German Shepherd Colors Explained

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German Shepherd Colors ExplainedBecause you see them so often on TV, you will probably think that German Shepherds only come in a tan and black color. While these are indeed the most common color combinations in the United States, they’re also available in other standard colors and different shades for dog lovers to choose from. In this article, we explain all the colors of the German Shepherd dog along with the ones that are accepted by the major cynology associations. 

What is a German Shepherd? 

The German Shepherd is an agile yet large and muscular dog with high intelligence and a noble character — they’re also confident, courageous, loyal, and steady, making them a delight for any dog lover. On average, they stand at 26 inches by the shoulders and will often present an outline of their smooth and graceful curves, which is why they’re often at the top of canine royalty. Apart from their regal image, many experts believe that their defining attribute is their character, which allows them to learn many commands and be willing to put their lives on the line for their loved ones. 

These dogs are also known to be steadfast guardians, gentle family pets, and are aloof around strangers, which makes them good guard dogs but friendly enough to be accepting of new people. While most German Shepherds will come with common colors such as black and tan, others will sport a rare color variant such as sable, blue, and liver, which aren’t always accepted according to the breed standards laid down by some associations. Below, we explain the full spectrum of German Shepherd colors before you pick the best one for you.     

Different Colors of the German Shepherd

Contrary to popular belief, German Shepherds come in a wide range of colors — here, we look into every color from the most common ones to the rarer colors. 

Black and Tan 

Black And TanMost dog owners will think of this color when picturing these dogs; a black and tan German Shepherd will obviously come with a black saddle and face, along with a tan coloration on the undercarriage. This is one of the first colors in these dogs since they were officially registered in Germany by the end of the 19th century. While Horand von Grafrath, the first dog recognized as this breed was a bit darker compared to today’s black and tan GSD, the resemblance is uncanny.   

Black and tan puppies will often be born darker, and will lighten as they get older — some will even develop a gray strip along their back and will often be more common in females rather than males. 

Pure Black

Pure BlackPure black German Shepherds don’t come with tan markings — breeders that specialize in producing these dogs claim that this solid black dog will be more muscular and larger compared to other German Shepherds. However, there’s no clear evidence for this and some owners will claim that solid black German Shepherds will have coats that are softer and more luxurious, but this is also unsubstantiated. 

Unfortunately, some people believe that meeting these dogs at night is a bad omen and that their solid black coat is a sign of imminent death. While there are many false claims about them, black GSDs are accepted by all major canine associations, including the American Kennel Club (AKC), the United Kennel Club, and the German Shepherd Dog Club of America. 


WhiteMany people will probably know what a white German Shepherd looks like; it sports a gorgeous white coat and will look like a pale Golden Retriever with erect ears. They’re often confused for the Berger Blanc Suisse, White Swiss Shepherd, or the white Husky, although the white GSD will rarely come with blue eyes. Unfortunately, their white color isn’t accepted by the AKC, and are often disqualified from dog shows. 

Experts at the UK Kennel Clubs are also dismissive of this white dog and have remarked that white markings on the chest or a highly pale color inside the legs are passable but undesirable. The United Kennel Club is among the few organizations that accept the white German Shepherd and notes that the color of dogs isn’t as important compared to their character or work ethic. Despite the effort to accept these dogs, Germany still culled these dogs in 1959, believing that such dogs were Albinos and believed that the white gene carries hereditary issues.   


LiverDogs with this coat type will come with a rich and reddish-brown coat along with amber-colored eyes, which makes this dog both eye-catching and distinctive. This color is the result of a recessive gene but for a German Shepherd puppy to get this color, both parents will need at least one of these genes to be passed on to their offspring. According to the AKC breed standard, strong rich colors are preferred, but liver or blue dogs are serious faults. 

While this may seem confusing, liver-colored GSDs are recognized by the AKC, but they will need to have a solid silver coloration while other color patterns such as liver and tan or liver and black aren’t accepted. If these dogs catch your eye, they are quite rare so you’ll need to look for a special breeding program but they could appear in random litters in a regular breeding program. As such, you’re unlikely to find these dogs in a rescue center or a shelter.  


BlueBlue German Shepherd dogs are a rare but majestic sight; there’s something so magical about blue dogs and when paired with amber or golden-brown eyes, they can look more exotic. Because of these features, they’re highly sought after but these dogs are also surrounded by a lot of controversy. Such dogs carry the recessive dilution gene, which is believed to come with health issues as a result of inbreeding practices.  

On the bright side, their unusual eye and coat color aren’t necessarily an indication of being more predisposed to health problems compared to the tan and black variety. Blue German Shepherds can appear silver or gray and will at times be mistaken to be a Blue Belgian Malinois. While some think that being blue doesn’t look good, it does not affect the dog’s natural character, and will behave just as well as any German Shepherd. 


IsabellaUnfortunately, this usual yet striking color is another washout with the AKC and isn’t considered to be acceptable — it’s attained by genetically combining the blue and liver dilution genes. Much like the blue and liver GSDs, Isabella German Shepherd dogs will come with different-colored noses and unusual eye colors. While the blue GSDs come with a blue nose, and the liver GSDs will come with a brown nose, the Isabella GSD’s nose will range in color between pink to liver. 

When it comes to the liver gene, all black pigmentation is blocked which results in the brown color, while the Isabella gene won’t have black pigments around the noses, paw pads, or eye rims. As a result, they will often have hazel or light-blue eyes — there’s no evidence that this coloration will make dogs more vulnerable to health issues. However, it’s still a recessive trait that will always limit the gene pool, opening the door to more genetic conditions. 


GrayNot to be confused with the silver German Shepherd, the gray German Shepherd comes with a wolf-like appearance in their dark coats, which is also referred to as “wolf-gray”. Some people will say that these dogs are a kind of Agouti or sable, but it’s still one of the six colors accepted by AKC standards. Unlike the blue and silver GSDs, their gray color is created through a dominant gene instead of a recessive one, making these dogs easier to breed. 

As such, puppies will only need one parent to have this gene to get this specific color. Many of these dogs will lack black pigmentation which differentiates them from dogs with a sable color, which will usually have black tips on their hair. While these dogs won’t be as rare as the blue or Isabella GSDs, they’re still uncommon, so you’d be lucky to find one up for adoption — you may want to look up breeders that specialize in these pups. 


SilverSimilar to the gray variant, the silver GSD is recognized as a color of its own by the AKC, but they aren’t as common in the show ring since dogs with strong and vibrant colors are preferred. They are, however, more often used for police work and military work — because silver and gray colors are created by the same genes, they’re often grouped together. Silver is also an uncommon color for these dogs, which may be because it’s a recessive gene; just like the dilution gene, the silver gene influences black pigment. 

While it’s possible to get a silver sable German Shepherd, such patterned coats will always be categorized to be sable instead of silver. Looking for a breeder who specializes in silver German Shepherds is much easier than looking for a gray GSD specialist. As such, it might be a good idea to look for these dogs if you’re looking for an exotic-looking canine companion.    

Black and Red

Black And RedAs you may have guessed, black and red GSDs come with a rich red pigment that replaces the tan usually found in the standard German Shepherd, but the pattern stays the same. Many of these purebred German Shepherds will have the same saddleback and black mask as the black and tan variant. Their red color is the result of the pheomelanin color gene, which can produce various shades of red, from deep mahogany red to strawberry blonde.  

Along with black and tan, this black and red mix is the preferred option by experts out of all the German Shepherd colors. Because both of these colors are created through dominant genes, these color combinations are easier to produce, so many breeders will focus on creating purebred dogs with these deep red or red sable colors. 


SableThe sable pattern is a classic option in German Shepherds which can come in a wide range of colors but will always sport a black tip; dogs with this pattern can come in gray, black, silver, tan, or red. Some of the founding members of these dogs believed that sable or Agouti should be the only acceptable colors in German Shepherds. Because of this gene, a sable German Shepherd’s color will change throughout its young life.

Black sables will be born with a classic black color while tri-colored sables will be born as black and tan puppies but as the puppies age, their color will change and some GSDs will take as long as 3 years to get their final sable color. Because every sable dog will be different, both their pattern and color will vary, which will make for a unique and eye-catching pooch. Luckily, sable is a dominant color that can be bred easily — if you combine one of these canines with another GSD of another color, there’s a big chance you’ll get sable German Shepherd puppies.   

Black and Silver

Black And SilverThe black and silver combination results in a distinct look in German Shepherds which sets them apart from the rest of the colors. Their fur will be predominantly black with silver markings throughout various areas of the body such as the legs, face, chest, tail, and chest. The contrast between these two colors can create an eye-catching appearance that many dog lovers find captivating. 

This color variation in GSDs is the result of a dilution gene that affects their fur’s pigmentation, acting on the black pigments on their hair, causing it to get a silver or pale gray shade. As such, the usual black and tan pattern of the standard German Shepherd will be replaced with a gorgeous gray or silver hue. While these dogs look more exotic compared to the usual color, they follow a similar pattern and will have the same muscular frame and strong build as the black and tan variants. 


BicolorIn order to fit the breed standard, these dogs will need to be almost completely black and should have black legs, heads, tails, and backs. Bicolor German Shepherds will come with two distinct colors on their coats such as black and white; they’ll come with many patterns such as black and white markings or a black and white saddle. Their color is the result of recessive genes that control coat pigmentation and both parents will need to carry these genes to result in bi-colored puppies.   

However, this color isn’t considered a sign of bad breeding practices or nonconformity to breed standards, but it isn’t as common as other colors and may be hard to find in local shelters. There are also GDS enthusiasts who question whether bicolor dogs are another color or if they just have another pattern in a different color. Even so, the AKC accepts this as a recessive color in GSDs — while they’re technically allowed for show lines, they mostly belong in the working lines. 

Black and Cream

Black And CreamThese gorgeous dogs come in a stunning blend of cream-colored light patches and dark black fur which creates a striking contrast that captures attention. This color combination adds elegance to their overall appearance and makes them even more captivating. A distinct feature that everyone will notice with these dogs is the darker shade around their nose and eyes compared to the other light-colored GSDs such as cream or white. 

Having this darker color can further enhance their expressions and can provide them with an intense look that’s not intimidating but more endearing, and can captivate the people around them. Black and cream GSDs share the same traits and characteristics as every other German Shepherd, reflecting only their intelligence and loyalty but are also known for their versatility and protective nature. Whether they’re used as working dogs in the field or as loving companions, they will do well in every role given to them. 


PandaThe Panda German Shepherd will look a lot like a Border Collie — the first of these dogs was named Lewcinka’s Franka von Phenom; some people claimed that she wasn’t a purebred GSD but was instead a cross between a Border Collie and a GSD. However, her DNA proved her authenticity but this color is still unrecognized by major kennel clubs. This color is produced through a rare genetic mutation, where the piebald gene causes around 40% of the dog’s body to turn white. 

While the Panda GDS doesn’t have white German Shepherds in its ancestry, the genes responsible for an all-white body and a patchy white body are from two separate ones. Despite their status as unrecognized breeds, they’re still highly popular and there’s a high demand for Panda GSDs. The bad news is that this inflates their price and many breeders will focus on getting the color right rather than giving proper care to their pups, so be sure to look for a reputable breeder if you want to take one home. 


AlbinoThe Albino German Shepherd is very rare — some people will claim to have an albino GSD but find that they’re simply white German Shepherds upon closer inspection. Any kind of albino animal will lack any kind of pigmentation and won’t have any color on their eyes, hair, skin, and even their blood vessels, which results in a pinkish hue. You’ll be able to tell an albino German Shepherd from a white one by looking at its nose and eyes. 

White German Shepherds or any animal for that matter, will come with pigmentation which results in brown eyes, while albinos of any kind will come with pink or red eyes. Albinos of all kinds, when they’re produced, may come with health problems associated with this condition. For instance, they could be photosensitive, which means they’ll need to be protected from direct sunlight.    

German Shepherd Colors Explained 

The German Shepherd breed can come in a wide variety of colors and patterns; some will come with a long coat and others with short hair. When picking the right color for you, make sure that you’re not just choosing a dog based on its looks; German Shepherds may develop hip and back issues down the road, so be sure to consider its needs before you take one home. It’s also important to look for responsible breeders who can help you raise a healthy and happy dog right from the start of its journey with you.