Research Shows Dog Coat Patterns Date Back 2 Million Years

A new study has found dog coat patterns date back as far as 2 million years, much further than previously believed.

According to the study, published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, researchers at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine determined that there are five distinguished coat patterns: dominant yellow, shaded yellow, agouti, black saddle, and black back.

The patterns were produced by structural variants, or mutations, of a specific protein found in dogs. Hundreds of breeds share the five patterns, though they look slightly different.

Photo: Nature Ecology & Evolution

One of the patterns, dominant yellow, dates back much further than previously believed. The dominant yellow coat pattern is commonly seen in modern dogs, such as golden retrievers and yellow labs.

Previously, it was thought the coat originated with the arctic white wolves but it actually dates back much further.


According to UC Davis, the researchers determined that the coat pattern predates the arctic white wolves and originated from an extinct canid that diverged from the gray wolf around 2 million years go.

Co-author of the study, Chris Kaelin, said in a press release:

“We were initially surprised to discover that white wolves and yellow dogs have an almost identical ASIP DNA configuration. 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.”

Photo: Max Pixel

The coat variation dates back to a time long before modern dogs came to be. The first domesticated dogs are believed to date back 30,000 years, and the coat dates back over a million years earlier.

While the discovery is interesting in and of itself, researchers are especially excited to see how it shapes the history that we know of our canine companions. It’s possible the discovery could lead to new finds regarding the evolution of how dogs came to be.

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