The Liver German Shepherd: A Complete Breed Guide


Liver German Shepherd puppy

German Shepherds are one of the most popular dog breeds in America. As such, they have been bred with many different coat colors. One such unusual German Shepherd color variation is the Liver German Shepherd.

The Liver German Shepherd is a variation of the traditional black and tan German Shepherd. Their liver-colored coats are due to a recessive gene and distinguishes them from other GSDs, but they are just as intelligent, loyal, and hard-working as any other German Shepherd breed line.

In this article, we’ll expound on all you need to know about the liver-colored German Shepherd.

You’ll learn how the color comes about, their working ability, and the temperament of these dogs. We’ll also shed light on what you need to know to own and care for a Liver GSD.

What Is a Liver German Shepherd?

A Liver German Shepherd is a variation of the traditional black and tan GSD breed. Liver Shepherds have a distinct coloring to their fur, nose, and eyes – though some may argue that the color is more of a light brown.

They are considered dilute types because a recessive gene dilutes the black color to make the coat a lighter brown hue. 

The Liver Shepherd has an average life expectancy of between 9 and 13 years.

The males grow to a weight of 66-88lbs (30-40kg) and a height of 24-26 inches (60-65cm). A female adult may average 45-72lbs (20-32kg) and 22-24 inches (55-60cm).

It is possible to find larger Liver Shepherds, and it’s also possible to find miniature Liver Shepherds due to dwarfism and breed mixing. 

Related: Dwarf German Shepherd: All About This Genetic Disorder

Liver Shepherds have double coats. The topcoat feels wiry and protects the dog from weather elements, bugs, and other external factors. The inner coat is soft and lush and is used for insulation against cold and hot weather.

Liver shepherds tend to shed all year round, with heavy shedding in-between seasons. 

Related: Do German Shepherds Shed? All You Need to Know

What Causes the Liver Color In Liver German Shepherds?

The liver color in Liver GSDs is caused by a recessive gene, the B Locus. For a GSD to be a Liver Shepherd, both its parents need to possess and pass on at least one liver gene in its genetic material.

Often, one or both parents may not be liver-colored, but they both have the recessive B Locus gene

The B Locus recessive gene blocks black pigmentation in the GSD’s coat coloring. Any GSD with the recessive B Locus gene can’t have black fur strands.

B-Locus is a tyrosinase-related protein, meaning it plays a role in the synthesis of the eumelanin pigment.

In layman’s terms, eumelanin makes a dog’s coat appear black. The B locus gene suppresses the eumelanin pigmentation, so no black skin or fur is produced. 

When the dog has two copies of the gene, the dog is said to be homozygous for the mutation from father and mother. Meaning the dog’s coat will be reddish-brown.

A second gene dictates how a Liver Shepherd will look like in other ways. This second gene determines the fur patterns and markings plus the distribution of color across the body. The gene determines whether the GSD will be a bi-color or will show a solid color.

Common coat patterns for GSDs include:

  • Solid pattern
  • Bi-color pattern
  • Saddleback pattern
  • Blanket back pattern
  • Sable pattern
  • Panda pattern

What Color Are Liver German Shepherd Puppies?

Adult Liver Shepherds tend to have a consistent brown color all over their bodies. In puppies, the fur and skin are liver, but the toenails are white, and the footpads are pink.

As they grow older, the toenails and footpads change to the liver color. Also, Liver Shepherd puppies are born with green or blue eyes. The eyes later change to a reddish-brown hue at around six months old. 

Bi-color Liver Shepherds can experience color changes until about two years when the color permanently sets.

A Liver Shepherd puppy doubles its birth size in the first week and will weigh 16-19lbs (7-8.5kg) by the time they’re two weeks old.

The Liver Shepherd puppy will gain 5-10% in size every month for the first 12 months. It will gain sexual maturity at 2 or 3 years. 

Does the Locus Gene Affect Temperament?

No. The B locus gene only affects coloration. The recessive gene does not affect temperament or any other GSD characteristics. 

The Liver Shepherd is generally a loving, loyal, and protective dog. They are especially fond of and protective of children and often attach to the lady of the house. 

Related: Are German Shepherds Good With Kids?

Liver Shepherds are generally wary of new human faces and strange animals they haven’t met before. They take time to befriend and trust you, but you have a friend for life once they do. 

However, like all other dogs, temperament can result from how humans and other dogs treat the Liver Shepherd. How you socialize your dog can affect their behavior more than their genetic makeup. 

Related: How To Socialize Your German Shepherd

Are Liver German Shepherds Prone to Health Problems?

The Liver Shepherd is as strong as all other GSD lines. They have muscular working bodies with a strong straight back.

Liver Shepherds have great physical capabilities and are often bred for sports, agility events, and law enforcement.

Related: Why Are German Shepherds Good Police Dogs?

There are no scientifically proven health risks associated with the B Locus gene or the coat’s liver coloration. Nonetheless, like all other GSDs, Liver Shepherds went through many inbreeding during the early days of breed standardization.

Liver Shepherds face some health challenges due to inbreeding and also because they are large working dogs. 

Even though the health challenges are not a result of the B Locus gene, Liver Shepherd owners should watch out for symptoms of the following conditions:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV)
  • Epilepsy
  • Hemophilia
  • Diabetes
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Nose infections
  • Dental health problems
  • Bladder stones

Related: German Shepherd Joint Problems: All You Need to Know

Are Liver German Shepherds Good Companion and Family Dogs?

Liver German Shepherd pup on couch

Like most other GSDs, Liver Shepherds make a great companions, watchdogs, service dogs, guard dogs, emotional support dogs, and are even sometimes used as livestock guardian dogs.

They are high energy, intelligent working dogs. Like other GSDs, the Liver Shepherd shows some aloofness and doesn’t lend itself to indiscriminate friendships.

It’s a loyal companion and very protective of its owner and close family members. 

Liver Shepherds do just as well in working and in sports arenas as they do as companions and family pets.

They are athletic and have an impressive running speed with a top speed of about 30mph (40km/h).

Are There GSD Breeds Similar to Liver German Shepherds?

Liver Shepherds are distinct from most red dog breeds, such as the Australian Kelpie or the American English Coonhound. However, the Liver Shepherd shares very strong similarities with the Isabella German Shepherd

Isabella GSDs have a fawn color and are commonly referred to as dilute livers or double dilutes.

While the Liver Shepherd carries one recessive gene, the Isabella carries two copies of the blue recessive gene in addition to two liver gene copies.

In the Isabella, the liver gene prevents black pigmentation. The blue recessive gene dilutes the remaining brown color, and the result is a light brown coat with a pink, grey, or liver nose. 

In genetic terms, Liver Shepherds share lots of similarities with Blue Colored German Shepherds. Both are rare colors, and both are considered as faults by the AKC.

Both colors are the results of recessive genes. Unlike dominant genes which can be passed on by only one parent, recessive genes have to be present in both parents to be passed on to the puppy.  

Is the Liver German Shepherd a Recognized Breed Standard?

Breed purists believe that German Shepherds should only be bred to standard. Technically, there are only five lines of GSD. These are:

  1. North American and Canadian show line GSD
  2. West German show line GSD
  3. West German working line GSD
  4. East German/DDR working line GSD
  5. Czech working line GSD

When Kennel Clubs classify a type of dog as faulty, it doesn’t mean the dog isn’t a purebred. It simply means the dog doesn’t match show standards.

Coat and color are one of many criteria considered by the AKC. Other considerations include inherited diseases, genetic health, appearance, and agility, among other factors. 

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the ideal GSD should have a double coat of medium length.

The AKC standard favors dogs with strong, rich colors. Pale, washed-out colors such as livers are considered serious faults but not enough to disqualify.

Only white GSDs get disqualified as the pale color may be an indication of genetic weakness. 

There are three main liver color variations in Liver Shepherds. The liver and tan, the liver and white, and the solid liver. The AKC officially recognizes the solid liver and the liver and tan. 

The Federation Cynologique International (FCI) European Breed Standard emphasizes breed history rather than color. So both the AKC and FCI recognize the Liver Shepherd.

Liver German Shepherds as Competition and Working Dogs

As we’ve mentioned, the solid liver can participate in shows. Other liver colors are considered faults.

Aside from competing in shows based on aesthetics, Liver Shepherds are often competed in sports and are used as working dogs, as mentioned above.

Liver Shepherds are adept at many working applications. These include:

  • Search and rescue
  • Law enforcement
  • Military
  • Detection
  • Nose work
  • Tracking
  • Herding
  • Guard work
  • Acting and entertainment
  • Guide dogs
  • Therapy dogs

In sports, the Liver Shepherd can excel at:

  • IGP or Schutzhund/IPO
  • Agility
  • French ring or Mondio ring
  • Disc sports
  • Dock diving
  • Lure coursing
  • Protection sports 
  • Weight pulling
  • Flyball

Pros and Cons of Owning a Liver German Shepherd

Would you like to own a Liver Shepherd? We’ll now go over some of the pros and cons of owning a Liver German Shepherd.

Pros

  • They are athletic and handsome.
  • Unique looks – your dog will be famous in your area! 
  • Highly intelligent and easy to train – they thrive on challenges and physical activities. 
  • Loyal to their owner and close family members. 
  • Imposing looks and acts as an effective deterrent to trespassers. 

Cons

  • Some Kennel clubs will disqualify Liver Shepherds during shows as judges consider Liver Shepherds not up to breed standards. 
  • High energy – will need plenty of exercise and attention or may resort to destructive behaviors. 
  • Need careful socialization, or they may become difficult to train out of negative behaviors. 
  • Potential aggression towards non-family members and other animals. 
  • Year-round shedding.

Where Can I Get a Liver German Shepherd?

Liver German Shepherd pup with ears pointed up

Liver Shepherds are rare. As such, you won’t easily pick one from a shelter. However, it doesn’t hurt to keep checking – you could get lucky. The best option to get a Liver Shepherd is to buy one.

We cannot emphasize this enough; avoid backyard breeders!

There is no way to tell whether these are responsible breeders who look into health issues and genetic deficiencies. Backyard breeders will often not have clear records on ancestry or even know the general profile of that particular line. 

If you want a quality dog, buy from breeders registered by official authorities. Registered breeders take measures to avoid passing on defects from parent to puppy. 

When adopting a Liver Shepherd from a shelter, expect to spend between $50 and $500 to cover adoption fees, neutering, spaying, and vaccinations. 

Related: How Much Does a German Shepherd Puppy Cost?

If you’re buying a liver GSD as a family dog or companion, expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $1,500.

If you’re looking for a show standard pedigree with proven breeding history and working titles, you could pay thousands of dollars.

How Do I Care for a Liver German Shepherd?

Liver Shepherds need physical and mental stimulation. They can easily get bored or anxious when idle or left alone for too long.

If you have to leave them on their own, make sure they are well enclosed as they are great escape artists. They will jump over fences as high as 5ft and can even burrow under the ground up to a few feet! 

To avoid boredom, leave them with toys, especially chewable toys or toys that move around.

Invest in a good slicker brush and de-shedding tool to groom the fur. Brush your Liver Shepherd two to three times each week to avoid fur matting and save you from extra vacuuming. 

Related: Grooming a German Shepherd: All You Need to Know

Liver Shepherds will incur normal ongoing maintenance costs such as dog food, regular vet checkups, applicable registration, and licensing fees.

You may also want to invest in dog accessories such as collars, leashes, feeding and watering bowls, training fees, and dog insurance costs. 

What Does a Liver German Shepherd Eat?

What to feed your Liver Shepherd depends on your dog’s nutritional needs, activity levels, and what’s locally available. Seek professional advice from your vet depending on the age, gender, and activity levels of your individual dog. 

For more generalized advice, an average Liver Shepherd puppy might feed on one or two cups of dog food daily. That is about 3.5 to 7oz (100-200g).

Puppies need to be fed two to four times each day. Some dog food companies have special formulations for GSDs below 15 months of age. At 15 months, switch your dog to adult dog foods. 

If your adult dog weighs above 60lb (27kg), feed them once or twice a day. Depending on appetite, body size, and activity levels, an adult Liver Shepherd will eat three to five cups of dog food daily. 

For the best resource on the internet (we stand by this) about feeding your GSD, be sure to check out our thorough guide:

German Shepherd Feeding Guide: All You Need to Know

Liver Shepherds at various stages of life and with different health requirements may need special diets. For instance, seniors, breastfeeding, and pregnant dogs may require additional nutrients or extra portions. 

Liver Shepherds are big dogs and have higher calcium requirements than smaller dog breeds. You may also add dietary supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM to improve joints. 

We’ve often used Doggie Dailies, as we find that they are nutritionally well-balanced, and because our dogs seem to love the taste. Take a look for yourself.

Liver Shepherds are, incidentally, fond of meat, and appropriately enough – they love liver! Use liver treats, cheeses, and biltong as treats. Take care not to make treats more than 10% of your Liver Shepherd’s total food consumption. 

Adult Liver Shepherds need at least 50oz (1.5l) of clean drinking water per day to maintain good health. More active dogs might need over 90oz (2.5l). Water intake depends on activity levels, age, climate, types of food eaten, and individual dog traits. 

How to Train a Liver German Shepherd

Training is an opportunity to play and bond with your Liver shepherd. It is also an opportunity for the puppy and the owner to learn each other’s traits and become attuned to each other’s needs.

As the owner, be a strong leader and a patient guide. Embrace positive training methods and exercise together regularly. Make every interaction a learning moment and expose your puppy to different stimuli. 

Related: German Shepherd Training Guide: All You Need to Know

GSDs are one of the top three most intelligent dog breeds. The Liver Shepherd takes instructions well and has fairly good memory retention abilities. 

Liver Shepherds often lack the ideal attention span for advanced training when they are under two years old. However, you can start your puppy on basic training at just a few weeks old.

Some basic training you should start as soon as possible includes:

  • Potty training
  • Socialization with humans and other dogs
  • Socialization with other animals
  • Obedience training and simple commands
  • Crate training
  • Leash training

Final Thoughts

Despite being rare, Liver GSD is a naturally occurring color within the GSD gene pool.

Even though some kennel clubs may dismiss livers as faulty, there are no proven health or temperament issues associated with B Locus genes responsible for the coat’s liver color. 

Liver Shepherds can be a pleasure to own. They are intelligent, hard-working, and beautiful to look at.

However, they need considerable time and financial commitment. Since they shed all year round, you have to be handy with your de-shedding combs.

Being high energy dogs, you have to keep them busy with physical activity and mental stimulation.

Hunter Reed

I've owned and trained German Shepherds for over 20 years now. While I've lived in many different places and traveled extensively - the places change, my dogs don't. German Shepherds have been my constant companions. I love every aspect of training them and simply just having them around. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge about German Shepherds with the world, and I encourage all future dog owners to consider one as a companion as well. Read my story here.

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