There is something truly special about the German Shepherd breed and we are not alone in thinking so. The German Shepherd Dog – or GSD – is actually the US’s second most popular dog, and regularly comes high in the American Kennel Club’s annual top breed poll. Large, fluffy, with those big brown eyes and unmistakable black and tan coat, the GSD is a loyal, playful and fearless breed. But what many people don’t know is that there is also such as thing as Black German Shepherd and, just like his black and tan brother, is a full breed. In fact, just 6.8% of German Shepherds are black, making them a pretty rare as well as beautiful dog to own. So, are black German Shepherds just GSDs with a different coat, or are there any differences? We take a look at the black GSD, their personality, health and temperament to see if there’s anything sets them apart.
History of the Black German Shepherd
Contrary to what some believe, the black GSD is not a product of breeding a conventional German Shepherd with a black Labrador. So, to look at the history of the Black German Shepherd, we need to start with the GSD breed as a whole as they are actually one and the same. In fact, the black color is recognized by the American Kennel Club as one of the standards in the pure breed.
Like many other pure breed dogs, the German Shepherd was developed in order for humans to have a ‘better’ working dog. And when looking back over its lineage, it is most likely that the GSD came from other German herding breeds. It is believed the first German Shepherd dog was recognized in the 1880s by a German cavalry officer called Captain Max von Stephanitz, who was impressed by the character of herding dogs that existed at the time but wanted to find the ‘perfect’ herding canine. In 1899, he went to a dog show, where he purchased a dog, later named Horand von Grafrath, who is believed to be the first named German Shepherd. With Stephanitz’s desire for an intelligent, obedient and agile dog for herding, he bred from Horand, whose descendants finally found their way to the US in the early 1900s. The breed quickly spread around the rest of the world, with German Shepherds featuring as military dogs in both World Wars, as well as finding roles as service dogs as well as in the Police, search and rescue. They also gained a reputation as fearsome guard dogs.
However, shortly after the First World War, the German Shepherd saw a dip in popularity as a domestic dog, most likely due to the association with Germany post-war, so the breed was renamed the Alsatian by the UK Kennel Club. Gradually over time, the name has reverted back to German Shepherd, and it is by this name today the breed is mostly known.
So, looking at this potted history, a Black German Shepherd is actually nothing new and just like the more conventional colored GSDs, are descended from Captain Stephanitz’s original breeding dog.
Who are the Parents?
Today’s German Shepherd has come a long way from the herding dogs of Germany and is thought to actually be leaner, slightly smaller in size and actually has less tan color in its coat than the original GSDs. So, where does the all-black German Shepherd come in, and is it as legitimate as the typical black and tan version of the breed?
As we have already noted, the Black German Shepherd is not a separate breed, so both its parents are also full GSDs. This means the variety shares all the same characteristics as the other accepted color-way dogs, except it presents with a coat of solid black, making for a very handsome dog. So, the difference has to be down to genetics.
The most dominant and therefore most common color in the breed is sable or sable and tan. Sable is a very dark brown, which has a blend of colors down the shaft of each hair, making each individual distinctive. However, single, solid colors in GSDs is much rarer.
In most black dogs, the color occurs when the parent dogs have the gene for eumelanin, which is the black pigment which creates the color in the fur. This eumelanin gene is always dominant, so will override any other genetic instructions when it comes to the color of the resulting dog. But it is a different story for black German Shepherds.
A black German Shepherd is normally the result of two black GSDs breeding, although it is possible for a black and tan GSD to also give birth to an all-black puppy. And this is because black GSDs are the exception, as they don’t carry the dominant black gene at all; their default color is sable. A black GSD puppy actually gets their color by inheriting a recessive gene from their parents, who both need to carry it for it to be passed on. And this means that, other than color of their coat, a black GSD is a pure-bred German Shepherd. And just as strikingly beautiful.
So, know you know that a Black German Shepherd is a full breed German Shepherd, here are few quick facts to show just what sets GSDs apart, when it comes to making a pet:
- Black German Shepherds are rare – only 6.8% of all GSDs will have entirely black fur so you have a black version you can be sure he is pretty special. However, this rarity makes the variety in demand, so they will typically cost more than a more common tan and black version.
- As well as black or tan and black German Shepherds, you can also get black and red, black and white, black and cream and black and silver color varieties.
- A Black German Shepherd tends to be slightly taller and more muscular than the standard GSD, with an adult male potentially growing to 28 inches in height.
- The head of a German Shepherd is always in proportion to their body, making for a very balanced looking dog.
- All German Shepherd puppies actually start off black, white or grey from the moment they are born, with black GSDs born black and stay that way. However non-Black German Shepherds will start to shed some of the black from around eight weeks, to make way for their true tan color.
- Whatever color they are, German Shepherds are renowned for their soft, plush fur, often with a double coat, while males can develop a luxurious ruff of fur around their neck, making them look a bit like a lion.
- The eyes of a German Shepherd are large and almond-shaped, and the majority are a rich deep brown in color. However, a recessive gene can cause a few GSDs to present with blue eyes although these are very rare.
- GSD pups are born with floppy ears which bend forward adoringly, instead of standing proud like adult dogs. They remain floppy while the cartilage inside the ears develop – you should expect to see those pup ears stand up from between eight weeks to eight months. As a general rule, those loveable ears should be standing up by the time your pup has finished teething.
Things You Should Know
As with large breeds the life expectancy of a GSD is lower than smaller dogs, your Black German Shepherd likely to live between nine and 13 years. But kept well and healthy you can expect them to be pretty active and energetic, even as they hit their senior years. The other key factor to whether you buy a black GSD is that they are rare and so will likely come with a higher price tag than conventional colors. A price of between £700-$2,000 for a puppy is the norm. As well as making sure you always get your pup from a reputable breeder, here are some other essentials you need to know if you are looking to get a black GSD.
Today’s German Shepherds are no longer bred to be herders but are bred to be family pets, well as working dogs, so will still have energy levels that need to be positively channeled. Their intelligence and levels of obedience also need to be factored in when it comes to an effective training program. It is essential to start training your pup from an early age, to establish boundaries and the right leadership roles. But, as with dog, it is important to only use a positive reinforcement approach that encourages desired behaviors rather than punishing negative ones. All GSDs are highly intelligent and also eager to please, which makes training a German Shepherd a joy for a confident owner. But they will also need plenty of mental stimulation so as well as the core training basics, it is a good idea to shake their routine up and introduce new skills and ways of learning. GSDs thrive on a host of activities, including obedience and agility training, and make excellent service, search and rescue as well assistant dogs. You also need to teach your dog to be able to entertain themselves so introduce them to puzzle toys from an early age. Find out more about dog agility tunnels here.
Socializing your GSD from an early age is also essential as you need to be able to confidently take them out into the real world with no concerns about how they will react to other dogs, animals and strangers. This way you are producing a happy, well-rounded pet that will fit well into a busy family.
Your black GSD will be a big dog, and so will come with a sizeable adult, especially as a fully grown adult. But this is not an invitation to over-feed. In fact, your Black German Shepherd will need a managed, nutritious diet to keep him fit, healthy and on the go. Larger dogs are also prone to a condition called bloat, which causes a build-up of gas in their stomach and can be fatal, so it is best to feed your GSD smaller meals more often, with three to four small meals a day ideal for a puppy, reduced to two – three when he reaches adulthood.
The number of calories you feed your GSD depends on his size as well as his activity levels so seek advice from your vet if you are unsure. On average a large breed such as a German Shepherd will use around 20 calories for every pound in body weight. So if your pooch comes in at 70 pounds, that’s around 1,400 calories he is going to need per day, split between his 2-3 meals.
To ensure your large dog has sufficient fuel for his energy and maintains lean and healthy muscles, a quality large breed dog food with animal protein as its number one ingredient is a must and opt for corn and grain free if your dog has any digestive issues. His diet also needs to cater for his nutritional needs so make sure it is balanced with appropriate vitamins and minerals, including omega fatty acids. And opt for a product that has added glucosamine and chondroitin as your beautiful Black German Shepherd can be prone to arthritis and joint issues.
For the size of the dog, your Black GSD also needs regular exercise to keep them at their optimum weight. They are also high energy animals, so will require at least one hour of exercise a day, ideally more, spread over two outings to prevent boredom.
As part of his early training you will need to ensure his recall is on point, as this will make for a much more enjoyable, stress free exercise and outdoor play session. Having a dog that won’t come to heal can be dangerous, especially when it is such a large dog as a GSD.
When it comes to exercise, your German Shepherd is a gift as they are super intelligent, eager to please and are pretty much up for anything. The key is to keep his exercise routine nice and varied, so to keep his grey matter stimulated and his body challenged.
Take with you balls, frisbees, anything you can play fetch and retrieve; this burns off some of his energy while giving his brain a workout too. And if you really do want to challenge and stimulate your GSD, why not sign him up to agility classes as you will be amazed how much fun he will have and just what this amazing breed can achieve.
German Shepherds really suit active, outdoor people too, as he will love spending time with his human and getting stuck into a host of adventures. GSDs will happily go hiking, swimming or exploring, but are also just as happy to play and hangout with his favorite humans in his own back yard.
With any dog, early socialization is important as you want them to be comfortable with a range of situations, environments, people and other animals. And effective socialization is particularly important for the GSD as, like other large guard-style dogs, they do sometimes get an unfair reputation. German Shepherds are actually not a naturally aggressive breed, but they are loyal to their pack and will have natural guarding instincts. To create a happy, confident and balanced GSD, start introducing them to new things as a puppy, making it a fun and positive experience. This includes children, any other pets you may have as well as dogs when out on his daily puppy walk. This early socialization prevents your GSD from becoming too over cautious as an adult, which could lead to some undesirable behavior.
Also, make sure you and your dog are confident and aware of the basic commands and that he is able to act with manners in company so you can let other people see just what an amazing dog he is. And with early socialization, your Black German Shepherd will be happy to live with other pets as well as be a loving pet-sibling to any children in your family.
Yes, your Black German Shepherd has the most luxurious and soft double coat, but it does come with a downside, and that is they are also heavy shedders. This means the breed may not be the best choice if you or a member of your family suffers from allergies.
To keep all that gorgeous fur in tip top condition, your GSD will need regular grooming, and we would recommend a daily brush to keep it tangle free and help retain that glossy, smooth coat. It is also worth considering a professional grooming session a couple of times a year, especially during the shedding seasons to keep on top of his furry mop. However, you should avoid over bathing the double GSD coat as it can strip the fur of its natural oils, causing it to dry out.
With their large ears and big brown eyes, regularly checking and cleaning is also a must to avoid a build-up of wax, grime and doggy sleep. And don’t neglect those large canines either; try to get into the habit of brushing their teeth once or twice a week to prevent plaque build-up which can lead to smelly breath and gum disease.
Pure breeds do tend to be prone to more health problems than mutts and crossbreeds and the Black German Shepherd is no exception. And this breed is particularly known for back and hip problems. We take a look at the main health issues you need to be aware of when looking to buy a Black GSD:
Hip dysplasia – this is a common condition where the hip joint doesn’t quite fit into the socket, weaking the dog’s hips over time and leading to arthritis. Ranging from mild to disabling, large breeds are susceptible to the condition due to their rapid growth rate as a puppy. Surgery is often needed.
Chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy (CDRM) – also known as canine degenerative myelopathy, this a disease of the spinal cord which causes nerve cells to fail leading to paralysis in the hind legs.
Osteoarthritis – another degenerative joint condition common in GSDs, osteoarthritis is painful and can eventually lead to loss of joint movement. Medication and surgery are both treatment options.
Cauda equina syndrome – affecting the spine, with this condition the nerves in your Black German Shepherd’s back become compressed, leading to lameness, stiffness and pain along the spine, into their hips and tail.
Large, beautiful and energetic, German Shepherds are confident, fearless and loyal, with a natural instinct to protect their people. But they are not all about strength, they are also surprisingly gentle, fun-loving and caring, loving nothing more than hanging out with his human fam. Yes, they do need a lot of exercise and they are high energy, but for an active family or individual, they could well be a match made in heaven when looking for a new dog.
What makes the GSD extra special is their intelligence and ultra-trainable attitude, meaning that as well as becoming a well-balanced companion, they also excel at having a job to do. Which is why they make awesome service dogs, search and rescue and even disability assistant dogs – which is testament to their loyal and caring nature.
But all that energy, intelligence and strength can become a little problematic if your GSD is insufficiently trained and socialized or left under stimulated and bored. And their naturally loyal nature means that separation anxiety could be an issue if left alone for long periods of time. GSDs can also be initially wary of strangers or new situations – they want to protect you, after all – but early socialization will instill the confidence they need to go with the flow.
In short, the Black GSD is everything you would expect from a German Shepherd and has all the fun, active, intelligent, caring and protective attributes to make a wonderful companion or family dog.