The Best, Most Complete Guide to Your Dog’s Coat – Colors, Patterns and More!


Let me state at the outset that I am not talking about fashionable jackets and sweaters that you can make for your dog. I’m talking about his coat, plain and simple – you know, that part of your dog that you just love to pet, but that deposits hair all over your carpets and furniture and then you end up having to vacuum it up or do that two-sided trick with the masking tape or— oh, sorry, I think I was almost ranting there. Let me get back on point.

Is this really the best, most complete guide to your dog’s coat? I’m not sure – you know I always do my best, though, so I’ve done a fair bit of research about dog coat colors and patterns, and I think you will at least find this a useful introduction.

I have to admit to a personal bias here, though.  Regular readers know that my Janice and Leroy are brindle Boxers, so from my perspective, the best dog color pattern is brindle, and I prefer short-coated dogs. To each their own, though. My friends have different opinions. To Neila (Rottweilers), it has to be black and tan, and with a short to medium coat. For Debbie (Beagles), it has to be short-haired, white and brown with a black saddle. And Al (Saint Bernards) insists that beagle markings are generally fine, but should be consistent with long coats and no saddle.

So Many Dog Fur Patterns!

Fortunately, there is something to please everyone. Domestic dog breeds (and mixes) come in literally hundreds of colors and patterns. This is actually kind of remarkable, considering that every single breed and mix thereof descended from wolves, which were pretty non-descript, having just a medium length coat in shade of brown, enabling them to blend into their surroundings.

Once dogs became domesticated, though, and were present in any number of countries and climates, Mother Nature went to work creating many different dog coat colors and patterns. Then, humans began taking advantage of these natural mutations to create many different colors of dogs.

Sometimes, you can identify the purity of a dog simply because of its markings. For instance, Neila tends to go ballistic when someone tells her “I have a purebred Rottweiler. He’s all black and tan, with just a patch of white under his chin!” The thing is, any white at all on a Rottweiler means that it’s not purebred – there’s something else in there. Much of the time, though, different breeds can come in a huge array of colors and patterns. Colors of dogs can be so varied, in fact, that sometimes the average person doesn’t even know what they mean. For instance, what is “merle?” Keep reading to find out, and to learn about other dog color patterns.

First, though, I think we should devote a bit of time to talking about a dog’s coat in general. Your dog’s hair can depend so much on where he was bred, the purpose for which he was bred, and genetics in general.

Types of Hair

Dog fur patterns don’t just have to do with colors of dogs. Your dog’s hair will also be of several types, which most breeds manifest as an outer coat, an under coat and tactile hair.

The outer coat is known as “primary” or “guard” hair. These hairs are long, stiff, and smooth, and cover the undercoat. The undercoat, or secondary coat, is soft and dense. The tactile hairs are those that comprise the whiskers, eyebrows and other stiff hairs.

Hair Length and Shape

Usually, the length of a dog’s hair will be directly related to the area where the dog was originally bred. Long haired dogs, for instance, usually come from cold climates, and this simply makes sense, since the long hair is needed for warmth and insulation. Long hair could be either fine or coarse. Usually, long haired dogs will also have more secondary hairs than they do primary, and they will not shed as much as other dogs.

Some dogs are actually hairless. This isn’t something that nature intended, though – it’s actually due to a mutation. However, breeders have picked up on the mutation and through selective breeding have given us dogs like the Mexican

Hairless and the Chinese Crested.

Another mutation that breeders have jumped on and propagated has resulted in the corded coat, which is common to the Puli and the Komondor. These dogs have coats that actually look like dreadlocks. It’s not my thing, but I have to say that this is one of the most interesting dog fur patterns I’ve ever seen – just Google “dogs with dreadlocks” to see what I’m talking about.

Other mutations are the bear coat (Chow Chows), wire hair (Fox Terriers and Wire Haired Dachshunds) and curly hair, which is common to any number of dogs, including the Poodle.

Related Content:

5 Best Dog Coats for Cold Weather
How to Keep a White Dog Coat White
The Best GSD: Short Coat vs. Long Coat

Colors of Dogs

The color of a dog’s hair relates directly to the pigment of the dog’s skin. You may have heard that if you shave a dog, any dog, it will have white skin. This is not true. What is true, though, is that no matter what the dog color patterns in the hair, there are only two basic skin colors – yellow-red or black-brown. These underlying colors can change during various hair development stages, and that is how you end up with banding, saddling, brindle, ticking and other color variations.Colors of Dogs

English Bulldog in spiked collar.


There are three genes that affect the colors of dogs. The pigment gene determines how much pigment is distributed over the body of the dog. The density gene determines how intense the pigmentation will be. And finally, the color gene determines the how intense the colors of dogs will be.

So here is how it works. If you have a black dog, for instance, the dog has to possess the B gene to give it the black color, the C gene to ensure that there is nothing other than black in the coat, and the D gene to provide the intensity of the color. These are all dominant genes.

What causes the wide range in colors of dogs is mutations. For instance, the dilute mutation is recessive, and works to create a softer version of a dominant color. So, with so-called “blue” colors of dogs, it is actually a dilution of black. With cream, it is a dilution of red. When you get to piebald, in which the colors of dogs have white areas, the mutation is such that the white gene is incomplete, and varies a good deal when it comes to location and size.

Colors of Dogs Today

Thanks to the ways in which breeders have learned to mix and match genes, we now have any number of dog coat colors and patterns to choose from today. The following are some of the most common colors

1. Brown

You often hear people say, “It’s just a brown dog,” but the fact is that there are several shades of brown. One of the most pleasing shades of brown is that found in the Chocolate Lab.

2. Black

Usually, when we refer to dogs as being “black,” we mean that they are very dark ebony, all the way through, with no other colors present. Some of the most attractive black dogs include the Newfoundland and the Labrador as well as the Scottish Terrier.

3. Red

When we use the term “red” in reference to dogs, we usually mean the rich, auburn color that we see in the Irish Setter, and sometimes also in the Doberman or the Rhodesian Ridgeback.

4. Blue

This is actually not a true blue. It is more like a soft gray, and is seen in the Kerry Blue Terrier as well as the Bedlington Terrier and sometimes the Doberman.

5. White

When we refer to the colors of dogs’ coats as being white, we eliminate cream from the equation. A white dog is just that – pure, snow white. White coats are found in breeds like the West Highland White Terrier, the Samoyed, the Husky and the Great Pyrenees.

6. Cream

Cream is not, as you might expect, a derivative of white when it comes to colors of dogs. It is actually derived from red. This color is present in many breeds of dogs.

7. Apricot

This is a variation of cream, with a slight pinkish or orange tinge. The apricot color is most common in English Mastiffs and toy Poodles.

8. Fawn

Fawn leans more to the pinkish or buff shades than to the orange. It is also common to several breeds, one of the most notable being the Shar-Pei.

Dog Color Patterns

Dog color patterns are simply combinations of colors, and there are almost as many of them as there are breeds of dogs. Some common dog color patterns are as follows.

Dog Color Patterns

1. Brindle

As I said before, this is the most perfect of the dog color patterns. It is a layering of black pigment over light color, and results in an appearance something like tiger stripes.

My Janice and Leroy are brindle, and that is why brindle is the most perfect of the dog color patterns. You are, of course, free to disagree, so leave a comment if you like.

2. Merle

This is a pattern of black streaks on a gray or bluish background.

3. Grizzle

Grizzle is a mix of white with red or black.

4. Dapple

This is a mottled mix.

5. Particolor

A particolor dog has patches of colors, or any dog color patterns in conjunction with white. Particolor patterns might include piebald (colors mostly on the extremities, with white on the rest of the dog) or bicolor (usual half of one color and half white).

6. Roan

This is a variation of the grizzle markings, but with the black replaced by iron gray or bluish gray.

Related Content:

5 Best Dog Coats for Cold Weather
How to Keep a White Dog Coat White
The Best GSD: Short Coat vs. Long Coat

The Final Word

Isn’t it wonderful how many colors of dogs, and how many different dog coat colors and patterns we can choose from? I’m definitely sticking with brindle Boxers, but I know a lot of people who swear that if it’s a Doberman, then it has to be red. Or blue. Or black and tan. I also know people who wouldn’t consider anything other than a black Poodle, or a cream English Mastiff.

We all have our preferences. Sometimes it’s based on a dog that we knew, loved and lost, and we simply have to have another one that is as close in appearance as possible. Other times, it’s just aesthetics.

Sometimes, too, when it comes to colors of dogs, we change our minds. I have a friend who had a yellow Lab, and when he lost her, he insisted that his next dog had to be another yellow Lab. As luck would have it, there were no yellow Labs when he was looking for his next dog. Now he thinks that chocolate is the most perfect color for a Labrador Retriever.

I guess love comes in all dog coat colors and patterns. And although I’ve said that brindle is perfect, I would never refuse a dog based on dog fur patterns or colors. I would always look into those beautiful brown eyes and make my decision on what I saw there. Colors of dogs don’t really matter anymore than colors of humans – it’s what is in the heart and soul. So feel free to find a dog that comes in the color and pattern that you like, but don’t lose sight of what matters most – his wonderful personality and all the love that he has to give. That’s really all that matters.

Now I’m going to go and snuggle up with my perfect brindle boxers. See you tomorrow. Over and out from Ash!