Phantom Poodles – 7 Things You Need to Know

The Phantom Poodle: although its name may sound on the spooky side there is definitely nothing sinister about this pooch. Rather than referring to some poor earthbound Poodle ghost, the term Phantom has been coined to describe the unusual coloring and coat pattern that some dogs exhibit. Now that you have come out from behind your sofa read on to understand more about this mysterious and exciting member of the Poodle family.

With the internet being awash with plenty of doggy social media accounts of every color and breed imaginable this has driven an interest in the rare or more unusual presentations of even well-known breeds such as the Poodle.

The Phantom Poodle not only fits the bill of being a bit more unusual but as often consisting of light patches against a dark and curly main coat, these pups are incredibly photogenic. Even if you have never heard of the term Phantom Poodle before, popping it into an internet search engine will yield endless photos of these striking dogs in all their varied colors.

Just do not blame me if that particular search path leads you down a road to parting with your hard-earned cash to have a Phantom Poodle of your very own!

What is a Phantom Poodle?

No. it is not a disgruntled pet Poodle which come back to haunt their owners. Phantom merely refers to a unique, color pattern which can be seen in some Poodles. They are less common than their solid-colored counterparts which makes them desirable to those Poodle owners who seek something just a little bit different.

Phantom, Parti, Merle or Brindle

The Phantom is not the only dual color Poodle on the block there are some other contenders out there. Here are some of the key differences.

  • Parti Poodle – A Poodle with two colors present in their coat, one of which is white. Markings and distribution of the secondary color are random and completely individual to the specific dog just like a human fingerprint. White will make up 50% or more of the coloring.
  • Merle Poodle – A Poodle with two colors to their coat. However, the secondary color includes variation in shade and pigmentation with irregular and random spotting distribution. These dogs often have an unusual dappled-like appearance. Breeding merle needs to be done very carefully as problems can occur with inexperience. Read all about the dangers in our investigative article is the merle gene bad?
  • Brindle – Brindle in the Poodle, as with most breeds is a base/sold color such as brown with black, tiger-like stripes. Some brindle markings may fade as the Poodle ages.
  • Phantom Poodle – The markings of the Phantom are very specific, namely that they must have a solid background color with specific markings of a single different color in the following areas:
  1. Above the eye or around the eyebrows
  2. Sides of the muzzles or cheeks
  3. Chin
  4. Throat
  5. Across the chest
  6. Legs
  7. Paws
  8. Beneath the tail

Generally, markings must be present in all the above areas for a Poodle to be classed as a Phantom. In addition, the remainder of their coat requires to be one single color with no other random markings.

The size of the markings also plays a part in determining a Poodle’s Phantom status. Too large or too small and the dog is more likely to be considered an abstract pattern which just happens to present with markings in a similar location to that of a Poodle.

Are Phantom Poodles Purebred?

Unfortunately, the Phantom is not recognized by the American Kennel Club meaning there is no defined purebred standard for their markings. This means they cannot be shown as purebreds. They can however be allowed to take part competitively in Agility and Obedience events.

Interestingly most people would believe that the Phantom Poodle is the result of crossing two different solid color lineages such as brown and black to create a puppy with evidence of both colors in their coat. However historical images of the Poodle show the earliest examples to be of mixed coloring. It is believed that selective breeding occurred over many years to create the block colors we are particularly familiar with today.

The Phantom term refers only to color and pattern distribution and the specific breed characteristics of build, height, and weight should be the same as any other purebred Poodle. Unfortunately, some unethical breeding practices can occur in search of the elusive Phantom which can tempt breeders to crossbreed closely related Phantom Poodles. These dogs will often present with some unusual deviations from the breed standard in terms of not just general health but physical proportions and head shape.

In addition, the genetics related to coat color has no bearing on core breed characteristics associated with the Poodle such as intelligence, loyalty, and amenability to training. Other genes can have some impact on a dog’s temperament. However, for the most part, a dog’s behavior is more likely to be the product of the environment, training, and experiences it has been exposed to.

In fact, an additional benefit of the Phantom’s striking appearance is that they often benefit from the increased interest which draws attention and ensures they are regularly socialized with humans. Many strangers will stop a Phantom Poodle owner in the street to comment upon their markings and they make a wonderful conversation starter. So, if you are proudly taking your Phantom Poodle around town be sure to build extra time for them to engage with their fans!

Are Phantom Poodles Rare?

As mentioned above issues have previously arisen due to selective breeding of Phantom Poodles particularly in Germany where the Poodle breed and in particular Phantom coloring is very popular. So popular in fact, that up until 2005 Phantoms were only permitted to be bred with other Phantoms. This resulted in an increase in in-line breeding (where a dog is bred with a dog of close family contact).

Unfortunately, the end result of this was an increase in undesirable traits and subsequently, solid-colored Poodles were reintroduced to the breeding program to improve overall health.

On occasion, Phantoms can still occur from a solid color parent if they pass on recessive copies of the genes required to create a Phantom.  Even more rarely Phantom Poodle puppies can occur from two solid-colored parents if both happen to carry and pass on the recessive gene required to demonstrate their distinct pattern.

There is an unusual anomaly with attempting to breed Phantom Poodles in that the genetic sequence is very close to that of Brindle Poodles. As a result, breeding two Phantom Poodle parents together can result in a litter of Brindle Poodle puppies rather than Phantom. This occurs as the genetic makeup is so similar between the Phantom and Brindle as both hinges on recessive genes on a specific part of a dog’s DNA. Likewise breeding two Brindle parents can at times present a litter of Phantom pups.  It is this genetic lottery that means overall Phantom Poodles are generally rarer than solid colored or particolored siblings.

Phantom Markings in General

The presence of Phantom Poodle markings is not just confined to the Poodle. The rise of the Poodle cross affectionally referred to as “Doodles” has seen Phantom coloring in all manner of crossbred Poodles. Commonly the Bernedoodle (Bernese Mountain Dog x Poodle) can present with Phantom black and tan markings as to can Goldendoodles (Golden Retriever x Poodle) in addition to many other Poodle crosses.

Rottweilers and Dobermans are also classic examples of phantom markings.

Phantom Poodle Genetics

General Dog Genetics

Ready for some science? Let’s talk genetics. It is a complex old business but essentially it has been behind all dog breed development. Even as far back as the early 19th Century dog breeders were experimenting with breeding techniques to try and ensure favorable traits were passed to offspring.

In the early days, this centered primarily around honing a breed’s working skills such as hunting or herding however as time went on breeders began to focus on aesthetic features such as coloring, size and build.

Unknown to early breeders the science underpinning all this was genetics. Just like humans, dogs have a complex DNA structure made up of different genes. Genes are basically building blocks or instructions that determine a whole wealth of things such as height, build and coat color.

Each gene comprises of two parts one of which they receive from their father and one from their mother.  Each mother and father also have two copies of each gene and the half their offspring receives will be completely at random.

Where it starts to get tricky is that those two parts can either be the same or can have one dominant or one recessive part. A dominant part of the gene will always trump the recessive and that trait will never be seen until a puppy eventually inherits two copies of a recessive gene. With no dominant gene to trump it that trait will finally shine through.

Of the thousands of genes that every dog has scientists have painstakingly narrowed down that only 8 particular genes determine coat color. These components are referred to as loci and are as follows:

  • A (agouti) locus – Relates to the different coat patterns.
  • E (extension) locus – Relates to black facial mask of many dogs or yellow/red coats.
  • K (dominant black) locus – Determines whether dominant black, brindle or fawn colorings are seen.
  • B (brown) locus – Relates to brown, chocolate, and liver tones. There are two subtypes dominant brown (B) and recessive brown (b). It takes a dog to have two copies of recessive brown (bb) to dilute any black pigmentation to brown.
  • D (dilute) locus – The combination of these genes can lighten brown or black coats.
  • M (merle) locus – Frequently recessive this is specifically related to the presence of irregular color patches including diluted pigment and solid color.
  • H (harlequin) locus – This affects dogs who present as white dogs with black patches.
  • S (spotting) locus – This is associated with interesting patterns such as piebald, particolor, and less symmetrical white spotting.

The challenge arises as each of these components works alone or are affecting each other to determine the final coloring of a dog. A dog of one color however will likely carry hidden colors in their genes hence why even in one litter there can be massive variation in coloring and marking.

Phantom Genetics

The genetic recipe for a Phantom Poodle is really quite specific. For Phantom marking to occur a dog would need to have two copies of the “Ky” genotype expressed as Ky/Ky. This allows for non-solid black and for other colors also to be expressed.

This is rare as there are two other variations of the K locus (Kb and Kbr) which are more dominant than Ky so if the dog inherits one copy of either of these the Ky features won’t be seen.

Furthermore, a Phantom Poodle will require specific genotypes on the E gene, namely either a copy of E or Em gene in the combination. This relates to allowing the trademark mask appearance of the Phantom.

Finally, a Phantom will also require two copies of At on the A locus to allow for the characteristic color spotting pattern.

Phantom Poodle Colors

Phantom Poodles will have a solid background color that can be black, cream, apricot, red, white, silver or brown. Phantoms are born with their patches, and these do not appear as the dog ages. Occasionally unethical breeding practices such as breeding closely related Phantoms in the hope of creating further Phantoms can result in some undesirable traits such as premature color fading as the dog ages.

Ensuring you have investigated the breeder and ancestry of a potential puppy is the best way to ensure you purchase a healthy, robust dog.

Dependent on the background color this can separate the Phantom further into the types of spotted color they may demonstrate.  They can be broken down as follows:

  • Black Phantoms – A Phantom with a black background color can present with the following combinations – black with apricot markings, black with red markings, black with cream markings, black with gray markings, black with brown markings, or black with silver markings.
  • Chocolate Phantoms – A chocolate has a brown background color that can only ever present with apricot markings.
  • Red Phantoms – A red background color will only ever present with apricot Phantom markings.
  • Silver Phantoms – A Phantom with a background of silver will present with cream markings.

Many Phantom Poodle owners report that they enjoy the attention that their dogs get not just among other Poodle aficionados but also amongst the general public who are not used to seeing a dog with such markings.

The elaborate grooming styles that often adorn Poodles can accentuate the facial and chest coloring of the Phantom making them even more visually striking.  This makes them a breed of choice for some grooming shows as the Poodle coat in general lends itself to being manipulated into some elaborate decorative cuts.

Phantom Poodle Sizes – Toy, Miniature, Moyen (Klein) and Standard

Most purebred guidelines and kennel clubs only recognize three core sizes of Poodle, namely the Toy, Miniature, and Standard. Many breeders, however, in addition, recognize the additional category of Moyen or Klein Poodle which is sometimes referred to as a Medium Poodle. The Medium Poodle sits between a Miniature and Standard in sizing.

Below is average weights and sizing for each sub-category:

  • Toy Poodle – Height: 9 inches – 11 inches, Weight: 14lbs – 18lbs
  • Miniature Poodle – Height: 11inches – 14 inches, Weight:  20lbs – 30lbs
  • Moyen Poodle – Height: 14inches – 18 inches, Weight: 30lbs – 42lbs
  • Standard Poodle – Height: 18 – 24 inches, Weight: 42lbs – 70lbs

The Phantom Poodle comes in all the above size variations. Anecdotally they are at times less commonly seen in the Toy Poodle category. This is due to the fact that the historical breeding of Phantoms focused on the Standard and Miniature varieties in mainland Europe. Toy Phantoms do exist however may attract a higher price.

How Much does a Phantom Poodle Cost?

There can be massive variation in the cost of a Phantom Poodle puppy. As already discussed they are often rarer than some other colorings and as such will always attract additional interest. The fact that they do not meet breed standards to be shown competitively with other Poodles appears to have done little to reduce the appetite for this subtype.

Their unusual appearance means they usually attract an additional cost of between 10% and 20% for a similar single-colored Poodle however this is only a guide.

Black Phantoms are the more prevalent type and may be more readily available than silver or red phantom as their base color is rarer to start with.  As such a silver or red phantom may be pricier than a black.

Phantoms are anecdotally more common in mainland Europe with only a few specialist breeders in the United States meaning a Phantom pup may prove more costly in the USA.

The second biggest factor affecting cost after color will be the size with the current trend for smaller dogs driving up prices in relation to Toy and Miniature variations. Given the unusual presentation of coat color in the Phantom it is likely that they will only routinely be available from well-established breeders with a specific breeding program. The chance of a Phantom pup appearing in a generally bred litter is low.

Do Your Homework

As always prospective owners should endeavor to investigate breeders fully including looking at the parent dogs wherever possible. As the price of dogs, in general, has increased significantly in the last few years it is more important than ever to be seeking evidence of health screening on the parent dogs to avoid any health complaints being passed to the offspring.

Be prepared for reputable and respected breeders to be in demand and potentially they will require that you are placed on a waiting list that can at times be up to a year or more.

It is rare that a Phantom Poodle will arrive in a rescue or rehoming facility due to their popularity however it is always worth checking prior to buying in case you can offer a rescue dog a good home prior to purchasing a puppy.

Ensuring that you have sufficient funds or appropriate pet insurance will ensure you can care for your new family member should they develop any conditions or experience an injury.

In Conclusion

The Phantom Poodle is not a new breed rather the term coined to describe Poodles who present with a specific color combination and marking pattern. Often mistaken for Parti Poodles which also have two colors in their coat the Phantom differs as their markings will always be in the same place whereas a Parti color marking pattern is completely random and can differ from dog to dog.

The Phantom Poodle is present in all the same sizes seen in general Poodle breeding namely Toy, Miniature, Moyen, and Standard.

They are rarer than their single-colored counterparts which means they can attract a higher purchase price as there are fewer breeders specializing in them. There is an avid online presence of people and Poodle owners alike who particularly revere these unusual dogs and frequently share photographs of all the different color combinations often with elaborate grooms designed to enhance the Phantom Markings.

Many owners are very proud of their Phantom Poodle credentials which is often extended into name selection. Some of my particular favour Phantom Poodle names include Casper (as in the friendly ghost), Ghost and Boo.

Rest assured though their name is likely to be the only scary thing about these delightful dogs. Well, perhaps the price they attract may give the unprepared a little bit of a fright!