By Gretchen Haskett

Sesame is one of the three preferred colors in the AKC standard. The original Japanese word for this color is goma. Early US Akita breeders looked up goma in a Japanese-English dictionary and translated it to sesame. Although not used in the Akita standard, Akita breeders use the words goma and sesame interchangeably. A sesame or goma is a dog with a black overlay. In the Shiba the sesame must have a red base coat under the overlay.

Newcomers to the breed often refer to the color as sable. Are they correct in doing so? Well, yes and no.

The AKC's Complete Dog Book defines sable this way: "A coat color produced by black-tipped hairs upon a background of silver, gold, gray, fawn or brown."

So why don't we just use the word sable in the Shiba standard? The National Shiba Club of America is not trying to be perverse by substituting a foreign term when a perfectly familiar one exists. It is true that by the AKC's definition of sable, all sesame Shibas are sables. However, not all sables are sesames. A sesame is a sable in which the black-tipped areas follow a specific pattern.

Imagine a black-and-tan Shiba. Now, in your mind, replace the solid black areas with a black-tipped red coat. The only exception to this similarity in pattern is that the tipping on a sesame can sometimes end at the forehead in a widow's peak leaving the bridge of the muzzle red, where on a black and tan the bridge must always be black. Sesames can be quite dark, up to 50% black but should not be any darker than this. The tipping must be even throughout the sesame areas with no concentration of black anywhere. Sesame is the rarest of the three preferred colors in both Japan and the US. At the Nippo National I attended in 1991, out of 652 Shibas entered only 3 were sesame. Many US breeders and judges have never seen a sesame!

Many Shibas are sable rather than sesame. These dogs are red and have black-tipped hairs primarily on the back and tail only. These sable Shibas are called "red with black inserts" in Japan.  Nippo has no separate color category for registering sables. They are registered as reds. While dogs that have the sesame pattern and have quite a heavy overlay (keeping in mind the 50% rule), sables must have a sparse overlay. The closer to pure red the better. Under no circumstances should the overlay on a sable be so dark as to form a solid black saddle as in the German Shepherd.  Adult sesames and sables must never have a black mask.