The Basics of Coat Color Genetics for the Kerry Blue and the Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers

by Neil O'Sullivan <>,
Geneticist & the Kennel help for Geragold SCWT & KBT Adel, Iowa, USA

Copyright © 2003 Kerry Blue Terrier Foundation


Editor's Note:

The pictures you see here are from purebred but mis-marked Kerries. They were provided to me on conditions of anonymity. The breeders of these terriers are well known in their countries and these photos should not reflect negatively on the quality of their breeding lines.

These color abnormalities are very rare and probably could not be duplicated.

Thanks to all who have contributed to this page.

If you have additional pictures, please e-mail them to


A Blond Pure Bred Kerry

 Two Kerries

The black coat a Kerry is born with is the result of the A A genotype and it is dominant to the a/y a/y wheaten coat. A low percentage of Kerries still carry the a/y allele and when two A a/y Kerries are bred up pops the wheaten colored Kerry. No solid black Wheatens are born from wheaten (a/y a/y) colored parents.

The Kerry develops the gray color with age due to the action of the dominant G allele. Wheatens segregate for the G and g allele as both gray and black ears can be seen in the Wheaten. Kerries also segregate for the c/ch allele resulting in the lighter more silver Kerries and the darker more slate gray color. Wheatens also appear to segregate for these alleles of the C gene. In Wheatens we see poor nose and eye pigment along with a pale coat color associated with a allele c/ch which along with a paler coat we see the "winter nose" or poor pigmentation syndrome.


 Miss H. Henry at the Ben Edar Kennel, circa 1938

Wheatens do have black, at birth at least, on most puppies. This is due to the interaction between the alleles of the E gene and the a/y a/y genotype. Since Kerries are black - gray we can't seen the expression of these alleles. Commonly Wheatens have the self colored which is E allele and or the e/m or mask allele.

The black and tans once occurred in Wheaten, Kerry and Irish Terrier litters. The folklore among older dog people in the Cork/Kerry/Waterford area has been that after the Great War (WWI) the black and tan color lost favor as it reminded people of the hated "Black & Tans" of the British forces. So these pups were put down. After some discussions of this topic some years back I checked out what my mother remembered and she confirmed the folklore, but she had not seen actual litters with the black and tan puppies. Nor had she seen an actual "wheaten colored" Kerry.

Black & Tan Kerry at 4-6 Months


The picture above shows a Kerry at 4-6 months of age and the same mis-marked Kerry as an adult is shown on the right.




Black and tan (a/t) is in the A gene allele series and is recessive to both black (A allele) and the wheaten (a/y allele) colors. So black and tan puppies can and do occur in both Wheaten and Kerry litters. Albeit very, very rarely. I remember people being worried in the 1980 that a litter of Wheatens with black and tan puppies was caused by some "problem" with the pedigree. Not likely just the chance meeting of two Wheatens with the a/y a/t genotype.

A tri-colored Kerry
at 7 weeks


In Wheatens we see fairly commonly the work of the B genes recessive dilation allele b . Wheatens bb in genotype are born with chocolate or brown where normally it would be black. Nose and eye rim pigment comes in brown instead of black. I don't recall reports of this allele (b) in the Kerry. They would have a coat brown or chocolate color at birth with brown nose and eye rim pigmentation as they mature. Eye iris color has always been much paler than normal on bb Wheatens.

The same tri-colored pure-bred
at 4 months


This purebred Kerry bitch whelped one wheaten-colored Kerry (a male, shown here at approximately 1 year old) in an otherwise normally marked litter.



Neil O'Sullivan
Geneticist & the Kennel help
for Geragold SCWT & KBT
Adel Iowa, USA
originally from Ireland



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