There are several dog breeds that can have a coat coloring of white, brown, and black. The most common breeds with this color pattern are the Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, English Setter, and Beagle. The specific distribution of white, brown, and black fur can vary quite a bit within these breeds based on specific bloodlines and genetics. Typically the white fur shows up in patches on the chest, legs, face, and tail tip. The brown and black fur mixes together on the back, sides, head, and ears.
The Border Collie is a very intelligent and energetic herding dog originally bred along the borders of England and Scotland. They typically have a black and white coat, but some Border Collies can also have brown fur mixed in. The brown fur most often shows up on the eyebrows, muzzle, chest, legs, and underside. The black fur covers most of the body while the white shows up in distinct patches on the face, neck, chest, legs, and tail tip. The rough coat texture of a Border Collie can range from short and smooth to medium in length and feathered.
The Australian Shepherd was originally bred in the western United States as an all-around farm and herding dog. Despite their name, they did not originate in Australia. The breed comes in a wide variety of coat colors like black, red, blue merle, and red merle. The merle gene causes a marbling effect with black splotches mixed in. Tri-color Australian Shepherds with white, black, and either brown or red are also seen. The white typically appears on the face, as a collar, on the chest and legs, and may extend up the muzzle as a blaze. The black fur covers the back and tail, while the brown or red mixes through the sides, neck, head, and ears. The coat has a medium length straight to wavy texture.
The English Setter is a medium-large hunting dog bred to find and point upland game birds. Their coat comes in a distinctive belton pattern of white with black, liver, lemon, or orange markings. The base body color appears as large patches or flecks along the sides, back, and tail, while the head, ears, chest, underside, and legs are predominantly white. English Setters have a medium length coat that can be flat or slightly wavy. The coat requires frequent brushing to control shedding and keep it looking neat.
The Beagle is a small scent hound used for hunting rabbits and other small game. Their short, smooth coat comes in a tricolor pattern of black, brown, and white. The brown and black mix together on the back, sides, tail, and face. The white appears as a blaze up the muzzle, collar, chest, legs, and tail tip. Some Beagles are lemon and white or red and white rather than black, brown, and white. The distribution of color can vary with this breed, but the basic tricolor pattern remains the same.
Genetics of Coat Color
The genetics behind coat color and fur patterns in dogs is quite complex. Most coat colors and combinations are produced through the interaction of several genes. The main genes involved include:
- The A Locus which controls black and brown pigment
- The E Locus which controls the production of yellow/red pigment
- The K Locus which controls solid or patterned distribution of pigment
- The S Locus which produces white spotting and piebald patterns
The specific variants or alleles a dog inherits at each of these loci determines its final coat coloration. Most tricolor dogs are ee at the E Locus, producing a black and brown or red coat. The addition of white spotting from the S Locus yields the classic tricolor look.
Coat Color Inheritance
Since multiple genes interact to produce color and fur patterns, the inheritance follows basic rules of dominant vs recessive alleles. For example, the solid black gene KB is dominant over ky which allows expression of the A Locus. If a dog inherits KB from one parent and ky from the other, they will be black. To be tricolor, a dog must inherit ky from both parents so the A Locus alleles can produce black and brown.
The S Locus white spotting is also common in tricolor dogs. This trait is incompletely dominant, so only one copy of the S allele is needed to produce some degree of white areas. Dogs with more white have two copies of the spotting allele. Breeding two heavily spotted dogs together can sometimes produce a mostly white puppy. Overall, tricolor coat inheritance is polygenic, meaning multiple genes are involved.
While genetics determine the potential coloring a dog can have, breed standards dictate what is acceptable for purebred dogs. For example, Border Collies can come in any color but must have a white collar, legs, chest, and tail tip. Beagles have a very strict standard only allowing black, brown, and white. On the other hand, Australian Shepherds come in such varied colors that almost any combination of black, brown, white, red, and blue merle is permitted. So genetics provides the template, but breed clubs ultimately decide what tricolor patterns are desirable for each specific breed.
Health and Care
Tricolor coats do not have any specific health or care requirements beyond the basics for any dog. The temperament, exercise needs, and health conditions are breed specific regardless of fur coloring. Grooming depends mainly on the coat length and texture. For instance, Border Collies and Australian Shepherds with medium long coats need weekly brushing to control shedding and prevent mats. Short-haired Beagles only require occasional brushing to remove dead hair.
As far as health, some studies have linked white spotting patterns to increased risk for deafness, likely due to the genetics involved. However, the majority of tricolor dogs have normal hearing. In general, coat color alone does not directly impact health or care needs. It is strictly an aesthetic factor.
Puppy Coat Development
Tricolor puppies are not born with their mature coat colors. They undergo significant coat changes during the first year of life. When born, the puppy coat only contains shades of black, brown, gray, and tan. The distinctive white patches do not appear until weeks or months later. As the puppy fur is shed and replaced with adult hair, the true color pattern will emerge.
During the transition, puppies may display odd mixtures of fuzzy black, brown, and white fur. Their final tricolor look will not be fully evident until after this puppy uglies stage passes. The timing varies between breeds based on differences in maturation rate. For example, Border Collie puppies achieve their mature coat by 8-12 months of age. Beagle puppies transition much sooner at 3-6 months.
Common Tricolor Breeds
Here is a table summarizing some of the most common dog breeds that display the tricolor pattern of black, brown, and white:
|Breed||Coat Description||Typical Tricolor Pattern|
|Border Collie||Medium length, rough or smooth||Black back, brown accents, white collar, legs, chest, tip of tail|
|Australian Shepherd||Medium length, straight or wavy||Black back and tail, brown sides, legs and head, variable white patches|
|English Setter||Medium length, flat or wavy||Black and brown flecks and patches, white legs, chest, head|
|Beagle||Short, smooth, dense||Black back, brown sides, white muzzle blaze, collar, legs, tip of tail|
In summary, several breeds can display a tricolor coat of black, brown, and white including Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, English Setters, and Beagles. The distribution of colors varies but typically includes a black back and tail, brown accents on the head, ears, sides or legs, and signature white markings on the face, neck, chest, legs, and tail tip. The genetics behind tricolor coats involve several gene loci interacting to produce black/brown pigment, yellow/red pigment, solid or patterned distribution, and white spotting. While genetics determine the potential coloring, breed standards dictate what patterns are acceptable. Tricolor coats have no specific health or care requirements beyond the basics for any breed. They are simply an attractive aesthetic feature in several popular dog breeds.