Did you know that black German Shepherd dogs exist alongside their better known sable cousins?
These striking brethren have the same fluffy coat and majestic silhouette.
But what about inside? German Shepherds have been one of our favorite breeds for generations.
Will you love a black German Shepherd in the same way as their more familiar brothers and sisters?
Let’s find out if the difference in color is any more than fur-deep!
German Shepherd Dog Colors
Of all the larger breeds that a dog lover can choose from, there really is something quite special about the German Shepherd dog (often abbreviated to simply ‘GSD’).
When you see a solid black German Shepherd, your jaw may well drop to the floor. These wonderful animals are just beautiful.
They’re not a separate breed, though.
A black German Shepherd is a German Shepherd like any other. Just with a dark inky hue to their coat.
That said, many dog lovers have questions when it comes to if and how a dog’s coat color might affect their pet.
Does, for instance, a German Shepherd being black impact on its temperament, personality or health?
Let’s look into it now and answer those questions. And a few more besides…
History & Origins of the Black German Shepherd
German Shepherds, like many other breeds of dog, were founded to create a ‘better working dog’.
The GSDs we know and love today are the result of breeding from a number of other breeds, most notably the classic herding dog, the Berger Picard.
The first German Shepherds came about at the very tail end (pardon the pun) of the 19th century and quickly spread around the world.
They’ve excelled in military careers, as service dogs, in search and rescue, and many more lines of work.
Black German Shepherds are nothing new.
As long as the breed has existed, these incredible dogs have shown their impressive form beneath a fine and shiny dark coat.
Black German Shepherd Appearance
German Shepherds, regardless of coat color, share some rather unique characteristics with one another.
They are generally large dogs, standing around 20 to 25 inches tall.
GSDs are all longer than they are tall and can weigh in anywhere from 60 all the way up to 100 pounds.
They have long necks, large ears (which are usually erect), fluffy bushy tails, domed heads, long muzzles, large brown eyes and black noses.
Black German Shepherds follow all of these physical characteristics and traits as well.
Is Anything Different Besides Their Color?
Black German Shepherd dogs are sometimes reported as being slightly larger and more muscular than non-black dogs of their breed.
We can’t find any quantitive evidence of this, but it could well be that either by accident or design, breeders specialising in black GSDs also used larger than average dogs in their breeding lines.
Anecdotally, it also seems that fewer black German Shepherds have been victims of the painful trend for “banana backed” German Shepherds – which is a good thing!
And finally, devotees of the black coated German Shepherd often say their coats are more luxurious and “flowing”.
It’s true that German Shepherds can have short or long coats, and even fur that’s a little wavy. But at the time of writing, scientists haven’t uncovered much about the genes which control the length, curl or texture of dogs’ coats.
It could be possible that black German Shepherd breeders, having fallen in love with their canines’ unique looks, were especially attentive to finding breeding stock with long, thick, coat, and propagated the genes for this look!
German Shepherd Colors
We’re focusing on the stunning black German Shepherd dogs here, but German Shepherd colors are extremely varied.
The most common and dominant color in this dog breed is sable or sable and tan. Sable is basically a very dark brown, but where the individual hairs have bands of different colors along the shaft. Making each individual dog distinctive.
Single colors are rarer than a mix of two.
As well as all black German Shepherd dogs, you can meet black and tan German Shepherd, black and red German Shepherds, black and white German Shepherds, black and cream German Shepherd and black and silver German Shepherds!
Popularity of the Black German Shepherd
These dogs are, unsurprisingly, in demand. German Shepherds are sought after animals – they consistently hold the position of the AKC’s second most popular dog, pipped only by the Labrador Retriever.
And with long, black hair? They look incredible.
Since all black German Shepherds, and unusual colors like black and red or black and white German Shepherd dogs are rare, be prepared to join a waiting list when you find a breeder.
You might also find that these dogs command a premium price.
Make sure your breeder has health-tested their puppies’ parents, and their fee is based on raising healthy, well socialised and cared for puppies, not just their unusual coat!
But why are black German Shepherd puppies so rare in the first place?
To answer that, we need to look at their DNA…
German Shepherd Coat Genetics
Our dogs come in a huge spectrum of colors, but did you know that they all boil down to just two types of pigment?
Those pigments are eumelanin (black), and phaeomelanin (red).
Then, there are lots of genes which orchestrate which of those pigments is produced in each individual hair, and how intensely it is expressed.
When dogs have the gene for the black pigment eumelanin, their default color is usually black. But other genes can modulate that color to brown, grey or silver, and still further genes can create patterns or white markings.
Furthermore, most black dogs are black because they possess a gene for producing eumelanin which overrides any other instruction – known as a dominant gene.
So it sounds like black German Shepherd dogs have this gene, right?
In fact, all-black German Shepherds are an exception.
GSDs don’t carry the dominant black gene at all. Their default color is sable.
Instead, black German Shepherds get their color by inheriting two copies of a different, recessive gene for eumelanin. Recessive genes need to be inherited from both mom and dad in order to be expressed.
If two sable German Shepherds carrying the recessive black gene mate, approximately one quarter of their puppies will be black.
When a black German Shepherd mates with a sable dog carrying the recessive gene, the proportion of black puppies in the litter rises to around half.
Only mating two black GSDs together guarantees a litter of black puppies.
But a good breeder prioritises their litter’s health over their color, and it’s often difficult to find two black German Shepherds local to one another who are unrelated enough to breed safely.
Black German Shepherd Puppies
All black German Shepherd puppies are born either black, grey or white.
The color shifts and gradually changes over the first few weeks, with the black settling in by around the 8-10 week mark.
In fact, only 6.8% of all German Shepherds puppies born in the world go on to be black.
And that is accounting for intentional breeding of black Shepherds.
But if you manage to find a black German Shepherd, will life be any different to that with a classic sable GSD?
Black German Shepherd Grooming
For example, how does grooming black German Shepherds differ from grooming other colors?
Just like the rest of their GSD brethren, these dogs have a double coat.
This ‘extra’ hair doesn’t require much more effort on the grooming front, though. Twice weekly brushing of your black German Shepherd will usually suffice.
All German Shepherd dogs shed their coats quite significantly throughout the year, and “blow their coat” in spring and fall.
As you can imagine, an all black German Shepherd will really make an impact on your floors and furnishings as this happens!
In other words, there will be plenty of hair to clear up. So make sure you keep your vacuum cleaner close at hand.
Health of the Black German Shepherd
An all black Shepherd is prone to the same health issues as any other colored German Shepherd.
Unfortunately, German Shepherds are known for being at at a heightened risk of developing quite a few medical problems.
The most common issue that these dogs face – black, black and tan or otherwise – is hip and elbow dysplasia.
This malformation of the socket, pain and eventual lameness can really impact the dog’s life.
To protect their litters, good breeders health test the parents, including through joint exams.
Black German Shepherd Temperament
We’ve learned about the physical differences between solid black German Shepherds and their sable cousins, and the unique genetic make up which makes them possible, but what about their personality?
Does a dog have a different personality if they’re all back? What about a black and tan German Shepherd?
The answer here is simple. At the time of writing, there’s no evidence that coat color changes the German Shepherd’s disposition.
Whether, sable, black, or bi-colored, your GSD will be loyal, quick to learn new commands, and a tireless worker.
So where can you find one?!
Black German Shepherd Breeders
Great German Shepherd breeders are passionate about the welfare of their dogs. Protecting the next generation from inherited disorders is top priority, so they always make sure sire and dam are health tested, and completely unrelated.
This is why, in well-reared litters, the frequency of solid black puppies remains low.
When you find a breeder, be prepared to join a waiting list if you’ve got your heart set on a black puppy.
We also recommend taking your time to meet several breeders, visit their homes, and get to know their dogs.
Black German Shepherd puppies are very desirable and sought after, so they’re an easy choice for puppy farms.
Unscrupulous breeders can guarantee a high proportion of black puppies in a litter by mating two all black parents together, without regard to how closely they are related.
If you meet a litter of all black German Shepherd puppies, ask the breeder about inbreeding – they should leap to offer you proof of a low inbreeding co-efficient!
This is a simple DNA test of both parents, which good breeders arrange through their vet before mating takes place.
Black German Shepherd Rescue
Another way to find a gorgeous black GSD to share your life is by rescuing or re-homing one.
Rescue dogs find their way to shelters for all kinds of reasons. A big advantage in rescuing a dog is being able to bring them home with a clear picture of their adult temperament and health.
Since German Shepherds are such relied upon working dogs, you might also find an older black GSD looking for a loving home to live out his honorable retirement.
Visit our German Shepherd Breed Information Center for a list of German Shepherd rescues.
Black German Shepherds
Black long haired German Shepherds are beautiful dogs.
Their striking single tone comes from a rare combination of recessive genes for the black pigment eumelanin. This sets them apart from the majority of dog breeds, who inherit a solid black coat from a simple dominant gene.
Under that coat, black German Shepherds behave just the same as the rest of their breed.
To make sure your black German Shepherd gets the best start in life, find a great breeder, who can prove their breeding dogs are health tested, and unrelated.
Do You Own a Black German Shepherd?
Do you think they have the same temperament as other GSDs?
Tell us all about them in the comments box below!
References and Resources
Tami, G. and Gallagher, A., 2009, “Description of the Behavior of Domestic Dog (Canis Familiaris) by Experienced and Inexperienced People,” Applied Animal Behavior Science.
AKC Breed Standard for the German Shepherd.
Buzhardt, L., DVM, 2016 “Genetics Basics – Coat Color Genetics in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospitals.
Blackshaw, J.K., 1991, “An Overview of Types of Aggressive Behavior in Dogs and Methods of Treatment,” Applied Animal Behavior Science, Vol. 30, Issues 3-4
Carver, E.A., 1984 “Coat color genetics of the German Shepherd dog,” Journal of Heredity
Cadieu, E. et al, 2009, “Coat Variation in the Domestic Dog Is Governed by Variants in Three Genes”, Science.