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  Color and Coat Genetics  

Why are groenendaelers all long haired black dogs but is it possible that one can find in a groenedaeler litter both black and fauve dogs.  The answer is simple:  






Each being, whether it is an animal, bacterium or plant,  is the result of the combination of genes passed on by the parents of that being.  This combination is different for each of the offspring.  There is only one exception: only identical twins have identical genes.

For each characteristic 2 allels need to be present.  Such an allel can be dominant (indicated by a capital letter), this means that only one copy of this allel needs to be present if you want to see the physical result of that allel.  A recessive allel (indicated by a small letter) is an allel of which 2 copies need to be present before one can see the physical result of that allel.  The combination of the 2 allels is called the genotype while the physical result is called the phenotype.  It is perfectly possible that 2 dogs have the same phenotype (e.g. short hair like in the Malinois) but have a different genotype as shown later.  If one knows the genotype of the 2 parents for a certain characterisitic, one can predict the percentages of certain genotypes (and therefore also the phenotype) in a litter.


Coat genetics





A coat of a Belgian Shepherd is determined by its length and its texture.  Each of these charecteristics is determined by 2 allels.  In the table below you will find the symbols for each allel


Length: Dominant: L: short hair
Recessive: l: long hair
Texture Dominant: Wh: rough hair
Recessive: wh: smooth hair


Let’s start with the texture of the hair.  For the first mating we will use homozygote parents (this means that both allels are of the same type): the father is a rough hair (genotype: WhWh)and the mother is short haired (genotype: whwh).  To calculate the percentages of the different combinations of allels, the following table is used (I have used a different color for each allel to make it visually clear how the combinations are formed).


  Wh Wh
wh Whwh Whwh
wh Whwh Whwh


This table shows us that all the puppies have the same genotype and therefore also the same phenotype: all puppies have rough hair and are genetically heterozygote (the allels are of a different type).

If I would use for a second mating 2 heterozygote dogs with genotype Whwh, one can expect the following:


  Wh wh
Wh WhWh Whwh
wh Whwh whwh


If we look at the previous table I can expect the following:




WhWh: 25% (1 out of 4 puppies) Rough Hair: 75% (3 out of 4 puppies)
Whwh: 50% (2 out of 4 puppies)
whwh: 25% (1 out of 4 puppies) Smooth Hair: 25% (1 out of 4 puppies)


The above results explain why it is possible to have different phenotypes in one litter.

Whe can make the same calculations for the length of the hair: a homozygote short hair dog mated with a homozygote long hair:


  L L
l Ll Ll
l Ll Ll


If I would use for a second mating 2 heterozygote dogs with genotype Ll, one can expect the following:


  L l
l Ll ll


If we look at the previous table I can expect the following:




LL: 25% (1 out of 4 puppies) Short Hair: 75% (3 out of 4 puppies)
Ll: 50% (2 out of 4 puppies)
ll: 25% (1 out of 4 puppies) Long Hair: 25% (1 out of 4 puppies)


If a breeder would mate a Laekenois (LLWhWh) with a Groenendaeler (llwhwh), this mating would produce the following result:


  LWh LWh
lwh LlWhwh LlWhwh
lwh LlWhwh LlWhwh


If the breeder would mate 2 dogs from this litter, he would get the following result (look at the colors to follow from which parent came which gene because it is becoming complicated):


  LWh Lwh lWh lwh
LWh LLWhWh LLWhwh LlWhWh LlWhwh
Lwh LLWhwh LLwhwh LlWhwh Llwhwh
lWh LlWhWh LlWhwh llWhWh llWhwh
lwh LlWhwh Llwhwh llWhwh llwhwh


This breeder had the following chances to have the following genotypes and phenotypes:


Genotype Phenotype
LLWhWh 6.25%

Short rough hair


LLWhwh 12.5%
LlWhWh 12.5%
LlWhwh 25%
LLwhwh 6.25%

Short smooth hair


Llwhwh 12.5%
llWhWh 6.25%

Long rough hair

(not accepted but

theoretically possible)


llWhwh 12.5%
llwhwh 6.25% Long smooth hair 6.25%


From the tables above, it is clear that our modern day Belgians have the following genotype:
  • Laekenois: LLWhWh, LLWhwh, LlWhWh or LlWhwh
  • Malinois: LLwhwh or Llwhwh
  • Groenendaeler or Tervueren: llwhwh

Color genetics





The coat genetics is a "fairly" simple matter.  For both the length and the structure you had 1 dominant and 1 recessive allel.  Things are a bit more complicated for the color of a dog.

First we need to talk about the origin of color.  Color is formed in melanocytes which contain a substance called melanine.  A color of a dog does not depend on the quality of the melanine but on the quantity.

The melanocytes can secret 2 different sorts of melanine:

  • Eumelanine: this gives a black color when the granulas which contain the eumelanine have an ovoid shape (when it dilutes it gives a blue color).  When the granulas have spherical form and are much smaller, they result in a marroon color.

  • Phaeomelanine: which results in array of colors going from red fauve (like in the Irish setter) to silvery sable

As indicated in the first paragraph, color genetics is not as simple as coat genetics.  In color genetics it is possible to have several dominant allels and recessive allels.

  1. Genes that determine the base color:

  1. The locus B (for Black)

Dominant: B: the eumelanine is black.

Recessive: b: the eumelanine is marroon.

All our Belgians are BB
  1. The locus A (for Agouti)

Dominant: As (for solid Black): once this allel is present the dog is completly black (Groenendaeler).  All other colors are recessive to this sort of black excet for white (locus S).

Recessive: there are several possibilities.  They are ordered according to dominance:

ay (for yellow): this allel produces fauve charbonné (Tervueren)

aw (for wild): like you find in some German Shepherds (grey bands alternated with black)

asa (for sadle): this produces dogs who have a black back and fauve extremities (like in the Chien de saint Hubert)

at (for tan): it produces eumelanine in central regions and phaeomelanine in the extremities

a: this produces recessive black (like Night of The Two who is Yentos' grandmother and a Groenendaeler bread from Tervueren lines)

The following genotypes are possible:

Black coat: AsAs, Asay (and less frequent: Asat, Asa, atat, ata or aa)

Other color: ayay (and less frequent: ayat or aya)


  1. The E locus (for extension)

Dominant: there are several possibilities.  They are ordered according to dominance:

Em (for mask): replaces the fauves by black on certain parts of the body.  This allel is responsible for the black mask, ears and  triangle on the tail

E: this is a neutral allel and does not modify the color that resulted from the A locus

Recessive:there are several possibilities.  They are ordered according to dominance:

ebr (for brindle): is responsible for the darker stripes on a fauve background

e: is the most recessive of this series but when ee is present, none of the allels of the A series can express itself.  The only pigment that can be expressed is phaeomelanine and therefore the dog is unicolored fauve.

For our Belgians, the following combinations are possible:

Masked dogs: EmEm or EmE

Dogs without a mask: EE


  1. The genes that determine the intensity of the color

  1. The C Locus (for coloration)

This locus determines the activity of the melanocytes and more specifically the quantity of the granules.

Dominant: C: full color, no dilution

Recessive: there are several possibilities.  They are ordered according to dominance:

cch (for chincilla): this gene is responsible for the sable charbonné dog.  This gene has no influence on the charbonné as a result of ayay or the allel Em.

ce (for extreme dilution): results in extreme lightly colored dogs (ivory or white-cream)

ca (for absent): absence of all color in the skin, hair, nose or eyes

The following genotypes are possible in our Belgians:

CC, Ccch or cchcch


  1. The locus D (for Dilution)

Dominant: D: full pigmentation

Recessive:: d: is responsible for the following discolorations

  • Black becomes Blue

  • Marroon becomes Beige

  • Fauve becomes Sable (this is not so frequent)

All the current Belgians are DD

  1. The Locus G (for grisonnement)

Dominant: G: results in a change of the color when the dog gets older (blue becomes grey and marroon becomes beige)

Recessive: g: the color does not change

All Belgians are gg
  1. The Locus S for white.

Dominant: S (for uniform): gives a completely colored coat

Recessive: there are several possibilities.  They are ordered according to dominance:

si (for irish spotting): little patches of white hair on toes or chest

sp (for piebald): results in white patches

sw (for white piebald): nearly completly white (like the bichon frisé)

These are the following possibilities for our Belgians:

No white hairs: SS or Ssi

White hairs on toes and chest: sisi

What is written above, does not explain why some dogs are extremly red (like Yentos) or have a mask that covers the entire head while other dogs have a light red color or a minimal mask.  It is certain that in dogs like Yentos the genes for the color result in a color that is more red than can be expected than the degree of redness you would get when you add the result of each gene (like 1+1=3).  The other is also possible.

If you want to read more about color and coat genetics, please contact the Belgian Dog association (only in French)