You've probably noticed that not all white dogs have a clear white coat. When there are spots of color in it, it's called "Ticking" or "Roaning". Some people call it ticking, others call it speckled or flecked. However, ticking is a pattern of small spots found only in the white parts of the dog's coat. Think of the white as putting a cloth over the dog. Ticking is like cutting holes in the cloth to let the base color (whatever that may be) show through. Ticking and merle are NOT the same thing but are often confused. The biggest clue is to look at the dog as a newborn. Merle is a pattern in a dog’s coat, though it is commonly incorrectly referred to as a color. The merle gene creates mottled or marbled patches of color, blue or odd-colored eyes, and can affect skin pigment as well.
Ticking is not present at birth, and develops gradually, as the pups grow. Dalmatian pups are born solid white. Their black spots will appear in the white of a pup's coat and is more likely to be ticking than merling. Merle should be visible when the pup is born, even though it usually darkens as the dog matures. In Aussies, the ticking is typically more prevalent on the legs, although it can also appear on their face and in their collar. Solid color dogs (with no white) can carry ticking. However, you won't be able to see it, since ticking is only visible in white trim areas.
In general, ticking is heaviest on the legs and the muzzle. If a dog has only a small amount of ticking, it will appear in these areas before anywhere else. Ticking can vary from just a few spots to almost roan all over the dog. Many ticked dogs have roan areas (parts where there is more color than white), though roan appears to be caused by a separate gene. Most breed standards use the term “ticked” when referring to clearly defined flecks on a white background, and “roan” when referring to flecks so closely spaced that the mixture appears even. Larger, round spots, as seen in Dalmatians, might be a form of modified ticking. Like ticked dogs, their spots are not visible in the coat at birth, though they can be seen in the skin. There have been discussions whether roan (heavy intermingling of colored and white hairs) is indeed its own pattern, or perhaps just heavy ticking. Roan can also be called “mottle”.
Below are photos that demonstrate one of our heavily ticked puppies. Ticking was not visible at all at birth. By the fourth photo on the bottom right, the pup is now 7 weeks old, and ticking is much more pronounced. Years ago, I really did NOT like the ticking, but now I LOVE it. I really think it makes our schnauzers look a lot like bird dogs!