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GSD German Shepherd Color and Heredity (vj/hs)

When people think of GSDs, German Shepherd dogs, they think of the “saddleback” markings, however German Shepherd Dogs can be one solid color (all white is a conformation disqualification for showing) and sable. Sables are noted by multi-colored individual hairs, though they may be masked by dark or black guard hairs. Coloring patterns include: black & tan, black & red, black & cream, black, white (conformation disqualification), sable (various colorations), black & silver, liver (rare – conformation fault) and blue (rare – conformation fault). The liver color is the result of matched recessives in the black series. The blue color is the result of matched recessives in the dilution series. (hs)

The following is a summary of color inheritance in the German Shepherd based on information from “The German Shepherd Dog: A Genetic History” and “Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders”, both by Malcom Willis, required reading for any serious German Shepherd fan, especially for breeders. (vj)

Color is controlled by several series of genes. Each series is worked through in the following:

(x^y designates ^y as a superscript)



The basic body color is controlled by the genes. The order of dominance is:

a^y …. Golden sable

a^w … Grey sable

a^s … Saddle marked black and tan

a^t ….. Bicolor* black and tan

a ……. Black

*bicolor is where the dog only has tan on the legs and face, not on the body

The black gene a is recessive to the other colors. Blacks bred to blacks will only produce blacks. The sable colors are dominant over the other colors.



This gene controls the black pigment formation.

BB … Black pigment including nose, eye rims and pads

Bb … Carrier for liver color

bb … Liver color – brown black colors, brown nose, eye rims and pads.

Most GSDs are BB.



White is recessive to all other colors. In order get a white coat color, both parents must carry the white gene (either be white themselves or be carriers).

C ………..Melanin is produced. (Standard GSD’s colors have this)

C^ch …..Partial albinism – chinchilla (not seen)

C^d …… White coat with dark eyes and nose (not albino)

a^yC^chC^ch … Yellowish coat collar (proposed)



Controls the intensity of the non-black coloration.

INT …… Lightest tan (cream)

int^m .. Intermediate tan (tan)

int ……. Darkest tan (red)

The intensity of the color series determines whether dogs with color (i.e. not all-black or all-white recessives) will be black & cream, black & tan or black & red.



Controls how intense the black pigment will be.

D ….. Dense pigment

d …… Blue dilution

Bd … Black pigment-blue dilution together begets a blue coat which looks as though it has a dusty or flour sheen.



E^m …. Produces a black mask on the face

E ……… Dark coat with no mask

e^br …. Brindle (rare, will be seen as striping on the legs)

e ……… Clear tan

The ee combination affects only the coat and not the nose. The black fades to tan. In these dogs, the tail tip will be red, not black.

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