Liver German Shepherd guide (Before you buy)

The German Shepherd is one of America’s favorite dog breeds. This is thanks to his imposing presence, work ethic, devotion, loyalty, and endless love he has to offer. But like any other breeds, they come in several colors and patterns including brown traditionally known as liver in German Shepherds.

Liver German Shepherds are light to deep brown/chocolate in shade in areas that should have otherwise been black without the brown gene. These brown GSDs can be solid liver or as a pattern such as liver and tan, liver and red, liver and cream, liver sable, liver saddleback, liver panda, etc.

All black pigment on a German Shepherd with two copies of the brown gene will turn brown. This includes the skin, eyes, nose, lips, eye rims, paw pads, nails, melanistic mask, and all hair shafts. Their eyes are hazel green or amber with brown skin and light-colored nails.

Brown German Shepherds do not change color but exposure to sunlight can cause the brown color to appear orange. In addition, these dogs are similar to any other GSD in all aspects with exception of color. This is because the gene does not affect any other traits or have any negative effects on health or temperament.

The gene responsible for liver coloration only affects the black color pigment known as eumelanin. This gene prevents the formation of black pigment but modifies the eumelanin pigment structure to appear brown. Two copies of this gene should be present for a GSD to appear liver

For more on the liver GSD, its genetics, eumelanin, and so on, scroll on.

Liver German Shepherd genetics

The liver coloration is caused by the activities of the brown gene (B-locus) on the black eumelanin pigment.

Eumelanin is one of two pigments that makes up all coat colors on all dogs. This pigment is black by default in its unmodified form but can be diluted to appear blue or altered to appear brown. Pheomelanin is the other pigment that is red by default but can be diluted to tan, yellow, cream, or to almost white.

The brown gene denoted as lowercase “b” is a mutant variant of the TYRP1 gene (Tyrosinase Related Protein 1). In its mutated or wild-type form the TYRP1 gene (capital B) results in the production of black eumelanin pigment.

However, this mutation causes the gene to lose its ability to produce black pigment. This is known as a loss of function, missense, or amorphic mutation and causes a change in the structure of the eumelanin pigment causing it to appear brown.

All eumelanin pigment is affected as it is genetically impossible for a dog with this mutant brown gene to produce black pigment.

However, brown (b) is recessive to black (B) and thus two copies of brown (bb) should be present for German Shepherds to have liver pigmentation.

Each parent breed should contribute a copy of this recessive gene to the pup for liver coloration. The parent breeds do not have to be brown but should at least carry a hidden copy of brown that can be passed to a puppy.

You can only tell if a GSD is a brown gene carrier through genetic testing. This is because two copies of the gene should be present for the coloration to show but is carrier if only one copy is present hence the coloration will not be visible.

Skin & Eye color;

Eumelanin pigment is present in the skin and eyes. The skin includes nose leather, eye rims, paw pads, and lips. It can also be present on the coat as long as the dog is not recessive red. All pigment in these eumelanin areas will turn brown.

As such, liver German Shepherds have hazel-green also known as amber or yellowish eyes. All parts of the skin will appear brownish including the nose leather.

Pheomelanin can only be present in the hair shafts and not the other body parts. This means that pheomelanin-coated cream, blonde, or white German Shepherds which are recessive red or can have brown skin and hazel-green eyes if it has the gene for liver. You can tell by looking at the nose color will be brown and confirm it through genetic testing.

Color variations

Liver German Shepherds can be solid colored which is one coat color or come in any of the known GSD patterns such as sable or bicolor.

Solid liver German Shepherd

Solid-liver German Shepherds have two copies of the recessive black gene. In the absence of the brown gene, these dogs are solid black (black German Shepherds).

But the presence of two copies of the brown gene causes all black pigment to be modified to appear brown. These dogs dog a full brown coat with brown skin, brown noses, brown lips, brown eye rims, brown paw pads, and amber eyes.

Liver sable German Shepherd

Sable GSDs have banded hairs that alternate between the red and black pigment on the tips. This can be a red sable, tan sable, cream sable, silver sable, and so on.

However, in the presence of two copies of the brown gene, all black pigment in these banded hairs appears brown. The brown gene has no effect on the red, tan, cream, or ivory-white areas on a sable coat.

Most sable German Shepherds also tend to have a melanistic mask covering their faces from the muzzle extending to the ears. This mask is usually made up of black eumelanin pigment and will also be altered by the brown gene to appear brown.

Liver Bicolor German Shepherd

Bicolor German Shepherds can either be saddleback/blanket-back GSDs or tan-point GSDs. These dogs are two-toned and can be black and red, black and tan, black and cream, or black and off-white.

On liver bicolors, all black hairs are turned brown by the gene responsible for liver coloration. This makes them liver and red, liver and tan, liver and cream, and liver and off-white German Shepherds. They also tend to have melanistic masks that will be brown instead of black.

Liver Panda German Shepherd

Panda or tricolor German Shepherds consist of three primary coat colors black, white and tan. The black parts of the coat appear brown in the presence of a brown gene hence the liver panda GSD name.

  • Sidenote: Blue liver German Shepherds do not exist since it is genetically impossible for a dog to have blue and liver coloration at the same time. However, they can have both the blue and live genes which causes them to have a pale brown coloration known as lilac or isabella.

Liver-colored German Shepherd price

On average, a liver German Shepherd costs between $800 and $2500. Price will depend on the breeder, the location, the line of puppies, the pedigree, and so on. The price can be upwards of $5000 for top-of-the-line pups.


Fortunately, the liver German Shepherd is one of the recognized colors by AKC. However, the color has to be solid liver with no secondary coat color. Variations and patterns such as liver and red, liver and tan, liver and cream, liver and white, liver sable, and liver panda are not recognized and are considered faults.

How to get liver German Shepherd puppies

For a German Shepherd puppy to have liver coloration, it needs to inherit two copies of the brown gene from each parent. The puppy also needs to have black pigmentation that the brown gene can modify to brown.

This can be a puppy with any of the agouti patterns including shaded sable, sable/agouti, saddleback, tan points, and recessive black. Recessive red puppies cannot have liver coats since the brown gene can only work on black eumelanin pigment.

With that said, the parent breeds do not need to be liver-colored but should at least be carriers of the brown gene for the possibility of liver-colored puppies.


Are liver-colored German Shepherds rare?

Compared to black sable and black and tan German Shepherds, liver-colored German Shepherds are rare. However, they are too rare since several breeders are actively pursuing and breeding these liver-colored pooches due to their increased demand.

Are liver German Shepherds purebred?

Liver-colored German Shepherds are purebred GSDs and one of the recognized GSD color variations. The gene responsible for liver coloration does not affect any of the dog’s traits including temperament and appearance with exception of color.

How big do liver German Shepherds get?

Liver German Shepherds can get as big or small as any other regular GSD. Males typically weigh between 65 and 90 pounds and stand at 24 to 26 inches tall. Meanwhile, females weigh slightly less at 50 to 70 pounds and stand 22 to 24 inches tall.

To sum up

Color is the most striking and unique characteristic of the Liver-colored German Shepherd. These dogs have a brown coloration in place of the typical black and this does not affect any other of the dog’s aspects.

They are protective, devoted, energetic, loyal, and loving dogs that are especially fond and playful with kids despite their imposing appearance.

If you are in the market for one of these dogs, be aware of dubious and unscrupulous breeders that are just in it for the mighty dollar. Always ensure you can meet the puppy and at least the mother before making a purchase and do not buy the pup online. Inspect the premises where the puppies and kept and do not forget to ask for health guarantees.

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There you go, WOOF!