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Montage showing the coat variation of the dog.

The coat of the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) refers to the hair that covers its body. A dog's coat may be a double coat, made up of a soft undercoat and a tougher topcoat, or a single coat, which lacks an undercoat. Double coats have a top coat, made of stiff hairs to help repel water and shield from dirt, and an undercoat to serve as insulation.[1] The terms fur and hair are often used interchangeably when describing a dog's coat, however in general, a double coat, e.g., like that of the Newfoundland and most mountain dogs, is referred to as a fur coat, while a single coat, like that of the Poodle, is referred to as a hair coat.


Colors, patterns, lengths and texturesEdit

Newfoundland lying next to its combed-out seasonal undercoat.

There are a greater variety of coat colors, patterns, lengths and textures found in the domestic dog than in its wolf relations, as is typical of all domestic animals. In the wild, mutations often put animals at some practical disadvantage decreasing survival or reducing their attractiveness to the opposite sex; whereas domestic animals are protected from harm, and bred from specifically due to practical applications of the mutation for human uses, or to the attraction man has for uniqueness.

During evolution of the dog from their wild wolf ancestors, coat colors in dogs were probably the inadvertent outcome of some other selective process (i.e., selection for tameness), and were not likely initially selected for intentionally by humans.[2] Research has found that tameness brings associated physical changes, including coat colouring and patterning.[3] Diversification of the dog into different types and ultimately separate breeds increased colour variation as factors such as camouflage and visibility aided the dogs’ functionality.

Coat types were selected for, both inadvertently and intentionally, in accordance with factors such as climate, vegetation in the dogs’ working environment, and the need to perform tasks in water.

Domestic dogs often display the remnants of countershading, a common natural camouflage pattern. The basic principle of countershading is when the animal is lit from above, shadows will be cast on the ventral side of the body. These shadows could provide a predator or prey with visual cues relating to the movement of the animal. By being lighter colored on the ventral side of the body, an animal can counteract this, and thereby fool the predator or prey. An alternative explanation is that the dorsal and ventral sides of an animal experience different selection pressures (from the need to blend into different backgrounds when viewed from above and below) resulting in differing coloration.[4]

Modern breeds of dog exhibit a diverse range of coat colorings, patterns, lengths and textures. In recent years, the understanding of the genetic basis for coat coloring and patterning[5] and coat length and texturing[6] has increased significantly. Genes occur in pairs, and for each gene a dog will either be:

  • Homozygous - Inherited the same gene from each parent, and therefore likely to express that trait; or
  • Heterozygous - Inherited a different variant from each parent, and therefore we need to understand the individual gene to know how the dog will look.

Genetic basis of color and patternEdit

Close up of a greyhound's short-haired single coat.
Flakes and greasy coat
Black-coated Chow-Chow whose long hair has faded due to exposure to the elements.
Creamy-white-coated French Bulldog

Coat colour in dogs consists of specific patterns of:

  • Eumelanin — black, chocolate brown, grey or taupe pigment;
  • Phaeomelanin — tan pigment, including all shades from red to gold to cream; and/or
  • No melanin — white, the lack of pigment.

There are currently eight known genes within the canine genome that are associated with coat color. Each of these genes occurs in at least two variants, or alleles, which accounts for the variation in coat color among animals. Each of these genes exists at a fixed location, or locus, of the animal's genome. The loci associated with canine coat color are:

A (agouti) locus

The alleles at the A locus are related to the production of agouti signalling protein (ASIP) and determine whether an animal expresses an agouti appearance, and if so what type, by controlling the distribution of pigment in individual hairs. There are four known alleles that occur at the A locus:

  • Ay = Fawn or sable (tan with black whiskers and varying amounts of black-tipped and/or all-black hairs dispersed throughout) - fawn typically referring to dogs with clearer tan and sable to those with more black shading
  • aw = Wild-type agouti (each hair with 3-6 bands alternating black and tan) - also called wolf sable
  • at = Tan point (black with tan patches on the face and underside) - including saddle tan (tan with a black saddle or blanket) [7][8]
  • a = Recessive black (black, inhibition of phaeomelanin)

Most texts suggest that the dominance hierarchy for the A locus alleles appears to be as follows: Ay > aw > at > a; however, research suggests the existence of pairwise dominance/recessiveness relationships in different families and not the existence of a single hierarchy in one family.[9]

  • Ay is incompletely dominant to at, so that heterozygous individuals have more black sabling, especially as puppies and Ayat can resemble the awaw phenotype. Other genes also affect how much black is in the coat.
  • aw is the only allele present in many nordic spitzes, and is not present in most other breeds.
  • at includes tan point and saddle tan, both of which look tan point at birth. Modifier genes in saddle tan puppies cause a gradual reduction of the black area until the saddle tan pattern is achieved.
  • a is only present in a handful of breeds. Most black dogs are black due to a K locus allele.

B (brown) locus

The alleles at the B locus are related to the production of tyrosinase related protein 1 (TYRP1) and determine the degree to which an animal expresses tyrosinase, an enzyme related to the production of melanin, in its coat and skin (including the nose and paw pads). There are four known alleles that occur at the B locus:

  • B = Black melanin
  • b = Brown melanin - such as chocolate or liver (includes several alleles - bs, bd and bc)

B is dominant to b.

  • An animal that has at least one copy of the B allele will have a black nose, paw pads and eye rims and (usually) dark brown eyes.
  • An animal with any matched or unmatched pair of the b alleles will have brown, rather than black, hair, a liver nose, paw pads and eye rims, and hazel eyes. Phaeomelanin is slightly reduced from redder to oranger tan. Only one of the alleles is present in the English Setter (bs), Doberman Pinscher (bd) and Italian Greyhound (bc), but in most breeds with any brown allele 2 or all 3 are present.[10] It is unknown whether the different brown alleles cause specific shades or hues of brown.

D (dilute) locus

The alleles at the D locus (the melanophilin gene or MLPH) are related to the dilution of eumelanin and phaeomelanin and determine the intensity of pigmentation. There are two known alleles:

  • D = Not diluted (black or brown eumelanin, reddish or orangish tan phaeomelanin)
  • d = Diluted (black diluted to bluish grey ranging from light blue-grey to dark steel, chocolate brown diluted to taupe or "Isabella", yellowish tan phaeomelanin)

D is completely dominant to d.

  • An animal that is homozygous for d will have a diluted coat colour, slight to moderate dilution of the paw pads and eye rims towards bluish grey if B/- or taupe if b/b, and slight to moderate reduction of eye colour from brown towards amber in a B/- animal, or from hazel towards light amber in a b/b animal. Homozygosity of d is sometimes accompanied by hair loss and recurrent skin inflammation, a condition referred to as either color dilution alopecia (CDA) or black hair follicular dysplasia (BHFD) depending upon the breed of dog.[11]

E (extension) locus

The alleles at the E locus (the melanocortin receptor one gene or MC1R) determine whether an animal expresses a melanistic mask, as well as determining whether an animal can produce eumelanin in its coat. There are three known, plus two more theorized, alleles that occur at the E locus:

  • Em = Mask (a eumelanin mask is added to the face)
  • EG = Grizzle (if atat and not KB/-, tan underparts with a dark overlay covering the top and sides of the body, head and tail, and the outside of the limbs) - also called domino
  • E = Normal extension (pattern expressed as per alleles present at A and K loci)
  • eh = Cocker sable (if KB/- and may require atat, tan with a dark overlay covering the top and sides of the body, head and tail, and the outside of the limbs)
  • e = Recessive or clear fawn (tan, inhibition of eumelanin)

The dominance hierarchy for the E locus alleles appears to be as follows: Em > EG > E > eh > e.

  • E allows normal expression of eumelanin and/or phaeomelanin according to the alleles present at the A and K loci.
  • Em allows similar pattern expression to E except any tan (phaeomelanin) areas on the mask area are replaced with eumelanin (black/etc.) The mask can vary from the muzzle, to the face and ears, to a larger area with shading on the front and sides as in the Belgian Tervuren. The mask Em is unaffected by the greying gene G and will remain dark in a G/- animal while the rest of the dog pales, such as in Kerry Blue Terriers. Some puppies are born with a mask which fades away within a few weeks of birth: these puppies do not have the Em allele and their temporary mask is due to sabling.
  • An animal that is homozygous for e will express a red to yellow coat regardless of most alleles at other loci. Eumelanin is inhibited, so there can be no black hairs anywhere, even the whiskers. Pigment on the nose leather can be lost at the middle (Dudley nose). In combination with a/a (phaeomelanin inhibitor), an e/e dog will be white to off-white; in combination with U/U or U/u, an e/e dog will be off-white or cream.[12]
  • The Grizzle allele has been studied only in Salukis and Afghan Hounds, the latter in which it is referred to as "Domino", but also occurs in the Borzoi. Its placement in the dominance hierarchy has not been solidified. Black with fawn-tan points (at/at E/-) is instead dark-sable with extended clear-tan points (at/at EG/-). Brindle affects fawn and sable areas, resulting in black with bridled-tan points (at/at E/- Kbr/-) or brindle with clear-tan points (at/at EG/- Kbr/-). Expression of EG is dependent upon the animal being homozygous for at and not possessing Em or KB.[13] EG is theorized to have no effect on the phenotype of non-at/- nor KB dogs and to be allelic to Em and e.
  • The eh sable extension allele has been studied only in English Cocker Spaniels and produces sable in the presence of dominant black KB and tan point at/at. Its expression is dependent upon the animal not possessing Em nor E nor being homozygous for e. eh is theorized to be on the E locus and to have no effect on ky/ky dogs. All cocker spaniels are homozygous for at, so it is unknown how the gene may function in the presence of other A-series alleles.

H (harlequin) locus

DNA studies have not yet isolated the gene at the H locus, but the traits associated with it have been mapped to chromosome 9.[14] The H locus is a modifier locus (of the M locus) and the alleles at the H locus will determine if an animal expresses a harlequin vs merle pattern. There are two alleles that occur at the H locus:

  • H = Harlequin (if M/-, patches of full colour and white)
  • h = Non-harlequin (if M/-, normal expression of merle)

H/h heterozygotes are harlequin and h/h homozygotes are non-harlequin. Breeding data suggests that homozygous H/H is embryonic lethal and that therefore all harlequins are H/h.[14]

  • The Harlequin allele is specific to Great Danes. Harlequin dogs (H/h M/m) have the same pattern of patches as merle (h/h M/m) dogs, but the patches are white and harlequin affects eumelanin and phaeomelanin equally. H has no effect on non-merle m/m dogs.

K (dominant black) locus

The alleles at the K locus (the β-Defensin 103 gene or DEFB103) determine the coloring pattern of an animal's coat.[15] There are three known alleles that occur at the K locus:

  • KB = Dominant black (black)
  • kbr = Brindle (black stripes added to tan areas)
  • ky = Phaeomelanin permitted (pattern expressed as per alleles present at A and E loci)

The dominance hierarchy for the K locus alleles appears to be as follows: KB > kbr > ky.

  • KB causes a solid eumelanin coat (black, brown, grey or taupe) except when combined with e/e (tan or white), Eh/- (Cocker sable) or Em/- G/- and appropriate coat type (light eumelanin with dark eumelanin mask)
  • kbr causes the addition of eumelanin stripes to all tan areas of a dog except when combined with e/e (no effect) or EG/- atat non-KB/- (eumelanin and sabled areas become striped, tan areas remain tan)
  • ky is wild-type allowing full expression of other genes.

M (merle) locus

The alleles at the M locus (the silver locus protein homolog gene or SILV, aka premelanosome protein gene or PMEL) determine whether an animal expresses a merle pattern to its coat. There are two alleles that occur at the M locus:

  • M = Merle (patches of full colour and reduced colour)
  • m = Non-merle (normal expression)

M and m show a relationship of both co-dominance and no dominance.

  • On heterozygous M/m merles, black is reduced to silver on ~50% of the animal in semi-random patches with rough edges like torn paper. The fraction of the dog covered by merle patches is random such that some animals may be predominantly black and others predominantly silver. The merle gene is “faulty” with many merle animals having one odd patch of a third shade of grey, brown or tan.
  • On homozygous M/M “double merles”, black is replaced with ~25% black, ~50% silver and ~25% white, again with random variation, such that some animals have more black or more white.
  • Eumelanin (black/etc.) is significantly reduced by M/m, but phaeomelanin is barely affected such that there will be little to no evidence of the merle gene on any tan areas or on an e/e dog. However, the white patches caused by M/M affect both pigments equally, such that a fawn double merle would be, on average, ~75% tan and ~25% white.
  • The merle gene also affects the skin, eye colour, eyesight and development of the eye and inner ear. Merle M/m puppies develop their skin pigmentation (nose, paws, belly) with speckled-edged progression, equally evident in e/e merles except when extensive white markings cause pink skin to remain in these areas. Blue and part-blue eyes are common.
  • Both heterozygosity and homozygosity of the merle gene (i.e., M/m and M/M) are linked to a range of auditory and ophthalmologic abnormalities.[16] Most M/m merles have normal-sized eyes and acceptably functional eyesight and hearing; most M/M double merles suffer from microphthalmia and/or partial to complete deafness.[17]

S (spotting) locus

The alleles at the S locus (the microphthalmia-associated transcription factor gene or MITF) determine the degree and distribution of white spotting on an animal's coat.[18] There is disagreement as to the number of alleles that occur at the S locus, with researchers postulating either two[19] or four[20] alleles. The four alleles postulated are:

  • S = Solid color (small areas of white may appear on chest, toes or tail tip)
  • si = Irish-spotting (white on muzzle, forehead, feet, legs, chest, neck and tail)
  • sp = Piebald (varies from coloured with Irish spotting plus at least one white marking on the top or sides of the body or hips, to mostly white which generally retains patches of colour around the eyes, ears and tail base)
  • sw = Extreme piebald spotting (extremely large areas of white, almost completely white)

S is incomplete dominant (towards co-dominant) to sp. DNA studies have not yet confirmed the existence of all four alleles, with some research suggesting the existence of at least two alleles (S and sp)[18] and other research suggesting the possible existence of a third allele (si).[21]

  • S/sp heterozygotes usually have some white at birth on the chest and toes, which may be covered by ticking as the puppy grows. Animals of this genotype also commonly display pseudo-Irish spotting; in fact most Irish-spotted dogs are so due to heterozygosity for solid and piebald.
  • A few breeds (e.g., Boston Terrier) are fixed for Irish spotting and therefore theorized to possess a different allele on the S locus (si) or an allele on a completely separate gene.
  • It has been suggested that what appears to be the result of an sw allele is in fact the result of plus and minus modifiers acting on one of the other alleles.[18] It is thought that the spotting that occurs in Dalmatians is the result of the interaction of three loci (the S locus, the T locus and F locus) giving them a unique spotting pattern not found in any other breed.[22]
  • White spotting also affects skin, causing pink patches.
  • White spotting can cause blue eyes, microphthalmia, blindness and deafness; however, because pigmentation is generally retained around the eye/ear area, this is rare except among sw/sw dogs (or extreme versions of sp/sp if sw does not exist).

In 2014, a study found that a simple repeat polymorphism in the MITF-M Promoter is a key regulator of white spotting and that white color had been selected for by humans.[23][24]

Postulated color and pattern lociEdit

There are at least six additional theoretical loci thought to be associated with coat color in dogs. DNA studies are yet to confirm the existence of these genes or alleles but their existence is theorised based on breeding data:[25]

C (colored) locus

The alleles at the theoretical C locus are thought to determine the degree to which an animal expresses phaeomelanin, a red-brown protein related to the production of melanin, in its coat and skin. Five alleles are theorised to occur at the C locus:

  • C = Full color (animal expresses phaeomelanin)
  • cch = Chinchilla (partial inhibition of phaeomelanin resulting in decreased red pigment)
  • ce = Extreme dilution (inhibition of phaeomelanin resulting in extremely reduced red pigment)
  • cb, cp = Blue-eyed albino/Platinum (almost total inhibition of phaeomelanin resulting in near albino appearance)
  • ca = Albino (complete inhibition of phaeomelanin production, resulting in complete inhibition of melanin production)

The C locus in dogs is not well understood and the theorised alleles are based on those present in other species.[20] True albinism has not been conclusively shown to exist in dogs. It is thought that an animal that is heterozygous for the C allele with any of the c alleles will express a result somewhere between the two alleles.[26]

White in Doberman Pinschers and albino-like animals of Asian/Tibetan companion breeds have a phenotype resembling a C locus dilution, but all tested animals have been C/C. The gene responsible is recessive and not at the C locus.[27]

F (flecking) locus

The alleles at the theoretical F locus are thought to determine whether an animal displays small, isolated regions of white in otherwise pigmented regions (not apparent on white animals). Two alleles are theorised to occur at the F locus:

  • F = Flecked
  • f = Not flecked

It is thought that F is dominant to f.[22]

G (progressive greying) locus

The alleles at the theoretical G locus are thought to determine if progressive greying of the animal's coat will occur. Two alleles are theorised to occur at the G locus:

  • G = Progressive greying (melanin lost from hairs over time)
  • g = No progressive greying

It is thought that G is dominant to g.

  • The greying gene affects both eumelanin, and to a lesser extent phaeomelanin. In the presence of Em/- the eumelanin mask will be unaffected and remain dark. Grey dogs are born fully coloured and develop the greying effect over several months. New hairs are grown fully coloured but their colour fades over time towards white. Greying is most evident in continuous-growing coats (long + wire + curly) as individual hairs remain on the dog long enough for the colour to be lost. In short-haired dogs, hairs are shed out and re-grown before the colour has a chance to change.
  • Premature greying, in which the face/etc. greys at a young age is not caused by G and has not been proven to be genetic.

I (intensity) locus

The alleles at the theoretical I locus are thought to affect phaeomelanin expression. Two alleles are theorised to occur at the I locus:

  • I = Intense red, not diluted
  • i = Not intense red

It is thought that I and i interact with semi-dominance, so that there are three distinct phenotypes. I/i heterozygotes are paler than I/I animals but darker than i/i animals.

  • i results in light-coloured phaeomelanin such as gold, yellow, buff and apricot. This gene is the most common cause of lighter tans, and unlike d/d, it allows the skin and eyes to remain dark.

T (ticking) locus

The alleles at the theoretical T locus are thought to determine whether an animal displays small, isolated regions of pigment in otherwise s-spotted white regions. Two alleles are theorised to occur at the T locus:

  • T = Ticked
  • t = Not ticked

It is thought that T is dominant to t. Ticking may be caused by several genes rather than just one. Patterns of medium-sized individual spots, smaller individual spots, and tiny spots that completely cover all white areas leaving a roan-like or merle-like appearance (reserving the term large spots for the variation exclusive to the Dalmatian) can each occur separately or in any combination.

  • The effect of the ticking gene(s) is to add back little coloured spots to areas made white by piebald spotting (-/s) or the limited white markings of S/S animals. It does not affect white areas that were caused by a/a e/e or M/M or M/m H/h. The colour of the tick marks will be as expected or one shade darker. Tick marks are semi-random, so that they vary from one dog to the next and can overlap, but are generally present on the lower legs and heavily present on the nose.
Shiba Inu displaying urajiro pattern.

U (urajiro) locus The alleles at the theoretical U locus are thought to limit phaeomelanin production on the cheeks and underside.[28] Two alleles are theorised to occur at the U locus:

  • U = Urajiro
  • u = Not urajiro

It is thought that U is dominant to u but incomplete with homozygosity required for complete dilution to off-white and heterozygotes displaying a darker cream. The urajiro pattern is expressed in the tan (phaeomelanin) areas of any dog who is not e/e. In e/e dogs, the urajiro gene causes dilution of the entire dog to off-white or cream.

Interaction of Colour & Pattern Genes

Alleles at the Agouti (A), Extension (E) and Black (K) loci determine colour pattern (eumelanin vs phaeomelanin):

Fawn or Sable
Wolf Sable
, aw/at or aw/a
Tan Point
or at/a
Rec. Black
Dom. Black
(with mask)*
(with mask)*
(with mask)*
(with mask)*
wildtype E
E/E or E/e
black black black black
Cocker Sable
or eh/e
 ?  ? cocker sable  ?
or Kbr/ky
with mask
with mask
black & brindled tan
with mask
(with mask)*
wildtype E
or E/e
brindle brindle black & brindled tan black
or EG/e
 ?  ? brindle & tan  ?
wildtype K
fawn or sable
with mask
wolf sable
with mask
black & tan
with mask
(with mask)*
wildtype E
or E/e
fawn or sable wolf sable black & tan black
or EG/e
 ?  ? grizzle  ?
any K
Clear Fawn
tan tan tan white
* Note that the black mask on a black dog is only phenotypically evident in presence of G/- and an appropriate coat type.

eh and EG are only included in the table where their interactions are known.

Alleles present at the Brown (B) and Dilution (D) loci determine melanin colour:

Not Dilute
or D/d)
or B/b
Black eumelanin
Red* phaeomelanin
Blue-grey eumelanin
Yellow phaeomelanin
Chocolate-brown eumelanin
Orange* phaeomelanin
Taupe or "Isabella" eumelanin
Yellow phaeomelanin
* Note that phaeomelanin is frequently diluted by intensity factor of theoretical I locus.

Alleles present at the Intensity (I), Urajiro (U), Greying (G) and Albino (C-like) loci determine melanin shade.

Alleles present at the Merle (M) and Harlequin (H) loci cause patchy reduction of melanin to half (merle), zero (harlequin) or both (double merle).

Alleles present at the Spotting (S), Ticking (T) and Flecking (F) loci determine white markings.

Genetic basis of length and textureEdit

Every hair in the dog coat grows from a hair follicle, which has a three phase cycle, as in most other mammals. These phases are:

  • anagen, growth of normal hair;
  • catagen, growth slows, and hair shaft thins; and
  • telogen, hair growth stops, the follicle rests, and the old hair falls off—is shed. At the end of the telogen phase, the follicle begins the cycle again.[31]

Most dogs have a double coat, each hair follicle containing 1-2 primary hairs and several secondary hairs. The primary hairs are longer, thicker and stiffer, and called guard hairs or outer coat. Each follicle also holds a variety of silky- to wiry-textured secondary hairs (undercoat) all of which are wavy, and smaller and softer than the primary hair. The ratio of primary to secondary hairs varies at least six-fold, and varies between dogs according to coat type, and on the same dog in accordance with seasonal and other hormonal influences.[32] Puppies are born with a single coat, with more hair follicles per unit area, but each hair follicle contains only a single hair of fine, silky texture. Development of the adult coat begins around 3 months of age, and is completed around 12 months.

Research indicates that the majority of variation in coat growth pattern, length and curl can be attributed to mutations in four genes, the R-spondin-2 gene or RSPO2, the fibroblast growth factor-5 gene or FGF5, the keratin-71 gene or KRT71[6] and the melanocortin 5 receptor gene (MC5R). The wild-type coat in dogs is short, double and straight.

The L (length) locus

The alleles at the L locus (the fibroblast growth factor-5 gene or FGF5) determine the length of the animal's coat.[33] There are two known alleles that occur at the L locus:

  • L = Short coat
  • l = Long coat

L is dominant to l. A long coat is demonstrated when a dog has pair of recessive l alleles at this locus. The dominance of L > l is incomplete, and L/l dogs have a small but noticeable increase in length and finer texture than closely related L/L individuals. However, between breeds there is significant overlap between the shortest L/L and the longest L/l phenotypes. In certain breeds (German Shepherd, Alaskan Malamute, Cardigan Welsh Corgi), the coat is often of medium length and many dogs of these breeds are also heterozygous at the L locus (L/l).

The W (wired) locus

Wire hair.

The alleles at the W locus (the R-spondin-2 gene or RSPO2) determine the coarseness and the presence of "facial furnishings" (e.g. beard, moustache, eyebrows).[6] There are two known alleles that occur at the W locus:

  • W = Wire (hair is coarse and facial furnishings present)
  • w = Non-wire (hair is not coarse and facial furnishings are not present)
Curly hair.

W is dominant to w, but the dominance of W > w is incomplete. W/W dogs have coarse hair, prominent furnishings and greatly-reduced shedding. W/w dogs have the harsh wire texture, but decreased furnishings, and overall coat length and shedding similar to non-wire animals.[34]

Animals that are homozygous for long coat (i.e., l/l) and possess at least one copy of W will have long, soft coats with furnishings, rather than wirey coats.[6]

The Puli's coat forms cords as it grows.

The R (curl) Locus[note 1] The alleles at the R locus (the keratin-71 gene or KRT71) determine whether an animal's coat is straight or curly.[6] There are two known alleles that occur at the R locus:

  • R = Straight
  • r = Curly

The relationship of R to r is one of no dominance. Heterozygotes (R/r) have wavy hair that is easily distinguishable from either homozygote. Wavy hair is considered desirable in several breeds, but because it is heterozygous, these breeds do not breed true for coat type.

Corded coats, like those of the Puli and Komondor are thought to be the result of continuously growing curly coats (long + wire + curly) with double coats, though the genetic code of corded dogs has not yet been studied. Corded coats will form naturally, but can be messy and uneven if not "groomed to cord" while the puppy's coat is lengthening.

Interaction of Length & Texture Genes

These three genes responsible for the length and texture of an animal's coat interact to produce eight different (homozygous) phenotypes:[6]

or L/l
(e.g., Akita, Greyhound)
Short wavy
(e.g., Chesapeake Bay Retriever)
Short curly
(Curly Coated Retriever? (unproven))
(e.g., Pomeranian, Cocker Spaniel)
Long wavy
(e.g., Boykin Spaniel)
Long curly
(e.g., Irish Water Spaniel)
or W/w
(e.g., Shih Tzu, Bearded Collie)
(e.g., Bichon Frise, Portuguese Water Dog, SCWT)
Long curly with furnishings or
Corded (e.g., Poodle, Puli, Komondor)
or L/l
(e.g., Border Terrier, Scottish Terrier)
Wavy wire
(e.g., Wire Fox Terrier)
(e.g., Wirehaired Pointing Griffon)

Breeds in which coat type Is not explained by FgF5, RSPO2 and KRT71 genes:[36]

Genotypes of dogs of these 3 breeds are usually L/L or L/l, which does not match with their long-haired phenotype. The Yorkshire and Silky Terriers share common ancestry and likely share an unidentified gene responsible for their long hair. The Afghan Hound has a unique patterned coat that is long with short patches on the chest, face, back and tail. The Irish Water Spaniel may share the same pattern gene, although unlike the Afghan Hound, the IWS is otherwise genetically a long-haired (fixed for l/l) breed.

Single, smooth & minimally-shedding coats

The alleles on the melanocortin 5 receptor gene (MC5R)[37] determine whether an animal will have neotenous retention of a puppy-like coat type. The locus has not been assigned a common name or letter, but has been called the shedding gene or single coat gene. There are two known alleles that occur at this locus:

  • The mutant allele (reduced shedding, single coat or minimal undercoat, reduced length)
  • The wildtype allele (normal shedding, double coat, normal length)

The mutant allele is incomplete dominant. With respect to coat texture, shedding, follicle density and number of secondary hairs per follicle, heterozygotes closely resemble animals homozygous for the mutant allele, with minor differences. With respect to coat length and the prominence of fringing and furnishings, the relationship between the two alleles is more complex and dependent on the alleles present at the L and W loci:

  • In short-haired dogs (L/- w/w), this gene causes the smooth coat type that is common in hounds and pointers. Coat length is significantly reduced in animals homozygous for the smooth-coat allele, and of intermediate length in heterozygotes. Heterozygosity for long coat (L/l) dulls the effect on coat length. Typically, the undercoat is completely absent. Very few breeds (e.g., Chihuahua) have both smooth and non-smooth coat types.
  • In long-haired dogs (l/l w/w), this gene causes fringed coats (e.g., Saluki, long-haired pointers). Coat length is reduced on the body, but lengthened on the feathering. Fringed coats may have an unbristled undercoat. An overall long single coat (e.g., Papillon, Japanese Chin) requires additional lengthening modifier genes.
  • In wire-haired dogs (L/- W/-), this gene causes short-wire coats (e.g., Border Terrier, Wire-haired Dachshund, German Wirehaired Pointer) only when homozygous, and has no effect on length when heterozygous. Short-wire coats may have a bristled undercoat.
  • In shaggy-haired dogs (l/l W/-), this gene causes a soft single coat (e.g., Coton de Tulear, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Dachshunds of mixed longhair/wirehair parentage) which varies by breed from cottony to silky. The minimal undercoat of fringed and short-wire coats originates from a different subset of secondary hairs, and is lost when a dog has the alleles for both long and wire hair.
  • In dogs with long curly coats with furnishings (l/l W/- R/R), this gene causes a single long curly coat with furnishings that will not cord (e.g., most Poodles), as proper formation of cords requires a double coat.

Remaining influences of length (e.g., setter vs Cocker Spaniel), texture (e.g., setter vs mountain dog vs spitz or Bearded Collie vs Old English Sheepdog) and abundance of undercoat (e.g., Labrador Retriever vs Keeshond) are likely polygenic.


Some breeds of dog do not grow hair on parts of their bodies and may be referred to as "hairless". Examples of "hairless" dogs are the Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican Hairless Dog), the Peruvian Inca Orchid (Peruvian Hairless Dog) and the Chinese Crested. Research suggests that hairlessness is caused by a dominant allele of the forkhead box transcription factor (FOXI3) gene, which is homozygous lethal.[38] There are coated heterozygous dogs in all hairless breeds, because this type of inheritance prevents the coat type from breeding true. The hairlessness gene permits hair growth on the head, legs and tail. Hair is sparse on the body, but present and typically enhanced by shaving, at least in the Chinese Crested, whose coat type is shaggy (long + wire). Teeth are affected as well, and hairless dogs have incomplete dentition.

Hairless and Coated Xoloitzcuintli.

The American Hairless Terrier is unrelated to the other hairless breeds and displays a different hairlessness gene. Unlike the other hairless breeds, the AHT is born fully coated, and loses its hair within a few months. The AHT gene, serum/glucocorticoid regulated kinase family member 3 gene (SGK3), is recessive and does not result in missing teeth. Because the breed is new and rare, outcrossing to the parent breed (the Rat Terrier) is permitted to increase genetic diversity. These crosses are fully coated and heterozygous for AHT-hairlessness.


Some breeds (e.g., Rhodesian Ridgeback, Thai Ridgeback) have an area of hair along the spine between the withers and hips that leans in the opposite direction (cranially) to the surrounding coat. The ridge is caused by a duplication of several genes (FGF3, FGF4, FGF 19, ORAOV1 and sometimes SNP), and ridge is dominant to non-ridged.[39]

Genetic testing and phenotype predictionEdit

In recent years genetic testing for the alleles of some genes has become available.[40] Software is also available to assist breeders in determining the likely outcome of matings.[41]

Characteristics linked to coat colourEdit

The genes responsible for the determination of coat colour also affect other melanin-dependent development, including skin colour, eye colour, eyesight, eye formation and hearing. In most cases, eye colour is directly related to coat colour, but blue eyes in the Siberian Husky and related breeds, and copper eyes in some herding dogs are not known to be related to coat colour.

The development of coat colour, skin colour, iris colour, pigmentation in back of eye and melanin-containing cellular elements of the auditory system occur independently, as does development of each element on the left vs right side of the animal. This means that in semi-random genes (M merle, s spotting and T ticking), the expression of each element is independent. For example, skin spots on a piebald-spotted dog will not match up with the spots in the dog's coat; and a merle dog with one blue eye can just as likely have better eyesight in its blue eye than in its brown eye.

Loci for coat colour, type and lengthEdit

All known genes are on separate chromosomes, and therefore no gene linkage has yet been described among coat genes. However, they do share chromosomes with other major conformational genes, and in at least one case, breeding records have shown an indication of genes passed on together.

Gene Chromosome
(in Dogs)

Symbol Locus
Description Share
ASIP 24 Ay, aw, at, a Agouti Sable, wolf-sable, tan point, recessive black; as disproven
TYRP1 11 B, bs, bd, bc Brown Black, 3 x chocolate / liver
SLC45A2 4 C Colour No alleles known; possible tyrosinase gene[46] STC2, GHR(1)
& GHR(2) size
MLPH 25 D, d Dilution Black/chocolate, blue/isabella
MC1R 5 Em, Eg, E, eh, e Extension Black mask, grizzle, normal extension, cocker-sable, recessive fawn
PSMB7 9 H, h Harlequin Harlequin, non-harlequin
DEFB103 16 KB, Kbr, ky blacK Dominant black, brindle, agouti-enabler
FgF5 32 L, l Longcoat Short coat, long coat
PMEL 10 M, m Merle Double merle, merle, non-merle HMGA2 size
KRT71 27 R, r cuRlycoat Straight coat, curly coat
MITF 20 S, si, sp Spotting Solid, Irish spotting, piebald spotting; sw not proven to exist
RSPO2 13 W, w Wirecoat Wire coat, non-wire coat
MC5R 1 n/a Shedding Single coat/minimal shedding, double coat/regular shedding C189G bobtail
FOXI3 17 n/a Hairless Hairless, coated
SGK3 29 n/a AHT Coated, AHT-hairless
n/a 18 n/a Ridgeback Ridgeback, non-ridgeback
-- 3 - - No coat genes yet identified here. IGF1R size
-- 7 - - No coat genes yet identified here. SMAD2 size
-- 15 - - No coat genes yet identified here. IGF1 size

There are size genes on all 39 chromosomes, 17 classified as "major" genes.[47] 7 of those are identified as being of key importance and each results in ~2x difference in body weight.[48] IGF1 (Insulin-like growth factor 1), SMAD2 (Mothers against decapentaplegic homolog 2), STC2 (Stanniocalcin-2) and GHR(1) (Growth hormone receptor one) are dose-dependent with compact dwarfs vs leaner large dogs and heterozygotes of intermediate size and shape. IGF1R (Insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor) and HMGA2 (High-mobility group AT-hook 2) are incomplete dominant with delicate dwarfs vs compact large dogs and heterozygotes closer to the homozygous dwarfed phenotypes. GHR(2) (Growth hormone receptor two) is completely dominant, homozygous and heterozygous dwarfs equally small, larger dogs with a broader flatter skull and larger muzzle.[49] It is believed that the PMEL/SILV merle gene is linked to the HMGA2 size gene, meaning that alleles are most often inherited together, accounting for size differences in merle vs non-merle litter mates, such as in the Chihuahua (merles usually larger) and Shetland Sheepdog (merles frequently smaller).

Nomenclature of colors and patternsEdit


The same color may be referred to differently in different breeds. Likewise, a same term may mean different colourations in different breeds.

Brown, chocolate, liver

Brown, chocolate and liver are the most common terms used to refer to the bb-dilution of black pigment to a dark brown. Depending on breed and exact shade, terms such as mahogany, midtone brown, grey-brown, blackish brown are used. Sedge and deadgrass are used to describe the desired Chesapeake Bay Retriever color that resembles "that of its working surroundings" as closely as possible.


Red refers to reddish shades of orange, brown, and tan. Terms used include orange, red-gold, cinnamon, tan, and ruby. Genetically a dog called red is usually a clear sable (with little to no eumelanin tipping on hairs) or a ruddy recessive yellow.

In some breeds, "red" refers to what would usually be called brown, chocolate, or liver. A "red merle" is always a liver-based merle. In Australian Cattle Dogs, blue stands for a densely ticked liver-based colouration with an overall red-grey appearance.

Gold and yellow

Gold refers specifically to a rich reddish-yellow and its variants, whereas yellow can refer to any shade of yellow and tan. Terms used include yellow-gold, lion-colored, fawn, apricot, wheaten, tawny, straw, yellow-red, mustard, sandy, honey, apricot, blond, lemon. Dogs called golden or yellow tend to be recessive yellow, but can also be sable.


Cream refers to a pale yellowish or tannish colour which can be almost white.


Fawn typically refers to a yellow, tan, light brown, or cream dog that has a dark melanistic mask.

With Weimaraners, fawn refers to their typical brownish grey colouration that with other breeds is usually called lilac.


Black is a pure black that can get grizzled as the dog ages, or have a tendency to gain a brownish cast when exposed to the elements.


Blue is a cool-toned, metallic grey. It typically means a d/d dilution of black pigment, a grey colouration that is grey from birth, but has a wide range of breed-specific meanings.

In Kerry Blue Terriers, Poodles, and Bearded Collies, "blue" refers to colouration that is black at birth and progressively greys out as the dog matures. In Australian Shepherds, Rough Collies, and Shetland Sheepdogs, blue means a blue (black-based) merle. In Australian Silky Terriers, blue means a saddle-type black and tan pattern, where the black parts of the coat progressively fade to a steel grey as the dog matures, and in Australian Cattle Dogs, blue stands for a densely ticked black-based colouration with an overall blue-grey appearance.


Grey simply means a grey colouration of any shade. It can be used as an alternative synonym of blue, but tends to mean some other type of grey than the d/d dilution of black. Synonyms include silver, pepper, grizzle, slate, blue-black grey, black and silver, steel. Greys of a dusty or brownish cast are often lilac, a d/d dilution of liver, and this colouration does not have much of a commonly recognised name. Across various breeds, it is called lavender, silver-fawn, isabella, fawn, café au lait or silver beige.

In Poodles, a blue is a very slowly fading, very dark steel grey, whereas a silver is a quicker to clear, much lighter grey that can range from a pale platinum to a steel grey. Both are black at birth with minimal markings to indicate future change. Similarly, café au lait is a slower and darker and silver beige a quicker and lighter progressively greying brown, i.e. liver.


White: Such a light cream that it is seen and described as pure white, making them distinct from albino dogs. A white dog, as opposed to an albino one, has dark pigment around the eye rims and nose, often coupled with dark-colored eyes. There is often some coat identifiable as cream between the dog's shoulder blades.


The same pattern may be referred to differently in different breeds.

Liver and tan Australian Kelpie
Black and tan Rottweiler
Black and tan, liver and tan, blue and tan: Coat has both colors but in clearly defined and separated areas, usually with the darker color on most of the body and tan (reddish variants) underneath and in highlights such as the eyebrows. Black and brindle and liver and brindle, in which the same pattern is evident with brindling in place of tan, are also possible, but less common.
Black and white Border Collie
Blenheim (Red-brown and white) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Bicolor (also called Two-color, Irish spotted, Flashy, Patched, Tuxedo) Any color or pattern coupled with white spotting. This can range anywhere from white toes and tail tip to a mostly white dog with color around the base of the ears and tail. Some breeds have special names for the color combinations; for example, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel uses Blenheim for reddish brown (chestnut) and white. Irish Spotted or flashy pattern is symmetrical and includes a white chest, white band around the neck, white belly, and white feet or "boots." This pattern is commonly seen in herding dogs, and Boxers, among others. The piebald gene is responsible for this pattern.
Black tricolor Entlebucher Mountain Dog
Tricolor Beagle
Tricolor: Three clearly defined colors, usually either black, liver, or blue on the dog's upper parts, white underneath, with a tan border between and tan highlights; for example, the Smooth Collie, the Rough Collie, the Papillon,or the Sheltie. Tricolor can also refer to a dog whose coat is patched, usually two colors (such as black and tan) on a white background.
Blue merle tricolor Shetland Sheepdog
Red merle Catahoula Leopard Dogs
Merle: Marbled coat with darker patches and spots of the specified color. Merle is referred to as "Dapple" in Dachshunds.
Tuxedo Lab mix.
Tuxedo Collie mix
Tuxedo: Solid (often black) with a white patch (shirt front) on the chest and chin, and white on some or all of the feet (spats.) The tuxedo pattern is common in dogs that carry only one piebald gene (a heterozygous carrier).
Harlequin Great Dane
Harlequin Great Dane
Harlequin: "ripped" splotches of black on white. The Great Dane is the only breed with this pattern. The term harlequin is also sometimes used to describe a piebald spotting pattern, such as parti-colored poodles.
Spotted Dalmatian
Spotted mutt in Sinamaica, Venezuela
Spotted Coin-sized pigmented spots on a white background. The spotting on Dalmatians is unique as it involves mutations in at least three different spotting genes.[22]
Red-speckled Australian Cattle Dog
Liver-ticked German Shorthaired Pointer
Flecked, ticked, speckled: also called belton in English Setters
Orange belton (orange and white speckled) English Setter
Blue speckled Australian Cattle Dog
Densely brindled liver and white Boston Terrier
Very sparsely brindled Great Dane
Brindle: A mixture of black/liver/blue/lilac and red/yellow/cream arranged in a vertical "tiger stripe" pattern.
Airedale Terrier with large black saddle
Norwegian Dunker with merle-affected black saddle
Saddle or blanket: A different color, usually darker, over the centre of the back.
Dark orange sable Pomeranian
Clear sable Australian Terrier
Sable: Black-tipped hairs; the rest of the hair can be gold to yellow, silver, grey, or tan. The darkness of the coat depends on how much of each hair is black versus the lighter color. Totally clear sables might only have black in their whiskers.

Show coatsEdit

The nature and quality of a purebred dog's coat is important to the dog fancy in the judging of the dog at conformation shows. The exact requirements are detailed in each breed's breed standard and do not generalise in any way, and the terminology may be very different even when referring to similar features. See individual breed articles for specific information.

Non-shedding and hypoallergenic coatsEdit

The Portuguese Water Dog is an example of a breed with single, low-shedding coat.

"Non-shedding" dogs have greatly-reduced shedding due to alterations to the hair follicle growth cycle:

  • homozygosity for the furnishings (wire) allele - Most breeds with facial furnishings (including ones whose faces are usually shaved removing the furnishings!) are low-shedding, but they must be homozygous, so dogs of mixed wire/non-wire parentage (e.g., terrier crosses or breeds with wire and non-wire varieties) can be heavy shedders. There are a few furnished breeds that shed more (e.g., Old English Sheepdog, Bearded Collie, Briard, Otterhound);
  • at least one copy of the single-coat (non-shedding) allele - Most dogs with a smooth coat are low shedding, as well as the fringed or flat coat. There are breeds with a very short coat that shed more (e.g., Basset Hound, English Bulldog, Pug, Toy Fox Terrier, Dalmatian, Vizsla, German Shorthaired Pointer);
  • single coat (no undercoat) plus furnishings (homozygous) - These breeds shed the least (e.g., Poodle, Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier). No exceptions.

Among the other coat types, dogs with fine silky coats (e.g., spaniels) are generally moderate shedders, those with an intermediate coat texture (e.g., mountain dogs) are generally heavy shedders, and those with thick stand-offish coats (e.g., spitzes) are generally very heavy shedders.

A slicker brush with wire bristles, used for removing loose hair from the coat.

Shedding can occur continuously, but in many breeds is strongly influenced by hormones. Seasonal shedders shed most in spring and fall, following an increase or decrease in day length, and least in summer and winter, in response to constant day length. Cold temperatures stimulate hair growth, so that the heaviest shedding is in spring on dogs living in cold climates. Artificial lighting can alter the seasonal shedding pattern of dogs who live indoors. Other hormonal influences include dietary factors, reproductive hormones in intact dogs, and various medical conditions and disorders.

Some dog breeds have been promoted as hypoallergenic (which means less allergic, not free of allergens) because they shed very little. However, no canine is known to be completely nonallergenic. Often the problem is with the dog's saliva or dander, not the fur.[50] Although breeds such as poodles, bichons, yorkies, and wire-haired terriers are commonly represented as being hypoallergenic due to reduced shedding, the reaction that an individual person has to an individual dog may vary greatly. In management of dog-related allergies, it has been found that "Factors related to individual dogs seem to influence the allergenicity more than breed..."[51]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Researchers have not yet assigned a letter to this locus and "R" has been selected based on the use of the term "Rex" for curled hair in domestic cats.


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Additional readingEdit

  • Cunliffe, Juliette (2004). "Coat Types, Colors and Markings". The Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. Paragon Publishing. pp. 20–23 and various. ISBN 0-7525-8276-3. 
  • Fogle, Bruce (2000). "The Breed Section Explained". The New Encyclopedia of the Dog. Dorling Kindersley. p. 83 and various. ISBN 0-7513-0471-9. 

External linksEdit