You can visit every few locations without seeing a German Shepherd. The Shepherd’s popularity places him in countless family homes.
His esteemed status as a premier working dog means the Shepherd is on the police force, in the military, at disaster sites, on drug raids, and helping the physically challenged.
The German Shepherd’s striking good looks put him in Hollywood and lead to his success and easy recognition in the show ring.
How many times do you picture a German Shepherd who is not black and tan? Maybe if you take time to think about it for a moment, you will remember the dark sable Shepherd you saw working at a crowded convention once or a white dog your neighbor had. Would a blue German Shepherd ever cross your mind?
A blue German Shepherd is an unusually-colored dog with gray fur and light-colored eyes. The game-changer is a gene that dilutes the dog’s normal color. Dilution genes have the most dramatic effect on dark colors, changing black fur to gray, steel, smoke, or even powder blue.
Bluing in German Shepherds also muddies tan markings and lightens the lips, nose, and paw pads. Despite their unique appearance, blue Shepherds have the temperament, health concerns, and physical characteristics typical of their breed.
How do you interpret coat color genetics?
As you probably learned a long time ago, basic genetics says a physical character has a contributing gene from each parent. Of the two genes a dog receives from her parents, one will usually dominate the other.
A trait that a dog expresses, such as upright ears, is the phenotype. If we label upright ears dominant trait “U” and lazy ears as recessive “u,” we are using coding or genotypes.
In a hypothetical example, a GSD with upright ears could have a genotype of “Uu” or “UU,” and a Shepherd with lazy ears would have to be “uu.”
Two Shepherds with upright ears could cross as “Uu” x “Uu.” In a simplistic application of Mendelian genetics and the Punnett Square, 75% of the puppies from the cross would have upright ears and 25% would have lazy ears. About 50% of the puppies would have the potential of passing floppy ears to their offspring.
Coat colors are very similar to the above example but more complex. A German Shepherd’s coat receives input from genes that dictate the color and pattern. The agouti family or series of genes, the “a” allele class, accounts for most base GSD colors.
Agouti genes have a cascading order of dominance. Moreover, modifying genes can alter the agouti expression in various ways.
– Dominant “Ay” – Depending on the breed, produces fawn or clear, tipped, or shaded sable. The GSD is not fawn but can be shaded sable distinguished by a widow’s peak pattern on the head. Dogs with a dominant gene at “K” will be solid black, regardless of “A.” Dominant black does not appear to occur in the GSD.
– Agouti “aw” – Wild or wolf sable – It ranges from prevalent red shades to dark gray. The intensity gene affects how red a dog is and the bluing gene can create a pale gray and silver dog. Most sable Shepherds, especially East German and Czech working lines, are agouti.
– Tan points “at” – Only dominant over recessive black and the dominance is incomplete in German Shepherds. Dogs with genetic coding for black and tan points and recessive black will have minimal tan markings and are bi-colors.
– The RALY gene is a modifier of the black and tan gene, allowing the black on tan-pointed dogs to recede to blankets and saddles on the GSD and other breeds. People also call the phenomenon creeping tan.
– Recessive black “a”
It is difficult in some cases to visually tell the difference between shaded sable and agouti and between shaded sable and a black and tan dog with the RALY modifier. One certainty, though, is that any color dog can exhibit blue if the dilution gene is present.
Agouti colors receive influence from other loci. These influential alleles include the brown or liver gene, intensity gene, the melanistic mask gene for facial pigmentation, the recessive white gene, the KIT panda gene, the white spotting gene, and, of course, the dilution gene for blue and Isabella dogs.
Genes that you will not see in German Shepherds are the merle gene and the dominant black gene at the “K” locus. The “K” locus can also produce brindle, a striped pattern we have not seen in the GSD since 1922 according to Bradfordsk-9corral.com.
What is the meaning of blue for different dogs?
Breeders, owners, show judges, and field experts refer to many dogs as blue. The use of the descriptor blue is often breed-dependent because a few mechanisms can produce the color.
Moreover, blue refers to different colors ranging from charcoal gray to steel blue to light silver, depending on tradition.
Better known as progressive greying, silvering is similar to other color mutation genes. A puppy will be born black and then gradually start turning lighter as early as two years old.
Not yet able to identify its exact location, we can mark the greying gene as a dominant allele “G.” Progressive silvering is a dominant trait with a genetic label or genotype of “Gg” or “GG.” Dogs with “gg” on the greying allele will not develop the premature greying people seek in certain breeds.
- Old English Sheepdog
- Kerry Blue Terrier
- Irish Wolfhound
- Cesky Terrier
- Bearded Collie
- Dandie Dinmont Terrier
- Scottish Deerhound
Silvering, as its name suggests, eventually produces a beautiful color ranging from silver to grey-blue. Fanciers also refer to progressive greying dogs as having a blue coat.
Note in a few breeds, like the Kerry Blue Terrier, the greying gene is universal. In other breeds such as the Havanese, bluing is more sporadic. German Shepherds are not blue through progressive silvering.
Ticking and Roan
Ticking and roan both refer to varying degrees of color on a white coat that gives a speckled or white-flecked appearance, respectively. Dogs only appear bluish or grayish because of the mixture of white and black hairs.
An unidentified ticking gene is responsible for many forms of spotting and roaning on dogs and is partially dominant.
Recent findings suggest two separate genes may be responsible for roan and ticking as opposed to multiple locations on one gene. You will not see a blue roan or blue-ticked German Shepherd unless you have a mix.
- Blue-Ticked Coonhound
- English Setter
- Border Collie
Roaning creates a near-solid pattern, like black and tan, over a white coat, and these dogs appear dusted with white. Where the predominant color is black, a roan dog appears bluish. Watch this YouTube video about Blue Heeler/Australian Cattle Dog: Mountain Man’s Best Friend.
- Australian Cattle Dog – Excellent example of blue roan. Where the dog has the most white, the black looks lighter, and the entire area has a bluish or grayish cast.
- Cocker Spaniel
- German Shorthaired Pointer
Like blue-ticked and roan dogs, merle canids are not blue. Merle dogs appear bluish because of the swirl of dark and lighter hairs close to each other. Merles are often several shades of gray along with black that all have the illusion of varying blue hues.
People sometimes confuse merle dogs with roan or ticked dogs. Merle dogs do not have a white base. However, some merle dogs are ticked.
Merle is a dominant gene and dogs with a double copy appear to be more susceptible to eye problems and deafness. Merle only affects eumelanin or dark pigment.
Like ticking and roaning, a purebred German Shepherd will not carry the merle gene.
A dilution gene is a modifier at the center of the rare blue German Shepherd.
The dilution gene affects eumelanin or the very dark pigment in black coats. If a German Shepherd has a saddle and mask that would ordinarily be black, these areas will show up as steel blue in a dog with the dilution gene. Therefore, blue in a Shepherd can refer to four pattern variations.
- Solid blue
- Blue bicolor – Has very minor tan points.
- Blue and tan
- Blue sable
A dilution gene usually is most apparent in the dark parts of the coat. However, the dilution gene also secondarily affects pheomelanin.
If a German Shepherd is predominantly reddish or yellow, as in some wild sable or tan dogs, the dilution gene would produce a cream-colored animal.
Note, a cream Shepherd is not genotypically a fawn, even if she has a dark facial mask.
Also, one should be careful not to confuse red and yellow German Shepherds with liver dogs. Red dogs have black noses. On the contrary, liver Shepherds have light-colored nose leather which reflects the browning gene.
The brown gene has a diluting effect on a dog’s coat and eyes but is distinct from the dilution allele that produces blue.
The liver allows no expression of black, and Shepherds with the brown gene will have yellow or amber eyes.
Adding further to the complexity of color genetics is the intensity gene. The intensity gene affects the brightness and depth of the brown coloration or reds of the dog.
If the intensity gene allows high levels of pheomelanin, traditionally-colored German Shepherds will be vivid, and show judges will reward them.
The intensity gene can suppress pheomelanin and produce pale tan or silver of the German Shepherd’s brown markings. In other breeds, people call silver dogs blue, but this is not the case for the GSD.
Silver and blue can be very similar in wild sable dogs where it is difficult to determine if the lack of red is from decreased intensity or dilution.
The eyes will always give you an idea if the bluing gene is present in Shepherds. Dilution disrupts pigmentation in the iris, so dogs with the blue gene will have lighter-colored eyes.
Is Isabella blue?
Isabella goes by several names, including lilac and mouse-grey, but is not technically blue. The silvery tawny shade, perhaps best illustrated by the Weimeraner, is the effect of the dilution gene on the color liver. Some like to see it as a combination of the “blue gene” and the “chocolate gene.”
Can white German Shepherds be blue?
The dilution gene can affect any color of the German Shepherd. Although very rare, the blue gene could theoretically affect a White Shepherd.
White Shepherds have a double copy of the recessive gene “e” which prevents the expression of black. The intensity locus dictates whether any red persists.
If the dilution gene is present, it dilutes both eumelanin and pheomelanin. White dogs with the dilution gene will be snow white with blue or amber eyes.
Their paw pads, lips, eye rims, and nose will retain pigment, unlike albinos, but will be gray instead of black.
How do you register a blue German Shepherd?
Like most German Shepherd colors, you can register a blue dog with the American Kennel Club.
In keeping with Max von Stephanitz’s philosophy about the German Shepherd being good working dogs regardless of coat color, the AKC does not forbid registration of any GSD based on color.
However, German Shepherds with the liver gene or the recessive dilution gene that produces either Isabella or blue dogs carry serious penalties in the conformation show rings.
On the paperwork for the German Shepherd Club, there is not a choice for blue when you select your dog’s color.
Although mostly basing their criteria on working ability, the SV does not accept white dogs and appears to take a similar stand on blue and liver Shepherds. Gray is a selection but refers to wild sable or wolf gray.
How do you dispel the myths surrounding blue German Shepherds?
Some sources promote myths about blue German Shepherds based on faulty information and other breeds.
Not purebred dogs – The blue GSD is a purebred dog that has inherited a recessive gene that dilutes the hair coat
Health problems – Blue Shepherds have no more health problems than a standard colored GSD. Common issues include dysplasia, vulnerability to gastric torsion, degenerative myelopathy, bleeding disorders, and low thyroid hormones. Color mutant alopecia is a balding condition of blue Dobermans that blue German Shepherds do not experience.
Blue is not a recognized color in German Shepherds – The AKC recognizes blue German Shepherds; the registry simply faults the color. You can register a blue German Shepherd.
Blue Shepherds have eyes the same color as standard Shepherds – The dilution gene affects eye pigmentation and blue dogs have light eyes, most commonly blue. Isabella dogs often have the same amber eyes as liver dogs.
Blue Shepherds have been crossed with Weimaraners or Blue Heelers – Again, the blue GSD is a purebred dog.
Dilution only affects dark colors – The dilution gene responsible for blue in Shepherds also gives the red-based colors a washed-out or muddy appearance. The liver gene, on the other hand, only affects eumelanin.
Blue dogs are more aggressive – Blue German Shepherds do not exhibit any differences in disposition, work ethic, or drive compared to Shepherds of standard colors.
Blue in German Shepherds is a color variation that is the result of a dilution gene that works most noticeably on the dog’s black coloration.
However, the so-called bluing gene also works on reds, and blue dogs with tan points will show dampened or muddied shading.
Since eumelanin is responsible for the dark pigmentation in brown eyes, the dilution gene will usually produce blue eyes.
This is one of the best examples of a blue German Shepherd. At 11 weeks, this blue and tan puppy has a definite off-black coat that looks blue-gray in the light. Watch this YouTube video 11-week old blue & tan German Shepherd puppy
His eyes are blue and you can see how his tan marking are very pale. He is young, so his eyes could eventually change to amber.