Ji Khalsa and Alicia Hobson: the Genetics of Coat Type and Color

by Oct 19, 2022Podcast0 comments

Jessica Hekman: Welcome to the Functional Breeding Podcast. I’m Jessica Hekman, and I’m here interviewing folks about how to breed dogs for function and for health: behavioral and physical. This podcast is brought to you by the Functional Dog Collaborative, an organization founded to support the ethical breeding of healthy, behaviorally sound dogs. FDC’s goals include providing educational, social, and technical resources to breeders of both purebred and mixed breed dogs. You can find out more at www.functionalbreeding.org, or at the Functional Breeding Facebook Group, which is a friendly and inclusive community. I hope you have fun and learn something.


Jessica Hekman: Hi friends, this week we’re getting nerdy about the genetics of dog coat color and type with two breeders, Ji Khalsa and Alicia Hobson. Ji has a Master’s degree in microbiology and biochemistry and has done additional work in genetics. She has bred and trained working dogs most of her adult life. She’s the founder of Midwoofery, a highly respected, science-based educational resource for responsible dog breeders. Alicia is the founder of the Bearded Retriever Project, which is developing a breed based on poodles, Labrador retrievers, and golden retrievers, with the goal of creating great companions. Both love teaching and are very good at it, and have a lot to teach about the genetics behind dog coats. So welcome Alicia and Ji to the podcast. Thank you so much for being on with me.

Ji Khalsa: Thank you for having us. This is going to be fun.

Alicia Hobson: Yeah, thank you, Jessica.

JH: So normally I start out… This is not one of the questions I gave you guys for prep, but normally I start out asking people to tell us about their dogs, what dogs they live with. Because you’re both breeders it’s possible you’re going to have a lot of dogs. So why don’t we start with Ji, how many dogs do you have? 

JK: I have three dogs.

JH: Oh, that’s easy enough. So why don’t you tell us a little bit. 


JH: Sometimes, there was one person who was like, “Well, I have 15.”, and I was like, “Okay, now let’s take a summary.”

JK: Gobi is four, and she’s my main girl, she’s my main companion dog. And she’s, I love her because she’s super, super quiet and laid back in the house and an incredible athlete outside. And she knows the difference. And then I’ve got two adolescents, Woolly and Valle. And they’re a lot of fun also.

JH: And Alicia, how about you? Do you have a number of dogs that you could go over quickly?

AH: Yeah, I’ve got three and I co-own one. The three that I have in my home, though, are an eight year old standard poodle, and she’s very sassy. I’ve got a four year old bearded retriever, and he’s just a sweetheart. And then I’ve got a two year old bearded retriever/goldendoodle girl. And she’s just a lot of fun, she’s really enthusiastic. Her name is Sailor.

JH: So you should probably let people know just quick what a bearded retriever is because not everybody is going to know that.

AH: Yeah, it’s some combination of poodle, golden retriever, and Labrador retriever. And my bearded retrievers don’t have Labrador content yet because it’s really hard with the coat traits. But mine right now are just combinations of poodle and golden retriever. But I hope to bring Labrador into my line pretty soon.


JH: Perfect. So that’s going to be something that we’ll definitely talk about in this interview about coat traits and why you would want to bring in certain coat traits and breed away from others. But I guess I wanted to start out just at a basic level of talking about how complicated are coat genetics, like is it, is it pretty straightforward? Is there a lot going on there?

JK: There’s a lot going on. Coat genetics are very complicated. Once you get into it I think they’re kind of fun, they’re like a puzzle to figure out. But they are very complicated. And they did make me, when I first started looking at canine coat genetics, I did have to go back to some of my genetics textbooks. 

JH: Yeah, I would say coming from a perspective of someone who studies behavioral genetics, I would say coat genetics are probably as complicated as they can be with us sort of understanding all of the genes. And when you get more complicated than that, like into behavior stuff, it’s because we don’t even know what the genes are. But with coat genetics for a lot of the cases, we actually know what the genes are and what they’re doing, but not all of the cases.

JK: Right. Yes, and you know, it’s a little bit easier with coat genetics than with behavior because it’s easier to identify, phenotype.

JH: Is it black? Is it white? Yeah. 

JK: Right. 

JH: So how much of this stuff can we test for with genetic testing?

JK and AH: Most of it. 


JH: I was hearing, I remember when I got into genetics we didn’t have a test for how dark red would be. So golden retrievers are technically red, and they go from very blonde to fairly dark red. And we at least, I think genetics has at least started to find where that is controlled, although I don’t know that there’s a test for that yet. That’s one of the few things, right? So like, if you wanted to know, you know, what kind of black and stuff like that. But let’s talk about what that means. So why would you want to do a genetic test on a dog to understand stuff about its coat color, because you can just look and see what its color and its type is, right? So why do you need to do a genetic test?

AH: There’s a lot of stuff you can’t see by looking at them.

JH: Well tell us about it.

AH: Sometimes people will do it because they’re trying to avoid a specific color. That’s usually what I see. In like, for instance, the doodle community, a lot of people want to avoid having an all black litter. Which I really like, I like the black litters so I think it’s kind of sad that people try so hard to avoid it. But if they breed a really beautiful cream colored poodle, for instance, with a really pretty chocolate colored doodle and then they get a litter where every single puppy is all black, most of the time they’re pretty shocked by this. They didn’t even know that that was an option. But it turns out the cream color and the brown color are both recessive colors and so unless both parents carry for both of those colors, none of the puppies are going to turn out looking that way. And so I think people just don’t like to be surprised. They want to anticipate what’s going to be produced when they pair two dogs together.


JK: There are also some health ramifications of color. 

JH: That’s true. Yeah, can we have some examples of that? 

JK: Sure, the two most prominent ones are merle and piebald. I think that piebald is known in poodles and doodles as parti. So both of them are associated with deafness and merle is also associated with microphthalmia, which is a small eye. And a small eye itself isn’t a problem, but there are problems associated with that specific anatomical type.

AH: And there’s also color dilution alopecia that a lot of people want to avoid as well.

JK: Yes, thank you. I forgot about that.


JH: Yeah, those are great examples. So it might be then a good time to sort of talk through why you could have a dog who was merle, and that is okay, but why you would not want to breed a merle to another merle. And we haven’t talked about homozygous versus heterozygous, having one allele for something versus having two alleles for something. Would one of you want to sort of take a shot at that? Because there may be some listeners who haven’t absorbed that bit of genetics yet. 

JK: Sure. Alicia, do you want to do it? Or do you want me to? 

AH: You go for it Ji. 

JK: Okay, so if you’re talking about a simple trait, which is a one gene trait, you have two alleles for each one, one comes from each parent. And when you have, when each of the alleles, each of the genes on a chromosome is the same, so you have the same one from the mom and the same one from the dad, it’s called homozygous. And when they’re different it’s called heterozygous.

JH: So when I have a merle dog, what, how did I get a merle dog? Is he going to be homozygous? Heterozygous?

JK: So that can be one, it could be one or both. With merle, merle’s a little different. When we think about genetics and dogs most of us are familiar with health testing, which is really important. And most things that we test for health-wise are recessive genes. That means that two copies, that they need to be homozygous for the deleterious mutation in order for the disease to be a risk or to show. But with a dominant trait you only need one, and merle is dominant. So you only need one gene for merle to show and if you have two genes, you have what’s colloquially, commonly known as a double merle. And that’s where you have the highest risk is with a double merle. And the reason you have the risk with the double merle is pretty much the same as with piebald. Because when you have double merle, you have a lot of white on the dog, and when you have piebald you can, depending on the type of piebald and whether or not it’s homozygous or heterozygous, you can have a lot of white on the dog and it’s the white  that can cause the problem. It doesn’t always cause the problem. But you know, we think about pigment as just being color, but pigment also has a function in the body. And it has a function for example in the inner ear and when that pigment isn’t there in the inner ear, the cochlea doesn’t work properly and you have hearing loss.

JH: And yes, which is, actually it’s, I feel like it’s so cool because it’s the pigment in the hairs in the inner ear, it’s pigment in the hairs on the body. Like we don’t think of them as being hair in the inner ear. 

JK: Or it having a function, right?

JH: But I always forget. Right. Yeah, it’s neat. 

JK: Yeah, it’s really cool.

JH: Yeah, it’s really, it is. So then if I want to be producing merles, how do I do that safely?

JK: You read a lot. And there are double merles that are safe. And there are single merles that are more risky. So, merle is a really crazy gene. Merle is one of the most unstable genes out there, it changes not only with every generation, so the length of the merle gene changes with every generation. But it can also be different in different cells in the body. So you can have a merle gene of one length in one cell and the cell next to it can have a merle gene of a totally different length. And you can actually have a mosaic that way.

JH: I actually did not know that. How common is that in dogs?

JK: I think that the research is showing that it’s more common than we realized.

JH: Yeah, it’s one of those things that you don’t know until you look for it, right? And you don’t think to look for it.

JK: Right, right! 

JH: Yeah. Interesting. So that might be a good reason why you might want to do a genetic test then, right? Because you have a dog who is a merle, and you want to know who you can breed him to safely? 

JK: Correct.

AH: Or, you can have a dog who doesn’t look like a merle, but maybe it is.

JK: Right. Great point, great point. So that’s, so the length of the merle gene determines the amount of dilution. So a number of labs these days, when you do a merle test will tell you how long the gene is. And the longer the gene, the more likely you are to have dilution. So that’s one thing to look at. And when you’re breeding two dogs, the length of the gene determines whether or not it’s safe to breed two merles together. So you can breed to shorter merle genes together and be safer than if you bred two longer merle genes together. And it gets pretty complex.

JH: Yeah, it does. It was one of those things that was, I feel like, you know, 10 or 20 years ago, we felt like it was pretty straightforward. You just don’t breed a merle to another merle, and you’re safe. 

JK: Right. 


JH: And now we’re starting to learn more about it. Can you tell us what you mean by dilution?

JK: So dilution is just, let’s say, so I’m assuming everybody knows what merle looks like. But in case you don’t, it kind of has a patchwork effect on a coat. And I’m just, there are different types of merle so they all look a little bit different, so I’m talking about the classic merle that most of us are familiar with. So it’s just a random patchwork on a coat. So if a dog, the base color of the coat is black, then the coat will randomly be patches of black and various shades of gray, and the areas where it’s gray are where it’s diluted, so the black pigment isn’t fully expressed. And then if you have a really long merle gene or a modifier like harlequin, or a double merle, the dilution can be so strong that it’s white and not even gray. And that’s where you start to see most of the health issues.

JH: And do we see dilution in other types of coats? Maybe solid colored coats? 

JK: Yeah, yes. 

JH: Yeah, can you tell us a little about that?

JK: We see dilution in piebald, or parti. And there’s also as Alicia mentioned, the actual dilution gene which can cause alopecia.

JH: So some breeds are for the most part dilute, right? Like weimaraners? 

JK: Yes. 

JH: And so that’s, I guess, the way of thinking about that is that it just would take a darker coat color, and then if you have the dilution gene it changes it to a lighter coat color. So from, I forget how they all go, but like black to sort of gray and brown to a more like champagne color. 

JK: Alicia, do you want to take this one? 

AH: Yeah, and you know, I think that even brown is considered a dilution of black, technically. So when you’re diluting black, you’ll get a bluish-gray color. When you’re diluting brown, you’ll get what they often will call isabella, which is kind of like a dusty grayish brown color. You can also see… trying to think, what other colors do we see dilute in, Ji?

JK: Well, we don’t see, progressive graying isn’t dilute per se but it has a similar effect.

AH: That’s true. 

JH: Oh, like in bearded collies, for example, where they’re born one color, but they start changing to gray pretty quickly? 

AH: Right. But that’s not what we technically refer to as dilution because they’re born dark black. It just happens progressively as they age.

JH: Right, which is what she was saying is that it’s sort of a different, a different concept.

AH: Yeah, and dilution will also affect the skin, not just the hair. So you’ll see the dilution in like, the leather on their nose, too, and often their eye color.


JH: And so maybe a good time to talk a little bit about what dilution alopecia is and what that looks like?

AH: Yeah, dilution alopecia happens when, it’s almost like the structure of the hair becomes weakened because the pigment cells, I believe they’re just a little bit further apart than usual, which makes them look lighter. But then the hair itself is not as structurally sound and so they’ll break off and then they’ll stop growing in, and you’ll have a dog with either bald patches or really, really thin hair. It’s just a really poor coat.

JH: So how much of a risk is that if you are breeding to, if you are breeding in the dilution allele because you want to have some of those lighter, more interesting colors? How much of a risk is there that you’re going to get the dilution alopecia along with skin alopecia along with it?

AH: It kind of depends on the breed. I mean, weimaraners, they don’t have a problem with dilution, that I’ve seen at least. But almost every poodle I’ve seen that’s been dilute has had color dilution alopecia. It’s a great problem in like, Labrador retrievers when they breed their silver labs. I think Dobermans tend to have a problem with it too.

JK: There’s actually this similar effect going back to the merle and the piebald, where you’ll see deafness and potentially eye problems in certain breeds, but not in others. So there are breeds that have merles where you see virtually no problems and others where they’re much more endemic. 


JH: Isn’t it interesting? Yeah, I would guess that there’s some risk factor elsewhere in the genome for the eye problems, and then that interacts with the merle. So much to discover. So let’s see, so what are some other color stuff that you might test for? What about tri-color?

JK: So tri-color isn’t a single color. And tri-color is actually a lot more complex than people realize. And so, with color genetics, we have something called epistasis. And epistasis is where one gene controls another or can block another. And so we have a lot of, and if you look at these epistatic genes as gateways, we have a lot of gateways where color can turn on or off the possibility to express other colors. So it’s like this whole cascade sometimes that you have to follow. And to get tri-color, you’ve got first of all the parti gene that will cause the white on the tri. But then you have the K locus and the A locus that will cause the phantom or the tan point. And then you have whether or not the dog has a black base or a brown base coat. As to whether or not the main coat is that color, it gets really complicated. Like I said, I think of it kind of like a puzzle to figure it out. 

AH: And you’ve got the A locus that determines what the pattern is going to be, assuming the K locus lets it happen. 

JK: So to get a tri-color, you have to have a dog that is not red or cream, so isn’t e/e and a dog that expresses, so the dog will express either black or brown for the base coat and the points which are that like the nose and the inner eye and the foot pads, and then you have to have, the permission has to be there by the K locus to express the A locus. So the K locus has to be ky/ky to allow the expression of the A locus, which is the agouti locus, which can express the tan point it can express fawn, it can express sable, it can express wild sable, or it can express black. So there’s a whole cascade to follow there.

JH: Yeah, coat colors when I’m trying to explain the epistasis, when I’m teaching genetics, I tend to use coat color to do it because it’s such a good example of, well, if you have these two genes interacting in this way you can have three different coat colors and if you have three genes interacting, you can have even more. So it’s part of how coat color genetics is so interesting, and then so complex of you know, how all these different things work together. 

JK: Mm hmm.


JH: So, coat colors are, you know, aside from testing for something that is related to a disease or some kind of a physiological issue, they’re less important, I think in a lot of ways, than coat type. Colors are nice to look at but coat type can have some more direct effects on the welfare of the humans in the household. Would one of you want to talk about different coat types a little bit and what, how different people like different kinds and what they’re good for? 

AH: Sure. So I guess one coat type would be a smooth coat. That’s a dog that is not furnished and has short hair.

JH: Tell us what furnished means.

AH: Oh, sure. Furnished is where they’ve got the longer hair growing on their face and on their paws. And it can affect the length of the entire coat altogether.

JH: So it looks like a beard. 

AH: Right. On some dogs that looks like a scruffy mustache and beard and eyebrows, and on some dogs, it’ll grow really, really long. Like for instance, on a Lhasa apso. They’ll have like a drop coat, where the hair on their face goes all the way down almost to the floor. Or there are terriers that will just have the little scruffy wire hair coat. The wire hair coat is a combination of short hair and furnishings. A flat coat is a long haired dog that does not have the furnishing. So like a golden retriever or a border collie. They’ll have the smooth base, the short hair on the paws, but long hair on the rest of the body. And then long hair plus furnishings will often make what they’ll call a drop coat, where the hair on the whole entire body just keeps growing and growing and growing until you cut it.

JH: And that’s often, some people refer to that as hair as opposed to fur. You’ve just been saying hair. But that’s one piece of terminology that I’ve heard that, you know, oh poodles, poodles have hair. And you know, labs or goldens have fur, and that is the difference that we’re actually talking about. It’s really all hair. But we use that terminology in that particular case.

AH: Right. The growth cycle is different. Like with a flat coat with a golden retriever, or with a Labrador that has the shorter hair, their hair will grow to a certain length and then it will all shed out. Usually it’ll shed out during certain seasons like fall or spring. And so we would refer to that as seasonal shedding. And you don’t see that as much in the furnished coats that are long haired as well. The wire hair coats will still shed seasonally, like the little terriers. Theirs will get to a certain length and then just stop growing, and then it won’t change again until they shed and new hair comes in.

JH: I’m definitely living through the shedding cycle right now, with my straight, unfurnished long haired dog. Or one of them is. She has a sort of a soft, spritzy type coat, and she’s definitely shedding quite a bit. Which necessitates brushing. So that’s one of the reasons people might not like that. Although I also note that, so I also have a dog with very short hair, no furnishings, he’s a smooth coated Border Collie. And one thing I’ve noticed is that during the summertime he gets chewed up by flies and mosquitoes in a way that my longer haired dogs don’t. And that may just be because he has not so much fur over his groin area. And so the flies go for that but they go for his ears as well. But somehow I think, I live in New Hampshire, and we have these deer flies which are horrible, mostly in like July, August. And for whatever reason, they just, I feel like they just can’t make it through my other two dogs coats. They have the long haired coats, the flies can’t make it through. But just thinking through like some of the reasons why someone might want a short haired dog versus a long haired dog. So.

AH: Easier to keep up.

JK: Yes! Just as an aside, adding DHA to your dog’s diet, or as a supplement, can help reduce the shedding. It won’t stop it entirely but it can improve the health of the coat and the skin to the point where it does impact shedding to a certain degree.

JH: Oh, interesting. Do we know the mechanism for why that works?

JK: I don’t know the mechanism, offhand. I don’t know that anybody does. It does work.


JH: That is cool. I did not know that. Alright, and then longer haired dogs obviously might do well in the wintertime. Although some short haired dogs have pretty thick coats and do fine. But then the shedding I think is a really big deal for a lot of people and there’s some terminology around there that can be contentious. So the concept of low shedding or no shedding and hypoallergenic, so maybe we could talk through some of that. First of all, are there any dogs that are non-shedding, that just never shed?

AH: There are no mammals that are non-shedding. But the thing is, it’s really semantics. When the average person says I have a non-shedding dog or I want a non-shedding dog, what they’re saying is they want a dog that does not shed seasonally. They don’t want a dog whose entire coat is going to blow out every September or October. What they want is a dog whose coat will grow continuously, and just like with people, they’re going to have some hairs fall out. It just, it’s part of being a mammal, it just happens. But most people are just asking for one that’s not going to leave hair all over the whole house every six months.

JH: Which is reasonable.

JK: Yeah, what I usually tell people is that if they have a furnished dog, they’re not likely to see hair on their furniture or clothes, but they may see, they will see some in that brush when they brush their dogs and they may see a little bit on the floor. As opposed to seasonally shedding dogs where the hair can get everywhere.

JH: Yeah, so then what are the grooming responsibilities that you have, if you have a dog like this, that’s low shedding, not seasonally shedding?

AH: Hair is going to be continuously growing, it’s going to get pretty long, it’s going to start getting tangled up. And depending on how thick that coat is you can see quite a bit of matting if you don’t brush it pretty frequently. So it’s definitely a higher maintenance coat. You have to put more work into brushing it, combing it, washing it and cutting it as opposed to say like a Labrador with a short haired coat. 

JK: Or you can keep your furnished long hair dog cut short and that would lessen the grooming requirements. 

AH: Oh, definitely.

JH: So how often would you have to go to a groomer then, do you think?

AH: Depends on the dog. I’ve got a dog, for instance, I have my four year old Timber. He’s 50/50, poodle/golden retriever. And his coat’s got some kind of a modifier that we can’t test for, but it affects the length of his coat. So while he does have long hair and he has furnishings, his hair will grow to about four, maybe five inches long and then it just stops. And he sheds. I’ll see his hair around my house, it’ll make little dust fluffies that gather in all the corners. And with his hair, it almost never mats. I can give him a haircut every six months, and it stops growing at about four inches long, and so he doesn’t have to have a haircut every four to six weeks like my others do. Like my standard poodle, for instance, if her hair isn’t cut every four to six weeks it gets really difficult to manage and it does start matting really easily.

JK: Alicia, do you think that’s a product of undercoat at all?

AH: Yeah, definitely because my poodle has a very thick undercoat. And my bearded retriever Timber has a very thin undercoat.


JH: So part of what I think is so cool about what both of you do is that you take dogs with different types of coats and breed them multi-generationally with an understanding of the epistatic interactions of the different genes to produce different coat types that are good for different situations. So we’ve already talked about what some of those different situations would be. But Alicia, could you talk maybe a little bit more about something you said earlier on, when you were introducing your dogs and you were talking about how some have coat types that you want to keep in your program and some don’t?

AH: Sure. So personally, my goal as far as coats go, I’m aiming for a low shedding coat and it’s going to be difficult for me to bring Labrador into my program. Because their short-haired coat is dominant, the short hair is dominant, and short hair will always shed seasonally. It reaches that predetermined length and as soon as it reaches that length, it’s going to fall out and then new hair is going to grow in to replace it. So if I bring a Labrador into my program, all of my puppies, because most of the Labradors, the vast majority, will have two short hair genes. So that means all of my puppies are going to shed seasonally and it’s going to be harder to place them. So I have to be careful about how I do it and I’ve been trying to find a labradoodle because that means that some other breeder has already dealt with this and they’ve bred that short hair out so I can just start working with long hair genes. It’d be easier for me. But what I’m trying to do is I’m trying to create a long-haired furnished coat. And ideally I’d like to have two copies of furnishings because two copies of furnishings combined with long hair is the secret recipe for a low shedding coat. I use the term low shedding because everybody will jump right down your throat if you say non-shedding, even though you’re trying to say not seasonally shedding. So I refer to that as low shedding. So I want two copies of furnishings. I want two copies of recessive long hair. I’m trying to breed my undercoat to be lower. I want a thinner undercoat because it’s easier for people to care for. It doesn’t mat up as easily. I also would like to minimalize the amount of curl in my coats. So I’m trying to breed away from the curl genes so that I’ve got straight, long, furnished coat that does not have a profuse undercoat. That’s my goal.

JH: And just out of curiosity, you’re bringing labs in for other traits, right? Because they’re not contributing, as you said to the coat types that you’re looking for, but you like labs for other reasons?

AH: Right, Labrador retrievers are like the number one service dog. They have wonderful temperament traits that they bring to the table. They have lots of great health traits, and they increase the genetic diversity in the bearded retriever breed.

JH: Yeah man, all true. 

JK: And they don’t have an undercoat. 


JH: Don’t have an undercoat. So, but just to make the point that as complicated as breeding in the right coat is, there’s all this other stuff that you have to balance as well when you’re breeding. Behavior and other health traits. It is not for the faint of heart.

JK: There are also the unknowns of gene linkage. So we don’t know what other traits are linked to color traits and coat traits that we’re breeding for. 

JH: Yeah, a great example where a lot of people, or sort of folk wisdom, that brown labs are always crazy, chocolate labs are always crazy. And there was actually a paper that came out a few years back and I feel like it did show that there was a little more hyperactivity in the chocolate labs. And those of us who do behavioral genetics were just like, “Oh, come on, there’s no way,” you know, it’s just one gene and behavior’s so complicated. But it’s hard to know, there’s a lot of interesting stuff that we haven’t learned yet.

JK: But gene linkage exists. I mean. 

JH: Right.

JK: It’s there. We just don’t know what’s linked.

JH: Right, exactly. I think my point is that we know the single gene that controls chocolate coat color and it could be linked to, certainly could be linked to another gene, or possibly even two, that have an influence on behavior. But in general no single gene has such a strong influence on behavior that you’d be able to say something like all chocolate labs are hyperactive or crazy. So that was sort of what we were saying like, oh yeah so maybe there’s a gene linkage effect, but would only, you know, would only one gene affect behavior, but who knows? Who knows.

AH: There are other factors that play too, though that would also affect that, like, for instance, the Labrador breeders who breed chocolate labs try really hard to never cross those lines with yellow labs. And they’re probably trying to avoid the black labs because that’s dominant and they won’t get any chocolate puppies. So you’ll see certain lines where certain colors have been selected for and they try not to let the other lines in. And like for instance with doodles as well, I’ve noticed in goldendoodles that the darker red goldendoodles tend to have a lot more energy than the lighter cream colored doodles. 

JH: Oh, interesting.

AH: And that goes back to the golden retrievers. If we look at the very light colored golden retrievers, those are usually bench line or a lot of times they come from the European lines, where the golden retrievers are really a lot more laid back and a lot more mellow. Whereas in America, the darker red golden retrievers quite often come from the field lines where they’re being bred to go do field trials and to do bird hunting. And they want that drive. So I see a lot of difference in color that just is attributed to the lines that are used.

JH: Yeah, interesting.


JK: And can I muddy the coat genetics waters a little bit further? 

JH: Yeah, go for it.

AH: Absolutely!


JK: In addition to furnishings controlling shedding in long-haired coats, there is another locus called the shedding locus that can also affect the amount of seasonal shedding in short hair coats. Did I say that right, Alicia?

AH: Yeah. 

JK: Okay. 

AH: The only hard part about it is just that that one is kind of overridden by the furnishings gene.

JK: Right. So there are some short-coated breeds that will shed less seasonally if they have one or two of these shedding genes, non-shedding genes, however you want to call it. 

JH: So people are going to really want you to list some examples of those breeds. 

JK: Do you have any off the top of your head? Go ahead.

AH: Boxers, that’s one of them, that’s considered a lower shedding, smooth coated breed. They also said Shih Tzus, but Shih Tzus are furnished so I don’t think that those ones should count. And on the opposite side they use Labrador retrievers as an example of the higher shedding breeds, and like Great Pyrenees, those guys have so much hair. I think basenjis are another example of a breed that sheds a little bit less.

JK: What about fox terriers? Are they lower shedding?

AH: I’m not sure what those guys. I’m sure the wirehair fox terriers are, because when you add furnishings to a coat it automatically lowers the shedding level. It won’t eliminate it. Like with the wirehair coats, they still shed seasonally, but nowhere near as much as the unfurnished breeds do.

JK: So furnishings plus short coat means a bit less shedding and furnishings plus long coat means you’re definitely not, well, you’re pretty definitely not getting seasonal shedding.

AH: It depends on if they have one copy of furnishings or two copies of furnishings. With one copy of furnishings, it’s a gamble. Some of them hardly shed at all, some of them will shed quite a bit like my Timber. But if you’ve got two copies of furnishings plus long hair, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re not going to have any seasonal shedding.

JK: And with the furnished dogs the shedding locus doesn’t really matter. My highest shedding furnished dog was actually a poodle. And she had two copies of the non-shedding shedding locus but she still shed more than any other furnished dog I’ve had.

JH: So it definitely suggests to me, and I’ve and I’ve said this about other things too, that if you have a particular need to have a dog that is not blowing its coat out seasonally, then going and working with a breeder who really knows their stuff is your better bet, rather than going for a particular breed in general.


JK: Yes, and I have a pet peeve I want to put out there.

JH: Go for it.

JK: In any of the crossbreeds that have furnishings, there’s the old way of doing things that goes back to Mendellian genetics, who talks about F1Bs or F2Bs being the lowest shedding. That’s what we used to use for information before we had genetic testing. Now you can actually test for these traits. So generation is irrelevant and it does not give accurate information. So if you want accurate information on whether you are or are not getting a dog that is going to be more or less likely to shed, you need genetic testing and generation is entirely irrelevant. And you want a breeder that understands the genetics and works with them in every generation. 

JH: Do you have any suggestions about how someone could find… I mean, obviously I would highly recommend either of you as breeders, but you can’t provide dogs to people in the whole world. So do you have any suggestions for how people could find breeders like that? 

JK: Huh, um, word of mouth? 

JH: Yeah, what kind of question would you ask to sort of suss out whether they knew what they were doing? Maybe just ask if they do genetic coat testing?

JK: I’d want to ask if they did it and see the tests, you know, see that they have tests.

AH: I like to see the test results for each of the parents. And a lot of the laboratories will just give you a link that you can give out to people to have them go in and just see the whole panel that’s been done. You can see their health testing as well as their coat traits.

JK: I want to mention something else that I think is important for the health of our breeds, and that is the impact of breeding for color. But I want to mention also that breeding for color will reduce the gene pool, and also breeding against specific colors or breeding out specific colors, unless you have a reason to think there’s a health concern, also artificially reduces the gene pool. So breeding for and against color are both, in my book, breeding for color and they do have impact on the population. 

AH: Right? And that’s for purebreds too, not just for crossbreeds. 

JK: Yes, anybody, yeah.

AH: Absolutely. 


JH: Yeah, excellent points, and genetic diversity is so important. So we already have some podcast episodes about that and looking to maybe do some more in the future. So okay, so if you are either a puppy seeker trying to understand the health testing results that this breeder has given you, or if you’re a breeder, trying to figure out how to breed for specific coat types, and you’ve listened to this podcast and you’re like, “Well, that’s a good start. But gosh, it feels really overwhelming. And I wish that there were a course for me to take where I could really sit down and absorb all of this,” where might you go?

AH: Oh, I know a place!

JH: Do you?


JK: We have a course out on color genetics for breeders. It’s on the Midwoofery site at learn.midwoofery.com. And it’s about a two, two and a half hour course and we go into all of the technical aspects of genetics but we do it for the layperson. So we make it understandable for anybody, you do not have to have a college degree, or a Master’s degree or a PhD in genetics to understand this stuff.

AH: And I would say that if you really need a low shedding dog, and you’re just looking for a puppy, it would probably be worth it to you to invest that two and a half hours, so that you can go looking for a breeder who knows what they’re doing. And odds are after that class, you’re going to know more about low shedding coats than most of the breeders you talk to.

JH: That sounds like an excellent research avenue to me. It’s always good when you’re looking for a dog to really nerd out for a bit on exactly what you’re looking for, what your needs are. To be a dog nerd for a little while, if not for your whole life, at least during the puppy process, the puppy finding process. Excellent, so I will put the URL for that website and that course in the show notes so that it’s really easy for people to find. Do you guys have any, is there anything we didn’t cover that we should have covered? Or any last, I think Ji had one brief pet peeve she wanted to air? Are there any others?


AH: I have one. 

JH: Go for it. 

AH: I think that a lot of people, I’m just going back to the doodle community again, I think there are a lot of people who really love the look of the doodle and the popularity of the doodle. But they don’t necessarily have either the capacity or just the self control to make themselves really care for that coat, and put in all of that time and energy brushing and combing and brushing and combing. So I just wanted to put out there that those wire hair coats are a really good alternative if you know that a long haired furnished coat is going to be too much for you to handle. The wire hair coats still are scruffy, they have the beard, the eyebrows, the mustache. They look like the scruffy little terrier base but you don’t have to go and get them haircuts every six weeks and the brushing requirements are far less than a typical doodle would be. Just be ready because they’re going to shed seasonally, however, they won’t shed anywhere near as much as a purebred Labrador would, for instance. So I just wish that they were more popular. I wish that more people knew about them and I wish that more people would seek them out. Because it’s a better fit for a lot of people.

JK: That’s a great point. 

JH: Yeah, it sounds like a great compromise. Like when I learned about how hard it was to maintain some of those fuller doodle coats, I was horrified. I would not want to deal with that in

my household. 

JK: Yeah, if somebody does want a doodle type and they are concerned about the coat, you know, a multigenerational doodle from a breeder that breeds for improved code traits, they are a lot better than some of the earlier generations because the breeders have had time to work on those coats.

JH: So in summary, find a nerdy breeder and be a nerd yourself. That’s the way to find the right dog for you.

JK: Yes!

JH: I really appreciate both of you explaining all of this in so much detail. Thank you so much.

AH: Thank you!

JK: Thanks for having us. This was awesome. 

AH: It was fun.


JH: Fabulous. All right. Hey, friends. Some of you have asked how to support the podcast, so we’ve set up a Patreon page for it. For a small monthly pledge you help us pay for producing this podcast and in exchange, you get a chance to suggest questions for podcast guests and you get early access to podcast episodes. To find out more go to patreon.com/functionalbreeding. You can also help promote the podcast through subscribing to it through the podcast app of your choice and by leaving favorable reviews. If you’re interested in supporting the Functional Dog Collaborative more generally, or finding ways to get involved, go to the functionalbreeding.org website and click the support link. Thanks to everyone who has helped out, we could not do this without you.

[upbeat music outro]

JH: Thanks so much for listening. The Functional Breeding Podcast is a product of the Functional Dog Collaborative and was produced by Attila Martin. Come join us at the Functional Breeding Facebook group to talk about this episode, or about responsible breeding practices in general. To learn more about the FDC, check out the functionalbreeding.org website. Enjoy your dogs!

[music fades]

Thanks so much for listening. The Functional Breeding Podcast is a product of the Functional Dog Collaborative and was produced by Sarah Espinosa Socal. Come join us at the Functional Breeding Facebook group to talk about this episode or about responsible breeding practices in general. To learn more about the Functional Dog Collaborative, check out www.functionalbreeding.org. Enjoy your dogs.

Copyright © 2022 Functional Dog Collaborative. All rights reserved.