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5 Dog Breeds Named — and in Some Cases Bred — for Their Color

Breeds such as the Black Russian Terrier, West Highland White Terrier, and others get their name from their hues.

Lynn M. Hayner  |  Mar 3rd 2017


The American Eskimo Dog is recognizable by its gorgeous white coat. The Irish Setter is distinguished for its blaze of magnificent mahogany. Other breeds are actually named for color. Let’s hear from five such vibrant breeds:

1. Irish Red and White Setter

Irish Red and White Setter courtesy Michael Lamp

Our name tells the truth about our colors, our heritage, and our distinct hunting style. Developed in Ireland, we boast solid red patches on our white base coat. My two colors are renown for showing (isn’t this poetic?) the maximum of life and bloom. My cousin, the Irish Setter, may be more well-known, but we’re likely the older breed. The Irish Setter was likely bred down from us in one solid color. Today we’re celebrated for our sweet yet aristocratic disposition and notable hunting ability. The last word in our name reveals our hunting style: When we scent game, we take a definite set as close to the game as we can, without causing the animal to flush. We also highly value home and family: after a long day of work or play, we’ll endorse the old Irish Proverb: There’s no fireside like your own fireside.

2. Kerry Blue Terrier

Kerry Blue Terrier courtesy Doug Keene, Kerry Blue Terrier Club of Southern California 

Bred in Ireland like my cousin above, we Kerry Blues may have been the peasant’s alternative to the noblemen’s Irish Wolfhound. Or perhaps a Russian blue terrier swam ashore to Ireland from a shipwreck, mated with local dogs, and began my blue line? Legends aside, history confirms we were bred to hunt small game and birds in the Irish county of Kerry. Unrivaled in our versatility, we also herded livestock, retrieved waterfowl, and guarded our farms. As for our color, we’re born black but we fade anywhere from light silver blue to dark slate blue. We’re people-focused, lively, strong-willed, hard-working, and mischievous. My wish for you? May the wind be always at your back and a Kerry at the end of your lead.

3. Bluetick Coonhound

Bluetick Coonhound courtesy Dr. Susan Lloyd/Live Oak Veterinary Hospital

Let me clarify the tick in my name, lest you mistakenly believe I’m named after a small blood-sucking arachnid. The tick refers to the flecks of color that contribute to my coat’s dark blue-ish appearance. I’m a scent hound, developed in Louisiana to find and announce game with my determined, distinctively musical voice. The coon in my name refers to a common prey, the Raccoon (yes some Raccoons are cute, but keep in mind they‘re often destructive little critters that carry disease!). My senses of smell is astonishing; I can follow cold, old trails with remarkable ease. Indoors my dreamy eyes, generous spirit, and calm personality make for a cozy companion. Outdoors you’ll see my raw athleticism. I’m regularly on the hunt (quite literally) for a task.

4. Black Russian Terrier

Black Russian Terrier courtesy Dr. Richard Hawkes

Despite our name, we’re not classified as true Terriers. Adaptable, smart, and powerful, we’re the Black Pearl of Russia, developed to protect both people and places. The USSR bred us specifically to tolerate harsh winters; our coal-black tousled double coats were developed for function. But over the course of my breed’s development (and as we became companion dogs too), our coats became longer and softer. Composed yet bold when needed, we’re an unpretentious, robust, and loyal dog. My impressive  beard is black too!

5. West Highland White Terrier

West Highland White Terrier courtesy Mary Bradley/West Highland White Terrier Club of California

We’re a working terrier, bred in Scotland to hunt small game and clear rats from barns. We’re celebrated for our strong wills and spirit, but we’re equally famous for our bright, white coats. Now here’s a twist to the story: We weren’t always all white. In the beginning our coat colors varied from white to black to red. The story is told that Colonel Malcolm (a prominent Westie breeder) decided to develop us all true white after an unlucky accident. One of Malcolm’s Westies (a cousin of mine with a reddish coat) was mistaken for a fox and shot. Malcolm decided to breed us only white so we’d be easily recognized in the field.  This would make more sense if we weren’t also developed to hunt rabbits that are sometimes cream colored! Stories aside, we appreciate your praise for our breathtakingly white coats.

Top photo: West Highland White Terrier courtesy Mary Bradley, West Highland White Terrier Club of California

Homepage photo: Black Russian Terrier, courtesy Dr. Richard Hawkes