Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann, a German tax collector who lived in the late 1800s, dreamed of creating the perfect guard dog. Dobermann, who also owned a dog pound, selected breeds with short tails that wouldn’t be a liability in fights, and pointy ears – which he believed were especially intimidating. The result was the Doberman Pinscher.
Karl couldn’t have known that decades later, the breed he created would be the second-most misunderstood dog in the world (only Pit Bulls get a worse rap). Dobermans are far too often forced into the role of living security cameras, when they want to run, play, and cuddle just as much as any other dog.
If you’ve decided to adopt a Doberman for yourself, this article will tell you everything you need to know about the coats and colors of these brave, loyal German guardians.
How Doberman Colors Work
Doberman Pinschers get their base coat colors from two genes: one that produces black pigment, and one that dilutes any pigment. In a classic Punnett square, these genes can combine in four different ways, which creates the four colors of Doberman officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
B (black dominant)
b (black recessive)
D (dilute dominant)
Blue and rust
Fawn and rust
d (dilute recessive)
Black and rust
Red and rust
All Dobermans carry the gene for rust-colored markings. According to both American and European standards, the rust marks should have clear outlines, and should appear on all four paws, on the muzzle, on the chest in two clear spots (one above each leg), at the base of the tail, on the throat, and above each eye.
The American and European guidelines mostly agree, except that European dog clubs don’t consider blue or fawn to be breed-standard colors. The Americans also allow for a small white patch on the chest, as long as its area is smaller than half an inch.
Some breeding pairs produce puppies whose coat colors override the rust markings, either by drowning them in black or diluting them to near-white. However, neither of these are considered part of the breed standard, for reasons we’ll go into (see the “Non-Standard Colors” section below).
1. Black & Rust
Black and rust Dobermans might also be called “black and tan,” a standard designation for lots of other bicolor dogs. This coat color occurs when a Doberman expresses the black gene without the dilute gene.
This is the most popular coat color for a Doberman, and the most recognizable to people who know little else about the breed – black and rust Dobermans frequently show up as the bad guys in movies like Raising Arizona, True Lies, and the entire Doberman Gang Trilogy.
2. Blue & Rust
The black gene plus the dilute gene in a Doberman result in a vivid gray color that almost appears blue, granting these pups the “blue and rust” coat designation. Although the blue-gray coat varies in saturation from silvery to charcoal, any Doberman that isn’t pure black will be considered blue.
Since European kennel clubs don’t include blue in the Doberman breeding standard, this color remains relatively rare. That said, there’s no indication that blue and rust Dobermans are more unhealthy, outside some minor skin infections. So if you don’t care about entering dog shows, go for it!
3. Red & Rust
Also called brown or chocolate, red and rust Dobermans are born when neither the black nor the dilute gene is dominant. The rust markings are harder to see on this coat color, though they still have defined boundaries.
After black and rust, red and rust is the second most common Doberman coat. A common rumor suggests that red Dobermans are more relaxed and less suspicious of strangers, but there’s no hard evidence for this – or for any other correlation between coat color and personality.
4. Fawn & Rust
The final American breed standard color, these Dobermans combine a dominant dilute gene with a recessive black gene. This produces the lightest accepted coat, called a “fawn” or “isabella” color.
Fawn and rust Dobermans still have rust markings. However, the fawn coat is so light that the marking are darker than the surrounding fur, creating a strikingly ethereal effect. Like the other dilute color, blue and rust, fawn and rust Dobermans are barred from European dog shows and might be slightly more vulnerable to skin rashes.
(A fun fact we can’t keep to ourselves: According to one legend, the color “isabella” got its name from Princess Isabella of Spain. Isabella vowed not to change her underwear until her father, King Phillip II, won an important battle. The battle turned into a three-year siege, during which Isabella’s formerly white underwear turned a color all its own).
These colors might appear on some Dobermans, but for various reasons, they are not considered “standard” by either American or European kennel clubs.
White Dobermans are almost completely white and might lack the usual rust markings entirely. If they do have markings, they’ll be the whitest patches, while the rest of their body will be a just-noticeable cream or ivory.
White is a controversial coat color for Dobermans, along with many other breeds. Dogs that only produce a small amount of pigment are prone to a raft of health issues, including cracked skin, skin cancer, and photosensitivity leading to poor eyesight.
We recommend taking the AKC’s advice here, by not trusting any breeder who continues to mate using white Dobermans.
Some Dobermans produce so much black pigment that the rust markings are drowned out, creating an entirely black dog. This is extremely rare but is confirmed to be possible, as several all-black Dobermans are born every year.
Unlike all-white Dobermans, the all-black variety is not documented to suffer skin issues at a higher rate than the average. However, some people argue that health concerns persist, especially those related to inbreeding. There’s no exact science yet, so you’ll have to make your own judgment here.
Unlike black or white Dobermans, which are documented but uncommon, an albino Doberman is purely theoretical at this point. White Dobermans still produce a small amount of pigment, as evidenced by their blue eyes; an albino would have red eyes and no pigmentation whatsoever.
If you ever see a breeder advertising albino Dobermans, run the other way. They’re trying to polish up a white Doberman puppy to sell it for more money.
Dobermans are the whole package. They’ve got a unique look, fierce loyalty, a love of hard work, and the capacity for boundless affection. If you loved any of the colors on this list, start working on bringing a Doberman into your home today. They’ll definitely take some work, but your invested time and energy will be handsomely rewarded.
Featured Image Credit: pato garza, Wikimedia Commons