THE DIFFERENT COLOR COATS OF
THE GERMAN SHEPHERD DOG
By Barbara Galasso
Most pet people when they think of the German Shepherd dog, they think of the black and tan or even the black and silver coat. They are not familiar with the many different colors of this breed. The colors of the German Shepherd are: black and tan/black and crèam, black and silver, sable/gray, bi-color, black, white, blanket, blue, and liver. According to the German Shepherd Dog Club of America the coat color may vary although strong rich colors are preferred. Pale, washed-out colors and blues or livers are serious faults. A white dog must be disqualified. I wonder why blues and livers are only serious faults but yet the white dog would be disqualified!?
When you think of a black and tan/crèam/silver, or red this would usually describe a dog that has a black saddle and the majority of the rest of his coat color is tan, crèam, silver, or red. This would be the most common color of this breed. Most of the time this is the type of dog that you would see in the movies or television or even the advertising of this breed. I would venture to say that more dogs of this color than any other color of this breed does the most winning in the conformation shows. In fact some judges have a hard time putting up some dogs of other colors like the black dog, the bi-color or even the sable dog. For some of them, this is not a color that they prefer. That’s why it’s very important to find out what a certain judge may like before you enter the ring. Of course the best structured dog with the most desirable temperament should be the dog that wins. However, it is a known fact that some judges just do not favor other coat colors besides the black and tan variation.
The sable/gray coat looks very similar to the coat you would expect to see on the wolf. Even with a sable, you can see variances in the color of the pigment. Sometimes you will hear people say they own a red sable. Sometimes you will hear them say that they own a gray. The hairs on a sable dog refer to the banding of color on the dog’s individual hairs. The dog’s hair is tipped with varying amounts of black on the ends with the rest being different shades of red, gray, etc. So you can find black sables, tan sables silver sables or red sables. This is how much the coat of a sable can vary. (sable)
The blanket type of coat is where the saddle part of the dog extends approximately to the elbow of the dog. This gives the dog more of a blanket look on his back than a saddle look. Sometimes people confuse the blanket backed dog with a bi-color type dog.
The bi-color is when the saddle part of the dog covers most of the body leaving markings on the feet and sometimes on the face like having eyebrows.
The totally black dog is exactly what it sounds like. There are no tan markings on this dog. However, sometimes this dog may appear to have a reddish undercoat. Most of the time that is due to the dog being out in the sun too long. Also I have seen a totally black dog have a white splash on their chest. The solid black is a recessive gene meaning that both parents must carry this color gene.
A dog that is blue in color can vary from very light almost looking like a silver to a very dark blue almost looking like a black, but never truly a dark black…..almost dusty looking. Most of these dogs will have a light eye. The blue gene is a recessive gene that both parents must carry in order for a puppy to be born blue.
A liver dog will look usually like a black and tan dog, but instead of the black saddle, he will carry a brownish looking saddle. The liver colored dog is also a recessive gene. Both the blue and liver dog dilutes the black gene. The liver dog will have a brown colored nose almost looking like he was digging in the dirt all day.
The white German Shepherd is not an albino as some people may think. Here again, the white gene is a recessive gene.
Some people will argue and say that no matter what color a German Shepherd is, he is still a German Shepherd. They will say that color shouldn’t matter as long as the dog is healthy. And yes, they would be right that no matter what color he is, he still has the heart of a German Shepherd and many people have different colors of this breed and love them no matter what. But as with any breed of dog, there must be a standard to breed to. There must be an ideal for which a breeder tries to reproduce in his litters. If there were not standards, then there would be no German Shepherd “look” and than just any old thing would do.
I have owned black and tans, sables, bi-colors and blankets. I love a gorgeous plush sable bitch. This combination can be very striking to look at. The male dog that is pictured on the left hand side top of this blog, “Chieftain’s Rajah” was a blanket dog. One would look at him and see his black face and predominately black body and think that he was a bi-color. He was not. He had the tan markings that went up on his legs unlike the bi-color bitch that I now own. (Chieftain's Hello Gorgeous). Her (Jess's) tan markings are only on her feet and under her tail. She too has a totally black face. She also has the stripes on her toes which is normally a give away on a bi-color. This means that there are black stripes going down each of her toes. The blankets don’t have this. Normally their feet are tan. So distinguishing between a blanket and a bi-color can sometimes be very hard for some people.
Knowing about the genetics of color is a very long and detailed study…..too long for me to write about here. I would suggest anyone who is interested about coat color; check out the many articles about this subject on the internet. Also if you want to see what some of these colors look like, there are many fascinating pictures for you to look at on these websites.
Once again there are many different color coats that a German Shepherd Dog may have. One can argue that each of them is pretty in their own way. Each of them can bring joy to their owners. However, most people will associate the black and tan to be the “typical” look of the German Shepherd Dog.
Copyright January 12, 2010 Barbara J. Galasso
The Article Above Is Not To Be Reproduced Without The Author's Permission. The GSDCNO thanks Barbara for her contribution to our website for educational purposes.