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Agouti color in the Siberian Husky
© Inkeri Kangasvuo, ISHC-News, March/April -99


I have had in mind for some time to write about color genetics. Now it might be the time. First, about my thoughts about the "agouti" color, because it has popped up several times. I know that color genetics research spesific to Siberian Huskies has not officially been done, but I think that most owners/breeders have made their own hypothesis about color heredity even if they have never read more than "black is dominant to copper"

I myself have had Siberians for over 15 years, but my history of amateur color research goes much further. This text is about how I understand color and color genetics. I have included a list of books at the end, that I have read - some of them many times, in search of more knowledge about this "colorful" branch of science. Of course you can learn nothing if you don´t know anything about genetics, heredity, chromosomes, loci, genotype, phenotype, etc., so I hope my article is not incomprehensible to beginners. I have also included some notes and statements that I have copied for myself from these various books, and I apologize that I cannot always remember anymore from which book each statement came. These quotes are separated, with or without the author´s name.

From old black and white photographs, you can find that early imports and foundation Siberian dogs often were "solid" colored. That is, they had a minimum amount of white in their coats. The black and white photos can be misleading, because all dark dogs seem to be BLACK. Of course, it could be that these dogs, in living color, could have been brown(ish), grey(ish), wolf (colored), or agouti, but definitely "solid dark" on their faces as well as their bodies. That is why I do not agree with the widely spread statement: "It is understood that the Siberian Husky retains white underportions and masks".

As it states in the standard; "The Siberian Husky can be of any color, from black to pure white and a variety of markings on the head is common". To my knowledge, white spotting is or is not present to a spesific genetic process and it has nothing to do with the general coat color, be it red, black or agouti. A dog that is genetically agouti can as well have irish markings, if his genetic makeup so defines.

I have used the following symbols for the Agouti Series in my text: A s - dominant black/red depending on other color genes; a y - sable/tan; a w - agouti/wild color; a s - saddle markings; a t - tanpoint; a - recessive black.

The scientific term for wild coloring is "agouti". The color term is a loan from the name of the South American rodent Agouti, and is defined as: Meaning a coat color type that has stripes or banding on an individual hair. As our breed has often a coat color resembling that of the wolf, it is necessary provide several paragraphs explaining the genetic makeup of the wolf coat color:

"Most wolves have a protectively coloured grey coat, in which black and yellow pigments are intermingled on the same hair somewhat as in the agouti pattern of rodents. This pattern is wanting in most dogs, but has been retained in some examples of Eskimo-dogs or "husky". It is probably due to a dominant factor." (author?)

"Wolf - Canis Lupus , genetically this species is normally black agouti, but it is stated that almost red forms were sometimes caught, possibly homotzygous for a y (sable/tan) moreover it is reported that hybrids between dog and wolf may have black, black and tan or "uniform ochreous" coat color so that various agouti alleles (this means alleles in the agouti series, IKa) may be present in wolves. Iljin thought that wolves normally carry a dominant factor for dilution of the yellow agouti band. Kohts considered that the yellowish-brown markings often found on the side of the head in dogs, espesially black and tan, were homologous with the faded muzzle spots seen in the winter coats of most darkly pigmented wolves and showed a close relationship of the two forms. The timber wolf Canis Lupus Occidentalis extends northwards into arctic regions where it may be white, although its normal coat color is grey. Poland reported a "blue" variety from Esquimaux Bay in Canada, probably due to a dilution gene. Fawn varieties also occur, but very rarely. Black timber wolves are commoner and are known to occur among a litter of grey wolves, so a Mendelian factor such as non-agouti may occur (maybe recessive a , IKa) white spotting has also been reported in the timber wolf."

From these statements we can clearly find out that scientifically and genetically, when speaking of agouti color, we actually speak of a color pattern where black and yellow pigments are intermingled on the same individual hair. It has nothing else to do with the color of the agouti rodent, other than the term and the banding of the individual hair.

The explanation of the effects of the agouti allele to the PHENOTYPE is as follows: "Agouti color; majority of the hairs have black tips, then yellow or whitish band below after which there may be another dark band although often the color gets coninuously paler toward the skin. All these coat colors (referring to those colors controlled by the agouti series, IKa) tend to be lighter on the extremities and underside of the dog than on the back; they are all darker at birth than when adult." (C.C.Little ?)

"Yellow bands on agouti marked hairs vary in color from rich red to palest straw-color and this is true also of the tan markings on a bi-colored ( a t ) and saddle marked ( a s ) dogs." (Iljin)

"Below a y (sable/tan) is a w (agouti/wild) which allows almost complete dark pigmentation at birth. This pigment is progressively lost as the individual grows older. In the adult an agouti-like coat of banded hairs is found." (Burns)

Noted scientists like Little, Burns&Fraser and Robinson have adopted the hypothesis that the agouti or wild color allele belongs to the agouti series, genes which control the amount of black and yellow in the hair and coat. Some geneticists, on the other hand, have made the the same presumption as written before: It is probably due to a dominant factor. If that were so, it would propose a new locus for that gene.

If we accept the description of phenotypical agouti color as it is presented in Rice´s article (appearing in the 2 nd and 3 rd Editions of The International Siberian Husky Club presents the Siberian Hysky ), we find that it is a color pattern, where all color is deep and dark, with no dilution factors present.

Partial agouti is said to be more common and that is where white spotting and dilution come into the picture. If one wishes to find a "real, genuine agouti colored" Siberian, there are many more color genes to think of than ONLY the agouti allele, be it an individual dominant factor or an allele in the agouti series.

The dog has to be homozygous in the following loci of the color genome: no white spotting (SS) ; full extension (EE) ; agouti (a w a w , if independent factor V , then V- + a t a t ) ; black (BB) ; full color (CC) ; no greying (GG) ; no dilution (DD) ; no paling (PP) . To get this rare color type, one has to do a lot of color breeding, which obviously would ruin our breed.

The more common colors, like wolf grey or silver grey, where the yellow band on an individual hair has paled to buff or nearly white, are GENETICALLY agouti too - even if the dilution genes give it a little different appearance. One must remember that genetic research has been done mainly in regard to the guard hairs - the undercoat has been nearly forgotten! It is believed that the effect of the color genes is directed separately to the guard hairs and to the undercoat. That is why two dogs with identical genes affecting their guard hairs appear different if their undercoat is of different color. Two breeds of different coat texture, that have identical color genes, give a different optical illusion - for example: a salt´n´pepper Schnauzer versus a silver grey Siberian.

The Siberian Husky is also under the same color genetic laws and rules as other breeds, so it is easy to learn about Siberian color by reading about color genetics in general.

After all this chat about the agouti color, I hope that the reader can make the separation between PHENOTYPICAL agouti color and GENOTYPICAL agouti alleles and I also hope that I haven´t bored you with all this genetics stuff.


  • A.G.Searle: Comparative Genetics of Coat Color in Mammals
  • C.C.Little: The Inheritance of Coat Color in Dogs
  • L.F.Whitney: How to breed Dogs
  • M.Burns: The Genetics of the Dog
  • Ö.Winge: Arvelighed hos Hunde
  • M.B.Willis: Genetics of the Dog
  • Roy Robinson: Genetics for Dog Breeders
  • W.E.Castle: Genetics and Eugenics
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