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Dog Color Genetics: The Fascinating Science Explained (With Chart)

Written by: Patricia Dickson

Last Updated on April 15, 2024 by Dogster Team

dog getting swabbed for DNA testing

Dog Color Genetics: The Fascinating Science Explained (With Chart)

Have you ever wondered where your dog got their coloring from? As a pet parent, there’s still a lot you don’t know about your dog, especially when it comes to their color genetics. It’s important to note that genetics is a complex subject and can’t be understood in the scope of one article.

Instead, we’re going to help you understand just the basics of dog color genetics in the article below.

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DNA Is Far From Simple

DNA test tube
Image Credit: create jobs 51, Shutterstock

DNA is far from simple, as anyone who has studied it can tell you. In a nutshell, a dog has cells, and each of those cells contains 39 chromosome pairs. Your dog will have 39 chromosomes from their mother and 39 chromosomes from their father. One pair of these chromosomes will determine what the sex of your dog is, and the rest will make them the unique, beloved pet you end up adopting as your own.

Everything Begins With Two Colors

Despite there being many, many varieties of dog colors out there, the process begins with just two colors. These two basic pigments are eumelanin and phaeomelanin. Eumelanin is black, with phaeomelanin being red. So, no matter what color variation your pup ends up being, that color is created by these two pigments.

Now that we know what two pigments start the process of determining what color your dog will be, let’s look at the genetics that work to expand the range of these colors.

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Genetics Expand the Range

dog dna chart
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There are many different genes that will impact what color your dog will be by expanding the range of the pigments listed above. A dog genome has approximately 3 billion base pairs of DNA, plus thousands of genes. However, only eight genes help determine the color. These are called loci, and we’ll list a little about what they do below.

A (agouti) Locus

This is responsible for the different patterns of a dog’s coat.

E (extension) Locus

This gene is responsible for the black masks that some dogs have on their faces, as well as dogs with yellow or red coats.

K (dominant black) Locus

This gene is pretty self-explanatory and is responsible for brindle, fawn, and dominant black dog colors.

D (dilute) Locus

This one is responsible for diluting colors and ends up with dogs being pale brown, blue, or gray in color.

B (brown) Locus

In this site two brown alleles—dominant brown and recessive brown—can be linked to dog colors which are liver, brown, and chocolate.

S (spotting) Locus

As you’ve probably guessed, this locus is responsible for the interesting spots and patterns you see on many dog breeds. This locus is also responsible for extreme white, piebald, and particolored patterns.

M (merle) Locus

This is the locus that causes colors on the coat of dogs to have irregularly shaped patches and dilutes pigment and colors.

H (harlequin) Locus

This locus is responsible for the black patches you see on white dogs.

All of these loci work with other loci to control the production and distribution of the first two pigments we named. The result is the dog color that your canine pal has.

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Final Thoughts

Even with all the genetics when it comes to dog color, and all of the research done, it really comes down to a dog’s color and coat being at the mercy of his own gene pool. However, genetics is a science, and while you might think a dog’s color is determined by a flip of a coin, there is indeed quite a bit of complex and confusing biology behind it all.

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Featured Image Credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

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