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A GUIDE TO: Poodle Genes, Colours, and Patterns



A Short Guide to Poodle Colours, Patterns, and Genes

This short guide turned into a monster ._.

Flower's not happy with her jeans. Gwin seems very content with her overalls and Dewey... he looks a bit too comfortable in those booty shorts. 

Since there seems to be a lot of interest in poodles floating around lately (YAY!) I'm finally gonna update this! First, I'm updating it with all appropriate patterns and colours, including interesting gobbets. A little later, I'll try and write out as many of the genes as I can. I'm also attaching links to illustrations of some of our dogs that display the colours, so you can see them in action! Hopefully it helps!

DISCLAIMER: Please note that while I'm a poodle enthusiast, have lived and grown up with 8 during the span of my lifetime, I am NOT a geneticist and am still learning! I do hope to make this as easy for new poodle owners as possible though!

GENETICS NOTE! This guide DOES assume that you have basic genetics terminology down (such as homozygous, co-dominant, etc) and thus will not be explaining them.

GENETICS NOTE! Displayed next to the colour names are all the cases where said colour is EXPRESSED. For example: Red is expressed when the genotype is (ee). It is NOT expressed when the genotype is (EE) or (Ee), so neither of those have been included 

GENETICS NOTE! The 'K' locus controls black. In order for some patterns and colours to be expressed, the dog has to be recessive for black. I've marked colours that depend on the K allele by including them in the genotype listed next to the colour name. 

Base Colours

White is your classic poodle colour. When you think of a posh lady walking her Standard down the street, chances are it's white. While the ideal white poodle is a solid white, you can also have whites with cream touched ears and backs. This is less desirable, but still acceptable. Some white poodles have pink skin, others have black skin. We don't get it because as of yet, geneticists haven't quite figured out how white works in poodles. There's no gene for it. We don't know if it's dominant. Here at Black Pearl, we USED to have a gene for it, but have since decided to go along with white's unpredictable nature, and roll for it in each of our litters.


White 1White 2

Silver ( KK Vv / KK vv / Kk Vv / Kk vv )
Silver is a fun gene. One of my favourites, actually. Unlike many genes, silver is displays incomplete dominance, which means that the shade of silver you get is largely dependant on your stud and bitch, and how many copies of the gene your puppy has. For example, say a homozygous silver stud is bred with a black bitch, and passes one of his silver genes on to his pups. Because of their mother, and their single copy of the gene, the puppies will likely be a dark, steely grey, unlike their light and clear daddy. Like many genes, silvers are born dark (in this case black) and lighten with age. The way to tell if a pup will be silver is to check the roots of their fur, which are always a lighter colour. By the time the puppy is six weeks old, he should already have started to grey out. If he doesn't have a silver face or paws by this point, he's not a silver. Points on these pups are ALWAYS black, as silver is the effect of the 'v' gene on BLACK, and not on any other colour.... except like... blue, which is basically black, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. A silver with brown points... is an anomaly. How did that happen, Steve? How?



Silver Beige ( KK Vv / KK vv / Kk Vv / Kk vv )
Silver beige is pretty much the same thing as silver; they're both controlled by the same gene, both display incomplete dominance, and both can be recognised in the same way (check your roots!). The only difference? Silver Beige is the expression of the 'v' gene on a brown coat rather than a black one. These puppies are born chocolate and like their silver counterparts, age over time, showing their silver faces and paws at around 6 weeks. Also similar to silver, this colour comes in a wide variety of shades. Since this is the effect of silver on brown (or isabella), the points must be brown. No black noses here bub!

Examples: Silver Beige

Cream ( kk ee cece )
There are three colours in poodles that are affected by the 'ee' or 'red' gene. The first is Cream, which is also the lightest of the three. Creams can range anywhere from almost white with hints of colour, to an eggnog-y colour (mmmm... Christmas....), or a whipped butter-ish colour. Usually, these guys have black noses and eyes, though it's not unknown for cream to be thrown onto a liver pup. It's not desired though, as the AKC will not let these puppies show conformation.

Examples: coming soon!

Apricot ( kk ee cchcch )
The second of the 'e' phenotypes is Apricot, which comes in a whole range of shades. However, unlike cream, apricots tend to have more of a reddish or orangish hue to their coats, even the paler ones. The deeper apricots can have a dark umber look to their coats, while on lighter dogs, the colour may seem a little more thinned out or mixed up with some white. The AKC does prefer a continuous shade of apricot, but technically will not fault the dog for variations in the coat. Preferred points are black, though brown, while not desired, are also acceptable. Like many poodle colours, these puppies are born dark and lighten with age.


Apricot 1, Apricot 2

Red ( kk ee )
The third and final 'red' colour is indeed red. Though it's not a new colour, it has only recently been accepted by the AKC. Reds very in shade from almost apricot-y to a dark, irish setter red. The darker, clearer colours are preferred. Likewise, black points are preferred, but brown is also acceptable.


Red 1Red 2

Brown/Chocolate ( Kk bb / KK bb )
Chocolates come in a wide range of shades, from a dark, rich almost-black to a light and creamy mousse. Unlike many poodle colours, these babies change very little or not at all in colour as they age. Or, that's the idea anyway. In reality, most of these guys will actually fade over time due to sun exposure or just plain 'that's how poodles work!'. But your genuine, truest-of-the-true brown should remain the same colour his or her whole life. This isn't penalised in show of course, as most people are realistic that finding the holy grail of chocolates doesn't happen as often as we'd like it too. As an afterthought: all chocolates should have brown points.


Brown 1Brown 2

Café Au Lait (Isabella) ( Kk bb dd / KK bb dd )
Or, as my mum calls it, "Café con leche." That is not the proper term. Nor is 'isabella'. Don't get me wrong; isabella is EXACTLY what this colour is. We're just too fancy to call it that apparently. Café au lait is a chocolate poodle with a dilute, and are born dark, fading out to it's true colour around 1 1/2 to 2 years of age. A puppy that's born café au lait is not indeed café au lait -- this babies are most likely cream. Bare in mind that like chocolates, all poodles of this colour will have brown points!

Examples: coming soon!

Black ( KK / Kk )
Ah, the one other poodle colour that ever shows up in the show ring. Blacks should be a beautiful, solid onyx colour, with no variation in the coat (no unsuspecting silver! That's not a black). They should have brown eyes and black points, no exceptions. These babies don't fade over time like some of their more colourful cousins. With black, it's what you see is what you get.


Black 1Black 2

Blue ( KK dd / Kk dd )
Blue is a diluted black, just like a café au lait is a diluted chocolate. These babies are born almost black, and the only ways to distinguish them from their black brethren are: 1) by looking at their points, which will always be blue; and 2) by recognising the brownish tinge or sheen to their coats, which their black counterparts don't have. Over time though, these guys will fade out into blues of varying hues. It WILL take a while though, as blue can take up to three years to properly clear out. 




Before we start, please note!!! Most of the colours in this segment are not recognised by the AKC (UKC yes). Even those that are recognised are not allowed in the show ring!! So as you now, you will not be able to show your parti poodle in conformation.

Parti Colour ( Ssp / spsp )
Yes, this is essentially piebald, just more fun, because ours has the word 'party' in it. Anyway. A parti poodle can be a combination of white and any colour in the poodle rainbow. A minimum of 50% of the dog must be covered in white for it to be recognised as a parti. Note that a dog with two copies of the sp gene will have FAR more white than a dog with only one copy. A dog with a single copy may have very little to no expression of it. 


Apricot Parti Colour

Tuxedo ( Ssp / spsp )
Tuxedo is controlled by the same gene as parti colour. Genetically, it's no different; the difference is in the expression of the gene. Where a parti coulor is a dog with at least 50% white, a Tuxedo is one with less than 50%. They WILL produce parti puppies. ANY PARTI can produce a tuxedo puppy. Tuxedos usually have white chests and underbellies, as well as 'stockings' of white. They may or may not have white on their heads or on the ends of their tails. They can come in any colour. Note that a dog with two copies of the sp gene will have FAR more white than a dog with only one copy. A dog with a single copy may have very little to no expression of it. 


Chocolate Tuxedo

Ticking ( TT / Tt )
Ticking is not to be confused with parti colour -- because it's completely different. Ticking flecks of colour distributed over the body of a dog, and is yet another example of incomplete dominance. A dog with two copies of the gene will be more heavily marked than a dog with one. While ticking is acceptable in poodles, it's not the most desirable. However, it will not be penalised in the UKC ring (or any other club that allows patterned poodles, to my knowledge). Ticking will always be the same colour as the dog's base coat, and will appear to be little 'holes' or 'windows' through the white. Note that a solid dog can still carry ticking, but it will not be distressed because the dog has no white on it. Thus, ticking is pretty much only expressed if the dog has the 'sp' gene or a mismark, which will act as a canvas for the ticking to splatter itself all over. 



Phantom ( kk atat )
Phantom is essentially an awesome way to say 'back and tan'. Or 'chocolate and tan'. Or anything and tan really. Any combination is valid. Likewise, the tan itself can range in colour from a warm brown, to a vibrant, deep reddish colour, to a pale cream. Note though that phantom is a recessive gene, so in order to have a phantom puppy in your litter, BOTH parents have to have at least one copy of the gene.


Black and Silver Phantom

Sable ( kk Aay / kk ayay / kk ayat )
Sable is much the same as it is in other breeds. It comes in a variety of base colours (red, apricot, chocolate, etc), and is marked by the presence of black-tipped (or depending on the circumstances just generally dark-tipped) hairs. Some sables are born with masks, but these tend to fade out with time. It's also not uncommon for sables to fade out so that the ears are significantly darker than the rest of the body, which at times might fade to near white. Note that sable is dominant over all colours on the A locus, and only needs one copy to be expressed.


Sable Parti Colour

Brindle ( kbrk / kbrkbr )
Surprisingly enough, brindle is a 'classic' colour in poodles that can be seen in paintings dating to way back in the time of I-can't-remember-and-am-too-lazy-to-look-it-up. I'm a good person. Moving on. Brindle is marked by a striped coat. There are many shades, colours, and combinations of brindle due to the fact that the stripes are affected by eumelanin (black-based) and the base is affected by phaeomelanin (brown-based). There are also many widths of stripes, depending on the coat, which can make the dog appear darker or lighter. Some dogs are also more heavily striped than others; some have stripes that run evenly over their whole bodies while others have stripes that don't reach the legs, face or belly. In some cases, brindle poodles have masks. This is uncommon however, as masks don't appear very often in poodles. 


BrindleBrindle TuxedoBrindle Parti Colour

Mismarked/Abstract ( Ssp / spsp / Genetic Anomaly )
A mismarked or abstract marking can occur on any base colour. It's usually just a little splash of white, maybe a patch of it on the chest or a some white paws. It's a poodle with too little white to be considered a parti or a tuxedo. Mismarks are caused one of two ways: 1) it's a minimal expression of parti (caused by having only one copy of the 'sp' gene designated to parti colour). 2) It's caused by a lack of pigment; while a puppy is being 'cooked' in mummy's belly, perhaps the colour didn't manage to 'wrap' itself around the entire dog, leaving bits of colourless fur at the extremities such as toes, tips of tails, and chests. This is quite random, and cannot be bred for. 


Brindle with Mismark

Masking ( EmE / Eme / EmEm )
Despite the fact that you never see a poodle with a mask, they do carry the gene for it. The reason you seldom see it expressed is that masks don't show up on solid dogs. For a mask to be expressed, the dog needs to be either sable, fawn, agouti, or tanpoint. Poodles have neither agouti or fawn, which means it has less of an opportunity to show, and thus we seldom see it. On top of that, poodles fade over time, so a prominent mask as a puppy may be washed out as an adult. Add constant shaving to that list, and the mask is pretty much nonexistent. Which actually does happen, as poodle fur is constantly growing and changing (the same is true of all 'hair not fur' breeds), which means that the colour can actually be shaved out of existence. Now that that base is covered, let's move on! Masks are linked to eumelanin, which means it can come in several fun colours: black, blue, chocolate or isabella. 

coming soon!

Dodgy Patterns and Colours

While one does occasionally see a merle poodle, it is NOT a natural colour for the breed, and thus every merle poodle is a result of some introduction of another breed (possibly cocker spaniel, though we're unsure) way back when. This tends to bring up rather heated conversations among poodle enthusiasts, but know that most people do not consider a merle poodle pure, as there is no merle in classic lines and thus it had to be introduced to the breed. Another reason people tend to dislike the introduction of merle is because it presents a whole new problem to the breed: that of the notorious double merle. Where you stand on merle poodles is entirely up to you!

Do not confuse ticking and roaning, because they are completely different, despite the fact that heavily ticked animals may somewhat slightly resemble roan ones. Roaning never occurs in poodles. It doesn't exist. If you see a poodle with roaning, it's a mixed breed.

Royal Poodle 
Royal is neither a colour nor a pattern, but is yet another highly debated poodle thing. Rather, Royal is a height that refers to a 'giant poodle', one size up from standard. The debate here is that a Royal poodle is pretty much a marketing ploy, as the AKC as well as other breed clubs generally dub anything over 38cm (15 inches) to be a plain old standard. So if you come across 'royal poodles', that's pretty much it. Nothing fancy or impressive. It's just a ploy to dazzle people into thinking something is rare and unique so they'll pay more for it.

Did you know?

• Patterned poodles ARE registrable with the AKC. They are not, however, allowed to be shown in conformation. Only solid coloured poodles may.

• Poodle ears tend to be darker than the rest of their bodies! Why? Who cares?! It's adorable! JK, we know why. Poodle ears tend to be shaved least, which means the hair regrows less, which means loss of pigment is less likely)

• Most puppies (including silvers, apricots, etc) are born dark and lighten with age, usually reaching their mature adult colours by 2 years max, though some clear as early as a year old. In some odd cases with red, puppies are born light and darken. In still MORE odd cases with red, puppies are born light... then darken... then lighten. Red's weird.

• Traditionally, poodles were parti coloured, and yet the idea of a patterned poodle seems blasphemous to some.

• Poodles were initially bred in Germany to be gun dogs and retrievers. The continental clip (the clip you usually see in conformation shows) was developed to keep the dog warm in frigid German waters, (YES those pompoms are there for a reason! They keep joints toasty!) as well as to keep the dog buoyant, acting as a very fancy life vest.
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I love your art and look forward to more uploads :) Kara