Coat Types and Colors

A Veterinarian's Perspective

Sequoyah German



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Last updated 8/15/10

German Shepherd Coat Colors and Types of Coats

People are always asking me about what different colors and coats look like.  I decided to put together a little summary of the most common "traditional" coat colors.  I am not going to go into the different  non-traditional colors like "panda", "tricolors", "brindles", etc.

To start with, one must understand that there are patterns and colors.  A pattern would be something like a "sable pattern" but the color can vary from BLACK SABLE, RED SABLE, DARK SABLE, etc.  There are also "points" or "series" that can be found with any color and I will try to find time to go over those too and a later date.


Saddle back

  • X-Small Saddle

  • Small Saddle

  • Average Saddle

  • Large Saddle

  • X-Large Saddle (Blanket)



  • Black Sable

  • Dark Sable

  • Medium Sable

  • Red Sable

  • Silver Sable


  • Black & Red

  • Black & Tan

  • Black & Cream

  • Black & Silver


  • Solid White

  • Solid Black



Stock coat
Short/Flat coat
Plush coat
Long coat

  • Stock

  • Standard


The way that I am going to set this up is by first going over COATS (because they are the easiest).  Then we will go over PATTERNS and COLOR together (sort of) because there are actually different colors for each pattern.  We will conclude with different examples of COATS, COLORS. and PATTERNS.



The Stock Coat:  Concerning the coat of the German Shepherd, the SV breed standard states the following: "The normal (stock) coated GSD should carry a thick undercoat and the outer coat should be as dense as possible, made up of straight hard close lying hairs. The hair on the head and ears, front of the legs, paws and toes is short. On the neck it is longer and thicker, on some males forming a slight ruff. The hair grows longer on the back of the legs as far down as the pastern and the stifle, and forms fairly thick trousers on the hindquarters. There is no hard or fast rule for the length of the hair, but short mole-type coats are faulty."
  • Short coated but with an undercoat
  • This is the preferred coat type of the SV (German Shepherd Society of Germany)

The Short coat or Flat Coat -  is an allowed coat length, and it's just what it sounds like...short.  The hair length is short and the coat lays flat against the body.  These German Shepherds maintain a short coat and usually have less undercoat than that of the Stock Coat German Shepherd.

  • Short coat with no undercoat
The Plush Coat:  is 'plushier' than the short coat, and is preferred more in the show ring.  It's basically a longer, fuller coat, yet still an allowed length.  Both the stock and plush coats have an undercoat.  The plush coat Shepherd has a medium length coat with a thick, fluffy undercoat. These dogs do not have any feathering as in the long coated GSD's.
  • Medium length coat with thick undercoat
  • Preferred for show ring
The Long Stock Coat:  is a long coat that has an undercoat.  This is not a desired coat length despite the dog still having an undercoat.  Stock Coats shed just as much as their short or plush coated counterparts  The Long Stock Coat, like the normal Long Coat, can be distinguished by long tufts, or 'feathering', of hair on the ears and the backs of the legs and tail.
  • Long coat with undercoat
  • Feathering found on legs, ears, and tail
The Standard Long Coatis a long soft outer coat with no undercoat, and is a fault as far as the standard is concerned.  It has long hair or feathering on the ears, legs, and tail.  The coated German Shepherd, also called Long coated German Shepherd's, have much longer fur around their ears, on the backs of their legs, chest and tail (feathering) than other German Shepherd's.
  • Long coat with NO undercoat
  • Feathering found on legs, ears, and tail


             Coat:  Stock Coat (on a working type Czech female)

Pattern:  Sable

Color:  Black Sable

    Coat:  Short Flat Coat (on a working type female)

Pattern:  Full Blanket

Color:  Black/Red

    Coat:  Plush Coat (on a DDR female)

Pattern:  Solid

Color:  Black

    Coat:  Plush Coat (on a DDR female)

Pattern:  Sable

Color:  Dark to Black Sable

    Coat:  Plush Coat (on a DDR female - same female as shown above with full winter coat)

Pattern:  Sable

Color:  Dark to Black Sable

    Coat:  Long Stock Coat

Pattern:  Large Saddle

Color:  Black / Cream

   More coming soon......      





Sable pattern (or Agouti)
  • Sable pattern is the banding of color on the dogs individual hairs, leaving a variety of shades and colors available.  A sable dog will have a lighter undercoat (or undercolor) of grey, red, tan, cream (undesirable), etc. and a "top coat" of black.  This color pattern is what most people refer to as "wolf-colored".  They have the guard hairs with a black tips and a band of color the same shade as their undercoats around the guard hair in various withes.  This band and black combination gives the hair and the dog its own distinct color pattern.  Viewed from a short distance, a sable dog may appear black, grey or even black and tan.  This allows sable dogs come in a wide variety of colors and pigments.  A typical sable guard hair showing the banding that creates the distinctive look is shown here at right 2x actual size.
  • Sables are the most complex color pattern. 
  • Sable puppies are usually quite dark at birth, become very light as they lose their puppy coat, and then begin to darken once again as their adult coat comes in for the first time.  As adults, sables tend to change in appearance after each shed and growth of a new coat.  As a rule, they become darker overall as they get older.
  • When the dark top coat (guard hairs) begin to fade, many breeders complain about the timing.  Often times the puppy begins to look "washed out" about the time they are leaving for their new homes.  Their body color is usually the same as their undercoat color because the "puppy" coat slowly begins to be replaced by the "adult" coat.  At this stage, these pups typically have a black stripe down the back, black around the eyes, and a single black ring around the tail.  This bizarre color scheme is only around for a few weeks.  The pups soon get progressively darker (and more German Shepherd-like) until they finally reach their adult coat.  No one can blame a novice for wondering if the breeder is "on the level," or if some local Romeo didn't slip in and visit "mom" in the dark of night.  It is helpful if you have several sable dogs about the place and their puppy pictures to prove that this metamorphosis does in fact take place.  But, if you don't, the breeder is left in the rather pathetic position of saying to the buyer, "Look, trust me. They get darker!"
  • How Dark Will They Get?   The breeder usually has a pretty good idea of how dark his/her sable pups will eventually become. After all, he/she has seen the pups from birth.  In my opinion, the blacker they are at birth, the black they are as adults.  Black sable pups are almost solid black when born, then the color starts to fade. Red sables can have a brilliant red undercoat, and are born a bit lighter, with that black stripe already in evident (though it tends to be spread over the shoulder blades as well)
  • Most breeders that love sables (me, included) like them "the darker the better".  Some signs of exceptionally dark pigment are black toes ("muddy feet" in the lingo), a black mask and black appearing on the front of the leg running down towards the feet.  The very darkest dogs are called "black sables" and are considered highly desirable because of the extremely dark pigment they possess.  In my experience, black sable dogs often carry the black recessive gene, and can produce solid black puppies when bred to another dog that carries the black recessive. The blackest of Black sables usually, in my opinion, have DDR (East German) or Czech ancestry.  The Czechs and East Germans both bred from blacker dogs to walk the WALL (see DDR History)
  • Sable dogs can be used by a breeder to darken the pigment of the next generation.  Two sable dogs with similar color will often have offspring that are darker than either parent. 
  • Markings:  Often times, especially when referring to sables, you may hear terms such as penciling, tar heels, striping, etc.  These all refer to the markings found on the dog.  I will try to find examples of these too and include them in the pictures below.

SaddleBack pattern - This is the most well known (and possibly the most sought after) color in American, especially by pet homes.  The saddleback is differentiated by the size of the black "saddle" on the backs of the German Shepherd.

  • "X-Small saddle" - have saddle markings that take up a very small area in the center of the back
  • "Small saddle" 
  • "Standard Saddle"
  • "Large Saddle"
  • "Blanket Back" - have extended saddle markings that go roughly to the area of their elbows, and give the appearance of a "blanket" rather than a "saddle" on their backs.
Bi-colors - are often defined as being predominantly black (or blue/liver) with markings extending to the bottoms of their legs, and sometimes above their eyes and around their muzzles.  It is a pattern in which the 'saddle' covers most of the body, leaving markings only on the LOWER legs / feet and sometimes (usually) the face.
Solid pattern is exactly as it sounds - one color on the entire body of the dog.  The solid pattern is a recessive gene, meaning it is only expressed when the dog has 2 copies of the gene.  Dogs that are sable, black and tan, etc, can carry this gene without, obviously, expressing it.  Two solid patterned dogs bred together can ONLY produce solid patterned pups.  There can be solid blacks, whites, blues, or livers
  • It should be mentioned here that dark pigment of eyes and coat is highly desirable in the German Shepherd Dog. Some lines carry the dilute gene which causes the coat to be washed out in color.  White Shepherds carry the extreme form of the dilute gene, and while they may be very lovely dogs, this lack of pigment is considered undesirable according to the breed standard.

       Most dominate coat pattern

Pattern:  Sable Pattern

    Second most dominate coat pattern

Pattern:  SaddleBack 

    Third most dominate coat pattern

Pattern:  Bicolor

    Most recessive coat pattern

Pattern:  Solid 



The Basics on Genetics:  For those who just can't get enough..... 

In the GSD, color genes are dominant or recessive.  This means that which ever gene is dominant will determine the color of the pup. 
Here is a dominance chart - The Sable is the most dominate of the color genes and the solid black is the least dominate.

Most Dominant



Black/Tan (Saddleback)




Solid color - Black

Example: The Saddle Back pattern is RECESSIVE to the Sable pattern (also said that the Sable is DOMINANT to the SADDLE BACK).  This means if two Saddle Back dogs are bred, there can not be Sable pups, because neither Saddle Back parent would carry the Sable gene (otherwise they would be Sable).  So, if one of the parents is NOT a sable, there will be NO sables in a litter. 
Also, another factor to considered is that even though a dog may be sable (because that is his most dominate color gene), he can carry a BLACK/TAN gene as well.  If he ONLY carries one type of gene (meaning that both of his color genes are the same), then he is considered g is Homozygous.   If he carries 2 different color genes, his is considered Heterozygous for a certain trait.  There are at least 2 genes for every trait - the color gene is a 2 gene trait.  Homozygous means that the dog only carries 2 of the SAME type of a gene for certain trait, while Heterozygous means that the dog carries 2 DIFFERENT genes for the same trait.

Example:  A Sable dog can be either Homozygous or Heterozygous Sable.  This means he either carries 1 or 2 copies of the sable gene.  If the Sable dog had, for example, a sable parent and a Saddle Back parent, that dog could carry both of those genes - Sable, and Saddle back.  The dog would appear Sable since that is the dominant gene.  This dog, in turn, could produce both Sables and Saddle backs (depending on what color he is bred to), since he carries both genes.  For a Sable dog to be Homozygous Sable, it would have to have 2 copies of the sable gene.  This would mean the dog would have had 2 Sable parents that both passed the sable gene on to it, and also that this dog can ONLY produce sables.  If he is heterozygous sable, he can possibly produce a variety of colors.  The chart below shows what a breeding of a homozygous sable female and a homozygous black/tan male would produce.  The left side of the chart shows what the genes of the puppy would be while the right side of the chart show what the ACTUAL color of the resulting offspring would be.

Homogzygous Black / Tan Black / Tan = Phenotype Black / Tan Black / Tan
Sable S/BT S/BT = Sable Sable Sable
Sable S/BT S/BT = Sable Sable Sable
  • Sables can carry any other color and still be sables

  • A homozygous sable will always produce sable pups because it will dominate all of the other possible genes the puppies could inherit from the other parent

  • Two black and tans can never produce a sable since if one of the parents had a sable gene to pass on, it would itself be a sable

  • Two blacks can only produce blacks


Most people who go shopping for a German Shepherd Dog have a specific type of canine companion anchored firmly in mind. Many purchasers are trying to replace a dog that has passed on, or perhaps, seeking to obtain a pup like the one they remember from childhood. Whatever the reason, most folks who call us are looking for a something in particular.  Probably the most requested color, for us, is the traditional black and tan dog.  What I find though, is that most people aren't really sure exactly what they are looking for.  For example:  People tell me that they want a classic black and tan shepherd that looks like Rin Tin Tin - the problem with that is that Rin Tin Tin was a sable. 

Here are some color facts:

  • German Shepherd Black & tan or Black & red puppies are born nearly all black

  • Colors continue to come in for the first few years of their life.

  • The Solid Blacks ARE black at birth and stay that way.

  • Sables themselves come in several colors - Red, Black, Dark, Medium, etc.  Sables end up with 'wolf' type markings.

  • Black & red means the markings are darker than the traditional tan... that is there is a reddish-brown tone to the non-black color.  This is the most popular color in Germany.

  • Black & cream is a lighter shade of tan markings.  Many people consider this a wash-out color of Black and Tan and for most breeders this is considered less desirable.

  • Black & silver is often considered less desirable as well, as the grey has 'washed out' until it is almost white.  In my opinion this is different than the "grey" in the sable pattern.

  • The color / pattern combination that is by far the most known is the Saddle back pattern in the colors of Black and Tan

There are some other color genes that are less known (and typically less desirable). 

  • The Blue Gene:  The blue gene is a (rare) recessive color gene - considered a conformation fault.  Both parents of a dog must carry this gene for a pup to be blue.  At birth, dogs who are blue will be 'grey' or 'silver' in coloration, not the usual black.  The blue gene is a Dilute gene, meaning it dilutes all the black pigment of a dog - Blue dogs will have grey nose leather (not black), and a grey 'dusted' appearance to their coats.  The blue coloration can very from a very light 'powder' blue to a very dark, almost indistinguishable 'steel' blue.  Blue dogs will also have very light colored eyes, often being very blue at a young age, and as the dog grows, going through varying shades of green and yellow, often ending up yellow or a light shade of brown.   In other words, all the black pigment of the dog appears in shades of blue/black instead of pure black.  Most blues change rapidly as they mature and many are hard to distinguish from non-dilutes as adults.
  • The Liver Gene:  The Liver gene is also a recessive color gene (rare - conformation fault).  The Liver gene blocks all black pigment, resulting in a dog that has brown nose leather, and a brownish colored coat, instead of black.  The 'liver' coloration has a range of shades, varying from a very light brown to a deep chocolate brown.  Like the blues, liver dogs also have light colored eyes of varying shades and also are caused by a recessive color gene carried by both of the parents.  In this case, similar to the blues, all black pigment is replaced with browns or liver colors of various shades. Further, imagine a GSD dog that has brown nose leather, and a brownish colored coat, where it would normally be black in color.  This 'liver' color comes in a wide range of shades, varying from a very light brown to a deep chocolate brown.

The LIVER COLOR comes as the result of matched recessives in the black series and the BLUE COLOR happens as the result of matched recessives in the dilution series BUT we will discuss this later on ......

  • Whites:  The White German Shepherds, contrary to some people's beliefs, are not albinos.  The White gene is a recessive gene, and it can be carried by colored dogs - ie. if two black and tan dogs, which both carry the gene, are bred, there can be some white puppies in the litter.  Also, because of it's recessive nature, 2 white dogs bred together can produce nothing but white dogs, and a white dog bred to a colored dog who does not carry the white gene can not produce any white dogs.   There is a long history behind the White German Shepherd but I will not go into any of that because I am not involved with the white shepherd.  I do know of a couple of breeders who specialized in White Shepherds so feel free to contact me for more information.  You can also find more info at the following link:  The American White Shepherd Assocation


There seems to be several major gene locations that determine the color and pattern of a dog.  At each of these locations from 2 to 6 versions of the gene have been identified. Not all of these versions are present in every breed, a fact that simplifies our discussion of color in the German Shepherd Dog.  The ones that are actually playing the biggest role in GSD colors are Agouti,  Black, Color, and Intensity.


  •  Up til now, what we have been discussing has been this series.  In most discussions about GSD color this is the location (locus) we are concerned about for most of the color determination comes from this gene locus.
  •  This series is thought to contain six variations (or alleles)
    • A Dominant Black  (not thought to exist in GSD's - for if it was, then it was dominate the sable gene).
    • ay Golden a rarely seen version of sable. "ay" would also be called agouti.
    • aw Gray or Red  what we usually call sable in GSD's
    • as Saddle our common black and tan GSD's (with the variations in tan color controlled by the intensity series below).
    • at Bi-Color  A better term for this (and one that would be more consistent with other breeds) would be tan point
    • a Recessive Black  - the only form of black that exists in the GSD.
    At each locus (in this case, the AGOUTI locus) a dog carries two genes.  It inherits one of those genes from its sire and the other from its dam.  If a dog inherits an "a" (or recessive black) from each of its parents it will be a black.  If it inherits an "a" from one parent, and anything else from the other parent, it will be that other "color".  So, a dog that has an "a" and an "as" will be a saddle (or black and tan). A dog with an "a" and an "aw" will be a sable.  In other words:
    Gene Combinations and the Resulting Coat Color:   Genotypes and Phenotypes of  Coat Colors
    Sables Black and Tan Bicolors Blacks
    aw + a = sable as + a = black and tan at + a = bi-color a + a = black
    aw + at = sable as + at = black and tan at + at = bi-color a + at = bi-color
    aw + as = sable as + as = black and tan at + as = black and tan a + as = black and tan
    aw + aw = sable as + aw = sable at + aw = sable a + aw = sable
    • I left "A" and "ay" out of the chart - they are rare, if not non-existent, in German Shepherds.


  • The BLACK series --This locus controls the ability to produce black pigment in the coat and skin (nose, pads, etc.) not the hair color.
    • B Black pigment  - this allele creates the black in the coat or skin.  This is the most common in GSD's.
    • b Liver Pigment  - this allele creates dogs with no black in their coat or skin (they have brown hair, noses, and pads).  Commonly called "Livers".
  • It should be clear, from the fact that this factor is controlled by genes at an entirely different location, that you can have a liver that is genotypically a black, a bi-color, an black and tan, or a sable. These livers will look somewhat different from one another, since what has been effected is the black pigment and the black pigment is distributed differently in each of those patterns.


  • This is the series that determines the look of the white is ALL breeds
  • White coat color in the German Shepherd Dog is recessive and also completely independent of the genes needed to produce sables, bicolors, black/tan or solid patterns in colored GSDs.  White coat color is also totally independent of either of the blue or liver dilution genes found in the German Shepherd Dog breed.
    • C Color Factor :  most common in GSD's - causes sables, black and tans, bicolors, and black.
    • cch Chinchilla:  not confirmed in GSD's,
    • cd White:  leads to white coated, dark eyed dogs with black noses and pads.
    • cb Cornaz:  leads to white coated, blue eyed dogs (not thought to exist in GSD's).
    • c Albanism:  leads  to white coated, pink nosed dogs.
  • The white gene masks the genetic coat pigment of the German Shepherd coat colors, although it does not affect skin pigment. A good white GSD should have both dark eyes and a black nose and lips.
  • In order to get a white coat color in the German Shepherd, both parents must carry the white gene (they must either be white dogs themselves or be carriers of the white gene). The order of dominance is as follows: Melanin is produced. (Standard GSD colors have this); Partial albinism (not seen); White coat with dark eyes and nose (not albino); Yellowish coat collar.


  • Controls the intensity of the non-black coloration. The order of dominance is as follows: Lightest tan (cream); Intermediate tan (tan); Darkest tan (red).
  • The INTENSITY series determines whether GSD's with color will be black & cream, black & tan or black & red.   In other words:  These alleles lead to our "black and creams", "black and tans", "black and reds", and the common variations in sables.
    • INT:  Lightest tan (cream).
    • intm:  Medium tan tan.
    • int:  Darkest tan red.


  • The effect of these alleles depends on what you have at other locations.  It directly affects the BLACK SERIES
  • This controls how intense the black pigment will appear on your German Shepherd.   The order of dominance is as follows: Dense pigment; blue dilution.
  • Black pigment combined with blue dilution will produce a blue coated German Shepherd which looks as though it has a dusty or flour sheen to it.
    • D No Dilution:   no effect.
    • d Dilution black:   "B" becomes blue and liver "b" becomes fawn.  Results in an overall loss of color intensity.
A typical bd dilution - commonly called fawns
A typical Bd dilution - commonly called a blue


  • This controls whether or not a mask appear on your German Shepherd.  The order of German Shepherd Coat Colors dominance is as follows: a black mask on the face; dark coat with no mask; Brindle (rare, will be seen as striping on the legs); clear tan.
    • Em Black Mask:  most common in GSD's.
    • E No Black Mask:  does apear in GSD's sometimes.
    • ebr Brindle:  rare or non-existent in GSD's.
    • e Fading:  causes black to fade over time and is rare.


  • G Graying:  born black, turns blue, not thought to exist in GSD's.
  • g Non Graying:  born black, stays black.  All GSD's are thought to be "g".


  • M Merle:  seen in Collies, Aussies, Cattle Dogs - mottled grey, black, tan, often with blue or mismatched eye color.
  • m Non-Merle:  all GSD's are non-merle.


  • S Solid Color:  all GSD's seem to be "S".
  • si Irish Spotting
  • sp Piebald
  • sw Extreme White Piebald


  • T Ticking
  • t Non Ticking:  all GSD's seem to be "t".

All these genes put together determine your own German Shepherds coat colors.


Color Facts -

In Germany it is generally accepted that there are two varieties of German Shepherd Dog - the WORKING dog and the SHOW dog.  The working lines have been bred primarily to excel in Schutzhund sport and many, MANY of the famous "working lines" are Grey or sable.  Schutzhund sport demands a fit body, sound mind, and good hips.  There are also German dog bred to excel in the show ring.  These dogs have "high lines" or "show lines."  Many of them are black and tan or black and red.  High line dogs are also required to pass a Schutzhund trial, but once titled, show dogs usually leave the Schutzhund field behind.  Of course, the best of both worlds is a beautiful show dog that works well.  While this is certainly possible, it doesn't happen often.  However, my experience is that many of the best working bloodlines carry the sable/grey gene.

Why Are So Many Good Working Dogs Sable?  We may never know all the facts but it is said that the sable color was never very popular in Germany.  As a result, the sable dog had to be very good in order to get any breedings.  So, as a result, the sable dog is often consider to be (or was) a better working dog.  With that coat color being more dominant but few people liked it, the dog had to be darn good for some to want to bred to it.   Even today the sable dog is more often seen in the working lines while the black and red is still preferred for the show ring.

Concerning German Shepherd coat colors, the breed standard from the SV specifically states: "The color of the GSD is in itself not important and has no effect on the character of the dog or on its fitness for work and should be a secondary consideration for that reason. The final color of a young dog can only be ascertained when the outer coat has developed."

Of all undesirable things to try to eliminate and to consider in a
German Shepherd Dog, coat color should be at the BOTTOM of the list. Good pigment should be sought after but many factors such as health and temperament, to name a few, should be much more important than coat color which should always be subordinate to structure, gait, type, and character and should never take precedence over the working ability of the dog.  Eye color should be dark and nose pigment should be black as well.

In conclusion:  There is nothing wrong with having a color preference when shopping for a pup. There are many German Shepherd breeders in this country and a buyer has a host of colors to choose from.  But, there is a great deal more to breeding a good dog than shooting for your favorite color.


"No good dog is a bad color" -- Max von Stephanitz
(breed founder of the German Shepherd Dog)
concerning German Shepherd coat colors



  Coat:  Stock Coat

Pattern:  Sable

Color:  Red Sable 

  Coat:  Stock Coat

Pattern:  Saddleback w/ Large Saddle

Color:  Black / Tan 


  Coat:  Stock Coat

Pattern:  Sable

Color:  Black Sable 


  Coat:  Flat Coat

Pattern:  Saddleback with Blanket

Color:  Black / Tan


  Coat:  Plush Coat

Pattern:  Sable

Color:  Medium Sable


  Coat:  Stock Coat

Pattern:  Saddleback w/ Large Saddle

Color:  Black / Tan 

  Coat:  Stock Coat

Pattern:  Saddleback w/ Medium Saddle

Color:  Black / Tan  

  Coat:  Flat Coat

Pattern:  Solid

Color:  Black  

  Coat:  Plush Coat

Pattern:  Saddleback w/ large Saddle

Color:  Black / Red

  Coat:  Stock Coat

Pattern:  Sable

Color:  Black Sable 

  Coat:  Stock Coat

Pattern:  Bicolor

Color:  Bicolor 

    Coat:  Stock Coat

Pattern:  Sable

Color:  Dark Sable 

    Coat:  Stock Coat

Pattern:  Saddleback w/ x-large Saddle

Color:  Black / Tan 

    Coat:  Plush Coat

Pattern:  Saddleback

Color:  Black and Red

More coming soon.........