Poodle Color Genetics
To understand coat color genetics, you must first understand how basic inheritance works. Some terms you will need to learn are:
Locus - the specific area of a chromosome where a gene or gene marker is located. Plural is loci. Each locus is given a letter to describe it such as the B locus (which contains the B and b alleles) or A locus (which contains the Ay, aw, at, and a alleles).
Gene - what carries the information that determines certain traits.
Allele - each gene has two alleles. The dog receives one from one parent and one from the other.
Homozygous - If a gene has two identical alleles, it is considered homozygous (for example, BB or ee).
Heterozygous - if a gene has two different alleles, it is considered heterozygous (for example Bb or Ee).
Genotype - what genes the dog has. It has nothing to do with their outward appearance.
Phenotype - what the dog looks like. It may not be the same as what genes they have.
Dominant - an allele that takes over another allele and will express the trait no matter what the other allele is. It is always written down as a capital letter (for example E or B). In alleles with multiple letters they will be expressed either as all capitals (for example KB or AY) or with only the first letter capitalized (for example Kb or Ay).
Recessive - an allele that will only affect the phenotype if it is homozygous. Recessive genes are always written with a lower case letter (for example e or b). In alleles with multiple letters they will be written out as all lower case (for example ky or at).
Incompletely dominant - an allele that has an effect on the traits shown when there is either one copy or two. Often having only one copy will have a lesser effect and having two copies will have a stronger effect.
Untestable - a gene which has not been mapped yet and can't show up on a DNA test.
Punnet Square - a tool used to determine the chance of inheritance of certain traits from both parents.
* - unknown. Used when writing out gene combinations that are unknown, for example E* when it is unknown if a dog is EE or Ee. Usually only used with a dominant gene, as if the dog had two recessive genes there would be a visible effect.
Eumelanin- dark pigment seen in black, brown, blue, silver, cafe au lait, and silver beige poodles. It is also responsible for the dark areas of phantom and sable poodles.
Phaomelanin- light pigment seen in ee-based poodles (red, apricot, cream, and white) as well as the light areas of phantom and sable poodles.
E Locus - Recessive Red
This is the first locus to look at when determining a dog's color because it can hide other colors and patterns except for parti. If a dog is ee, it removes the eumelanin in the coat which can hide other traits like phantom. The shade of the dog will be determined by the I - locus and can be anywhere from deep red to white. There are three possible alleles: Em, E, and e.
Em - melanistic mask. Dog may have a darker mask (if kyky at the K locus).
E - normal (non-red). Will only allow red-based colors to show if kyky at K locus.
e - recessive red. Allows the dog to be red, apricot, cream, or white.
Em* - the mask gene is dominant to all the others and may cause a mask on a dog with an A - locus pattern. The degree of masking and whether it is there at all depends on other untestable genes.
EE - the dog is black (if no other modifiers) and cannot produce red / apricot / cream / white puppies.
Ee - the dog is black (if no other modifiers) and carries the recessive red gene. They have a chance to produce red / apricot / cream / white puppies when bred with a dog that is Ee or ee.
ee - the dog is red, apricot, cream, or white. What shade depends on the I - locus and other untestable genes.
K Locus - Dominant Black
The second most important locus to look at is the K locus. This is known as the dominant black locus but it is a bit of a misnomer as the dog will not necessarily be black based on this locus alone. This locus can deny or allow the expression of whatever is on the A locus. There are three possible alleles:
Kb - dominant black. Does not allow the A locus to show.
Kbr - brindle. This gene is untestable, and dogs with Kbr will often test as Kbky.
ky - allows the A locus to show.
KbKb - dominant black. Whatever patterning is on the A locus will not show.
KbKbr - dominant black carrying brindle. If bred to a dog carrying brindle or ky, it could produce brindle or brindlepoint puppies. This gene will usually test as Kbky even though the dog does not carry ky.
Kbky - dominant black carrying the gene that allows the A locus to show.
KbrKbr - depending on what is on the dog's A locus, the dog will be brindle (if Ay*) or brindlepoint (atat or ata).
Kbrky - depending on what is on the dog's A locus, the dog will be brindle (if Ay*) or brindlepoint (atat or ata).
kyky - depending on what the dog's A locus is, the dog will be visually sable (if Ay*) or phantom (atat or ata).
A Locus - Patterns
The A locus will determine if a dog is patterned, however the dog MUST be kyky for these patterns to show through. If the dog is Kbrky or KbrKbr, the patterns will show but will be brindled. There are four possible alleles:
Ay - sable
aw - agouti
at - phantom (tan points)
a - recessive black (keep in mind while the gene is called recessive black, it is actually more correct that it will just not show a pattern. The dog may still be brown or parti, etc).
AyAy - the dog will be sable and will only produce sable puppies when bred to a dog that is kyky. If the dog is Kbrky or KbrKbr instead, it will be brindle.
Ayaw - the dog will be sable and is carrying agouti. If the dog is Kbrky or KbrKbr instead, it will be brindle.
Ayat - the dog will be sable and is carrying phantom. If the dog is Kbrky or KbrKbr instead, it will be brindle.
Aya - the dog will be sable and is carrying recessive black. If the dog is Kbrky or KbrKbr instead, it will be brindle.
awaw - the dog will be agouti
awat - the dog will be agouti and will carry the gene for phantom.
awa - the dog will be agouti and will carry the gene for recessive black.
atat - the dog will be phantom. If the dog is Kbrky or KbrKbr instead, it will be brindlepoint.
ata - the dog will be phantom and is carrying the gene for recessive black. If the dog is Kbrky or KbrKbr instead, it will be brindlepoint.
aa - the dog will not show any pattern but if it is kyky it will produce patterned dogs if bred to a carrier or patterned dog.
B Locus - Brown
This locus determines whether or not the dog will be brown. Please note that bb poodles are called brown, not "chocolate". There are several genes for brown so depending on what lab you use, a dog that is visually brown may come back Bb if they do not test for all variants. If a dog is visually brown, count it as bb. There are two possible alleles:
B - black
b - brown
BB - the dog will be black and will not be capable of producing brown offspring
Bb - the dog will be black and will be able to produce brown when bred with another Bb or bb
bb - the dog will be brown
S Locus - White Spotting
This locus determines if a dog will have white spotting, known in poodles as parti. There are two known alleles:
S - no white
sp - white spotting (parti)
SS - no white spotting. The dog is not parti and will not be able to produce parti puppies*.
Ssp - not parti, but sometimes can have a bit of white on the chest, muzzle, toes, or tail tip.
spsp - parti. The dog will be at least 50% white.
*There are other genes that will add white markings to a dog, and most are untestable. These genes are generally known as irish white spotting or whitehead. It is possible for a dog that appears parti to test as SS.
This locus has not been identified yet so it has not been given a letter. For the purposes of this explanation we will be calling it G. There are two known alleles and the gene is incompletely dominant, meaning that only one copy will affect the dog and two copies will affect it more strongly. Puppies are born black or brown and with one copy they will fade slowly over 1-5 years and with two copies the fading will be apparent at 4-6 weeks and take a few years to fully clear. How much a dog lightens is dependent on other untestable genes. Some blues take years to clear and stay very close to black whereas some have a visible difference before six months of age and become quite light.
G -progressive greying
g - no progressive greying
GG - two copies of progressive greying. A black dog will become silver and a brown dog will become silver beige. ee dogs may show some fading or may be unaffected.
Gg - one copy of progressive greying. A black dog will become blue and a brown dog will become cafe au lait. ee dogs may show some fading or may be unaffected.
gg - no progressive greying.