Why Does my Liver Shih Tzu have Black Hairs?

by Maria Bauer
(San Antonia, TX)

How Many Colors Will I Be?

How Many Colors Will I Be?

My Shih Tzu is almost 14 weeks old. His nose, pads, and lips are light brown and hazel eyes. His coat is mostly gold with a dark brown mask and some white predominantlty on the chest. However, I did see some black hairs growing on the back coat.

I've done some reading and understand that dogs with this color lips, pads and nose are liver dogs and is genetically impossible for them to have any black. Any explanation for the black on his coat?

Anonymous Answers:

Eventually the black hair that you mentioned will disappear as your shihtzu grows.

Our Answer:

Genetics can seem complicated, but when it comes right down to it, genetics aren’t really that hard to understand.

Do you remember Mendel’s pea plant’s from your high school biology class, Maria?

It basically boils down to when only a limited number of physical traits are available, it’s easy to predict which of those traits are dominant and are most likely to be passed on to the next generation. With Shih Tzus black is the dominant and most common pigment color, meaning the nose, eye rims and lips are black though the dog’s coat can be almost any combination of colors.

Your liver-pigmented Shih Tzu is a rare product of selective breeding of the non-dominant (or recessive) liver gene. Because they’re rare, “livers” as they’re often referred to can be quite costly. No matter your puppy's price tag it’s understandable you may be concerned about black hairs showing up in his coat. The two breeders I spoke with conferred with your understanding that liver-pigmented Shih Tzus are not supposed to have black hair – but only one was willing to confirm that is was “genetically impossible.”

Still Changing

It’s important to note that puppies can change coat colors significantly as they mature. I have a black and white who looks exactly the same as he did as a pup but my gold and white Shih Tzu started life as a striking tri-colored puppy with lots of black in his mask, beard, back and feet. At five-years old the only black left on him is a grayish-black fringe on the ends of his ears.

The likelihood that your Shih Tzu will lose his black hairs as he grows doesn’t explain why they’re present in the first place. However, one of my resources suggested that the hairs you’re seeing may not technically be “black.” Especially when sprinkled into a white/gold coat, hairs that might truly be classified as dark brown can look black.

With hazel eyes and the pigmentation you’ve described it certainly sounds as though your Shih Tzu is a true liver. If you’re concerned about his coloring speak with your breeder. Of course, a few black hairs won’t affect how much you love him or the amount of joy your little lion dog brings to your household, but if you had plans to breed your dog his genetics do make a difference. I invite you to send in a before and after picture so we can see the change he undergoes in the next few months.

Best of luck with your new furbaby!

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