You may not have heard the term agouti much, or even at all. However, you will definitely have seen agouti-colored animals many times although you might never have seen or heard of an agouti Poodle.
What do we Mean When we Say Agouti?
Agouti is one of the most widely seen and oldest animal color genes in the world and is especially common in wild mammals. Think of a wild rabbit or hare, a deer, any type of rodent, or a wolf and the color that you are picturing in your head is agouti.
There is a very good reason for this as nature is a wonderful thing and agouti coloring provides very effective camouflage which is so important to wild mammals. For the prey animals such as rabbits and deer, camouflage helps them stay hidden from predators, and for the predators such as wolves, camouflage helps them sneak up on their prey.
Each hair on an agouti-colored animal is banded. You may have noticed this if you’ve ever stroked a rabbit or if you live with an agouti-colored dog that sheds hair. If you stroke the coat the wrong way you will see different shades as you get closer to the skin and if you pick up an individual hair and look at it, you will see several bands all the way along the shaft of the hair.
When a hair is banded it is the result of pigment changes that take place as the hair grows. First one type of pigment is produced, usually, eumelanin which is often displayed as black or blue then it switches to pheomelanin, the red pigment.
The gene responsible for changing the pigment in the cells is known as ‘aw’. The ‘a ‘standing for agouti and the ‘w’ standing for wild type because as we’ve already discovered many wild animals are agouti.
In domestic dogs’ agouti can be very difficult to tell apart from when they are sable. In sable-colored dogs, each hair is tipped with black so it is only on close inspection that you would be able to tell if the hairs are black-tipped or black banded.
A clue that can help is looking at the overall pattern of the coat. In an agouti dog, you are more likely to notice a band of darker colored hair across the muzzle or a spectacle-like appearance around the eyes as opposed to the widow’s peak pattern frequently seen in sable dogs.
Are Agouti Poodles Rare?
In short yes, they are, although the agouti color is often seen in wild animals and other breeds as we’ve already discussed, when it comes to Poodles, agouti is rarely seen. There are several possible reasons and explanations as to why this is.
As we already learned earlier, agouti is quite difficult to distinguish from sable without close inspection, and identifying if a hair is banded or tipped becomes doubly difficult when that hair is also tightly curled. Of course, one of the main features of the Poodle is his wonderful curly hair. You would have to pull an individual hair straight and examine it in order to be certain if the dog was sable or agouti.
This means that many agouti dogs are registered or labeled sable or sable phantom. In the show ring, only solid-colored Poodles are allowed so, black, blue, silver, brown, white, cream, apricot, café au lait or silver beige and if you attend or watch dog shows on tv you will notice that the most successful show dogs are usually solid black or white.
The judge’s preference for these colors is helped by the fact that they are simple to recognize. The dog is either black or it isn’t. Unlike a patterned Poodle whose coat would have to be scrutinized in order to judge its perfection.
This has become ‘the norm’ to such an extent that the AKC and even more so, the KC do not recognize these more unusual colors. In addition to being unable to show dogs that are patterned in any way, the color will not be recorded on the dog’s registration documents. Instead, the certificate will say CNR or color not recognized.
Going a step further, many people believe that any Poodle that is not solid-colored is not purebred and that these colors appear as a result of a dog of a different breed being used somewhere in the line. This is not true as these are naturally occurring colors in the Poodle from the beginning of time.
The very first Poodles were actually parti colored (50% white and 50% another color much like a piebald horse). However, as fashions changed these dogs became undesirable and were not used for breeding and sadly, often culled as breeders did not want dogs of these colors being traced back to their breeding programs.
The ‘A’ locus which is responsible for the agouti, sable, and phantom patterns can only be expressed if the dog does not carry one copy of the gene for dominant black. As, even if it is there, a dog with a copy of dominant black will always appear black. Therefore, there are incidences when two black dogs are mated and still produce a litter of pups of unexpected colors or patterns!
Many breeders now carry out genetic color testing on all their breeding dogs to try to predict and control the color of the puppies produced from each mating. Phantom and sable are the two colors most commonly seen in this series and agouti is the rarest.
Personally, I feel that this is a shame as Agouti coloring in a Poodle, especially a Standard, is in my opinion incredibly beautiful. An agouti Poodle appears different colored from different angles, in different lights, and when his coat has been groomed. What could be better than a color-changing Poodle?
Agouti Poodles also change color considerably from puppyhood to adulthood which may be another reason why they aren’t accepted in the show ring. A winning puppy that appeared a completely different color when he appeared in adult classes could cause controversy with some people finding it hard to accept that it was the same dog.
Now you know what an agouti Poodle is you may realize that you have actually seen one but didn’t know what it was. I have often heard people say that they’ve seen a Poodle that was a beautiful and unusual color but not been sure how to describe it. Perhaps it was a beautiful, unusual agouti Poodle!