The German Shepherd dog is so well-known that even people who don’t know much about dogs can often recognize this dog on sight.
That iconic and noble face, those upright ears, that bushy long tail, their trim, and athletic body – it is easy to see why the GSD is so beloved around the world.
While many people have a general knowledge of German Shepherd dogs because they have seen a movie or watched a GSD K-9 working alongside their handler, there are other details that you only notice once you own a German Shepherd of your own.
One of those details is moles. What are these small black dots on your German Shepherd dog’s face and body? Are they moles? Tumors? Cysts? Something else?
This is an important question to answer for your own peace of mind as well as for your German Shepherd’s health and wellness. Let’s find out why German Shepherds have moles….and if they are even really moles.
What Is That Black Spot? German Shepherd Markings
As the American Kennel Club (AKC) official dog breed standard explains, the German Shepherd dog can be bred in a wide variety of colors and markings, or patterns.
From the traditional bi-color black and tan to silver, red, cream, and even white, purebred GSDs today are incredibly varied in their colors and markings.
But there is one mark that the majority of German Shepherds do share in common. It is a small black circle just underneath each side of the lower jawline.
While the official dog breed standard does not mention this mark, it is marking GSD owners know well and a frequent question that new German Shepherd owners have. What exactly is it? Why is it there? Should you be worried? What if it isn’t there?
If you haven’t seen this marking, it is often likened to a “beauty mark” that some people have. It is circular and dark black. The mark highlights the location of a group of nerve endings that are very important to your dog.
This is the site of your GSD’s vibrissae.
What Are Vibrissae and How Do They Help Your German Shepherd?
As Live Science explains, vibrissae have evolved over millennia to detect and convey vital information about your dog’s world and send it straight to the brain!
The vibrissae are actually whiskers that function quite a bit like your own fingers. They are extraordinarily sensitive and your dog uses them to touch and sense things on multiple levels.
Air currents, surface textures, scents, sounds, even speed – since dogs don’t have the best eyesight, these vibrissae supplement sight to help your German Shepherd figure out what is going on around them and how best to respond.
Your large GSD may also use their vibrissae to figure out if they can fit into small spaces – after all, it is always best to know this on the front end before you try to go in and get stuck!
While not all German Shepherds may exhibit this common black circle spot where the vibrissae emerge, it is sufficiently common that a whole German Shepherd owner forum thread was devoted to this one topic.
Vibrissae Have “Tactical Advantages,” Say, Scientists
Canine biologists studying vibrissae in various mammals have noted that they can contribute to certain evolutionary or tactical advantages as well.
How much this holds true in the modern German Shepherd is, of course, a topic for debate, especially since our dogs can’t fill us in on the question.
But the simple fact that all modern GSDs (and all modern dogs, for that matter) still have whiskers tells us that at least they are still very useful.
This also tells owners that it is not a good idea to mess with the vibrissae for cosmetic reasons as some owners still do before dog shows.
Imagine what your life would be like if someone had decided to remove your eyes, ears, fingers, or toes just because they thought you would look better without them. Your dog needs their whiskers to function at their best in the world they live in.
When That Black Dot May Not Be So Benign: GSD Skin Health Issues to Watch For
While in most cases, the black dot you are wondering about is likely the spot where your dog’s vibrissae nerve endings converge, there may also be times when the spot you are looking at is something different.
For example, if you find a black circle, spot or dot somewhere else on your German Shepherd’s face or body, is that vibrissae nerves too? The answer is “most likely not.”
You may want to watch this short and informative YouTube video made by a veterinarian that reviews the different types of pet lumps and bumps and how to tell if they are skin cancer.
Different Skin Issues to Watch for in Your German Shepherd
Just like people and all dog breeds, German Shepherds can develop other types of skin issues, including moles, skin tags, tick bites, tumors, cysts, and more.
In this section, we are going to take a look at worrisome health issues you may see on your GSD’s skin.
Unlike the skin circles on your dog’s jaw that signify the site of important nerve endings and the beginning of your dog’s whiskers, moles are typically hairless. They are also typically raised off the surface of the skin.
At first glance, the embedded body of a tiny black tick can look a lot like a benign (noncancer causing) mole or skin tag. But as this YouTube video explains, ticks are anything but benign.
It is very important to check your GSD for ticks regularly and immediately remove any that you find. The video will walk you through exactly how to check your dog and how to safely remove embedded ticks.
Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, lameness, anemia, skin irritation, and more. If you can’t safely remove the tick, always take your dog in to see your canine veterinarian have this done.
As VCA Animal Hospital explains, all dog breeds are prone to developing fibrous skin tumors. These are typically benign (not cancer).
While it is not always clear why these tumors form, veterinarians suspect that repeated trauma to an area may cause the skin cells to reform abnormally and grow into a tumor.
There are many different types of skin tumors that dogs can have, ranging from benign skin tags and cysts to cancerous skin tumors.
Hair follicle tumors are another quite common type of tumor that German Shepherds can be especially prone to developing, according to PetMD. However, because the GSD coat is double layer and quite thick, it can be harder to spot.
It is always best to schedule an appointment with your GSD’s veterinarian so you know what you are dealing with.
As Merck Veterinary Manual points out, dogs can be prone to developing a number of types of skin issues, including skin cancer.
Tumors can appear anywhere on your dog, including on the face. While benign tumors are more likely to be evenly shaped than cancerous tumors, any tumor you find should be checked and biopsied.
PetMD explains that German Shepherds are particularly susceptible to a type of skin cancer called hemangiosarcoma.
Hemangiosarcoma tumors can appear as dark or even black because they are filled with blood. They can show up anywhere on your dog’s body and may grow in size over time.
If you see anything on your dog’s face or body that looks like this description, do not wait to take your GSD in to see the vet. This type of cancer spreads very rapidly and can be fatal if not treated. Early treatment offers excellent prognosis.
The best time to examine your dog’s skin for new growths or tumors is when you are brushing, grooming, and bathing your dog. Make sure to examine your dog’s body, ears, paws, tail, and legs and not the location of any concerning lumps or bumps.
Atopic Dermatitis in German Shepherd Dogs
As PloS One Journal explains, German Shepherds have a genetic predisposition towards developing a skin condition called atopic dermatitis, or AD, which is like canine eczema.
While at first, this chronic condition may look like red itchy bumps, over time as your dog repeatedly scratches at the area, the skin bumps can become black.
Unfortunately, no cure has yet been identified for atopic dermatitis, which can flare up throughout life. But treatment is available to help your German Shepherd feel better and manage the symptoms.
As you now know, German Shepherds can have many different types of skin issues, including moles, but these are quite different from the black circles many GSDs have on their lower jawlines.
No one quite knows how those black circles evolved, but they sure are interesting to learn about!