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German Shepherd Colors and Markings | Patterns, Variations, Coat, Fur | Black, Sable, Red, Tan

German Shepherd colors and markings are wide and varied indeed, as witnessed by the myriad of color patterns seen in this canine throughout the world. And while the American Kennel Club is somewhat vague on breed standard colors, the the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV), the official club for the German Shepherd dog in Germany, provides more detail into what is acceptable colors and markings.  

Specifically, the AKC states the following:

"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"'

Additionally, the AKC states that the nose bulb must be black in all colors of the breed. Missing mask, light (piercing) eye color, as well as light to whitish markings at chest and under/inner sides, light claws, and red-tipped tail are to be considered as deficient pigment. The undercoat has a light gray color. The color white is not permitted. Moreover, some light markings on the chest or inside of the legs are deemed permissible, but are nevertheless denoted as “undesirable” according to ideal breed standards.

Source: American Kennel Club |

And as for the SV, they consider acceptable colors and markings to be the following:

•    Black with reddish-brown, brown, tan, and/or light gray markings.
•    Solid-black. Sable with dark overcast.
•    Black saddle and mask.

Additionally, the SV allows inconspicuous, small white chest markings, with light color on the insides being allowed, but not necessarily desirable.

Seems quite a bit to take in regarding the colors, almost so that it seems German Shepherds can really exude almost any imaginable combination of the core colors for this breed. And with that said, the general breed consensus (amongst breeders, sanctioning bodies, breed enthusiasts, etc.) consists of the following core colors and combinations: (1). Black with red, tan, cream, and silver. (2). Sable (i.e., dark brown, almost black) with red, silver, cream, blue, and liver. (3). Various forms of solid colors, such as white, black, blue. (4). Various other color miscellaneous color combination.

As for the patterns of the colors of the German Shepherd dog, many describe them as "saddle" like, solid, bi-color, tri-color and even patterns that "swirl".  Keep in mind that though the AKC and the SV have stated their own respective German Shepherd colors and markings, this subject has taken a life of its own, with many breeders and other dog enthusiasts coining their own terms and phrases. And while it may not technically match the breed standard language of organizations such as the AKS, SV and others,  its nevertheless accepted by the German Shepherd community as a whole when describing colors and patterns for these dogs.

However, color is less important from a showing perspective than many other traits; as the American Kennel Club (AKC) points out, “color in itself is of secondary importance having no effect on character or fitness for work.” The exception to this is, of course, the nose – often lighter-colored noses in dogs are indicative of either major or minor health defects.

Lastly, the coat of the German Shepherd dog, according to the AKC should be that of a double-coat, medium length, with the outer coat being dense, and hair that is straight and harsh.  The AKC does allow for a wavy outer coat and even a wiry texture.  As for the SV, the coat is to be a straight harsh topcoat with an undercoat, with the back of the legs having longer hair.

In summary, German Shepherd colors and markings vary greatly, as one can clearly see, but remember that the dog's temperament-its ability to be a sound and stable canine-is much more important than whatever color your dog ultimately ends up being.  In the words of breed found Max von Stephanitz, "No  Good Dog can be a Bad Color".

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