Cardigan Colors

by Cathy Ochs-Cline, “Phi-Vestavia”

This is a very complex subject, but I am going to attempt
to explain this in as simple a way as possible.  I will use pictures and
some genetic information.  Some of this information is accepted as fact, and some is genetic
conjecture from my breeding experience.  The mode of inheritance is not
known on some color combinations, so I have attempted to make a “best
guess.”  I hope everyone is able to find this information useful.

This article is graphic-intensive, so I have divided it
into several pages.  Some pages still take a long time to load, so please
be patient.

Step 1 — Colors

Cardigans come in two basic colors:  Red
and Black.  Red is dominant over black.  Cardigans do not have the
DOMINANT form of black which causes bi-colors, or pure black and whites. 

All black Cardigans are tri-color, having either tan or brindle points.
Pictured above are the two basic cardigans, one red and one black (tan-point
tri-color).  These dogs do not have any modifier or dilution factors

2 – Modifiers

Cardigan Colors

Step 2 —

The Cardigan breed has four
modifiers.  Modifiers affect coat color, but do not affect pigmentation, so
all pigmentation will be the normal black color.  Modifiers are inherited
independently of color, and independently of each other.  Any Cardigan can
have no modifiers (a red or tan-point tri-color); one or more modifiers
(brindle, merle, chinchilla, sable) or, theoretically, one dog can carry all
modifiers (and no, I don’t know what it would look like).


Brindle is a dominant modifier.Only one gene is necessary to express the brindle color — in other words,you have to have a brindle parent to get a brindle puppy. All brindles carry at least one red gene.  A black and white Cardigan with the brindle points is a black and white with the brindle modifier.
A Cardigan who carries two brindle genes is called homozygous brindle or pre-potent brindle.Brindles are interesting because no two are the
same. Brindles can be any shade from almost completely red with a
few darker markings, to almost black with a few lighter markings.

Most brindles appear striped, although some only have different shades of brown that seem more patchy.

All shades of brindle are acceptable. Some examples are below.
chattierungen aufweisen.
Alle brindle Schattierungen sind erlaubt. Dafuer hier einige Beispiele:

These are brown brindles.  This is the most prevalent shade of brindle.  Their base coat is reddish to chocolate brown with light and dark shadings.  This category is hard to predict for genotype.  All of the above dogs carry black, but some brindles the exact same shade do not carry black. Also notice the second dog does not have discernable stripes.  He is a shaded” brindle.

These are black
brindles.  Their base coat is dark brown to black-brown with lighter shadings.

Black brindles are unusual in the United States, but there
have been a good number of them in England.  Both of the above dogs
carry for black, and I suspect most brindles in this category will carry
for black.

These are brindle point tris.
Genetically they are black and whites with one or more brindle
modifiers.  Shown above are two dogs showing the difference in point
areas.  The dog at left has very little brindle in his point areas,
the dog at right has very large extension of her brindle points.
These dogs are mother and son.  Note:  Brindle point tris can be
homozygous for brindle, just like other brindles.


Merle is a dominant modifier gene.This gene modifies the black hairs to turn all affected areas shades of mottled gray. The gray can be light silver to dark gun-metal.Patches of black appear in the coat in varying degrees.Pigmentation is normal black, although areas affected by the merle gene will appear to lack pigmentation. These areas include the nose, lips, and eyes.
Breeding two merles together may result in a homozygous merle.These dogs are usually predominantly white.A large majority of homozygous merles are born deaf, but the occurrence of the other health problems are rare.All shades of blue merles are acceptable.Merles other than blues (brindle merle, sable merle, red merle, homozygous merle) are a breed disqualification.
Here are three
different shades of blue merles.  The first dog is a light
silvery-gray, the middle a medium gray, and the end dog a dark
gun-metal.  All of these shades of blue are acceptable and one shade
is not preferred over another.  Just for information’s sake, these
three dogs are siblings.

These two illustrate the difference in
black patching that is acceptable.  The dog on the left has mostly
black patching with very little blue showing (called a cryptic blue) and
the dog on the right has very little black patching.


Sable is one of those genes that is controversial, and therefore all the following information is NOT fact.  The sable gene’s behavior in other breeds is clearly understood, but its relationship to brindle and other modifiers in this breed make its behavior a little more difficult.Sable is a dominant modifier gene.  Sabling causes a pattern of black-tipped red hair on the body.  The
pigmentation is normal black.  The sable pattern typically forms a black cap on the forehead and may include a black shoulder shawl and saddle on the back.<Most red Cardigans express some amount of
random black hairs in their coat.  A true sable may have some random black hairs also, but unless the red hair is black tipped and forms a pattern, this is not a true sable.

It is theorized that a sable must carry the black gene in order to express its color.  I have found this to be true in my breeding program.  Since sable is only
expressed on red hair, a brindle or black may carry the sable modifier without expressing it.

Clear Red or (Recessive Red)
Clear Red is a RECESSIVE modifier
gene.  In order to get a clear red, both parents may be normal
colors, but both must carry the clear red gene.  The recessive red
gene causes the expression of black hair to be suppressed.Originally I wrote about this color as chinchilla,
but it was discovered in late 2005 to be a form of recessive red. 
This gene causes all offspring to be yellow, orange or red in their
pigmented coat regardless of their genotype.  In other words, reds,
brindles, blacks and merles will all appear as some shade of red.

The term “clear red” or “pink”
was attached to this color because there is NEVER any black in the
coat.  Since all “normal” red Cardigan puppies have a camouflaging
black overlay on their coats as newborns, this makes the clear reds easy
to spot as babies.  As the clear reds get older they can often darken
to a normal red color, so their identification in the whelping box is

Pigmentation appears to be affected by this
gene.  Although some puppies have normal black pigmentation, as
adults their noses, lips and eye rims often fade to dark grey-black or a

Clear reds  are shown as a shade of red and at this
time it is an acceptable color, as long as their noses appear black.

Two mature clear reds.  The dog at left is lighter than the bitch at right, but both were born almost white.  Both these dogs were proven to be
brindles by breeding.A clear red puppy (in back) at less than a week of age among normal red (in front) and brindle puppies.

This is a clear red puppy
who is genetically a tri-color.  Notice that he is about the same
shade of red as the normal red puppy at right.  But, he doesn’t have
one black hair on him.A normal (or dominant) red
puppy at the same age.  Notice how much black hair this puppy still

Puppy #1 at maturity — he appears to be a normal red, but look at his nose color.  Even in this picture you can see it is not black.

Puppy #2 at 7 months.  The black hair is all gone, but his nose is a dark, shiny black

Melanistic Masking

Melanistic or Black Masking is a DOMINANT modifier gene. Masking
appears as a solid area of individual black hairs on the front of the face, around the eyes,up into the eyebrows, and inside the ears.  Full extension of the
black mask can cause a “faux saddle” on the dog’s back. This saddle usually remains as a dorsal stripe and is  different from the sable saddle that extends down the sides of the dog and is actually caused by black-tipped red hairs.Masks appear on reds, sables and brindles, but any color can have a black mask.  The black masking gene may be partially responsible for the varying amounts of point area showing on blacks.
Black dogs who have small or reduced point areas might actually be masked
dogs.  Clear red dogs can carry black masking, but it will not show
because the gene suppresses the expression of black.

Masked dogs of otherwise acceptable colors are also an acceptable color.
Varying degrees of black masking on brindles.  Although black masks are possible on any shade of brindle, it is easier to see them on red brindles, so I have used this color to illustrate brindle masks.

Light to heavy masking on reds.  Notice the increasing amount of black on the backs.  The dog on the right has a heavy saddle.

The Cardigan breed has two dilute factors — brown dilute
and gray dilute.  Dilutes affect both coat color and pigmentation.&nbsp
Dilutes are inherited independently from color, and independently of each
other.  Any Cardigan can have no dilutes (normal red, black, brindle,
etc.); one dilute (brown merle); or both dilutes (fawn).


The brown dilute is a recessive gene.  In order to have a brown dilute, both parents may be normal colors, but both must carry the brown dilute gene.The brown dilute is also called “dudley.It affects all black on the dog turning it chocolate brown.  This includes coat and pigmentation.  A brown dilute will have a brown nose, lips and paw pads.  Since this gene does not affect red or tan, the point color will be normal.  
Brindles and reds with the brown dilute are usually identified by nose color. 
A dilute can be inherited along with any of the Cardigan colors and/or modifiers.  Although the blue merle pattern is left intact in brown dilutes, a brindle will not have a normal pattern — it will either be absent or very faint.
All brown dilutes are breed disqualifications because of their brown noses. 

Left:a brown dilute merle and normal blue merle.  This is an excellent picture to illustrate how the dilute washes out the normal black, both in coat color and pigmentation color.

Right:a brown dilute tri-color.  Note
the overall chocolate brown, with normal point color.


The gray dilute has all the same
characteristics as the brown dilute, but instead of turning black into
brown, this gene turns black into gray.

The gray dilute is a more uncommon factor than the
brown dilute, and after many years of not hearing of one, they started
surfacing again.  Gray dilutes are more common in Pembrokes, where
they are called “bluies.”

Pictured is a tri-color gray dilute puppy.
These puppies are born with what looks like normal coat color and
pigmentation, but they quickly fade to gray, while the rest of the litter
remains normal.

The gray dilutes are a breed disqualification
because of their off-color noses.


Color Chart

Cardigan Colors


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