Well known as a fearless police dog, diligent herder, competitive show dog, and loyal family companion, the German shepherd is also a canine of many colors and coats. Although it's usually pictured as black and tan, the American Kennel Club recognizes 11 colors or color combinations standard to the breed.
Black-and-Tan and Black-and-Cream German Shepherds
Black-and-tan and black-and-cream ("cream" being a lighter shade than tan) are the most recognized color combinations of this breed. Rin Tin Tin and other Hollywood German shepherds have made this common color scheme famous.
Black-and-Red and Black-and-Silver German Shepherds
Black-and-red German shepherds have a richer tan pigmentation than the common black-and-tans—kind of a red clay look. This combination is often seen in German-bred show dogs. The black-and-silver dogs have a more washed-out, nearly white shade in the areas that aren't black.
Bicolor German Shepherds
A bicolor designation requires that the majority of the dog be solid black, including the head, with tan legs and "penciling"—black lines—on the toes. A bicolor German shepherd is often referred to as a "tarheel," because of the black coloring on the "heel" of the leg.
Blue and Liver German Shepherds
Blue German shepherds and liver German shepherds are thought to have resulted from dilution of the color black in the dog's genes. The blue and liver colors in these two dogs replace the black areas of their more common black-and-tan counterparts.
Sable German Shepherds and Gray German Shepherds
"Sable" refers to the banding of colors at the tips of the dog's individual hairs, often appearing in various shades or mixtures of silver, gold or mahogany, and contrasted with a dark mask on the dog's face. The sable German shepherd can go through several stages of coat development, often lightening and darkening in color before reaching full maturity at about three years of age. The gray or “wolf gray" German shepherd is considered an extremely faded silver variation of the sable.
White and Black German Shepherds
White German shepherds are not albinos; their color is the result of a recessive gene that can be carried by any colored dog. Although white shepherds are disqualified from AKC shows, there is nothing wrong with their health and they are popular as family pets. If the dog is not pure white throughout it is sometimes referred to as a “blonde” or “biscuit.” Black German shepherds are born black and remain that way through adulthood, sometimes sporting a white spot or “blaze” on their chest or toes. Like the white shepherd's, the black dog's color is caused by a recessive gene that can be carried by any colored dog.
German Shepherd Coats
The ideal German shepherd show dog has a double coat of medium length. The outer coat should have thick straight hair lying close to the body. Some show dogs have slightly wavy, even wiry outer coats. Many German shepherds also sport long, soft curly outer coats: this is undesirable for the show ring, but many owners like the fluffy, leonine appearance it gives their pets.
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