Coat Color Inheritance in Shibas: Cream and Agouti

For those who do not follow Shiba show news, last week the US saw a 3rd cream AKC Shiba Champion. This is a rare occurrence, and provides the chance for discussion of color quality in our breed (yes they can be shown in AKC). Following this event was the usual rehashing of the cream color debate and about how the US was the “only” place that faults creams (which is inaccurate, most countries follow FCI/Japanese standard for faulting cream). Additionally, there was a petition created on asking AKC to “recognize” the cream shiba. This spawned an alarming amount of misinformation among pet owners and current breeders about showing, registrations, and genetics.I primarily want to explore some genetics information here first, before delving in to the cream debate in another post.

Genetics: The old staple reference material for explaining coat color inheritance was a series of very nice diagrams written for and included in The Total Shiba. I really really appreciate all the work that went into this amazing breed book, and it is hands down the best Shiba reference material ever written in English IMO. Here are the old coat color diagrams that have become a guide for many:


In Shibas, the A series (Agouti) codes for distribution of black pigment known as eumelanin, on red, sesame, black and tan dogs, with varying intensities of red pigment (phaeomelanin). Agouti is one of the oldest color genes (such as found in wolves, and is associated with very “ancient” breeds of dog like the Shiba).

Check here for greater detail:

Ay is sable (which can be red with or without black tipping), and is dominant over at (tan points gene in black and tans). A dog with an Ainherited from both parents is AyAy and is expressed as clear red, Ayat is expressed as “sesame” and atat is expressed as black and tan, which is recessive to Ay. So a red dog AyAy bred to any other color will give you red AyAy and sable Ayat, but not black and tan, UNLESS the dogs genotype is actually Ayat but appears red (phenotype) due to lack of expression of eumelanin. This seems to be very confusing for people, myself included I admit, and breeders and pet owners often seem to wonder “is my dog red, sesame, or red sesame if nothing else? And what about those red headed black and tans?”

To make it more confusing, Shibas also have a second type of sesame that produces banded hairs (aw) aka wolf-grey/agouti. This gene is slightly dominant over at, and less dominant than Ay for expression, which explains a lot of the incorrect “sesames” observed.  Red and sable dogs do have banded hairs (all Shibas should have banding) but not all have this wolf-grey effect over their entire bodies (think Shikoku). This gene is responsible for wolf grey color, and may be what people who say “true sesame” are thinking of.  aw is very very very rare in Shibas, and it is also recessive.

Most of what you see will be sable dogs with red undertones and some scattered black tips over their back and tail (sashige). For registration purposes, these dogs are often called “Red Sesame”. The big problem as I see it is trying to breed true sesame from pairings of reds and black and tans, hoping to produce aw agouti, but we get dirty reds instead. Well, if the genes aren’t there to begin with, they can’t be passed on.


Here is a great updated explanation with very good links from the NSCA web site:

The other important gene series determining coat color is the E series. This determines the dogs’ ability to express its other coat color genes normally.  The A locus expression is directly affected by the E locus, in that the A locus is not expressed in ee dogs. So, a dog that is dominant EE has normal extension and expresses whatever color pattern it has in the A series, as does a dog who is Ee. An ee dog is a recessive red dog and can have any of the genotypes AyAy, Ayat, awaw, awat, atat, but will never express black hair.

All cream dogs are ee, but some red appearing dogs are also ee. An ee dog does not express Agouti series color normally, as the gene(s) for cream don’t compete for expression in the same way as red, sable/wolf grey, and black and tan, and prevents the dog from producing eumelanin (black hair). So, recessive ee dogs never have black pigment in their coats, but can range in hues from light red to yellow to cream. Shiba puppies with no black or grizzling whatsoever in the coat, if not already obviously cream, would be ee and could produce cream or very diluted reds, if bred to other ee or Ee dogs.

A potential problem results from intentionally selecting ee dogs over time in breeding, which could cause the gradual loss of diversity of sable, agouti and black and tan, as well as coat quality, as ee prevents expression of eumelanin, and this pigment does affect coat texture (more pigment=coarser thicker guard hairs). Although it is recessive, the risk is the increasing number of heterozygous Ee animals who won’t express dilute red, but will pass it on unknowingly unless genetic testing is performed. This could result from popular sire/dam effect very easily, and we can see this has already happened in the past with Kishu and Hokkaido, who are now almost entirely ee.

Current theory is that there is a new locus that controls intensity of phaeomelanin red dilution in Shibas, the I locus, which results in cream coloration in ee dogs.  It affects all phaeomelanin (red) in the coat and handily explains why we see very washed out reds, black and tans with no tan points, and cream color inheritance. Another reason to be wary of selection of ee.

Lack of pigment like this would obviously be an issue long term in breeding as it will over time affect coat quality and color and ultimately health (as with any extreme selection). Hokkaido tend to have very nice coats, but they still retain very nice specimens of red, black and tan, brindle and sesame dogs that are bred from and shown (not so much with Kishu). Both breeds are still fairly inbred and the colors are diminishing in quality, as the majority of their populations are now white. This is one reason why the Hokkaido Association of North America has launched the HANA Project, and aims to integrate nicely pigmented unrelated dogs from hunting kennels for greater diversity:

So, cream/white dogs are likely caused by extreme pigment dilution resulting from a combination of at least 2 processes. The Total Shiba uses the C locus (Chinchilla) to explain cream in Shibas and many breeders do still explain cream color inheritance this way, but this is no longer believed to be accurate. TO REITERATE, THESE DIAGRAMS FOR CREAM COLOR ARE NO LONGER BELIEVED TO BE ACCURATE. Here is the cream color chart (below). We know some new things about coat color now, and some things are still not understood, but here it is anyways:


It seems to be popularly accepted in the UK that white and cream Shibas are two different animals, where a white Shiba is distinguished from a cream Shiba based on having red points vs pure white, black vs Dudley nose, and black vs white whiskers. What one person calls cream (with the red hues), another calls white and this becomes confusing. I have never seen a cream Shiba with anything but a pink nose and red points. I am told that in a few examples of white Kishu, Hokkaido and Akita, there is little or no trace of red hue on the coat as is typically seen on cream Shibas, and their whiskers and noses are dark. Overall my impression is that dogs of these breeds with dark noses and no red tint is rare.

So, the following logical fallacies get old after awhile, especially when circulated repeatedly in print:

“Cream Shibas improve coat color because I bred a cream to a red and got beautiful reds”

Wrong. Based on what I have shared at the top of this post, the way a cream may enhance other coat colors in offspring, is if it is genetically already a correctly colored, textured and marked red, sesame or Black and Tan, whose genes are prepotent for good coat quality. The offspring have nice coats NOT because mom was a cream, but because mom’s parents and grandparents and so on had some nice genetics for it.

“You will reduce genetic diversity if you ‘exclude’ creams”

Partially correct: You will reduce genetic diversity if you inbreed and do not out-cross. If we fail to chose a balanced management approach to breeding dogs that already have a limited amount of diversity to begin with, the long term effect on the population as a whole, is dire. The chances are slim to none at this point that any one cream dog has genes that somehow magically don’t already exist in the population. The best way to examine this is to perform genetic testing for Major Histocompatibility Complexes (MHCs) These are worth preserving regardless of color. Refer to the Kishu and Hokkaido examples. They have pretty crappy diversity because of popular cream sires being overused.

“Mismarks, pinto and spots don’t happen on cream dogs, so that means they can’t produce them. I know because all of the creams I bred never produced mismarks” and “You can see Urajiro on creams”

Also wrong: Naturally, it’s difficult to see white mismarks on a white dog. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point out that this is similar to the coat quality example above. Again, the offspring lack mismarks NOT because mom was a cream, but because she didn’t inherit those genes from her parents, and neither does the dog she was bred to. Creams can have pinto and reverse masking and snipes and spots just like reds, but it’s difficult to see, and they can certainly produce them in offspring. The required white markings (Urajiro) are also very difficult to see (if at all).

The inheritance of Urajiro deserves some special explanations, which you can read here if interested:

A good explanation of the importance of Urajiro is found here:

More about extreme white, piebald, pinto, and Irish spotting:

And some very interesting reads on neurological issues in white and piebald animals, specifically shyness and aggression:

To conclude, the purpose of this post is not to debate how worthy or deserving I personally believe cream Shibas are. I do want to address showing of cream Shibas in a subsequent post however, now that we (hopefully) understand the genetics a little better.

Litter Announcement and Other News

Those of you who have followed this blog (and me) over the last few years, know that I tend to jump around different media sites, doing updates when I have time to.

Earlier this year I bred Farrah (Ch San Jo Lillith Fair RN,FDX,CA,NA,NAJ,CGC) to Lennie (Ch San Jo Relentless of Lemaitre). Lennie is also Zuki’s sire, and Ike and Eli’s brother. I’m very happy with what I got, and am very thankful for all the help from my very wise breed mentors. So, this is an introduction of sorts for Farrah’s son, Tony. I am keeping him to grow him up, and so far he is a wonderful little guy, and he shows great promise for sports.

Tony as a wee thing about 3.5 months, visiting his first Flyball tournament

Tony as a wee thing about 3.5 months, visiting his first Flyball tournament

In addition to raising puppies at home, this summer was hectic with Shiba rescue requests. Northwest Shiba Rescue (Pam Carlson) with Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue, requested assistance with a very large (ongoing) Shiba rescue operation from a retired local breeder in Yelm.  Talk about feast or famine with rescue needs! It seemed like we were there every weekend for months negotiating, and taking dogs 2-3 at a time, then grooming, then dealing with medical and placement issues, in addition to the organizer getting ongoing outside requests for placement, lost/founds and fosters unrelated to this pull. 10 lucky Shibas are now in permanent homes and doing amazingly well considering their general state of neglect.

Now that it’s fall, I have managed to squeeze in a few Truffle Hunts with the Shibas (and my mother), but not many.  Beebe goes off leash like always and sniffs around for the scent, flushing deer and wild birds in the process. It’s a shame she is so poorly bred, because I really like her desire to work and please.

Beebe hunts off leash and has excellent recall

Beebe hunts off leash and has excellent recall

Ike explores his inner wildman. It's buried very, very deep within him. He's a good sport to put up with being made to wear his adventure harness and tracker collar while doggy grandma helps him over a log.

Ike explores his inner wild man. It’s buried very, very deep within him. He’s a good sport to put up with being made to wear his adventure harness and tracker collar while doggy grandma helps him over a log.

Now that Farrah is back in shape, she has been back to Flyball practice with gusto, coming very close to earning her FDCH (Flyball Championship) at the last tournament. She also played the halftime show again, as did Beebe, for the Seattle Storm. I am very proud of them both as it is not easy for a Shiba to walk into a crowded stadium of screaming fans and perform. Hopefully she can get it at the next tournament in Canada before being bred again.

Beebe performs the halftime show for the Seattle Storm

Beebe performs the halftime show for the Seattle Storm


Regarding breeding, Zuki has been bred to Wang Chung (Ch San Jo Wang Chung Tonight) and is due in the next 2 weeks. We expect 5 or more puppies from the way she is looking, so if you are interested in a well-bred, beautiful and healthy Shiba puppy from the top lines in the country, please message my inbox or contact Pam Carlson at or

Be sure to stop by my official webpage at for more photos, breeding plans, and updates!

Hip OFAs, Walks and Shiba Sports Chat

Recap of this week:

Farrah got her final OFA exam and the films look “Good”.

We got some good walks in this week, and although the weather has been very cold and foggy, we did get a nice photo. I think this would make a pretty water color, and that’s just what I have planned for it:

photo (1)

A video of the dogs being silly before dinner time:

New Shiba Sports chat tonight approximately 4:30 pm PMT. Feel free to drop in and share stories of your sporty Shiba adventures:

Weekend Wrap-up, Articles, and Sports Chat

It was a great show weekend. I saw some nice dogs and got the chance to mingle with good people. This AM was also a good but nippy 24 degree walk with our Golden Retreiver friends, Oliver and Morgan. Farrah also had her OFAs and was a very good girl.

Friday was a rescue transport day for us, and a spur of the moment trip to Portland. It’s always a pleasure to lend a hand to Shibas 4 Life rescue, and I wish these 2 girls all the luck. They are very sweet and will great pets. They were relinquished due to owner disability and seem very well socialized and behaved:

Rainey and Bria are available for adoption via Northwest Shibas 4 Life Rescue

Rainey and Bria are available for adoption via Northwest Shibas 4 Life Rescue


Here are some interesting links for the week: For the agility people! WTF! This is pure craziness right here. This one threw me a little. There are valid points, and the main message I took from it was age appropriate material and socialization are more important than learning obedience. Don’t micromanage and let the puppies be puppies.

Shiba Sports Chat tonight at 5pm till whenever. I will discuss the articles listed above!

Shiba Chat Tonight: Beebe Unleashed

Shiba Sports Chat is tonight at 5pm until whenever:

I will be hosting chat from Flyball practice with the Seattle Flydogs, and Beebe, Ike and Farrah will be with me. For starters, topics will include “Offleash Recall” and “Building Working Drive” in Shibas.

In honor of tonight’s chat, here is a video and spam of our morning hike with some offleash Beebe action:

Geek warning! We passed a place in the hike that was very marshy and it reminded me of the Dead Marshes in Mordor from Lord of the Rings:



Shiba Chat Tonight: Obedience Platform Party with Farrah

Don’t forget, tonight is Shiba Sports Chat at 5pm PMT (

Please feel free to drop in with any questions. Topics will include “Wrapping up the training of 2012” and “Obedience Platform Building”.

Don’t know what Obedience Platforms are? Here’s a good video:

These are a new wonderful positive tool I was introduced to, to help with precision heeling, go-outs, fronts, and body awareness. These are different from Agility travel planks, which focus on teaching and proofing 2 on 2 off contacts, although they look similar:

The premise is to highly reward the dog for chosing to get on the platform. Clicker training would work well for this, but verbal markers are also good. Eventually, whenever the dog sees the platform, they go running to stand on it. If you watch the video, you will see how this can be shaped into snappy finishes and straight sits, as the dog quickly learns where in space it’s body is, and that it doesn’t want to fall off the sides. This is 100% positive reward, and is quite a leap from the traditional obedience classes offered when I started out, which is why I think this is a great method for teaching Shibas (and all dogs). No leash corrections needed, and in fact, there is no leash at all!

Anyways, my training center had a Platform Party and I made a special set for Farrah:


Farrah “helps” cut the foam and yoga mat pieces to her size. We went with a pink and purple and argyll theme. Use spray glue to afix the matting to the foam board.


Next, select a fashionable base color of duct tape. Farrah of course, chooses pink. It’s easy to wrap the tape around. Make 2 passes so no foam shows.



Pink, purple and grey argyll. Sort of an East meets West thing with a Japanese dog. It’s matches her Hello Kitty collar.



Velcro, with fancy argyll pattern, holds the two halves in place for travel.


Farrah’s was the smallest. Those on the end are for Newfoundlands.


We love our new platforms!


Blurry iPhone picture aside, Farrah and Moose the newfie are super in love.


Ta dah! We are on our way to perfect heeling and straight fronts.