Color Genetics of Dog Coats

Dogs come in all kinds of colors. Some have solid coats, some have coats with spots, and some have coats with stripes. Some coats are even made up of more than one color. What color coat a dog ends up with all depends on genetics and genetics in dogs is every bit as complicated as it is in humans.

Causes of Coat Color

The great diversity in dog coat colors is almost entirely human-influenced. The ancestors of dogs and wolves, are almost all the same colors. Yet, dog coat colors vary greatly. There are dogs with brown coats, which is the most common color. Some dogs have red coats and that color actually derives from the gene that causes dogs to have black coats. Some have yellow and gold coats. Some even have blue coats, often a result of metallic gray or speckled black coloring in the genes. There are gray coat variants as well that are connected to blue coats. Cream coats can be mistaken for yellow coats because blond cream is a color which is very close to yellow. Then there are the white and albino coats. Albino coats are tied to albino dogs with pink skin and blue eyes. It’s all in the genes.

Causes of Coat Patterns and Markings

Dog coats have different patterns and markings because of genetics. Genes not only determine a dog’s “base coat” color but also the markings and patterns. There are many different types of patterns and markings. Brindle dogs have coats that are usually black and brown, then striped with the other colors. For instance, black striped with brown, brown striped with black, and so on. In a tan and black dog with a brindle gene, only the tan markings actually show. Merle coats are coats that have one base color with parts that are diluted with random patches of colors. The German Shepherd is a good example.

Color Breeding

Dogs have been bred specifically with certain traits in mind. Some are bred to be strong enough to pull sleds and some are bred to be small enough to be carried in a purse. Many breeders also choose to breed dogs to get a specific color. Dogs that possess a certain color are bred with a dog that has a desired colored coat as well and then their puppies usually end up being born with those colors. This can be bad for dogs because after a while, the breeds start to suffer from health issues, especially if they are not bred carefully.

Breed Specific Dog Color Information

When it comes to specific dog colors, the dogs that immediately come to mind are breeds like the Dalmatian, whose spotted coat is extremely distinctive and not present most other breeds. Shetland Sheepdogs have a very specific coat pattern, where they have large areas of white on their chest, shoulders, and feet, and are either black or brown all over the rest of their bodies.

Additional Facts and Resources

Here are links to pages with more information about dogs and genetics.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Emily Marks April 14, 2011 at 6:12 am

I was wondering what the genetic variation that caused the black and tan markings that apear on blood hounds, dobermans, and sometimes weimaraners (the lighter coloring of the eyebrows, inside of legs, stomach, etc).

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