Home Page Forums Darwin’s Ark About the new "Shapes and Colors" survey

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    There were a few questions where some of the answer choices seemed a little unclear. Apologies if I’m being nitpicky here, I was delighted to see a survey on this topic. : – )

    for question 3) :

    — should liver/brown and gray/blue maybe specify “(including the nose and eye rims)”? For example in some breeds livers are called (and may appear) red, which can cause confusion. (although I could see where adding that might also cause confusion, since some dogs have the liver or blue nose but not that coat color…)
    — “light brown” looks lavender on my monitor. Does this mean like a Weimaraner, i.e. a taupe or pale ashy-brown shade? (in which case again the nose and eye rims may also be that color)
    — what would be an example of a “pink”-coated dog?
    — should the black-tipped hairs some fawn/tan/red dogs (e.g. sable/”Lassie” Collies) have along their toplines and sometimes sides be counted as having “black”?

    for question 4) :

    — does “None” mean “solid-colored,” or does it mean “none of the above patterns”? Because several coat patterns aren’t included in the examples, e.g. saddle pattern, cream points/urajiro, black tipping on topline, face mask etc.

    for question 8) :

    — does “freckles” mean ticking/roaning?

    for question 9) :

    — should there be a “gray” option since some dilute dogs have gray eyes into adulthood?


    kristen johnson 2

    I just realized there was another survey! I definitely appreciated the pictures because I don’t know a lot of the terms for coat patterns and such. I also liked that I could pick several options. My little guy has the little spots that are from his Australian Cattle Dog but then he has a big black spot on his butt and the black mask on his face. I wondered about the blue on the tongue though because i know mine have blue on the roof of their mouth and gums…..but I don’t think they have any on the tongue. I’ll have to double check though. I wasn’t sure if I should take it literal and say no cause it’s not on the tongue or if in the mouth is all they wanted to know.


    kathleen morrill

    Thanks for the feedback, Jennifer!

    It’s definitely a challenge to define these traits in a way that’s agnostic to breed-specific terminology. The hope is that, even if not all dogs answer exactly “correctly” with regards to coat color genetics, that across dogs these answers will be sufficient for finding genetic associations. We also encourage using the comment section for answers, because we can also mine that data for further clarification.

    ( is a great resource for canine coat color nerds, or aspiring coat color nerds like me )

    Question 3:

    Light brown is indeed trying to capture “dilute liver”, so that would cover “lilac”, “isabella” dogs — yes, best exemplified by Weimaraners!

    Pink is a funny one. I threw in there in case a dog’s coat is so sparse or white that the owner mostly sees their skin tone, or if they’re largely bald like a Crested. I’ll be surprised if anyone chooses it but I wanted to provide the option.

    I would consider sable, grizzle, or agouti dogs as having black in their coats, but it is up to the owner to make that call. Across dogs, we will hopefully capture enough information to study it.

    Question 4:

    “None” is indeed a catch-all for none of the above patterns, including solid. I found that in the previous Physical Traits survey, many dogs with ticking or roan patterns answered “merle”. So, I felt it was necessary to have a question to break those patterns up. Some evidence suggests that roan and ticking have a shared genetic basis, and that Dalmatian spots are a modified form of ticking at another locus. This may help us decipher that relationship.

    Question 8:

    My dog falls into the “freckled but not ticked” category — she has several freckles on the legs, but not across her body. I suspect those who answer Q4 with ticking or roaning may also select this, but I’m curious to see dogs who have very few ticks — closer to freckles.

    Question 9:

    Oh, that’s very interesting and I’ll admit, we didn’t realize this possibility. I suppose comments on the answers may help pick these out.


    kathleen morrill

    Kristen, I’d lean towards “no” because the spots don’t extend out to the tongue. We had the Chow and Shar Pei tongues in mind, but also know many dogs who have distinctively spotty tongues.

    I personally think this tongue trait in the survey, oddly, may help us explore the question of “why is there so much Chow in mixed breed dogs?!” (and is all that Chow real?)

    We are working on a blog post soon that will explain more about how we tested out the new survey and the status of our current physical traits studies.


    kristen johnson 2

    Thanks for clarifying. I believe I answered no because I figured it was better to take it literal. I have yet to fill out the survey for my other dog because I wanted to check her tongue first. I’m glad to see clarification on the freckled one……because I would’ve totally thought this was like my dog who has a white coat (with a grey spot on her back and eye) but her skin is so spotted! When she was a puppy she only had a few spots on her skin but every time I bathe her and see her skin underneath she has more spots. She’s covered now. I always call them her freckles. Lol.



    Thanks Kathleen. I guess I may change my answer re 3) then, because Luna definitely has sable tipping showing in her body patches, I just wasn’t sure whether that “counted” or not.

    Re 9) it’s definitely not common, but I’ve volunteered with our local public shelter for a couple decades, where we get tons of pit mixes, and I’ve seen it maybe a few times in bluenose pits (not puppies). Usually they turn that yellowish-greenish-amberish color but apparently not quite 100% of the time.


    rebecca rice

    You may want to consider adding the “classic tri-color” option as well on the coat patterns. That’s most associated with dogs like Dobermanns, but shows up in other breeds as well, where the dog has tan cheeks, eyebrows, inside ears, and sometimes on the legs as well.


    michael spalding

    Perhaps I misinterpreted the choices in color patterns, but my Ollie has (had, deceased) a common color pattern for which you offered no choice: 99% black, with a white blaze on the chest and one white paw. Did I miss seeing the correct choice, or is this a color pattern you should add to the questionnaire?


    kathleen morrill

    Michael — While “Shapes & Colors” survey doesn’t cover all color patterns, the “Physical Traits” survey has a question and option close to what Ollie expresses. The “How much white fur does DOG have?” question, option 6 is the right choice for very small amounts of white spotting (like socks or blazes).

    Rebecca — Good point! For “Shapes & Colors”, we wanted to keep the coat pattern options in black & white to best generalize the patterns, as there can be a lot of variation in color and pattern combos, but we did miss out on tan points due to this choice.

    Sometimes, when we perform genomic studies, we will combine information from multiple survey questions. If we see that a dog has selected black + tan + white in their colors question, and some level of white spotting in the “Physical Traits” survey, then we have a good idea that they are tri-color. It can also be useful to look at these as two separate traits — black & tan coloration and white spotting — because many coat traits can be controlled by multiple genes.

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