Progressive greying causes a dog’s eumelanin pigment color to fade over time. Black fades to grey or silver grey while brown fades to a beige, sandy reddish-cream shade.
What is Progressive Greying?
In some dog breeds, puppies are born with regular black or brown eumelanin pigment but over time the coat color fades to a lighter and paler shade.
This phenomenon is called progressive greying or progressive fading. It usually starts in young puppies but can take up to several years until complete.
Progressive greying only affects bearded dogs and is found in many wirehaired or curly dog breeds. Greying begins at the hair base and is influenced by hair age. It causes a gradual decrease of pigment density in the cortex of the growing hair shaft.
Since the coat in many furnished breeds grows continuously the color in the hair tips grows out over time. And shaving these dogs can speed up the perceived loss of color when we cut off all of the darker and older hair.
As a rule of thumb, eumelanin in any pattern will fade from black to blue-grey or to a silver-white grey, from brown to beige or to a pale cream color/café au lait.
Greying on dilute colors (blue and lilac) might not be as prominent at first glance but will further lighten even these colors.
Nose and skin pigment will not fade and keep their original color. Phaeomelanin doesn’t seem to be affected in many cases but the influence of fading on phaeomelanin intensity remains unclear.
The potential allele causing a pigment fading phenotype is thought to be found at the theoretical G Locus. But the Greying Locus has not been identified with certainty yet. So for now, we don’t know what mechanism is responsible for color fading in some bearded dog breeds.
One candidate for explaining greying is the KITLG gene on dog chromosome 15. In a recently published study variation in KITLG seemed to be associated with pigment intensity along the hair shaft, phaeomelanin intensity in some breeds but also with color variation in eumelanin-based Poodles.
But for now, we can only theorize how greying works from a breeder’s perspective. Progressive greying seems to be an incomplete dominant trait that causes a dose-dependent effect on all eumelanin in a dog’s coat.
Dogs with a g/g genotype don’t develop greying and keep their original color.
Dogs with a G/g genotype will fade to some degree.
But the strongest effect can usually be observed in dogs that are G/G. Homozygous dogs seem to fade quicker and more dramatically.
Since this is a dominant trait a dog can not be a carrier without actually expressing greying. But greying will only affect dogs with furnishings and at least some eumelanin in their coat.
Greying will not be visible in dogs with smooth facial hair or dogs with extensive white spotting, clear sable or a recessive red phenotype. But these dogs can still pass greying on to their offspring if they are in fact G/G or G/g.
Some long-haired dogs with a greying factor are said to have a lighter hair base even without furnishings.
The coat pigmentation of dogs with progressive greying lightens as a dog reaches adulthood.
But this process can take some time and sometimes takes years until complete. In some cases, the coat will even periodically get darker when new hair growth happens.
Usually, puppies are born with normal pigment (“black born gray“) but can have lighter paws or a lighter muzzle even at birth.
Solid Coat Colors
Interestingly, in breeds with dominant black, the hidden pattern on the A-Locus can temporarily become visible during the greying process, eg. as faint tan markings on the muzzle or reddish hair on the back.
Dogs with solid coat color and greying can be found in some Poodles, Labradoodles, Bedlington Terriers, Briards, Kerry Blue Terriers or Pyrenean Shepherds.
Usually, a black coat will fade to blue or silver and a brown coat will fade to beige or café au lait. Areas with a shorter coat like the ears or tail can hold pigment better and appear darker than leg furnishings or a fluffy topknot.
But the range of colors caused by fading is pretty variable. Minimal greying is sometimes perceived as “bad pigment” since it only loses some of its rich and full color.
Greying and White
Many dogs with fading pigment have white markings, e.g. Bearded Collies, Spanish Water Dogs, Portuguese Water Dogs or some parti Poodles.
Greying and Masks
In dogs with an Em allele, the eumelanin on the muzzle doesn’t seem to fade like the eumelanin in the rest of the coat. This gives a grey phenotype with a black mask or a sandy beige coat with a brown mask.
This can happen in many breeds with greying, e.g Kerry Blue Terrier, Bouvier des Flanders, Briard, Tibetan Terrier or Pyrenean Shepherd.
Greying and Shading
Dogs with heavy sable shading have enough eumelanin that greying can be visible. Examples can be found in breeds like Pyrenean Shepherd, Irish Wolfhound, Tibetan Terrier, Löwchen or Skye Terrier.
Greying and Brindle
Many dogs breeds with progressive greying have a brindle pattern.
But since all of the affected breeds are long-haired, wiry or curly the darker stripes in their coat give a less distinct pattern compared to short-haired dogs. And greying obscures a brindle pattern even more.
Brindle with greying is found in breeds like Skye Terriers, Bouviers, Glen of Imaal Terrier, Deerhound or Irish Wolfhound.
Greying and Tan Points
On a tan point pattern, the black or brown eumelanin will fade to grey, silver, beige or sandy cream shades. Sometimes there is not too much contrast left between lighter tan markings and a fully faded base coat color.
Some dog breeds with a tan point pattern and greying are phantom Poodles, Cesky Terriers, Bedlington Terriers or Dandie Dinmont Terriers.
Greying and Saddle Tan
In dogs with a saddle pattern and greying the tan markings grow while the saddle becomes lighter and lighter. Prominent examples of dogs with a grey saddle are Yorkshire Terrier or Australian Silky Terriers.
Some other examples are Otterhounds, Lakeland Terriers, Griffon Nivernais, Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen or Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen.
Greying and Merle
Typical breeds with progressive greying are not breeds that traditionally come in merle. But in some crosses like Aussiedoodles, lurchers or terrier mixes these traits can meet.
A classic merle pattern causes a random mixture of pigmented and diluted patches on eumelanin-pigmented areas. Greying will cause even the once fully colored patches to fade and make any merle pattern less distinct or barely visible.
Not all dogs with blue or grey coats got their color from progressive greying:
- Dilution can turn black to blue and brown to lilac. But these dogs are already born with a diluted coat color and diluted skin and nose pigment.
- White phaeomelanin intensity in A-Locus patterns can look very greyish, e.g. pepper-and-salt in Schnauzers.
- Atypical Merle sometimes causes a uniform greyish color instead of a more patchy merle pattern.
- Domino and Grizzle cause pale hair roots, less eumelanin and it lightens phaeomelanin. The actual phenotype depends on a dogs original pattern but many dogs with domino look greyish.
Dog Breeds with Progressive Greying
Greying is present in many bearded dog breeds:
- Australian Silky Terrier
- Australian Terrier
- Bearded Collie
- Bedlington Terrier
- Bergamasco Shepherd Dog
- Biewer Terrier
- Bolonka Zwetna
- Bouvier des Flandres
- Cairn Terrier
- Catalan Sheepdog
- Cesky Terrier
- Dandie Dinmont Terrier
- Glen of Imaal Terrier
- Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen
- Griffon Nivernais
- Irish Wolfhound
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Kerry Blue Terrier
- Lagotto Romagnolo
- Lakeland Terrier
- Lhasa Apso
- Old English Sheepdog
- Parson Russell Terrier
- Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen
- Polish Lowland Sheepdog
- Portuguese Water Dog
- Pyrenean Shepherd
- Sealyham Terrier
- Skye Terrier
- South Russian Shepherd Dog
- Spanish Water Dog
- Tibetan Terrier
- Yorkshire Terrier
 Slavney AJ, Kawakami T, Jensen MK, Nelson TC, Sams AJ, Boyko AR (2021) Five genetic variants explain over 70% of hair coat pheomelanin intensity variation in purebred and mixed breed domestic dogs. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0250579. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0250579
 Weich K, Affolter V, York D, Rebhun R, Grahn R, Kallenberg A, Bannasch D. Pigment Intensity in Dogs is Associated with a Copy Number Variant Upstream of KITLG. Genes. 2020; 11(1):75. https://doi.org/10.3390/genes11010075