by Claudia Waller Orlandi , Ph.D.

Part 2: Genes: Dominant and Recessive - Homozygous and Heterozygous - Genotype and Phenotype

SCENARIO: You are especially fond of ticking in your breed, however, the “pick” puppy in your most recent litter is the only one of six puppies with no ticking. To what can this be attributed?

ANSWER: The effect of dominant and recessive genes.

In Part 1: Chromosomes and Genes we learned the following:

  1. Chromosomes are made up of genes, which provide the instructions for how a puppy will look and act.
  2. Except in the case of twins, no two dogs are ever genetically the same because the genes a sire and dam pass on to each puppy are always a unique, one-of-a-kind composition of the genes they each received from their ancestors.
  3. In the fertilized cell from which a new puppy will develop there are two sets of genetic instructions, one “building plan” provided by 39 chromosomes from the sire and the other by 39 chromosomes from the dam.
We are now ready to address the issue of which of the 2 sets of genetic instructions will be followed in the “building” of our new puppy. This brings us to the role of dominant and recessive genes.


Successful breeders have long recognized the necessity of understanding how genes are involved in the passing of a trait from one generation to the next. The key to breeding better dogs lies in learning how to “arrange” genes, which are the carriers of heredity and which determine a dog’s size, conformation and temperament. Gregor Mendel’s work with garden peas and other plants laid the ground work for understanding this phenomenon. Mendel’s work established that traits do not blend. Breeding tall plants to short ones did not produce medium-size plants. The lesson here: don’t breed an overshot dog to an undershot one and expect to get a scissors bite!


One of the major conclusions that emerged from Mendel’s work that affects our breeding of dogs is that genes are inherited in related pairs, one from each parent. Mendel discovered some genes over-rule the activity of others. These are called DOMINANT genes and geneticists depict them with an upper case letter. For example, we know that the gene T for ticking (color spots in white patches) is dominant and over-rules the gene t for nonticking. Genes that are over-ruled are called RECESSIVE genes and are represented by lower case letters. The alternative forms of a particular gene, in this case, T for ticking and t for nonticking, are known as alleles.
Remember, one member of each gene pair comes from each parent. In our example, whether a puppy has ticking will depend on which two genes it inherits. If his sire passes on to him the T gene for ticking and his dam the t gene for nonticking, the puppy will inherit the gene pair Tt. It will have ticking because the T gene is dominant and over-rules the activity of the t gene. If it inherits the gene pair TT it will also have ticking because both genes are dominant for ticking. If it inherits tt it will have nonticking because there is no dominant T gene in the pair. In any gene pair there are only 3 possible combinations. Using our example they would be: TT, Tt and tt.


We need to understand two funny sounding words: HOMOZYGOUS and HETEROZYGOUS. When both genes in a pair are the same, either dominant (for example, TT) or recessive (for example, tt), we say the dog is HOMOZYGOUS or PURE for that trait or character and must pass this characteristic on to a puppy. If the genes in a pair are different (in our case, Tt) the dog is HETEROZYGOUS for that trait and could pass either the recessive or the dominant gene to offspring. As we learn more about genes we will see that the goal in breeding lies in trying to arrange desirable genes in homologous pairs. Having two “good” genes in the same pair in both the sire and the dam guarantees us that one “good” gene from each parent will always be inherited by a puppy.


The term genotype refers to the genetic make-up of an animal. It refers to the letter symbols describing the gene pair. The term phenotype is used to describe the external appearance resulting from a gene’s action. Thus the genotype for dogs with ticking is either TT or Tt, while the genotype for nonticking is always tt. Every breeder needs to understand that a dog is really two different entities: what we see on the outside (the phenotype) does not always predict what genes he is carrying on the inside (genotype). If a dog happens to carry the Tt gene pair he himself will have ticking, When bred to a female carrrying either TT or Tt, however, he is capable of producing puppies with nonticking (see Figure 1).


Geneticists and breeders frequently use a diagram called a Punnett square to predict the expected outcome of individual breedings. Genes or traits that can be contributed by one parent are listed on the top of the diagram; at the left are listed genes that may be contributed by the other parent. Possible combinations that can be produced in the offspring are found in the squares formed by the intersection of the columns and rows. Figure 1 shows the mating of Emma to Joe and the expected outcome relative to ticking and nonticking. Joe and Emma both carry the Tt gene pair; they can each contribute a T or a t to each puppy.

Figure 1


Referring to the Punnett Square and the text, see if you can answer the following questions. Answers follow below.
  1. Does Joe have ticking?
  2. Does Emma have ticking?
  3. Which of the four puppies will have ticking?
  4. Which puppies will have nonticking?
  5. Of the two parents and 4 puppies, who is homozygous for these traits? Who is heterozygous?
  6. Which puppies have the genotype for nonticking? Which have the genotype for ticking?
  7. Of the 4 puppies, which are capable of producing nonticking in their offspring?


The above discussion has centered on single genes and how they are involved in the passing on of a trait.
In the next column we will address the more complicated issue of traits that are controlled by multiple gene pairs.


  1. Joe has ticking.
  2. Emma has ticking.
  3. Rover, Eddy and Spot will have ticking.
  4. Jane will have nonticking.
  5. Rover and Jane are homozygous. Joe, Emma , Eddy and Spot are heterozygous.
  6. Jane has the genotype for nonticking. Rover, Eddy and Spot have the genotype for ticking.
  7. Eddy, Spot and Jane are capable of producing nonticking in offspring mated to a Basset with the t gene.