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FAQ : Colors of Dogs

QUESTION: What are the different colors of mixed breed dogs?

ANSWER: Genetically, the different colors of the different purebreds work together to produce some pretty interesting and somewhat predictable color variations. But, sometimes it's not so predictable.

Here are the different colors and patterns of mixed breed dogs:

Parti colors

"Parti colors" are easiest described as patterned like a holstein cow. Black and white is quite common. The base color of a parti is always white, and the darker color can range from a small area to larger areas. And, the darker color can vary - black, chocolate, brindle (described below), gold, and silver are all colors that can occur in a parti colored dog. The pup pictured to the left is an example of a chocolate parti colored puppy.


There is also a gene responsible for Ticking on Parti colored dogs. Ticking is not evident on the pups when they are born. The ticking develops starting at about 6 weeks of age. Ticking is small spots of color in a white background (like a dalmation.)

To the right is a ticked black and white Shih Poo. At 5 weeks of age, his white areas were clean white. Ticking can be very pretty!


Brindle is a mixture of colors, in a striped or swirled pattern. You can have a solid colored brindle, where the brindle coloring is covering the whole dog. Or, you can have a brindle parti, where white is the base color, and the brindle coloring is in patches.

Brindles have a light base color, like gold or silver, and the striping is generally either black or chocolate. The pattern is most visible when the pup is born, or when the dog is clippered short. When the coat is grown out, you really don't see the pattern, but the brindles do have more depth of color than the lighter solid colors (like gold).


Sable is a term we often use with schnoodles, yorkie poos, yorkie maltese, and cockapoos. Sable is a pattern, rather than a color. The pattern is somewhat like the pattern of a doberman pinscher, yorkie, or german shepherd.

Usually, the legs tummy, chest, beard, and eyebrows are red, apricot, cream or white. The other areas are darker in color, usually grey, or brown.

As the puppy matures, the lighter areas AND the darker areas continue to lighten.


Phantom is a term we often use with schnoodles, pekepoos, yorkie poos, and cockapoos. The pattern is like the sable pattern, but the dark color does not fade.

The distinction between the light areas and the dark areas are very clear and clean, patterned just like a doberman pinscher.

QUESTION: Puppies into Adult Dogs How colors can dilute

ANSWER: The mature color of a puppy can differ very much from the newborn color. We can generally give you a pretty good idea of mature color when the pup is about 6-7 weeks of age. Schnoodles and Yorkie poos are sometimes born with rather faint phantom markings. The hair is often so short on the face and legs of a newborn puppy to really show off the markings. As the pup matures, these areas intensify.

There's a gene responsible for diluting mature color. Dogs with this gene begin to lighten, generally at about 6 weeks of age. This gene is responsible for the colors of blue, silver, silver beige, and cafe-au-lait. Pups with this gene are born dark. Silvers and blues are born black. Silver beiges and cafe-au-laits are born chocolate. Whether the pup gets one dose of the dilution gene (from one parent) or two doses (from both parents) is the deciding factor of how much the pup will lighten. Silvers receive two doses and blues receive one dose, along with the black gene. Cafe-au-laits (literally, coffee with milk) receive one dose, and silver beiges receive two doses. We can sometimes tell if a pup is going to lighten, right from birth. These pups have lots of white hair on the bottom of their feet, rather than their natural color.

Dog’s Gum Color and problems

Look at your dog’s gums while she is at rest. Lift your dog’s upper lip and look at the color of the gums above an upper canine tooth — the gums should be pink.

Do a capillary refill test by pressing on the gums with your finger. When you remove your finger, the gums should briefly be white but should return to their pink color within two seconds.

The appearance of the gums is very informative. If the gums are blue, the dog lacks oxygen. If they are white, the dog has lost blood, either internally or externally. If the gums are purple or gray and there is a slow capillary refill, the dog is probably in shock. If they are bright red, she may be fighting a systemic infection or may have been exposed to a toxin.

Some dogs have black-pigmented gums, which can make assessment difficult. For these dogs, you need to examine the pink tissue on the inside of the lower eyelid by gently pulling the eyelid down. In this case, you can only observe the color of the tissue — you can’t perform the capillary refill test — but colors mean the same thing in gums and inner eyelids.

Other :

Gum color and capillary refill time: a life saving symptom

Mucous Membranes in Dogs and Cats on

Testing mucous membrane color and capillary refill time, also known as CRT, can save your pet's life. Unlike other symptoms, such as lethargy and vocalization, this symptom is a definite sign of an animal's critical condition.

There is no confusion when it comes to discolored mucous membranes, which you can see by looking at your pet's gum lines if your pet is exhibiting abnormal behavior, seems sick, or won't respond or stand up. If your pet is healthy, the gums should be pink, much like your own.

Yellow gums can indicate liver failure or disease. This might be expected if your pet has already been diagnosed with a liver condition or is on certain types of medication. White or pale gums can indicate blood loss. If there is not enough blood to circulate throughout your pet's body, or if your pet's body cannot properly circulate the blood, there will be very little color in the gum line. Brick red gums can indicate bacterial infection. This is often medically referred to as sepsis. Blue gums indicate hypoxia. This occurs when your pet cannot breathe or is not getting enough oxygen through breathing. Hypoxia could be due to any number of causes, including drowning, suffocation, unconsciousness, or lung, throat, or nasal problems. The significance of mucous membrane color is not limited to these examples, but it almost always indicates a serious health issue and should never be ignored.

Some dogs have dark or black patches on their gums. This is normal for some breeds. This dark discoloration does not develop overnight and is typically not a symptom. Even black tongues are characteristic to some breeds, such as chow chows.

Capillary refill time is the symptom that goes hand in hand with mucous membranes. CRT is, simply put, the time it takes for blood to return to the surface of mucous membranes after pressure has been lifted. This is observed by pressing your finger on the surface of the gum line until there is no color beneath your finger. When you remove the pressure, the color should resurface within 1 to 2 seconds. It can take longer for the blood supply to resurface if your pet is anesthetized or sedated, but normal, healthy animals will average a 1 second CRT.

Understanding these symptoms should increase your confidence as a pet owner. If your pet is ever injured or ill, these simple tests can alert you to a very serious problem. Always contact your veterinarian as soon as possible when your pet is sick. If your pet has discolored gums or a long CRT, your pet will probably depend on emergency care. It is a good practice to know the emergency hospitals near your house and have their phone numbers on hand. This is especially important if you are in a new area with your pet, traveling, or camping. The difference could save your pet's life.

Some dogs coloring for babies

Fur Color and Dog Personality

Dec. 13, 2006 — The color of a dog's fur may seem to be just a whim of nature and genetics that reveals little about the dog. But a new study claims that coat color for at least one breed, the English cocker spaniel, reflects a pooch's personality.

Prior research has suggested that fur color is also linked to behavior in labrador retrievers, while the type of fur — in this case, wiry or long — may indicate temperament in miniature dachshunds. Wiry-haired mini dachshunds are often more feisty than their mellower, long-haired cousin

The latest study, recently published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, determined that golden/red English cocker spaniels exhibit the most dominant and aggressive behavior. Black dogs in this breed were found to be the second most aggressive, while particolor (white with patches of color) were discovered to be more mild-mannered.

In labrador retrievers, the color rank from most to least aggressive was determined to be yellow, black and chocolate.

The behavior-fur color connection is likely due to related genetic coding that takes place during the pup's earliest life stages, according to lead author Joaquín Pérez-Guisado.

"Maybe the link (to coat color) is due to the fact that the ectoderm (one of the three primary germ cell layers) is where the skin and central nervous system originate in the embryo," he told Discovery News.

Pérez-Guisado, a researcher in the Department of Medicine and Animal Surgery at the University of Cordoba, Spain, and his colleagues measured levels of dominance and aggression in 51 seven-week-old English cocker spaniel puppies that were either full siblings or half siblings.

The tests looked at how quickly a person could capture a puppy's attention, how well puppies followed the individual, how the dogs behaved while restrained, how they exerted their social dominance and what they did when they were lifted off the floor.

In many cases, the golden-colored dogs resisted human contact and even tried to bite the tester, while the particolor pups often wagged their tails and seemed to enjoy the attention.

While genes control coat color and appear to predispose behavior in certain dogs, Pérez-Guisado said that how dogs are raised plays the biggest role in behavior. He determined that environmental factors account for 80 percent of dominant, aggressive personalities while genes only influence 20 percent of dogs' demeanors.

"It is very important to give the dog an optimum and suitable environment in order to have a dog with a low dominance aggressive behavior level," he said. "For that reason, owners are primarily responsible for this undesirable dog behavior."

Canine behaviorist and trainer Wendy Volhard and professional breeder Carolyn Sisson, who is president of the English Cocker Spaniel Club of San Diego, California, both told Discovery News they're not surprised by the findings. They said that coat color's link with behavior has been "a well-known, old wives' tale" for years.

Although they both think there is "some truth to the recent findings," Sisson believes a dog's genetic lineage, going back many generations, is a better indicator of temperament than color.

isson explained that there are 29 recognized different coat colors for English cocker spaniels, and combinations other than golds mating with golds can result in a golden dog.

"It's the line breeding out of puppy mills in England that probably resulted in the dominant traits," Sisson said.

She added, "The very best and worst of my dogs have been spaniels. They seem to cover every behavioral extreme."

Pérez-Guisado and his colleagues next plan to study the English springer spaniel and English cocker spaniel genomes to pinpoint common genes associated with so-called dog "rage" and coloration.

15 images of dog for your baby fill colors

Genetics of Coat Color and Type in Dogs

Two classic books tell us much about the inheritance of coat colors and patterns in dogs. The one most quoted is by the late Clarence C. Little, The Inheritance of Coat Color in Dogs, Howell Book House, 1957. The other is by the late Ojvind Winge, Inheritance in Dogs with Special Reference to the Hunting Breeds, Comstock Publishing, Ithaca, N.Y. 1950. A third book, Comparative Genetics of Coat Colour in Mammals, by the late A. G. Searle, Logos Press 1968 is also a useful resource. This page is organized by the coat colors or pattern names and the gene loci postulated by Little are included where possible. Molecular studies are showing that Little was usually correct in his hypotheses, but not always.

Many people read a more recent book by Malcolm B. Willis, Genetics of the Dog, Howell Book House, New York. 1989. His terminology is different for several alleles than that of Little. This leads to some real confusion for people who try to read several books or webpages designed by people who have read some of these books. All 3 of these books are out of print so they are difficult to purchase, but try your local library. There is a chapter in a book called The Genetics of the Dog edited by A. Ruvinsky & J. Sampson, CABI Publishing but sold through Oxford in North America, which contains a chapter by Philip Sponenberg and Max Rothschild on coat color. This book is still for sale by order at

None of these books contain DNA studies however. All are based on hypothesized alleles at hypothesized loci to fit data obtained from coat colors and patterns of dogs from various breeds and litters. DNA research has shown that there are more genes involved than those hypothesized by these authors and that the actual number of alleles at genes they discuss is more for some genes and fewer for other genes. An invited review paper on the DNA research on the genes known to be involved in coat color was published December 1, 2007 in Animal Genetics, with the photo page shown above. A newer book "The Genetics of the Dog", 2nd Edition (2012), edited by E.A. Ostrander and A. Ruvinsky contains a chapter entitled "Molecular Genetics of Coat Colour Texture and Length in the Dog" by Christopehre B. Kaelin and Gregory S. Barsh.
Schmutz, S.M., T. G. Berryere. 2007. A review of the genes affecting coat color and pattern in domestic dogs. Animal Genetics 38: 539-549.

There is a very good book entitled "Future Dog, Breeding for Genetic Soundness" by Patricia J. Wilkie. This was commissioned by the Canine Health Foundation. Although the information on coat color does not use the typical abbreviations and is limited in this book, the explanations of basic inheritance and new DNA approaches to research and diagnosis is very good.

This webpage is an attempt to summarize some of the current DNA research being done on dog coat color. Whenever possible, publications are listed documenting the research supporting the statements. Unless otherwise stated, the research that is not referenced is work from our laboratory or work done in conjunction with our collaborators. Sometimes the work is not yet published but is the result of experiments in progress or even just hypotheses of which gene might be the locus Little described from recent DNA findings in other species. It typically takes a year from the time the data are written in a manuscript and that manuscript appears in a scientific journal. We are far from having identified all the genes involved in dog coat color using DNA. There seem to be many more than Little predicted. Therefore do not consider this summary a final conclusion, but merely a work in progress.

When you read these pages and attempt to determine the genotype of your dog or an upcoming litter, please keep in mind that no gene acts in isolation. All dogs have all these genes. In some breeds the alleles are "fixed" which means all dogs are homozygous for the same allele. As a rule of thumb, the more coat colors that occur in your breed, the more genes will be needed to explain the genotype and phenotype of your dog. Furthermore there are interactions among the various genes in the pathway so that some colors are not possible unless particular alleles occur at more than one locus (i.e. a dog must have at least one E at MC1R and two of the b mutations at TYRP1 to be brown).

Our dog color research uses dogs owned by private individuals who participate in our studies by contributing DNA cheek brush samples. Most of the samples come from breeders who respond to a request through their breed club, students in our classes or individuals we approach at dog events. These are not dogs bred in research colonies, but simply dogs living normal dog lives. We thank them and their owners for volunteering their DNA to help us understand the gentics of color better.

Our research has been funded by a number of sources over the past few years. We thank the Canine Health Foundation of the American Kennel Club, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada and HealthGene Laboratory, Toronto for their support.

"Color Breeding"

Recently there are several dog clubs, groups and breeders speak about "Color Breeding" with disdain. The research we conduct is not meant to advocate that dog breeders purposefully crossbreed or breed mutants to introduce colors or patterns that were not a tradition in their breed. Our research is meant to help dog breeders understand how coat colors and patterns are inherited so that if more than one color variant has been a classic color in their breed, they can plan matings to get pups of one or another color or several if that suits the aims of their breeding program. I do not think that rare colors should raise the price, let alone the "value" of a dog. I would hope that we value every dog we bring into our life, whatever breed or color it might be.

Color has been an integral trait in the development of many dog breeds. It was used for at least one hundred years as one of the traits under selection. In a few cases, certain colors were selected against because the people at a particular time in history thought these colors typically brought health related problems with them. Some colors do. Other colors were selected against or for because the breeders felt that those colors help that breed do its job better, as in the case of the preponderance of brown colored hunting dogs in the European hunting breeds. Those 19th century hunters thought that brown was a better camouflage color and several of them were poaching game on the baron's land!

"Guessotypes" versus Genotypes

Coat color genetics has fascinated many people for many, many years. There are countless websites posted attributing specific genotypes to specific dogs based on the classic books by C. C. Little (1957) or O. Winge (1950). Many teachers have asked students to attempt such an exercise, as a learning experience, including me.

However, these are at best an educated guesstimate of the underlying true genotype. I sometimes therefore call these “guessotypes” to distinguish them from actual genotypes obtained by DNA testing. Keep in mind, that not all alleles, and not even all genes involved in dog coat color are yet identified and so a complete coat color genotype is not yet possible for many breeds of dogs.

Trying to do good guessotyping requires several high quality photographs, or better, a chance to examine the living dog. Even good guessotyping is prone to flaws when the photos are not great or the dog is a breed that has several possible genotypes associated with the same phenotype, or worse is of a phenotype that changes with age. Trying to guessotype from a word description about the coat color of a dog is especially hazardous.

For example, a dog described as red, black and white could be a black-and-tan dog with white feet and/or face. It could be a fawn dog with a black facial mask and random white spots. It could be a brindle dog with a white chest mark. It could be a fawn dog with a white blaze and black skin showing around its muzzle, but actually no black hair. It could be a merle dog with copper points and Irish spotting. It could be a fawn dog with pale undersides and black tipped hairs along its spine. It could be a fawn puppy with black tipped hairs all over and a small white chest spot that changes to a very pale cream over its entire body by 3 years of age. Words only go so far in accurately describing a coat color phenotype.

Although guessotyping can be fun and even a bit of a useful mind puzzle and/or educational exercise, it should not be used to make serious decisions about the coat colors possible in offspring or parents. In other words, guessotyping has limitations. Therefore let's try to limit its use to certain exercises and not assume that guessotypes are necessarily accurate.

Articles in the Popular Press

Genetics of Coat Color in Dogs. Versatile Hunting Dog, January 2001 issue, p. 13-14. Sheila Schmutz.

Coat Color by Crayon. Canine Review, September 2003 issue. Sheila Schmutz.

Glossary of Terms Used in Relation to Dog Coat Colors and Patterns
  • Belton a name for ticking in the English Setter
  • Bicolor a dog that has some shade of black or brown and also white but no tan in breeds like the Shetland Sheepdog
  • Blenheim a name for red coat color with white markings in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Blue a coat color that is typically a solid grey (note that a Blue Belton is a black ticked/roan dog however)
  • Brindle a pattern of alternating stripes of eumelanin and phaeomelanin pigmentation, i.e. yellow and black, red and black, cream and grey, etc.
  • Chocolate a coat color that is typically brown, used in breeds such as the Labrador Retriever
  • Domino a term used in Afghan Hounds to mean a specific facial pattern and body pattern caused by a specific genotype (see the Afghan page).
  • Dilution an effect on a coat color that causes it to become a paler shade like blue or cream
  • Eumelanin a melanin pigment that causes some shade of black or brown coloration
  • Grizzle a term used in Salukis to mean a specific facial pattern and body pattern caused by a specific genotype (see the Saluki page). This term in other breeds means something different.
  • Harlequin a coat color pattern of ragged black spots on a white background in the Great Dane
  • Irish Spotting a pattern of white markings that include white undersides, a white blaze and usually a white collar
  • Liver a coat color that is typically brown but is occasionally used to describe a shade of orange or phaeomelanin pigmentation
  • Mask a pattern in which the muzzle and perhaps as far back as the ears are pigmented by eumelanin, resulting in a black or brown face
  • Merle a pattern which reminds one of marble in which the melanin pigment is swirled and patchy amongst many white areas
  • Phaeomelanin a melanin pigment that causes some shade of red, orange, gold or yellow coloration
  • Piebald random spots of color on a white background
  • Red a coat color that is typically the result of phaeomelanin pigmentation, however in some breeds such as Doberman Pinschers brown is called red
  • Roan a pattern of intermingled white and colored hairs on some part of the body
  • Ticked a pattern of many small pigmented spots on a white or roan background
  • Tricolor a combination of some shade of black or brown, some shade of red often called tan and some white. Therefore both eumelanin and phaeomelanin pigmentation occurs on the same dog.

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