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What dog breed has most color variations?

What dog breed has most color variations?

There is much variety when it comes to dog coat colors and patterns. While some breeds come in only a couple color variations, others have a wide range of potential coat colors and patterns. When it comes to the dog breed with the most color variations, there are a few top contenders.

Top Dog Breeds with Extensive Color Variations

Here are some of the dog breeds that are well-known for having many possible coat colors and patterns:

  • Australian Shepherd – This breed comes in a huge variety of colors and markings including black, blue merle, red merle, red, and red tricolor.
  • Bernese Mountain Dog – Standard coat colors include black, white, and rust. But they can also have more unique coat patterns like merle and sable.
  • Border Collie – Border collies are most often black and white but can also come in any color or combination of colors including solid color, bi-color, tri-color, merle, and sable.
  • Catahoula Leopard Dog – Known for their distinctive spotted coats, Catahoulas come in different variations of those leopard-like markings and many base colors too.
  • Chihuahua – This tiny breed can have virtually any coat color and pattern combination, from solid to multi-colored to marked or spotted.

While those breeds display a wide variety of potential coat colors, one breed stands out as having the most documented color variations of any dog – the Poodle.

The Poodle’s Extensive Coat Color Genetics

Both Standard and Miniature Poodles have an exceptionally wide range of possible coat colors and patterns. While Poodle coats are commonly associated with solid whites, blacks, browns, silvers, blues, grays, apricots, and creams, that only scratches the surface of their potential coat colors.

Here are some of the many colors and patterns Poodle coats can display:

  • Solids – Poodles can be found in just about any solid coat color including cream, apricot, red, brown, silver, gray, blue, black, and white.
  • Parti – Parti Poodles have large patches of two or more colors like black and white.
  • Tuxedo – The tuxedo pattern has primary black or very dark coloring on the body with bright white legs, chest, and facial markings.
  • Phantom – This pattern features solid coloring on most of the body while the roots of the hair are a darker color.
  • Sable – Sable Poodles have color variation within each hair, with light colored tips and darker roots.
  • Brindle – Brindle features stripes over a lighter base color.
  • Merle – Merle is a marbled coat pattern, often blue-gray patches on a lighter background.
  • Abstract – Abstract coats display irregular white markings spread across the primary coat color.
  • Ticked – Ticked or roaned coats feature small dots or flecks of a different color throughout the primary coat color.
  • Spectra – Spectra coats change color shades gradually across sections of the dog.

In total, Poodles can display more than 25 different recognized coat colors. And many of those colors can be combined with a wide variety of patterns like tuxedo, phantom, parti, abstract, brindle, sable, and more. When factoring in all the potential combinations, there are likely hundreds of potential coat variations that the Poodle can have.

Genetic Factors Behind the Poodle’s Coat Diversity

So what genetic factors make it possible for the Poodle to have such an incredibly diverse range of potential coat colors and patterns?

There are a few different genes involved:

  • E Locus – This locus controls whether the coat is solid or has areas of lightened pigment, creating patterns like parti, phantom, sable, brindle patterns.
  • K Locus – The K locus determines whether a dog is completely black or able to have reddish brown pigment.
  • A Locus – This pigmentation gene can restrict which areas of the dog contain eumelanin, the pigment responsible for black, brown, gray, or blue coats.
  • S Locus – The S locus gene mutation influences how much white spotting appears on the coat.
  • D Locus – The D locus dilutes eumelanin pigment, resulting in coats that are blue, gray, silver instead of black or brown.
  • C Locus – This locus controls the intensity of pigment in the coat. Mutations lighten the coloration.

The wide variety of alleles that Poodles can have at these loci makes it possible to produce such an extensive range of coat colors. Most breeds only have alleles that allow for a few coat color/pattern variations. But in Poodles, nearly every possible combination can be found.

Breed Standards and Color Controversies

Given how many colors Poodles can come in, you might think they would all be accepted by major kennel clubs. But in fact, controversy has long surrounded restrictions on Poodle colors by breed standards and in the show ring.

For example, the AKC will not register merle or brindle-colored Poodles because those colors are believed to reflect influence from other breeds and muddying the purity of Poodle bloodlines. Solid brown Poodles also cannot compete in AKC conformation shows.

Here is a table summarizing which colors are accepted and which are disqualified by major kennel clubs for show Poodles:

Color AKC Standard UKC Standard
Black Accepted Accepted
Blue Accepted Accepted
Silver Accepted Accepted
Brown Disqualified Accepted
White Accepted Accepted
Cream, Apricot, Red Accepted Accepted
Parti Accepted Accepted
Phantom Accepted Accepted
Sable Accepted Accepted
Brindle Disqualified Disqualified
Merle Disqualified Disqualified

As you can see, only a subset of the many possible Poodle coat variations are accepted for conformation showing and breeding by the major kennel clubs. Controversies over restrictions have led some breeders to intentionally produce the “rare” disqualified colors.

Health and Care Considerations

While a wide range of coat colors can be interesting, some patterns are linked to health issues in dogs.

For example, merle coats can be associated with hearing and vision defects. And an overexpression of white from the S locus can potentially lead to congenital deafness.

When it comes to care, Poodles do require regular grooming to prevent matting and keep the coat in good condition. Frequent brushing, bathing, and professional grooming may be needed, especially for Poodles with curly or longer coat styles.

No matter what coat color, Poodles need the same health care routine including:

  • Annual vet exams
  • Vaccinations
  • Parasite prevention
  • Dental care
  • A nutritious diet
  • Plenty of exercise

Following these basic care guidelines will help ensure a healthy, happy Poodle of any color.

Popularity of Multicolored Poodles

Although certain colors are disqualified from the show ring, multicolored Poodles remain highly popular as pets and companions.

In particular, the striking parti, phantom, brindle, sable, and merle coats have become favored by many Poodle enthusiasts. Multicolored Poodles are also sought after mixed breed dogs like Goldendoodles and Labradoodles.

Here are some of the reasons multicolored Poodles have become so popular:

  • Unique appearance – The unusual colors and patterns stand out.
  • Rarity – Some colors are relatively uncommon.
  • Versatility – Multicolored coats suit many styling options.
  • Expressiveness – The colors seem to complement the Poodle’s energetic spirit.

While show dogs pursue breed purity, pet owners seem to delight in the diversity of colors and patterns Poodles can have. The breed’s coat genetics have made it possible to produce Poodles that are not just smart and energetic, but also unique looking.


With hundreds of potential coat colors and patterns, the Poodle has the most documented color variations of any dog breed. This immense coat diversity stems from the breed’s genetics at key pigment and coat loci. While controversy exists over acceptance of some colors in show dogs, multicolored Poodles remain extremely popular as pets and companions. For those seeking both beauty and brains, the Poodle’s rainbow of colors coupled with its intelligence and athleticism make it easy to see why it is one of the most beloved dog breeds today.