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German Shepherd Colors – Don’t Believe The Lies

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We all know the typical German Shepherd colors.

But many people occasionally come across gorgeous colors on social media and maybe even in real life.

The color is often not mentioned or plainly mislabeled.

Because in reality, the real German Shepherd colors are shrouded in mystery.

Major pet websites are spreading false information. Additionally, graphics are floating around that feature false GSD colors alongside real ones.

Colors are often not just about preference but Marketing terms for “rare” colors which can reveal an irresponsible breeder.

These so-called breeders offer colors mentioned as faulty by the AKC, or even worse, colors that indicate a crossbreed or underlying health conditions.

The AKC mentions the following in the breed standard:

Color: The German Shepherd Dog varies in color, and most colors are permissible. Strong rich colors are preferred. Pale, washed-out colors and blues or livers are serious faults. A white dog must be disqualified.

AKC Breed Standard – GSD

The AKC breed standard doesn’t mean that other colors are necessarily “bad” but at the very least they’re disqualified from shows.

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Furthermore, it’s definitely justified that some colors are among the unaccepted ones.

We’ll dive deeper into how you can avoid undesirable colors and become somewhat of an expert on the GSD’s real colors and patterns.

True German Shepherd Colors

There are 7 acceptable German Shepherd colors:

  • Black and Tan
  • Black and Red
  • Solid Black
  • Sable (dark, black, red variants)
  • Black and Cream
  • Black and Silver
  • Bi-Color

Black and Tan

Black and Tan is the most common color among German Shepherds.

The classic black and tan German Shepherd is often seen in working lines.

While this dog definitely exists in show lines across the world too, many people in the US prefer the next type that’s more red than tan.

The tan part is also commonly referred to as mahogany or rust in other breeds and everything essentially refers to the same color.

Black and tan German Shepherd is walking on a leash over grass.

How rich or pale this coat type is can vary but it’s a pretty safe choice when it comes to color.

People who want to compete in conformation may need to look more closely at the coat.

Black and Red

As mentioned, black and red German Shepherds are favorites among the show lines.

Black and red German Shepherd tilts his head with the tongue out and a black splotch on the tongue.

A rich, red coat can surely look stunning on a German Shepherd.

Solid Black

The purely black German Shepherd is quite rare and sought-after.

However, be aware of breeders trying to sell you a dog just based on coat color.

While black is a common color among other breeds, the black gene has been found to be recessive in the German Shepherd.

Black German Shepherds are created through a solid black parent with another solid black parent or a black and tan part.

Solid black German Shepherd in the field.

Unless connected to crossbreeding or poor health, color has absolutely nothing to do with behavior and your black GSD may look more menacing but can be a real softie (depending on the genetics and breeding line).

Temperament selection, training, and socialization are what determines how your dog’s going to behave.

Sable

The term sable describes a color pattern where dark is most commonly combined with greyish or reddish colors.

Tan and red sable German Shepherds are also possible. In this case, the black is mixed with mainly tan or red.

In any case, the tip of the guard hair is black most of the time.

Sable German Shepherd slowly approaches the camera with his head slightly down.

Sable German Shepherd puppies can change color slightly as they grow.

Dark sable, black sable, and light sable all describe the same color type.

Black and Cream

Since black and cream is not really defined as type of GSD color, it’s a bit tricky to pin down.

Most of the time, black and cream German Shepherds have a saddle pattern with a very pale tan, so basically they’re black and light tan GSDs.

Black and cream German Shepherd with light and pale tan color.

According to the AKC standard, this could be described as “pale”, so it’s probably not desirable according to the breed standard.

Black and Silver

This is also not a widely spread color pattern because black and silver German Shepherds are basically a variant of sable or black and very light tan.

Some people with silver dogs (same applies to people with clearly sable dogs sometimes) refer to their dog as black and gray dogs.

Don’t mix the black and silver type up with the solid gray GSD (I’ll cover that below).

Bi-Color

The Bi-color German Shepherd is just a black and tan/red German Shepherd, except that the black covers the whole body except the paws and sometimes around the eyebrows.

This means that the bi-color GSD is somewhere between the classic types with tan or red mixed with black and the solid black type.

Bi-color GSDs are not found that often and are often labeled as one of the terms above due to the confusion around how much tan parts are actually allowed.

Bi-color German Shepherd with black saddle pattern and tan feet and a partly tan tail.

Some owners think that small tan parts don’t disqualify a dog to be solid black – but a solid black is defined as pure black, no other color on the whole body.

Recommended Reading: German Shepherd Straight Back Vs. Sloped Back

Faulty German Shepherd Colors

The so-called faulty color types are often marketed as rare which implies desirability.

While the existence of any of these colors on GSDs doesn’t disqualify them from being purebred, they sometimes really aren’t.

It doesn’t help that major pet websites put pictures of false breeds besides some of these colors.

Others of the mentioned colors are possibly indicators for health issues.

These colors are not accepted by major breeding clubs and can be considered as a fault:

  • Pure White
  • Solid Gray
  • Blue
  • Liver
  • Solid red
  • Fawn / Yellowish White / Isabella
  • Spotted Black and White
  • Panda
  • Golden
  • Merle

Pure White

A lot of people are arguing that the purely white German Shepherd is a crossbreed while others are labeling them as Albinos and some are even saying white GSDs can be healthy purebreds.

When they have long coats, totally white German Shepherds can look like their Swiss counterpart – the White Swiss Shepherd Dog.

Apart from whether or not purely white GSDs exist as crossbreeds and possibly as purebreds, Albinism is definitely a possibility.

That being said, a major pet website calls Albinism a flaw and highlights that they’re often shy or skittish (which usually isn’t related to coat color directly but rather to poor breeding or hereditary health issues) while still saying these dogs make good family dogs.

Don’t get me wrong, all rescued dogs can possibly fit great for your lifestyle, you just have to find the right one.

That being said, don’t get involved with buying from a breeder whose puppies possibly have health issues just because you’re relying on this statement.

Solid Gray

Unlike sable or the black and silver GSD, the solid gray German Shepherd does not exist in the show or even working line world.

The solid gray is also not a washed out blue or creamy type, it’s literally solid gray Shepherds you’ll see in some cases.

In the show ring, solid gray is considered to be a serious fault.

Again, a major pet website labels this color as “popular” which it definitely isn’t and shouldn’t be.

Many people make the mistake to refer to their sable or silver GSD as gray though, so be aware of that.

Blue

Light blue, dark blue, steel blue, sable blue – none of these colors are usually seen competing and they’re not a common color among German Shepherds.

Even though one major pet website proclaims that the light blue GSD is “rare” and the other variants of darker shades aren’t, that’s just not true and suggest that light blue is somehow superior.

Liver

Liver colored dogs are often seen with a pink nose.

This brownish coat color is moving somewhere along the lines of the tan, red, and cream shades.

However, liver is pretty distinct and resembles the “chocolate Lab” more than any of the aforementioned colors.

Solid red

As the word suggest, this coat type is not black and red but a fully red German Shepherd instead.

Some people might mean the black and red type but don’t be fooled if a breeder offers you a completely red GSD.

I have never seen a solid red German Shepherd and don’t expect that to change in the near future. There’s no genetic basis for this color type to develop.

Fawn / Yellowish White / Isabella

All these terms are essentially labelling what is a black and cream German Shepherd.

Isabella types can be very light and might just be a ploy to disguise a white or even albinistic dog.

These colors are extremely unusual among German Shepherds and not commonly seen and not desirable either in most cases.

Spotted Black and White

Another major pet website that features what seems to be a different breed under this color type.

There is no spotted black and white German Shepherd in the sense that this color type implies.

Australian Kelpies do have this beautiful coat color though,

Panda

Just a cute marketing term for something I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to be.

If you’re checking pictures, it shows you everything.

Black and white GSDs, some mixed with brown, as well as sable patterns with the resemblance to a Panda.

I’d suggest to stay away from Panda German Shepherd puppies.

Golden

Oh, you’re thinking Golden Retriever?

It’s a popular enough color since millions of new dog owners adopt a Goldie every year, so why not extend this to the German Shepherd.

However, a purely Golden GSD is most likely a crossbreed and unless a DNA test convinces me of the opposite, I’ll hold firmly to that opinion.

Merle

The merle gene is not existent among German Shepherd lines in a natural form.

The genetic consequences of breeding two merle dogs can be catastrophic and breeding of these shouldn’t be encouraged.

German Shepherd Coat Types

All these colors come in various coat types. You’ll see either one of three coat lengths:

  • Short-haired German Shepherd
  • Medium length coat
  • Long hair

The medium-length coat is most commonly seen. Depending on your climate, you might opt for the shorter or longer version.

A double coat is typical and consists of a dense outer coat and a softer undercoat.

While the breed is generally easy to maintain, weekly brushing is required.

Shedding season can be a disaster for some dog owners, especially those with long-haired German Shepherds.

A proper diet, exercise, etc. will make sure your dog’s healthy which is often expressed through the skin.

Here’s more on how you can increase your German Shepherd’s lifespan and overall health.

Let me know what color your German Shepherd has or what you think is the most beautiful color on GSDs in the comments.

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About Danielle
I am the founder of PawLeaks where I share weekly tips on dog training and behavior. Sharing a passion for dogs and helping owners to solve problems through understanding canine behavior and modification is my number one goal.