Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.
Not every German Shepherd is going to be a stereotypical tan with a black "saddle" and a black "mask." In fact, this breed's coat thickness, colors, and patterns vary significantly.
Two purebred GSDs (German Shepherd Dog) with excellent lineage can have wildly different colors, ranging from completely white or black to a combination of tan and black. Max von Stephanitz, the founder of this breed, once said, “No good dog can be a bad color.”
Some breed purists today might disagree, but just because the coloring of a GSD isn't show-ring standard doesn't mean it isn't up to breed standard for temperament, personality, and body shape. Before concerning yourself with a dog's physical appearance, you should look to see if it has the right temperament.
But if you still want to pick a puppy based on physical appearance, this article will guide you through the most common GSD patterns as well as coat types.
What Are the Most Common German Shepherd Color Patterns?
- Black and Tan
- Black and Red
- Bicolor (black with cream-colored heels)
- Liver and Tan
- Sable or Gray
1. Black and Tan
This is the most common and most popular color combination. Famous German Shepherds (e.g. Rin Tin Tin) and show-ring GSDs have this coloration.
These dogs usually have tan or cream legs, underbellies, and necks, with black “saddles” on their backs that stretch from their neck down to their tail. They may also have prominent black “masks” on their faces.
Both the American and the Canadian show lines prefer this coloration. Some dogs will have some “silver” (a very light cream color) on their stomachs, which some breeders find acceptable.
2. Black and Red
Dogs in the German show line often have this coloration. They have the same pattern as black and tan dogs, but the tan part is more of a red or sometimes even a strawberry blonde.
In some instances, instead of black and red, they will be black and silver. The silver part is described as being a light shade of cream. Black and silver German Shepherds are by no means rare, but they are not as commonly shown as GSDs that are black and red.
3. Bicolor German Shepherds
Despite being called “bicolor,” these dogs are actually one solid color: black. Their heads, legs, backs, and tails should be completely black. Sometimes, they have brown on their feet, but in order to be considered a bicolor German Shepherd in the show ring, their heels must be black as well. Dogs with black heels are sometimes aptly called “tarheel." They may also have some dark brown on their faces and around their ears, but any brown or tan features are usually not very prominent.
4. Blue or Liver/Tan
These dogs are rarely seen at shows because these colors are indicative of diluted genes. They may still be considered purebred German Shepherds, but their lack of a typical black coloring indicates that there was breeding among canines that did not have the proper colors somewhere in their ancestry.
Blue is described as a slight dilution of black. Depending on how dark the blue color is, these dogs might still be shown in the ring. Breeders consider light blue to be undesirable, though.
GSDs that are liver and tan have the appropriate saddle and mask markings, but instead of black, they have a rich brown color.
5. Sable or Gray
Sable German Shepherds are more common in working lines than in show lines because working dogs do not have the acceptable coloration pattern for show. They have banded fur, which means that each individual hair is multi-colored. Common colors include silver, brown, black, and sometimes even red. These hairs are usually masked by a layer of black hair.
Their coats change a lot over the first two years of their lives, so it can be difficult to predict what a sable puppy will look like as an adult. Sable patterns come in many different varieties, with black over cream being the most common. Liver over cream, black over red, and silver over cream are also possible.
Gray GSDs are a type of sable, but their fur is more wolf-like in color. This color is often called “wolf gray.” These dogs may have coats that are black over silver or gray over silver.
6. White or Black German Shepherds
German Shepherds can also be entirely white or completely black. The white variety is simply a manifestation of recessive genes, similar to blonde hair in humans, and is not indicative of albinism. Sadly, white GSDs are not permitted to participate in most kennel club shows, but they can participate in obedience and agility competitions.
Black GSDs are also a result of recessive genes. They will sometimes have white patterns on their chests. Unlike black and tan dogs that start out predominantly black but take on a more typical appearance as they age, black GSDs remain black for the rest of their lives.
German Shepherd Coat Types
A double coat with medium length is considered the most desirable. This type of coat may be fairly wiry, depending on the dog. A shorter coat is sometimes considered acceptable by breed standard. Both of these coats should be “plush." This means that there is a fluffy coat beneath the outer coat, which gives the fur some volume.
While longer fur is not accepted for showing, many owners prefer this coat because it makes their dogs soft. Owners also like longer fur around the neck because this gives the dog a lion-like appearance, especially if he is predominantly tan or liver colored. Plush coats and longer haired German Shepherds do need more coat care.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Sam Shepards
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on August 16, 2020:
Nearly all german shepherds get more tan when they age except the fully black.
Gary fritchman on August 15, 2020:
. My German Shepherds face when she was a puppy was partially black as she got older her face just turned tan what is that
Umesh kumar on August 10, 2020:
I m interested in pure white and pure black Alsatian puppy two months to upto 4 months old.
Jaswanth chandrakala on July 23, 2020:
I want red and black male german shepherd baby
JC on July 22, 2020:
My AKC GSD is Black and Tan. She has
a little silver in her collar area and a silver
stripe on her back. This place
started showing when she was 5 months.
She is now 6 months. Have you ever seen
or heard of a marking like this?
olivia on April 27, 2020:
there are no panda sheperds
Julia on February 28, 2020:
I have a german shepard that is growing more older now when we first got him he was black and his paws were brown now that he is older we see his coat changing a bit to the color red near her legs and side wich was surprising he and another GSD had a puppy and now the puppy kinda looks like him but without the red coloring and the puppy also has a black spot on the side of her face. So I was just wondering if you know about black spot like that?
kev on February 12, 2020:
does white and black is not common ?
Sophia on January 20, 2020:
My GSD is pure breed (DNA tested) and registered but no matter where I look I can't seem to find what her coloring is. She is red-beige color with some black sable markings.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on January 12, 2020:
It depends also on recessive genes, but since black is a dominant gene color it will probably dominate. I expect most of the puppies to be mostly black with their legs red/brown and chest red/brown. As a puppy I expect them to be a lot more black than when they are adults. A couple of them could be completely black. when you choose a German Shepherd puppy keep in mind that those with a red spot(s) on the chest or at the paws will have more red/brown later on, those patches mostly grow as they age into adulthood. If the puppy is completely black he/she will stay black normally.
Madison on January 11, 2020:
I'll be getting a puppy soon and the mommy is all black and the daddy is black and red, what color coats do you think the liter will have?
Sierra on November 22, 2019:
I have a bi colored puppy 11 weeks old and he is all black with brown on his paws and a little white patch on his chest
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on September 13, 2019:
It would mean that he has two parents with recessive white coat genes. Or that somebody lied about who the parents are. :)
leelee p. on September 13, 2019:
my dog has dark colored parents, but he's white.
Puppy on May 09, 2019:
So my puppy is back and tan but the skin under the black hair is light blue (he also has light eyes)
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on April 23, 2019:
There could be some white Shepherd in his genetic history or a black mixed with light greyish colors. They are indeed rarer, but there are more of those cream/white with a black saddle, but I've only seen one in real life myself. In a sense it's definitely not the breeds standard.
Rebekah on April 22, 2019:
My German Shepherd is almost completely purebred, but he's larger than most other German Shepherd dogs, and instead of being tan with a black saddle, is cream with a tan saddle. Any ideas what he might be mixed with? Or if this is a natural, albeit rare, German Shepherd color?
John on April 17, 2019:
We have 2 Sables, a medium and a dark. Our dark sable can from mother from a working line IPO sport waffen line. Only 9 month old male is 90 lbs. Our medium is 4 1/2 years old and has generation of working K-9 in her blood line, and weighs in at 85 lbs
Naffay faisal on March 25, 2019:
My one is only white there population is the lowest from all german shepherds.
Reginald on March 13, 2019:
I've bred and raised German Shepherds for over 42 years and have watched what used to be a fault in color ...whites, fawns blues, Grey's become desrable in some people that are not concerned with breed historically. Darker the better no recessive genes..I've been all over the world and even when access to the East German dogs were not easily obtainable they were always black dark red and black
Peter on December 11, 2018:
Me and my family have been getting white German Shepards for over 20 years . The breeder we would use in the past retired so we found Rolling H Farm from Tennessee and the dog we had got is one of the best dogs we have had, i highly recommend visiting their web page if you are planning on getting a white shepard. I hope my information helps anyone looking .
Michael Vaswani on September 04, 2018:
We (my spouse and me) are looking to buy a purebred GSD. We live in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada. Could you recommend a reliable breeder in a 100 mile radius. We do not wish to work with a breeder from the phone book!!! Thank you.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on August 18, 2018:
Depends on the genes and colours. I have seen a complete black german shepherd from two black-tan german shepherds. They had a lot of black in them. I have never seen it the other way around, a complete tan or something so I guess it is about dominant and recesive colours genes and combinations. Will read up some more on the genetics of the breeding of german shepherds to add to this article.
Angela on May 17, 2018:
can a German Shepherd have one pair German Shepherd puppy and the rest of the puppies mixed
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on March 31, 2018:
Thanks for your message, but I don't have the statistics on how rare color patterns are.
The only thing I know is something like Black is more rare than classic Black - Tan etc. When you look at the votes for the poll you could be able to get a general idea. The only issue is, I've put white and black together.
The color patterns don't match all the color patterns I've desribed. Also some dogs don't completely fit in one or the other category.
From personal experience which is probably biased and dependend on where you live. But I've seen 10-15 times more black/tan and black/red than pure black.
I've seen 6-8 times more black/tan and black/red than sable/gray etc.
Sorry that I'm not more of a help on your question. As an owner I mostly just feel that every gsd I've had was unique. I've had mostly black/tan / black/red variations.
Kayla on March 30, 2018:
I am 12 living in a small city ,so if i dont spell things right im sorry.I was wondering if it was possible for you to see how rare my dogs are.I have a solid black with black paws.Another one and shes a golden german shepherd with a black face with like red head colored on her back with a white and black striped tail.Another one who is a sable silver german shephered with a black face, white tummy,with silver on is whole back and face.So could you please answer my question?Thank you!
Kandy on March 10, 2018:
Don't forget the Pandas :) there are panda german shepherds as well