Whites:  The White German Shepherd is, contrary to some peoples beliefs, a purebred German Shepherd Dog, and they are not a rare specimen, nor are they albinos.  White Shepherds have not been proven to be either more or less healthy than their coloured counterparts.  The White gene is a recessive gene, and it can be carried by coloured 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 coloured dog who does not carry the white gene can not produce any white dogs.   There is a long history behind the White German Shepherd which can be better learned at the following links:  The American White Shepherd Assocation, The White German Shepherd Club of Canada.

The Basics:  In genetics, some genes are dominant, co-dominant, recessive, etc.  Dominant genes will 'override' recessive genes if both are present, meaning for a dog to physically exhibit a recessive gene, the dominant gene cannot be present.

Example: The Saddle Back pattern is recessive to the Sable pattern.  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).  

Another factor that must be considered is whether a dog is Homozygous or Heterozygous
for a certain trait.  There are at least 2 genes for every trait. 
Homozygous means that the dog only carries one type of a gene for certain trait (coat pattern, for example.), while
Heterozygous
means that  dog carries 2 different genes for the same trait.

Example:  A Sable dog can be either Homozygous or Heterozygous Sable.  This means it 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 would 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, 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.

Confused yet?  Genetics being long winded, complicated, and more than this writer can coherantly explain in the space of one page, we will provide some very helpful links to learn more about the genetics of the German Shepherd.


Zwinger von Arlett, Germany: The "Sable" German Shepherd Dog.
Sahiela German Shepherd Dogs: GSD Colours and Colour Genetics
GSD Blues and Livers: Genetics and FAQ




German Shepherd Dogs are diverse not only in their abilities but also their appearance.  Most people who aren't familiar with the breed mistakenly believe that there is only one colour/pattern combination in the breed, that being the typical 'black and tan/red, saddle back'.  Of course, these are the same people that will probably state that your sable is a lovely husky mix, or ask if your solid black is mixed with Lab ;) 
The genes and alleles that control coat patterns and colours are not fully understood, and often complicated (and disputed), but we will try and provide an overview of the colours and patterns that the GSD coat can come in below.
The Basics:  In genetics, some genes are dominant, co-dominant, recessive, etc.  Dominant genes will 'override' recessive genes if both are present, meaning for a dog to physically exhibit a recessive gene, the dominant gene cannot be present.

Example: The Saddle Back pattern is recessive to the Sable pattern.  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).  

Another factor that must be considered is whether a dog is Homozygous or Heterozygous
for a certain trait.  There are at least 2 genes for every trait. 
Homozygous means that the dog only carries one type of a gene for certain trait (coat pattern, for example.), while
Heterozygous
means that  dog carries 2 different genes for the same trait.

Example:  A Sable dog can be either Homozygous or Heterozygous Sable.  This means it 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 would 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, 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.

Confused yet?  Genetics being long winded, complicated, and more than this writer can coherantly explain in the space of one page, we will provide some very helpful links to learn more about the genetics of the German Shepherd.


Zwinger von Arlett, Germany: The "Sable" German Shepherd Dog.
Sahiela German Shepherd Dogs: GSD Colours and Colour Genetics
GSD Blues and Livers: Genetics and FAQ




The colour/pattern combination that is by far the most seen is the Saddle Back pattern, and the colours Black and Tan (Tan will be used as default for tan, red, cream, silver, etc).
This is the combination that is considered the 'classic' look of the German Shepherd.
Other coat patterns that can be seen in the German Shepherd are "Blanket Back", where the Saddle markings will extend down to approximately the elbow of the dog, giving a 'blanket' rather than 'saddle' appearance.  Bi-Colour is a pattern in which the 'saddle' covers most of the body, leaving markings only on feet and sometimes face.  The Solid pattern is exactly as it sounds - one colour on the entire body of the dog.  And lastly, there is the Sable pattern, which is the banding of colour on the dogs individual hairs, leaving a variety of shades and colours available.  (Note: this is a simplification of the coat patterns for the sake of readability - there are more in depth genetics and factors involved, especially in the complicated sable pattern, that cannot be covered because they are not fully understood - yet!)
Aside from the different coat Patterns, the German Shepherd also comes in a variety of colours.  Black and Tan, Solid Black, Blue and Tan, Liver and Tan, Solid Blue, Solid Liver, Black Sable, Red Sable, Blue Sable, Liver Sable...there are many possibilities.  Here's how you can identify just what colour of dog you're looking at:
The Blue Gene:  The blue gene is a recessive colour gene.  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 colouration, not the usual black.  The blue gene is a Dilute gene, meaning it dilutes all the black pigment of a dog.  This means Blue dogs have grey nose leather, and a grey 'dusted' appearance to their coats.  The blue colouration can very from a very light 'powder' blue to a very dark, almost indistinguishable 'steel' blue.  Blue dogs will also have very light 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.
"Rose", a Blue and Red Saddle Back, has 'blue' nose leather, blue coat colouration, and light, yellowish eyes.
"True Blue", a Solid Blue, has a solid blue coat, all blue pigment, and light brown-yellow eyes.
"Shada" is a Blue Sable with deep red colouration.
The Liver Gene:  The Liver gene is also a recessive colour gene.  The Liver gene blocks all black pigment, resulting in a dog that has brown nose leather, and a brownish coloured coat, where it would normally be black.  The 'liver' colouration has a range of shades, varying from a very light brown to a deep chocolate brown.  Like the blues, liver dogs also have light coloured eyes of varying shades.
"Bella", a blue and tan, as a pup.
"Rommel", a Liver and tan, as an adult and pup.
"Toby", a liver and tan pup, with clearly visible chocolate brown coat and brown nose leather.
"Kahlua", a liver and tan with a lighter brown coat and light brown muzzle/nose leather.
In closing, we'd like to leave you with a few thoughts to keep in mind.  When coming across a German Shepherd breeder who advertises something they breed as rare or hard to find, you should use extreme caution.  None of these colours are 'rare', nor are they particularly hard to find - blues and livers are not allowed under the standard, and when inquiring about a breeder who breeds specifically for these colours, take this into consideration, along with any other parts of the standard they see fit to ignore.  Buyer beware, buyer be educated, but buyer, also keep an open mind.  In the words of Captain Max von Stephanitz; "No good dog can be a bad colour".
"Tito", Black and Red.
"Grissom", dark Sable.
"Phoenix", Solid Black.
Whites:  The White German Shepherd is, contrary to some peoples beliefs, a purebred German Shepherd Dog, and they are not a rare specimen, nor are they albinos.  White Shepherds have not been proven to be either more or less healthy than their coloured counterparts.  The White gene is a recessive gene, and it can be carried by coloured 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 coloured dog who does not carry the white gene can not produce any white dogs.   There is a long history behind the White German Shepherd which can be better learned at the following links:  The American White Shepherd Assocation, The White German Shepherd Club of Canada.

More on Coat Patterns and Markings:

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.  We will try to illustrate some of these terms below.


This is an example of "pencil markings" or "pencilling" on the toes of this dog, a black sable.  Some believe this is an indication that the dog carries the black recessive gene.
This photo shows "Tar Heels" which run down the back of this black sable dogs hind legs.
This photo illustrates "Striping" down the front of this black sable dogs leg.
The Ever Varying Sable:  Anyone who owns a Sable dog can probably tell you that it went through an amazing number of shades and patterns and colours before settling on it's semi-permanent adult 'look' ;)  Sable puppies change immensely as they grow, and often end up either darker or lighter than they were as a pup.  There is also quite the array of  Sable colours, ranging from the lightest Tan to the darkest Black.
The above 3 photos show Tika, a Red Sable, at 3 months old, 8 months old, and now at 2 years and 10 months old.
The Progression from Puppy to Adult...
This series of photos show Rayne, a Tan Sable, at (above) 4 weeks, 7 weeks, and 4 months; and (below) at 17 months old.
More examples of the amazing array of colours/shades of sable...
Rayne (left) and Grissom (above) Black Sables; Chimo (below left) Tan Sable, and Ari (below) Silver Sable.
The term "Sable" (or Agouti) itself refers to the banding of colour on the dogs individual hairs.  The hairs on a sable dog are 'tipped' with varying amounts of black on the ends, with the rest of the hair being any shade of tan, red, gray, etc - which accounts for the large array of shades of sable.
Here we've tried to illustrate the black banding of the hairs on this dog, a Tan Sable.
Coat Lengths: There are technically 3 coat lengths in the German Shepherd - short, long, and long stock coats.  We've included in this list the 'Plush' coat, simply FYI, as it is a term used for this fuller coat often times in the show ring, etc, and is worth noting.

The short 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.
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 short and plush coats are 'stock' coats, meaning they have an undercoat.
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.
These photos illustrate a Long Stock Coat, showing the tufts around the ears and the feathering on the legs.
The Standard Long Coat is 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.
Thanks to everyone who sent in photos!
Above:  Braehead's Bailey v Eis Haus, CD, Can/Am TDX, HC, TT, CGC, OFA
More Patterns...

The Solid Pattern:

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.  Two solid patterned dogs bred together can only produce solid patterned pups.  There can be solid blacks, blues, or livers.
"Tru Blu", Solid Blue.
The Bi-Colour and Blanket-Back Patterns:

Bi-colours are often defined as being predominantly black (or blue/liver) with markings on the bottoms of their legs, and sometimes above their eyes and around their muzzles.

Blanket-Backs 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.
"Ron", Bi-colour.
"Zor", blanket back
"Bella" as an adult.
"Zeph" a Solid Blue, as a pup.
"Hershey", a Solid Liver.