In a discussion of canine coat colors it's helpful to understand the descriptive names of the colors and patterns. Some dogs come in a big variety of colors, others only one, possibly two colors or patterns.
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Very few breeds are really only one solid color. The Irish water spaniel only comes in liver, a reddish brown. Labradors come in black, yellow or chocolate. Golden retrievers are a brilliant, deep golden color. Dogs that appear to be only one color, such as the Great Pyrenees, which is white, may have some gray, badger (a kind of taupe about the face and ears) or reddish brown. Other white dogs, the Maltese or the bichon frise, are accepted under the AKC rules to have some shading of lemon, tan, apricot, buff or cream. Chow chows are also solid colors, but can be black, red, which can range from a light golden to a deep mahogany red; blue, which is a diluted shade of black; cinnamon, a soft shade of reddish-gold; and cream, a diluted shade of red.
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Some breeds are commonly two colors, such as the black and tan German shepherd dog, which also comes in solid black, or the black and tan coonhound. The Rottweiler is black and rust, mahogany or tan. Then there's the instantly recognizable dalmatian, a white dog with black spots. The Irish red and white setter has white and red patched coat. Siberian huskies are usually black and white, but can be any color from solid black to solid white, including shades of red and cream. Poodles can be any color as long as it is a solid shade of black, white, blue, gray, silver, cafe au lait (a light brown), apricot or cream. Dogs with coats of two or more colors are sometimes called party-colored.
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Some colors blend to create patterns. Brindle is solid with darker stripes and can be shades of red, brown and black. Piebald is a solid base color, usually white, with islands of another color or brindling. Dapple is a mottling of colors, with black patches over a lighter base coat. Ticking occurs when two colors appear on one strand of fur. Merle is solid color with a lightening effect on parts of the coat. Merle can be black and grey, reddish and cream, blue and lighter shades of blue and parti-colored. Roan is an even mixture of two colors. Tuxedo or mantled is mostly black with some white, especially on the chest. Harlequin, seen in great Danes, is large black splotches on a white background. Salt and pepper is exactly how it sounds and is seen in schnauzers.
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As with patterns, the AKC uses certain terms to describe coat colors. The chocolate in chocolate labs is a particular shade of deep brown. Deadgrass, seen in some Chesapeake Bay retrievers, is the color of hay. Sedge is a lighter chocolate and is also found in some "Chessies." Wheaten, the color of wheat is also called fallow and is seen in Wheaten terriers. Dogs with light brown coats are fawn-colored. Apricot is a reddish or light orange shade and some dogs who will grow up to be apricot are the color of sand when they are born. Grizzle is agouti -- the coat of a squirrel -- but where a squirrel is grey-brown, grizzle is gold and grey. Blenheim describes the white and red of some breeds of spaniel.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.