver.
Liver colored dogs
The liver coated dog is a solid brown much like its black and white counterparts. But unlike all the other varieties, the color can extend beyond fur. For instance, there are some varieties with a brown nose as well.
Other liver Germans Shepherds on the other hand have the characteristic black mask with the muzzle and also part of their face being black.
Regardless of the combination, the color is considered defective by breed standards.
Of course, bi-color German Shepherds have two colors, hence the ‘bi’ term. This can be a cominbation of either black and tan or black and gray. Black is the big player here, determining a bicolored German Shepherd. In fact, bicolor could be taken to mean almost black. This will be perfectly inline as bicolor GSDS are black for a larger part – up to 90% or so.
The remaining portion – which is around the feet – will have tan or gray markings.
Black and Red
The black and red pattern is pretty much the same as black and tan. So the black fur in black and red GSDs will cover the saddle or back and the face. But instead of tan around the belly, neck, and feet, you’ll have a lighter shade of orange that is referred to as red.
Any washed-out German shepherd color with a bit of black will give gray but a more accurate descritpion will be black and cream – imagine the coat of a gray wolf and you get the idea.
Golden German Shepherd, or German Retriever
A golden German Shepherd is not exactly a reference to the coat color. This is an entirely different breed, but worth a mention here. It comes from a mix, or cross-breed, between a Golden Retriever and a German Shepherd. So it’s sometimes also referred to as a German Retriever.
The colors can vary but the most common ones include cream, blue, red, tan, and black – usually solid or mixed.
Genetic Testing and Dog Colors
With all living things genes influence pretty much everything about that being, and the coat color of your dog is no exception.
Generally, a dog’s hair color is determined by the melanin pigment which occurs as eumelanin and phaeomelanin. Eumelanin is the pigment for black and brown while phaeomelanin is for lighter colors such as red, yellow, and orange.
The color of your German Shepherd will be determined by the presence of either the dominant eumelanin or phaeomelanin genes. Both of these two main gene pigments are usually modified by alleles to give rise to the different colors you’ve seen above.
Genetic testing can help in determining the specific melanin type your dog has and the different genes that give him a distinct color.