The Genetics Behind Lacy Coat Colors
A Note on "Lacy Dog" vs. "Blue Lacy"
The correct name for the breed is a Lacy Dog. All of the old historical documents we have, including articles written in the 1940s and 50s, call them Lacy Dogs or Lacys. In letters and interviews, Lacy descendants refer to them as Lacy Dogs, Lacy Hog Dogs or Lacys, never Blue Lacys. All of the ranchers in the Hill Country that have been breeding for decades call the breed Lacys or Lacy Dogs. They may say, "I have a Blue Lacy," but they will also say, "And I have a Red Lacy." They never call their red dogs Blue Lacys. The breed name, encompassing all three acceptable colors, is simply Lacy or Lacy Dog.
The best example of a similar naming convention is the Labrador Retriever. People will call a black colored Labrador a Black Lab, but they call a yellow dog a Yellow Lab, even if it came out of two Black Labs. There is no difference between Labs and Lacys when it comes to naming conventions. As you will see in the article below, there is no such thing a blue color gene. All Lacys carry a dilute gene which causes all three color varieties, including Blue Lacys.
According to the documentation, the term Blue Lacy was never used until the 1990s. Though he orginally called them Lacy Cow Dogs in the 1970s, H.C. Wilkes began referring to his dogs as Blue Lacys in the 90s. It is unclear why the term Blue Lacy caught on for a breed that also includes red and tricolor varieties, but it can be misleading and disproportionately emphasizes their appearance. Despite the marketing value in the Blue Lacy name, the NLDA will continue to follow the original naming convention and use Lacy Dog.
Coat Color Genetics
First things first. Genes always come in pairs, and dogs get one gene from mom and another from dad. Likewise, mom and dad each get one from grandma and grandpa. It is possible for recessive genes to be passed down for several generations that never express themselves. So, for the most part, there is no way to guarantee color results. Also, keep in mind that diversity in color genes is healthy, especially for dilute dogs. Don't breed to get a certain color, put the health and performance of the dogs first.
The following is an overview of basic coat color genetics for Lacy Dog owners and breeders. Technical language is kept to a minimum and geared towards a pratical approach to breeding and assessing various coat colors.
All black areas on a dog are caused by cells producing eumelanin. However, there are genes which can turn eumelanin into other colors such as blue and liver. If a dog has any of the genes then all of the black in its coat will be changed. Blue dogs should be black but since they have genes that affect the black in their coats, we call them "dilutes" and their black is turned to blue. Thanks to dilution, black and chocolate dogs are turned into blues and grays. A black dog with the dilution gene becomes blue and a liver dog becomes isabella. The Weimaraner is an example of an isabella dog. Eumelanin is present in the other parts of the dog such as the eye and nose leather. The nose can be black, slate, or fleshy colored depending on the type of eumelanin the dog can produce. Dilution also affects the color of the eye iris so dark pigment in the eye becomes lighter, and the eyes turn from dark brown to light brown, amber, or yellow. The dilution gene affects eumelanin (black and liver) although phaeomelanin (red) may be lightened slightly as well.
Most blue lacys are blue because they have the dominant black gene and the dilution gene but there is another way to make a blue dog. It is called recessive black and it is very rare. A Recessive Blue Lacy, appears no different from a normal dominant Blue Lacy. So, unless you're a breeder and color is a concern, recessive black is unimportant. Recessive Blue Lacys will breed differently than dominant Blue lacys. Since all Blue lacys can produce different colored offpsirng depending on their carrier status, if breeding for a certain color (or breeding to avoid a certain color) is a concern, testing blues for recessives such as clear red, agouti red, and Tri will help you know what color pups will be produced.
Tri Lacys are blue with tan points. This pattern is a result of a recessive agouti gene and is generally referred to in other breeds as black and tan. The pattern is shared by other working breeds such as the Doberman and Rottweiler and by various hound breeds. Tan - pointed dogs can have a black, blue, or brown (liver) back but will always have points that are some shade of tan.
Ocasionally, we see examples of Saddle backs in the Lacy breed. Though they are often called "Tris" a dog with the creeping tan pattern has slightly more red/tan than a normal black and tan - usually spreading to the area around the eyes.
There are two forms of red that can occur in dogs. In Lacy Dogs, both forms exist. The first is a dominant form of red caused by the A locus or agouti dominant allele. Agouti red is commonly referred to as fawn. The second form of red is caused by the recessive at the E Locus and produces a color generally referred to as clear red.
When you have a clear Red dog, it doesn't matter anymore what genes he is carrying at other loci, he will be a clear Red even if his genes otherwise code for him to be a Blue or Tri.
Agouti and Clear reds are going to essentially look alike as adults. However, as puppies, you may notice some subtle differences. Agouti Reds start out dark and sometimes lighten as they age. Clear reds can either be cream, almost white in apperance, or start out pale and tend to become a rich red color. Because of the lack of dark pigment in their skin, clear reds sometimes have flesh colored noses.
Red Dilution & Cream
The dilution of pheomelanin (red pigment) in the the coat can vary from rich cream to white. It can affect both black based dogs (EM,EG,or E) and recessive red dogs (ee). The eyes and skin will remain dark. In both recessive reds and black based reds (fawn,) it will dilute any red portions of the coat. This dilution causes a cream/white coat color.
Shading on Red Dogs
The darkness seen in agouti reds is a form of eumelanin (dark pigment) formally referred to as "sabling" and produces a shading effect. It is most evident on the ears, over the spine, and at the tip of the tail. Recessive reds cannot produces anything but red pigment, so they will never have dark pigment in their coats. This means that only agouti reds can have masks.
Melanistic masks consist of eumelanin and can be liver, blue or isabella.
On red and tri Lacys, masks can be seen by looking at the face. On a Tri Lacy, tan normally occurs on the sides of the muzzle and above the eyebrows, but a dog with a mask may have all or part of these points covered up by black (or blue in the Lacy breed.)
Masks are dominant and, therefore, a puppy needs only to inherit one copy of the mask to express it.
Masks can vary greatly, covering anything from just the end of the muzzle to the whole of the muzzle, eyebrows and ears.
White markings typically seen in breeds like the Lacy are not normally the result of a white spotting gene. Small white markings on chest and toes are the result of incomplete pigmentation or other non-heritable factors.
If more extensive white markings appear on a dog (white socks, white on head and neck, ect) then it can be assumed white spotting genes are usually involved.
Breeding dogs with such white markings will tend to spread white spotting genes in the breed's gene pool. To prevent improper white markings on the head and above the topline, carefully research your Lacy's pedigree. Litters expressing excessive white may come from properly marked parents, but it is extremely likely their grandparents, uncles or aunts had disqualifying markings.
Liver & Dilute Liver
Although relatively rare, liver does occur in the lacy breed. Liver is recessive, so a liver puppy can only be born if both parents are carriers of the liver gene. Like dilution, liver only affects eumelanin, so all of the black in the coat is turned to liver. The nose, gums, and eye area will also be turned to a fleshy brown color.
Since the entire population of lacy dogs is supposedly dilute, what we find are actually dilute livers. Dilute liver is referred to Isabella in some breeds.
Color Breedings Results
Any blue dog can carry for fawn (what we call "red" in the lacy breed) but fawn is recessive to solid blue so both of the parents must be carriers to produce fawn offspring.
Any dog with a blue parent carries blue. And any dog with a fawn parent carries fawn. Anytime fawn and blue puppies are produced in a litter, both parents have fawn and blue genes (whatever color they are.)
No fawn x fawn can produce a solid blue dog but they can produce tri if both carry for tri.
As for the very light red and cream colored dogs, geneticists aren't sure what causes the intensity of phaeomelanin (red) pigment in dogs...the difference between rich Irish Setter red and the almost white seen on cream lacys.
Below are some typical breeding results. When breeding any two colors of Lacy Dogs, all three traditional colors can geneally appear because most of the dogs carry recessive which can show up after many generations.
Clear Red x Clear Red = Clear Red only
Dominant Blue x Dominant Blue = Blue only
Tri x Tri = Tri only (unless they both carry for chincilla dilution - which would create a cream puppy.)
Dominant Blue x Tri = Blue only
Agouti Red x Tri = Red only Dominant Blue x Any color dog that carries for Tri = Tri, Blue, and Agouti Red
Agouti Red x Any color that carries for Tri = Red, Tri, and Recessive Blue
Interested in color testing your Lacy? UC Davis offers genetic testing. These tests will not only tell you what color your lacy is on a genetic level, you will be able to use the results to predict the colors of the offspring. For information on color testing, and to request a test kit, contact Betty Leek at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the science of coat color, visit the canine color genetics sites by Jess and the University of California, Davis.