8 Different German Shepherd Coat Color Patterns
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.
What coloring does your German Shepherd have?
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