Dog Coat Patterns Date Back To Before Modern Wolves, Research Shows

by : Hannah Smith on : 15 Aug 2021 15:44
Dog Coat Patterns Date Back To Before Modern Wolves, Research ShowsPixabay

A study has found distinctive patterns on the fur of dogs date back much further than previously thought, raising new questions around the evolution of man’s best friend.

Researchers distinguished five different types of coat pattern that were produced by structural variants, or mutations, of a protein gene found in dogs. These five patterns are exhibited on the coats of hundreds of different breeds, and one in particular has origins that date further back than scientists realised.


The ‘dominant yellow’ coat pattern – found in sandy coloured dogs like golden retrievers – reportedly originated from a genetic combination found in arctic white wolves, but to find its true beginnings researchers looked back much, much further.

Dominant yellow dog (PA Images)PA Images

Analysis led by the University of California Davis School of Medicine found the coat pattern was in fact first seen in extinct canid species that roamed the Earth more than two million years ago – a time frame that came as a shock even to those behind the research.

‘We were initially surprised to discover that white wolves and yellow dogs have an almost identical ASIP DNA configuration,’ said Chris Kaelin of the HudsonAlpha Institute, who co-authored the study. ‘But we were even more surprised when it turned out that a specific DNA configuration is more than two million years old, prior to the emergence of modern wolves as a species.’


To put it into perspective, dogs as we know them today were first domesticated around 30,000 years ago, meaning, as study lead author Danika Bannasch said in a press release, that the variations in coat colour were taking form ‘long before “dogs” were dogs’.

A white wolf (PA Images)PA Images

‘It didn’t come from modern wolves. It had been around for much longer,’ she said.

According to the study, the colour of a dog’s coat isn’t determined by a single mutation, but rather by mutations in two areas of the ASIP gene which produce a different colour. And while this understanding of how dog coats came to be the way they are is fascinating in itself, the team behind the research are even more excited by what their findings have to say about how our furry friends have evolved since before humans walked the Earth.


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Hannah Smith

Hannah Smith is a London-based journalist at UNILAD. After studying History at UCL she worked for print publications on both sides of the pond, including spells at Harper's Magazine and The Times, before graduating with an MA in Newspaper Journalism from City, University of London.

Topics: Animals, DNA, Dogs, Evolution, Science


  1. Phys.org

    Dog coat patterns have ancient origin