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German Shepherd Coat & Color

Coat plays a vital role in the form and function of German Shepherd Dogs. A rich diversity of lengths, colors and pigment—combined with a number of varying body types—make the German Shepherd one of the more structurally diverse of all dog breeds. From the short stock coat of the East German working line dogs to the extreme long stock coat of some West German show-line dogs—there is a shape, style and color tailored to you and your lifestyle.

There are three main types of hair on German Shepherd Dogs: ground hair (undercoat), guard hair (topcoat) and whiskers. Dogs with both an undercoat and a topcoat are called double coated. The first layer, or undercoat, functions primarily as insulation and is soft and usually of a lighter color. The second layer, or topcoat, consists of thick-shafted, coarse hair. This outer coat helps to protect the dog’s skin from abrasions. It also has weatherproofing qualities ideal for working and playing outdoors.

With rare exception, most German Shepherds have double coats—though the degree of undercoat can vary widely. German Shepherds can have little to almost no undercoat or have massively dense, woolly undercoats that require daily maintenance. Double coats are ideal for maintaining warmth in colder months, but also provide cooling in the summer by keeping heat away from the surface of the skin. For this reason, the shaving of double-coated dogs is not recommended if they have prolonged exposure to the elements. Their coat helps regulate body temperature and protects their skin from harmful UV rays.

SHORT STOCK COAT (1″ long or less)

Short stock coats are ideal for working environments as these coats don’t get tangled or matted or pick up debris while in the field. They also don’t obstruct the dog’s vision or impair movement while working. This short coat, with a thin undercoat, is easy to maintain and can require little or infrequent grooming. Bathing is a breeze as their coats are designed for waterproofing and dry quickly. Water generally rolls off of the guard hairs of German Shepherd Dogs. For all of these reasons and more, short stock coats are the preferred coat type for service dogs, police dogs and military dogs.

MEDIUM STOCK COAT "PLUSH" (1″ to 2″ long)

Somewhere in between short stock-coated dog and the long stock-coated dogs lies the medium stock-coat or “plush” coat. This medium stock coat is most preferred by the American Kennel Club (AKC) standards and is now appearing more frequently in West German show rings. Medium stock coats have longer, thicker hair on the neck, underbelly and along the back of the thighs. Their undercoat tends to be more dense than that seen in the short stock coats of West and East German working lines. Additionally, these dogs do not have the traditional “ear fuzzies” commonly seen on the long stock-coated dogs. Medium stock coats require additional grooming to keep their coats in optimum condition. Note also that medium- and long-coated dogs do not shed more than their short stock-coat counterparts—the hair shed is just longer.

 

LONG STOCK COAT (2″ or longer)

Long stock-coat German Shepherds have thick, soft undercoats and silky guard hair that is two inches or longer on the body. Hair around the face, ears, chest, bottom line and back of thigh (panties) can exceed four inches in length. This coat requires regular care and grooming. Hair, especially behind the ears and between their rear legs, is prone to matting, and requires daily brushing. The American Kennel Club (AKC) is one of the few show organizations that still considers a long stock coat to be faulty. Long stock-coat dogs are not only accepted by most German Shepherd Club organizations, including the German SV, but they have become valuable and sought after in recent years—and compete at the highest levels in Germany and world wide. Note also that these coats often continue to grow in length and density with age, so older dogs require additional daily care and grooming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All coat colors and lengths mentioned above are attributes of purebred German Shepherds. However, some breed organizations consider certain characteristics to be breed faults and can be penalized or even disqualifying in the show ring. For example, the American Kennel Club (AKC) doesn’t recognize white dogs and they consider a long stock coat to be faulty. If you are getting a German Shepherd as a companion and pet or for sport, these “faults” have no bearing on your decision as to which line of German Shepherd to consider. However, if you plan to show your dog, you will need to study the standard and requirements of your desired show organization(s) to ensure your dog is eligible to compete and title in the show ring.

COAT COLORS

No good dog is a bad color. – Max von Stephanitz, German Shepherd breed founder

When most people think of German Shepherds, an image of the typical black and tan dog from the movies comes to mind. But the German Shepherd of today actually comes in a variety of colors and patterns as pictured above. The color of their coat is determined by genetic makeup. Genes that are dominant are more common, while those that are recessive are more rare.

Black and Tan

This is the most common color pattern—which is usually black all over, with tan or cream-colored chest, shoulders, legs and thighs. There are many color variations to this pattern, most commonly—black and red, black and cream and black and silver.

Bicolor

Another variation to the traditional black-and-tan colored dog are bicolored dogs. Bicolored German Shepherds have a band of black color running down the forelegs (often in a “V” shape) and on the backs of their hocks. Their bodies are predominantly black with a secondary accent color on the lower legs that can be tan, cream, gray or silver. All of these black areas, also called points, on the legs and toes should be richly pigmented. A dog is not considered to be bicolored unless it has these distinctive black markings and they can appear on both dual- and sable-patterned dogs.

Sable

The word sable means the color of black. The definition of a sable pattern refers to guard hairs being tipped with black. The more guard hairs and the longer the tipping, the darker the dog. Black sables are dogs with heavy tipping and less ground color. If you run your hand along your German Shepherd’s back—going against the natural lay of the hair—and his/her black hairs have different colored roots, then your dog is a sable. Agouti is a term that refers to the banding or grizzling of hair coloration that can be seen in varying amounts in the neck, shoulder, tail, croup and border markings in saddle-marked dogs. Some German Shepherds have so much grizzling in the black blanket or so much undercoat showing, that they are hard to distinguish from sables, and some sables that carry the partially-hidden, saddle-pattern recessive gene have so much of that recessive showing through that they look like washed-out saddles. Melanistic is another term associated with black coloring. Melanistic refers to the amount and density of melanin (black pigment) found within the hair shaft. Melanistic coloring refers to the masking of a color or pattern with black. Sable-colored German Shepherds are infamous for changing colors multiple times before reaching maturity. Adult dogs can have a completely different coloring and pattern then what was present as a puppy.

Solid Black

Solid 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 white German Shepherds, the black dog’s color is caused by a recessive gene that can be carried by any colored dog. Black is uncommon (due to being a recessive gene) but still prevalent within the breed. Typically, they are completely black with no other colors on the body

Solid White

Solid white German Shepherds are not albinos. Their color is the result of a recessive gene that can be carried by any colored dog. When learning about pigment and color patterns, understand that white is not a color. There is no solid-color gene for white. A white gene is actually a masking gene that covers up or hides a dog’s true color and pattern. The more pure white a dog, the lighter the color of its masked color underneath. The more buff or cream that is visible, the darker the under­lying masked color. Every white German Shepherd is really a traditional color and pattern covered by a white mask.

Blue

Blue German shepherds are thought to have resulted from dilution of the color black in the dog’s genes. The blue colors in these dogs replace the black areas of their more common black-and-tan counterparts. Blue dogs often appear as a dusty or somewhat light gray with a gray leather nose. Sometimes puppies are born with very light eyes as well. This, too, is a rare recessive gene and considered by the AKC to be a faulty eye color.

Isabella

An Isabella German Shepherd, aka lilac or mouse-gray German Shepherd, is the result of a recessive gene dilution giving them a washed-out silvery-blue color. The color is not technically a blue, however. The color is most widely recognized within the Weimaraner breed. Because Isabella German Shepherds are less common and considered faulty for showing purposes, there are fewer reputable and responsible breeders. Select your Isabella GSD breeder carefully and insist on thorough health testing information and lineage information.

Liver

Liver is another recessive gene leading to liver-colored offspring. In a liver-colored dog, all the black parts are a brown or liver color, ranging from light to dark shades. They might also have light eyes—which typically changes into a darker color with maturity.

Panda

The Panda German Shepherd is a piebold-colored dog meaning no more than 35 percent of its body is white with mixed patches of black and brown. Research confirms that this pattern is not the result of crossbreeding—but rather a genetic mutation. The original Pandas were DNA tested and were determined to be purebred German Shepherds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ticking vs. Roan vs. Blue Merle

Ticking is flecks or spots of color on white areas. Most ticked dogs are born white and develop ticking as they mature. Generally, ticking is heaviest on the legs and muzzle.

Roan is a pattern of white and colored hairs evenly mixed over the white areas of the body. Roaning creates a near-solid pattern over a white coat causing a dog to appear dusted with white. If the predominant color of the dog is black, then the roaning can appear bluish in color.

Merle is a solid base color, usually red/brown or black, with lighter blue/gray or reddish patches, which gives a mottled or uneven speckled effect. People sometimes confuse merle dogs with roan or ticked dogs. Merle dogs do not have a white base coat of color, however, some merle dogs are ticked.

The genes responsible for ticking, roaning and merle are dominant so a purebred German Shepherd cannot produce these patterns without being crossed with a dog breed that carries the genes.

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