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Portuguese Water Dog Coat Color

by Joan C. Bendure

The Portuguese Water Dog coat colors are black, various shades of brown and white. Of course the color black (B) is dominant over brown. Brown (b) is inherited as a simple autosomal recessive. Some of the black and brown dogs may have white/grey hairs mixed with the black or brown and this appears to increase with age. Other color variations that are not mentioned in the standards, but have ocurred in the breed are grey; and black and with tan markings similar to a Doberman; and ticking which produces small dark spots that can only be seen in the white areas of the coat.
The black and brown Portuguese Water Dog may also have white markings which are not color genes, but patterning genes. These genes are the Loci S and T. Then we have the interesting play of plus and minus Modifying Factors just to make this all very interesting and confusing.
Here are the patterning genes we are working with in our breed:
S--self, or completely pigmented body surface; (Black or Brown)
si--(that i should be smaller and raised up higher than the s but my computer does not do that) the si-- Irish spotting, with few and definately located white areas;
sp--(p should be placed like i) piebald spotting;
sw--(w same as above) extreme-white piebald.
The order in which the genes are written above is also the order of dominance. That is S is dominant over all those listed below it; si is dominant over sp and sw and so forth.
Modifying factors will work on all the above white spotting or pigment distribution characteristics. Modifying factors cause the amount of white or pigmented areas to vary. The modifiers that produce a lot of pigment are called plus modifiers, those that allow less pigment are minus modifiers. Keep in mind that these modifiers work on all the patterns and the solid colored dogs above, that is what makes breeding dogs so interesting or disappointing.
In the si, irish spotting gene, you can have white in one or more of the following areas muzzle, forehead blaze or spot, chest, stomach or underside, one or more feet and the tip of the tail, throat and neck. Now remember the modifying factors, they can cause the white to go further up the leg or allow it only to be on the toes. White can also be in the form of spots or streaks. White can also extend or fuse together creating a half or even full collar. Basenjis are a good example of si.
The sp gene is responsible for piebald spotting. The dogs with piebald spotting can range from dogs that look similar to the Irish spotted dogs, to dogs that have only 15 to 20% of their coat pigmented. They can have more pigment than 15 to 20%. but if they have less they could be an extreme-piebald. There is a difference between genotype (the genetic makeup) and phenotype (external appearance). Unfortunately what you see is not always what you get.
The sw gene is the extreme-piebald spotting gene. These are the dogs that have only small amounts of pigment which is generally found on the ear, around the eye or near the base of the tail. I have also seen some of these have one small pigmented patch on the body. sw dogs are the Pyrs, Sealyhams,Bull terriers. And yes there are Portuguese Water Dogs that are all white with dark pigment on the nose, lips and eye rims.
It comes to a point in the markings of our dogs where unless you know the genes these dogs are actually carrying, it could be difficult for you to determine just by looking at the dog what his/her genetic makeup really is. There is a very fine line as to whether some dogs are genetically si or sp, or an sp or sw, that is because of the modifying factors.
T gene- this is the gene that produces ticking. Those small pigmented spots seen that are seen only in the white areas. Solid Black or brown dogs could also be dominant for the ticking gene, but you would not be able see the ticking in a solid colored dog.
Breeds of dogs that are believed to exhibit this color are the Dalmatian and some of the sporting and hound breeds. The Dal in all probability would be an sw with Ticking.
The piebald (sp) and extreme white pieblad (sw) dogs with the heavy amounts of ticking are the dogs that some people erronously refer to as *silver fox or tweed*???? Refering to the the above color as Silver fox or tweed is not genetically correct terminology. Those terms were coined by Portuguese Water Dog breeders/owners. Or there is the possibility that we may also have the R gene (roan gene) in addition to the ticking (T) gene? In the roan gene the spots of pigment are made up of a mixture of colored and white hairs, which resembles more of silvering than a definite solid colored spot as in the ticking. I personally have never examined any of these dogs closely, so maybe owners of dogs with the ticking or roan markings would let me know what the color the ticking or spots really are. Has there been puppies that were grey at birth? I would also be interested in knowing if there are colors other than the ones listed above.

Joan C. Bendure
Benhil Kennels

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