Guide To German Shepherd Colors

Guide To German Shepherd Colors

German Shepherd colors are diverse. These range from the common saddle back to the panda pattern. Some colors are common, others rare, and others are unacceptable in line with authoritative sources like the AKC.

In many cases, the rare and faulty or unacceptable German Shepherd colors overlap, making it complex to separate these categories.

However, the American Kennel Club has established standard, acceptable coloring, and patterns for the breed, making it somewhat easier to distinguish color categories.

This club maintains that German Shepherd dog (GSD) colors should be bold and rich rather than pale. Other standards apply, but most people want a pet that they can count on, no matter their coloring.


Common German Shepherd Colors

Von Stephanitz would be pleased to learn that his passion for creating a superior shepherding dog never died. However, the German Shepherd has become one of the most popular dog breeds in the U.S.

Coat colors have changed over time, leading expert German Shepherd breeders to create parameters for quality to maintain bloodlines.

Color standards


Like the American Kennel Club, the United Schutzhund Clubs of America (USCA) has standard rules for acceptable German Shepherd colors. The USCA requires top specimens to be black with a red/brown coat pigmentation in this breed. These rules are not necessarily linked to whether the dog is considered a purebred or not.

Acceptable coat colors include a range such as plain black, gray, and darker colors. The black saddle and mask are acceptable, with yellowish, light grey, and brown markings.

Small hints of white chest markings indicate acceptable breeding, as does minimal light coloring on the coat’s insides. Although recognized, breeding authorities prefer an absence of white markings on the animal.

The USCA also requires the nose tips of superior specimens to be black no matter the dog’s color. Best GSDs should have a mask, dark eyes, nails, and tail tips; otherwise, their pigmentation is seen as faulty for established standards.

Another unacceptable indicator is when the animal’s undercoat reflects a pale grey hue.

Common colors

The range of different colors in GSDs is extensive. Here is a list of common colors. Whether they are acceptable standards depends on the guidelines provided by GSD societies across the U.S.

Of course, not everyone is concerned about whether colors are suitable or otherwise. Most people are concerned about having a loyal pet that can protect them.

Visual appeal is also often a concern, so choosing a healthy puppy with attractive markings may be more important for dog lovers.

Having said this, you can select from many common German Shepherd colors, including:

  • The saddle Back Shepherd has the familiar multi-shaded brown and red coat with the black back.
  • The black and tan German Shepherd
  • Black and cream, red, or silver
  • The sable color German Shepherd with the recognizable blend of black, red, tan, gold, or gray blends strengthens as the animal matures.
  • Dominant black with tan or bicolor
  • Solid black
  • Blanket coats

A description of each of these common German Shepherd colors can help you decide which appeals to you.

You can also determine which German Shepherd’s colors you want in a pet regardless of standards unless you want a show dog.

Saddle back


Saddle back German Shepherd colors include the classic black color that covers most of the dog’s back. This is probably the most recognizable standard of the breed and can be coupled with a lighter tan or deep burnished red shade.

Rin Tin Tin, the famous doggy actor who featured in 27 Hollywood films, had this coloring.

Darker reddish-brown shades are favored by German Shepherd clubs and societies for show lines. The face mask must be present and be a dark black while the tail should also contain black markings.

Lighter colors are less favorable no matter how many other established standards are present in the animal.

Black and tan

Black and tan refer to the saddle back that is black. The remainder of the coat is a tan, light brown, or fawn shade, with all these descriptions basically describing the same color or variations thereof.

Black combined with cream, red, or silver

Again, the black refers to the saddle back, accompanied by a pale fawn or cream shade, deep red or silver. In many cases, the saddle back patterning is indistinct, blending into the overall coat colors.

Sable and black, red, tan, gold, or gray

German Shepherds with sable markings consist of diffused saddle back shading. Instead of a solid saddle, sable coat markings are present in an uneven black color blended with either red, tan, gold, or gray shades. GSD owners may describe their pets as ‘gray’ or ‘red sables’, for example.

The darker and black sable coats indicate black pigmentation’s dominance in the coat. The sable German Shepherd color is caused by the ‘agouti’ gene.

Gray coats comes from the dilution of darker pigments over generations.

Dominant black with tan or bicolor


The bicolor German Shepherd refers to a black coat with touches of tan. The tan is minimal and usually isolated to the legs, underbelly, and brushes of color on the dog’s chest.

Breeders say that if a puppy is black but is tan under the tail, it will be bicolor.

Solid black

This German Shepherd is a solid black color. The toe tips, feet, or chest may have tan hints in the coat. Although the black German Shepherd is not often seen, it is not considered rare.

Blanket coats

Blanket coats are common among German Shepherds. Instead of the classic saddle, the blanket reaches the dog’s upper legs or knees and elbows, creating a blanket effect.

The blanket effect is present in black with many other common colors discussed.

As common as many of these combinations are, recall that experts in the field only define certain colors and markings as acceptable.

Most rare German Shepherd colors are also unacceptable as they don’t fit within German Shepherd breed standards. However, these rare colors are no less attractive or appealing to dog lovers.

Rare German Shepherd Colors

When it comes to distinguishing between rare German Shepherd colors and those seen as faults, things can get quite complicated.

Some sources overlap between coat colors that are regarded as rare and unacceptable in breeding authority standards.

The following German Shepherd colors are regarded as being faulty and rare:

  • Golden Shepherds
  • Panda coats
  • Solid silver coats
  • Liver coats
  • Tan and liver
  • Powder blue and tan

Golden Shepherds

Rare German Shepherd Colors

The golden shepherd is a solid fawn color and has the typical GSD black mask.

Panda coats

The panda German Shepherd has distinctive markings in brown, white, and black. Some possess the standard black mask, black nose, and black-tipped tail following established standards.

Others do not have these markings. Whatever the distribution of Panda colors, they do not conform to permissible German Shepherd colors but are rare.

Solid silver coats

Solid silver coats are also referred to as blue, steel blue, light blue, or powder blue. Stripy or a fusion of gray and other colors are common, but the solid blue or silver coat is rare.

While this coat color is rare, it is also regarded as a fault.

Liver coats

Liver coats are otherwise known as brown, which contains a pigment fault. This rich, deep brown shade is also a version of the strong red shades seen in German Shepherds, which are acceptable in combination with the saddle back and related color standards.

Tan and liver

Tan and liver German Shepherd colors resemble the ideal saddle back patterning.

The difference is that the black of the saddle back is replaced with a deep brown solid pigmentation and the remainder of the coat reflects a deep fawn color.

The fawn color tends to be solid rather than mixed with other shades, typical of the saddle back markings. The distinctive black mask and black tail markings are also replaced with a liver color.

Powder blue and tan

Like the rare tan and liver markings, the powder blue german shepherd and tan colors supplant the black saddle and other typical markings of this patterning. Blue GSDs can also have blue eyes.

“Unacceptable” German Shepherd Colors

“Unacceptable” German Shepherd colors refer to pigmentation faults in the breed. As mentioned, these faults are often also rare, such as the solid silver color. Similarly, the solid liver color is equally rare.

While color rarity is often favored and unusual markings such as the Panda pattern are desirable, other solid colors and markings are undesirable.

This is perhaps because some colors detract from the German Shepherd’s visual aesthetics or expectations of what is acceptable or not.

Here is a selection of the less desirable or “unacceptable” German Shepherd colors and color patterns, which don’t detract from other common and desirable characteristics:

  • Black and white markings
  • Snow white, fawn, or red
  • Mottled blue
  • Light gray, blue, silver

Snow white, fawn, or red


German Shepherd colors can be snow-white and were bred through working lines. Solid white German Shepherds will still have black noses and nails and albino German Shepherds will have pink noses.

Solid fawn or tan colorations are also considered faults but are less rare than the liver or brown German Shepherd coat.

Likewise, the deep red German Shepherd color is a pigment fault that produces a solid reddish-brown coat shade.

White GSDs aren’t accepted in AKC conformation events, they can compete in agility, obedience and performance events and in other dog shows, so you’re likely to still see them in the show ring.

Black and white markings

Black and white coat markings are diverse. These markings can appear anywhere on the coat and be in different shapes and sizes.

Spots or abstract markings may be present, with either a black or white color dominating the coat. Contrary to popular belief, you will seldom, if ever, find German Shepherd colors that mimic those of the Dalmatian.

Mottled blue

While the dark solid silver or steel blue color is rare, the mottled silver and gray fusions with white or tan are less so. The mottled shade refers to the sable coat’s predominant gray, silver, or blue colors.

These markings are attractive and appear random or in a blend of unclear stripy markings.

Strangely enough, while this patterning is regarded as a serious fault, it is one that most closely resembles the first German Shepherds bred by Von Stephanitz.

The exception is that the mottled blue coloring is devoid of tan, which was part of the initial breeding stock.

Light gray, blue, silver


Light gray, blue, or silver German Shepherd coat colors refer to the same shades of gray. As with blue mottling, these coats are similar with color depths and pattern variations.

None of these color discrepancies are acceptable, but all have their own appeal regarding beauty. Everyone has their own perceptions of beauty, which differ more than German Shepherd colors.

Dark gray, blue, silver

These coat colors are darker shades of gray or silver like the category above. Some people see the lighter solid grays as desirable; others prefer darker coats.

These dark silver shades are also mixed with lighter tan or fawn shades, but the gray color is dominant. Although the dark silver hues are not uncommon, they are also viewed as pigment faults.

Can I control The Coat Color Of Puppies?

Can I control The Coat Color Of Puppies?

Dog’s DNA colors consist of two basic colors. These colors are black and red. Beyond color, the nuclei in dog cells consist of 39 chromosomal pairs–one pair coming from each parent.

The male or female parent will determine the puppy’s gender, and the other 39 chromosomes will determine coat colors and other characteristics. Of the basic red and black colors, diverse coloring and patterning can result.

For GSDs, black pigment is actually a recessive gene, so is supplanted by dominant genes. To get a solid black German Shepherd, both parents must carry the recessive gene, which makes a black dog rare.

Any efforts to control coat colors rely on decades of breeding, which is the only control you or breeders have over this outcome. DNA can be focused on breeding specific patterning such as the saddle back in German Shepherds over generations.

Throwbacks to earlier generations are, however, inevitable at some point as breeders source males and females from different strains to strengthen genetics. Throwbacks can include any common, rare, or fault German Shepherd colors described.

Also, puppy colors often change and deepen as the puppy grows, making it impossible to control puppy coat colors. Therefore, it is not possible to control the coat color of German Shepherd puppies or any other dog.

Last Words

Certain German Shepherd colors are viewed as acceptable by club standards across the U.S. Although these standards have grown far from the original German Shepherds bred by the founder of this breed, Max von Stephanitz, many color variations have developed since 1899.

Color deviations in the German Shepherd dog are associated with purposeful and mistaken breeding. Different coat colorings are also causally linked with pigmentation variations.

Some colors and markings are rare, and others are viewed as unacceptable.

At no point do color discrepancies reflect on the breed’s personality.

The German Shepherd remains a loyal animal that will make an excellent pet or working dog when it has been well raised and cared for properly. 


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