Posts Tagged ‘retriever color’

This mahogany golden's puppies were born in the dun color.

This mahogany golden's puppies were born in the dun color.

(photo from http://www.over-the-moon.us/.)

Golden puppies are usually born a different color than the one they have when they are mature Most mid-gold and light-gold puppies are born cream or even off-white. The darker-colored ones, though, very often do not look gold or reddish at all when they are first born.

Very dark golden retrievers–the tawnies, the coppers, the golden reds, the reds, and mahoganies– are born in two basic colors. Some puppies are born in their adult color. Others are born with natal coats of a dun color. The dogs in the photo above are of this dun color.

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas writes about this color in The Hidden Life of Dogs. One of her dogs is a full dingo of the typical red color. The dog had two litters, one with a springer spaniel and one with a white husky. In both cases, the puppies were born of a dun coloration. The spaniel cross puppies were more of a beagle color, but their tan coloration was dun. In the husky cross puppies, the color was all dun, and the puppies matured into reddish husky-type dogs with blue eyes.

Dingoes almost universally come in this recessive red to yellow color, and is not Australian dingoes come in this color. Virtually all dingoes throughout southern Asia and Indonesia are of this color. It is also a very common color in Asian dogs. One only has to look at the Korean Jindo and the Japanese strain of Akita to understand that this color is well-known in Asia. We now believe that dogs have an origin in Asia, and it is poossible that this color could be the oldest color in domestic dogs. It might be that a clear red color was an identifying characteristic of domestic dogs that separated them from wolves. A red dog-like animal wouldn’t get killed on sight, while a gray dog dog-like animal would. It is also possible that people just liked that red color. This selection for red has gone on in several different cultures. The Masai livestock guardian dog, which is smaller than a border collie yet guards against lions, is usually red in color. The Masai love that color, so they have selected for it. Europeans have selected for it in golden retrievers and Irish setter for no other reason other than its novelty. (Although a case can be made for goldens that their color is good camouflage.)

This phenomenon of reddish dogs being born dun is a very common characteristic.

However, it is not universal.

Irish setters are born full red in color.

And some red goldens also with their coloration approaching that of their adult pelage.

These golden retriever puppies are from Zomarick. They were born red, which is the color of both of their parents. The puppies appear at 3:02. Yes, that’s the sire of the litter helping the bitch lick the puppies clean!

The dun-colored whelps usually have a red muzzle and ears and a reddish shaded stripe that runs down their backs. As they mature, the red gradually spreads over the puppies.

The first litter of golden I ever saw were dun-colored. I thought they were mixed with Norwegian elkhounds. It was only when they matured into rather dark golden retriever puppies with no elkhound features at all that I realized that this dun coloration was a very common coloration in dark golden retrievers when they are first born.

Golden retriever puppies, then, come in a very wide range of colors when they are first born. But they all mature into dogs that range from almost white to mahogany. Gold coloration is truly a many-splendored thing.

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This dog’s owner has asked a question on yahoo answers about white markings in a golden retriever. The main question is whether this dog is purebred or not. The post is no longer taking answers, but I do have answer about this dog.

I was thinking he might have been a toller with black skin pigment, but then I saw  a photo of  his full brother. Further, this dog doesn’t have the really long coat that you very often see in tollers, which they get from their close collie ancestry.


His brother is a red golden of some recent field breeding.

Field line goldens, especially dark ones, occasionally have white markings. Adirondac goldens has a one of their dogs working as a SAR dog, and this dog has lots of white on her.

My previous post on white markings in golden retrievers shows an Irish setter with white in exactly the same places as the golden in first photograph.

In Marcia Schlehr’s The New Golden Retriever, the author talks about the extensive white markings on many of the early dogs, including blazes and white “socks” on the feet.

My first litter of goldens included a bitch pup that had these socks. She was a very drivey little girl, just like her mother, who had a white tail tip.

White was very common in some of the foundation lines of golden. Culham Copper had white feet and some white on his muzzle. His chest had as much white on it as the dog in question does.


In field line dogs, white markings always tend to pop up. For some reason, it seems to be associated with darker colors, although I’ve noticed that those with white marking tend to be a little lighter than the darkest goldens in the same line.

I hope the person who posted this question gets to see my answer.

Chances are very high that this dog is a purebred golden. And that’s where I’d put my money. Those people who say that this dog is a collie/golden cross are ignorant of coat color genetics. A sable collie crossed with a golden will not be a golden colored dog. It will be a black dog. Want proof? Look here. The only dog that isn’t a golden-collie cross on that page is the dog that looks like a golden retriever with collie ears. The only golden/collie crosses I’ve seen that aren’t black or black and tan are the backcrosses to either goldens or collies, and these aren’t very common. Most goldens are actually black dogs with a recessive gene that makes their color the cream to mahogany color.

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From http://www.bumperfound.org/ .

This golden retriever mix shows the black and tan coloration that was once so prevalent in his ancestors: the St. John’s water dog and the wavy-coated retriever. Landseer had painted a dog very similar to this one.

If such a dog were placed in the nineteenth century, he would instantly be recognized as a retriever.

Today, we might also mistake black and tan English shepherds for this dog. This makes some sense, though, because both of these dogs descend, at least in part, from the old-type collie farm dog.

I wrote some more about this coloration last week.

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Remember how I said that it can be hard to tell a brown-skinned red to yellow dogs from some shades of liver?

Well the Chesapeake Bay retriever is a breed that comes in only brown-skinned colors. All Chessies are brown-skinned red to yellows or livers.

The dog pictured above is most likely a brown-skinned red dog. You would get this same color in a brown-skinned golden or most tollers. In Chesapeake parlance, it is a “sedge.”

Now, the dog above was relatively easy to assess. What about this one?


This dog is probably a very dark red Chesapeake, but it approaching something like what we seen in “chestnut livers.”

The dog below is a chestnut liver.


Chespeakes also come in “deadgrass,” which is something like what we call light gold in golden retrievers.


Chesapeake Bay retrievers come in colors that were associated with the Tweed water dog or Tweed water spaniel. In fact, my reading of the descriptions of the Tweed water spaniel suggest that they looked a lot like slightly smaller chessies.

These light yellow puppies could be born to liver dogs, so they were called “light livers.”

In Chesapeake Bay retrievers, black skin pigment does not exist. That means there really is no consequence of misindentifying a chestnut liver or a very dark red.

When the golden was split off from the flat-coat, it was decided very quickly that goldens would have black skin. Brown-skinned goldens are extremely rare. This trait in the Tweed water dog was bred out of them. It still pops up every once in a while, but it is rare compared to the black-skinned red to yellow.

Why did goldens have to have black skin?

Most sources say that the brow-skinned dogs had rather hard expressions.

However, I think there is another good reason.

If you breed a black skinned red to yellow to a liver, you can produce black puppies.

If you’ve accidentally moved a chestnut liver into the golden registry, which did happen, and breed it to a mahogany or dark red golden, chances were pretty good that the puppies would be black. If you breed a brown-skinned red to yellow to a black-skinned red to yellow, you will most likely get a litter that is a heterozygous black-skinned red to yellow in color. However, if that so-called brown-skinned red to yellow is actually a reddish liver,  the puppies will probably be black in color.

Because it is sometimes hard to tell a red to yellow with brown skin from a liver, you simply make brown skin an undesireable trait. Then you don’t have the confusion.

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This tricolor BC has the black and tan coloration that its ancestors introduced into retrievers and Gordon setters.

This tricolor BC has the black and tan coloration that its ancestors introduced into retrievers and Gordon setters.

Here  is a painting of a terrier, a pointer, and a retriever by Landseer. The retriever is obvious. It even has the same expression in its eyes we see in our dogs today. It is black and tan with some white on its chest. This black and tan color was quite common in the wavy-coated landrace and the old flat-coated retriever breed. It still exists in the Labrador.

The black and tan coloration comes two sources. One that is usually mentioned is the Gordon setter, which is black and tan. However, in the nineteenth century, Gordons were allowed to come in a much wider variety of colors. And the Gordon got its black and tan coloration from a specific source.

And I think that this source is the main source for black and tan in retrievers, too.

All the classic dog books talk about the use of collies in producing retrievers, including Idstone, who talks about how much the introduction of collie blood improves a retriever. If you would like to see what the typical collie of the nineteenth century looked like, click here. This is an excellent post about what collies once looked like. Queen Victoria did not have the borzoi-muzzled dogs we know as collies today.

And what I find interesting is that if you cross a modern collie, even a sable one, with a golden. You’ll get a very similar dog. (The only dog that isn’t a collie-golden cross on that page is the golden mix with collie ears). These dogs are always black with some white or black and tan. And they strongly resemble the old-type collie and the old wavy-coated landrace of retriever with collie ancestry.

Further adding to my case, when I was growing up, the neighbors had an English shepherd that looked like a very long-haired flat-coated retriever. She was solid black in color with floppy ears. In fact, when I first saw a flat-coat in a dog book, I thought that the flat-coat was an English shepherd.

In the loose-eyed Welsh sheepdog, which is one of those working collie breeds,  one can find dogs that also have this appearance. The dog in the link looks very much like my neighbor’s English shepherd.

For those of you who have heard the golden called a “swamp collie,” you now know that collie-types were important in the founding of its ancestors. You should take this supposed pejorative in pride, because the collie introduced even higher levels of biddability and intelligence in our dogs.

Because the collie crosses happened before the surge in collie popularity, I think tendency to not make as much a deal out of collie in the retriever bloodlines.  Collies were dogs for working class people, while retrievers were dogs for the landed gentry. Admitting collie ancestry would be almost like suggesting some sort of taint to their noble retriever dogs. Further, I think that the retriever breeders who bred collie into their lines were less willing to admit the cross because doing so would admit a trade secret. And collies were very common throughout Britain and Ireland.

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This yellow Labrador puppy is a chocolate/liver, but his gene for coat color is the recessive red to yellow.

This yellow Labrador puppy is a chocolate/liver, but his gene for coat color is the recessive red to yellow.

All retrievers come in four basic colors. These colors are black and liver/chocolate, which are the only colors allowed in the curly-coated retriever. The other colors are the recessive red to yellow with black skin pigment and recessive red to yellow with brown skin pigment. Chesapeake Bay retrievers come in liver/chocolate and recessive red to yellow with brown skin pigment (the deadgrass ones are pale yellow in color). As far as I know Murray River curlies come in only liver. Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers come in recessive red to yellow (usually darker gold to red) usually with brown skin pigment. However, some do exist with black skin pigment. These dogs have minor white markings on them, which were once commonplace in all retrievers. Golden retrievers are recessive red to yellow with black skin pigment, but a very rare minority have brown skin pigment. Most field line goldens are towards the darker end of that spectrum, while most European show line goldens are towards the lighter end of that spectrum. Flat-coats come in the red to yellow coloration with both brown skin pigment or black skin pigment, but their standard colors are black and liver. Labs are the only retrievers to have all four colors standardized. Labs also come in black and tan and a diluted liver color, both of which exist in no other retrievers.

A dog carrying the dominant gene for black is signified with “B,” while a dog carrying the liver/chocolate gene is “b.”  A homozygous black Lab, flat-coat, or curly is B/B. A homozygous liver or chocolate is b/b. This is the only way that a chocolate can be expressed. If a dog is heterozygous, carrying the B/b genotype, the dog is black but it carries the gene for liver/chocolate.

But what about the red to yellow color?  That is a gene that affects coat color only. It is a recessive color, so it can only be expressed when a dog has a homozygous e/e genotype. A black skinned yellow or red dog, which has a big black nose, is a dog that is a B/B or B/b in that genotype, but it has a homozygous e/e genotype for its coat color. If a yellow ro red dog has brown skin, with a brown nose and brown lips, the  dog is a b/b with a homozygous e/e genotype for coat color.

If you breed a chocolate Lab, which is E/E and b/b, to a golden retriever which is e/e and B/B (which is what the vast majority of goldens are), the puppies will be E/e and B/b. The heterozygous E/e means that the puppies will not be red to yellow in color, and the B/b means that the puppies will be black instead of liver/chocolate!

Now, let’s say you take two black labs that are E/e and B/b.  This combination that can get you all four colors in the same litter.

Labs and Chesapeakes occasionally come in brindle, but this brindling tends to be lighter than that of boxers and greyhounds. Brindle is almost extinct in the Lab. In fact, I’ve never seen one, but brindle occasionally pops up in the Chesapeake. I am not certain if this brindling in retrievers is determined by the same genetics as other brindle dogs. If so, then brindling is a dominant gene over a solid color gene. Boxer breeders know this genetics very well, because this is the main color genetics for that breed. Brindle is nonstandard in any retrieving breed, so we generally don’t deal with it.

Labs also have a dilution gene that pops up. Non dilution is dominant to dilution. Silver labs are diluted livers or chocolates, and that is why they are registered a chocolates. Charcoal labs are actually diluted black labs. The gene for this color exists in no other retriever. One theory is that this gene was introduced by a cross with a Norwegian elkhound. However, elkhounds aren’t this color at all. The real culprit for the color is more likely the weimaraner, which is another gundog breed that often has retrieving instinct.

So now you know the genes behind retriever color. And when someone tells you that he bred a golden retriever with a chocolate poodle to produce goldendoodles, you can tell him what color to expect in the whelping box!

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