Sable German Shepherd Dogs vs. Black & Tan German Shepherd Dogs

German Shepherd Dogs have been a popular canine companion for generations. Their bravery and loyalty make them versatile working dogs and family pets. They are well-suited for jobs such as guide dogs, herding dogs, military and police dogs as well as search and rescue dogs. But what is the difference between a Sable German Shepherd Dog vs. Black & Tan German Shepherd Dogs?

Let’s look at what the two types of German Shepherd Dogs have in common and what differentiates them from one another…

Where Did The Sable German Shepherd Dog Come From? 

When we hear the term “German Shepherd Dog” our minds may bring up the common image of a Black & Tan German Shepherd Dog. Popularity is increasing for the Sable German Shepherd Dog.

How much do you know about a Sable German Shepherd vs. Black & Tan German Shepherd dogs? Have you seen one but didn’t know what it was called? Are you considering getting a German Shepherd Dog for the family and want to know what the differences are? 

History of the German Shepherd Dog

Although most people associate German Shepherds with a black and tan coat, the first German Shepherd dog, Horand von Grafrath (aka Hektor Linksrhein), was raised as a sable dog. Both the Sable German Shepherd and the Black & Tan have their DNA close to that of wolves. This is the dominant gene for both types.

Early on, all German Shepherd dogs were Sable German Shepherds. This is defined as a multi-colored coat with black tips. The two tones of the hair give them a closer appearance to a wolf. If you go to a breeder to get a Sable German Shepherd, they are referred to as German Shepherd Agouti. 

Scientists have been researching Sable German Shepherd’s DNA for a long time. Research shows the dominant gene responsible for the sable hue of the coat is (AW AW). The black and tan coloration is (AS AS). All early German Shepherds had the sable coat and it can appear as any base coat. This is the dominant gene. Since not all sable dogs have the same pedigree, some will have recessive genes that produce different colored coats. In the German Shepherd world, even if a sable coated mother produced different colored pups, the puppies with the AW gene will appear sable. 

What Do Kennel Clubs Think About The Two Colors? 

Like many others, we know that the coat of the German Shepherd breed can have many different color variations. While these differences reflect in some very captivating coats, not all are considered desirable and are marked as flaws or faults. 

Unless you are planning to get your puppy with the hopes of showing him or her, coat color has no bearing on training, aptitude or personality. 

Here are acceptable colors for the GSD according to the American Kennel Club in the United States: 

➔ Black & Tan 

➔ Black & Silver 

➔ Red & Black 

➔ Red & Cream 

➔ Solid Black 

➔ Black & Red 

Here are the acceptable colors for the Sable German Shepherd Dog:

➔ Light Sable 

➔ Black Sable 

➔ Bi-colored Sable 

➔ Darker Sable 

Because black & tan is one of the most common colors, the most prevalent sable GSD coat combination is the tan or light sable coat. Puppies may show as having a brindle-colored coat. When you look close, you’ll see the black tips are causing the illusion and not actual stripes in the coat color. Even people who consider themselves dog experts mistakenly identify a tan sable GSD with a golden sable GSD. So don’t feel bad if they look the same to you!

Red Sable is the next standard coat color you’ll see in a sable GSD. Many people prefer this combination because of the dramatic effect caused by the bright red color coat and the black-tipped hairs. 

Black Sable dogs are a darker shade of sable, not black as the name suggests. The coat has a darker tone, but you will still see variations. It will not be a solid color black. Black Sable GSDs are rare, but you should be able to find them through reputable and responsible breeders. 

Another rare coat combination is the Blue Sable. Every pigment that would normally appear as black is instead a diluted blue color. It gives a dark, grey-blue tint to areas on the mask and the tips of the hair. The nose will also appear to have a blue-ish color. 

Liver and Silver coats are other variations you can look for among established breeders. The Liver variation results in a black nose with green or amber-colored eyes, with lips and eyes rimmed in brown. The silver sables have a light grey coat coloration, reminiscent of a Siberian Husky. 

How Did The Sable and Black & Tan German Shepherd Dogs Develop? 

Sable German Shepherd Dogs vs. Black & Tan German Shepherd Dogs

The Alsatian Wolf Dog, or German Shepherd Dog as they were later known, was bred to herd sheep in Germany. Its intelligence, strength, and fierceness were desired for other working dog tasks we mentioned earlier. 

Max von Stephanitz met a dog that matched his definition of an exemplary working dog at a show in 1899. He purchased Horand von Grafrath and set up a society that would promote the breed. Horand was a sable GSD who produced 84 pups that became the foundation of the breeding program. 

Breeders didn’t concentrate on coat color at the beginning, rather on the build and size of the dog. This is because they were used as working dogs. Later on, focus shifted to coat color. This was mainly due to the incorrect notion of the time that a lighter color

represented a weaker dog. We know today that this is not accurate. We have the benefit of having many coat color combinations. Although sable was the initial coat color used to start the breeding program, both sable and black & tan are authentic and desirable coat colors. 

Natural Personalities Evolve From Their Genetics 

Sable German Shepherd Dogs vs. Black & Tan German Shepherd Dogs

German Shepherd Dogs are renowned for their devotion to their owners. This is true of Sable GSDs as well as Black & Tan GSDs. Neither one is very fond of strangers, which makes them prime watchdogs. Their natural herding and guarding instincts remain. But instead of using them on sheep or cattle, they’ll guard and herd their human family! They have strong, strong family bonds. This is due to their close DNA with wolves. Training is very easy early on as they are extreme people pleasers when it comes to their owners. 

Since both Sable and Black & Tan GSDs are well-adept at being a guard dog, it’s an important thing to socialize them both at an early age. This will ensure your pup knows how to behave in public and that you can control him or her as they grow. 

What Are The Physical Differences Besides Coat Color? 

Sable German Shepherd Dogs vs. Black & Tan German Shepherd Dogs

We know that a Sable German Shepherd Dog and a Black & Tan German Shepherd Dog are very different in appearance. There are other differences as well. The eyes of a sable GSD should be black or another complementary color to the coat. The long nose of a Sable GSD is almost always black, giving them the appearance of having a black mask. Many think this hearkens back to an inherited flaw. We also know that the sable’s fur is actually multi-colored. That means that each strand of fur has pigments of different colors, ending in a black tip. 

Both sable and black & tan puppies will change coat color a few times before they reach maturity. That means the puppy you go home with will more than likely lookmuch different once they reach about 2-3 years of age. Both puppies also start out with a dense undercoat that will shed tremendously as the puppy ages. 

Learn about feeding German Shepherd’s here: How much to feed a German Shepherd per day.

Grooming Requirements For Sable And Black & Tan German Shepherds 

Sable German Shepherd Dogs vs. Black & Tan German Shepherd Dogs

All German Shepherd dogs retain their double coat. This double coat serves to keep them cool in hot weather, and warm in cool weather and helps to repel water when swimming or raining. The benefits aren’t so apparent to their owners. This undercoat 

will shed mercilessly twice a year. Your home will look like clumps of fur tumbleweeds rolling down the hallway. Correct brushing, meaning at least once a day, will reduce the volume of lost hair. The sheer volume of their shedding would not make either type of GSD a good choice for someone with pet allergies. 

Both types also need their ears cleaned frequently. Since they have stand-up ears, moisture, hair and other debris find an easy home inside. These can cause ear infections leading to stinky, itchy ears and vet appointments. 

Health Issues For German Shepherd Breeds 

Sable German Shepherd Dogs vs. Black & Tan German Shepherd Dogs

Sable German Shepherds and Black & Tan German Shepherds don’t have any major health issues and enjoy relatively good health. Because they are large breed dogs, however, they are prone to hip dysplasia. This hereditary disease is caused when the ball and socket joint do not fit properly. It is very similar to arthritis we experience as humans. You should insist on health certificates as well as seeing x-rays of the parents to try to keep the risk of dysplasia to a minimum. 

A proper, protein-rich diet is needed to raise a healthy Sable or Black & Tan German Shepherd and will help their bones and joints to develop properly. Since they are large-chested dogs, care needs to be taken to avoid bloat (gastric dilatation-volvulus). This happens when they eat too quickly or play before or after eating. The best way to avoid this is not to feed your GSD an hour before or after playing. The stomach has room in the large chest to “flip” like a hammock, creating a life-threatening situation. Proper bowl positioning also aids to prevent bloat. 

Get your German Shepherd a large comfy dog bed: Large dog beds for large dogs.

What Are The Cost Differences Between The Two 

Sable German Shepherd Dogs vs. Black & Tan German Shepherd Dogs

Finding a sable German Shepherd is a lot harder than finding a black & tan mainly due to the popularity of breeding the black & tan coat color. This also impacts the price you will pay for a sable puppy. Sable GSD puppies can sell for anywhere between $800-$1500. Compare that with the average price of a black & tan GSD puppy between $300-$700. 

Once you make your decision, never buy your puppy from a pet store or internet business. More than likely these puppies are coming from a puppy mill. Not only will their health and pedigree come into question, but socialization and training will lag far behind. In some instances, lasting negative experiences may imprint for life on your puppy’s personality. 

Research reputable breeders, rescue groups, or animal shelters instead. Many sable and black & tan puppies are given up because of inadequate training. Some are simply dumped because they’ve outgrown the cuteness of puppyhood. You can avoid these same pitfalls by doing your research before you dive into the decision. 

Personal Preference Determines The Outcome 

Hopefully, you realize that the Sable German Shepherd and the Black & Tan German Shepherd are the same in every way but one: coat appearance. They both fall within various kennel clubs’ breed standards. They both make wonderfully loyal and intelligent family pets capable of great feats. They both have relatively few health issues and grooming requirements. First-time owners need to be sure to enlist the help of training so their puppy stays friendly and obedient as he or she develops.

Look at the parents of each type of puppy to give you a glimpse of what your GSD pup may look like. Whether a multi-colored sable coat or a more familiar black & tan combination, they both have hearts full of love. Either one will make the perfect, faithful friend. 

Until Next Time,


Corey Turner
Corey Turner, owner of, draws on a lifelong love for dogs and extensive pet ownership to offer a unique perspective in the pet industry. With a successful background in project management, he excels in critical analysis, precise attention to detail, and quality assurance. This expertise allows him to effectively differentiate true value from marketing hype in the pet sector. Corey’s contributions have been featured in various publications including Rockery Press Guide Books and During his free time, he enjoys disc golfing, rock climbing, and bonding with his cherished FurBall friend, Harvey.