Friday, January 9, 2009

Time to paws-four score and... this is a long one....

Alrighty now, here comes the most delicate discussion today. And so funny, it's a debate on a cosmetic item, not structural.

Color. There I said it. Color. Our breed is blessed with a wide variety of colors. Brindles in all shades from black to chocolate, to red and some so light in color that it's almost impossible to see their stripes. Then there's the reds and sables. I lump those two together because we usually have an issue with what really is a sable and what isn't. Then the black and whites. And last but not least, the blues. Oh the blues.

Standard: All shades of red, sable and brindle. Black with or without tan or brindle points. Blue merle(black and gray; marbled) with or without tan or brindle points. There is no color preference. White flashings are usual on the neck (either in part or as a collar), chest, legs, muzzle, underparts, tips of tail and as a blaze on head. White on the head should not predominate and should never surround the eyes. Any color other than specified and/or body color predominately white are disqualifications.

Let's stick with the actual color of the dog today and I'll dance the fine line of white markings and points next post. That's if I survive the slaughter of this one.

First on inheritance, there is so much to go into on this that I will refer to some great posts on Showcardi-L if you want more information. Also, Phi-Vestavia has an awesome article that I send all newbies to. Here's the link for that:

Now to the nitty gritty that I know we all want to discuss--the actual colors in our breed, and why we only allow what we do.

History, in almost any breed, will tell you that in it's beginning, color was not a prerequisite for a working dog. They just basically had to do what they were being bred to do. Preferences then came into play as the farmers or hunters wanted to make their dogs unique amongst the pack. In cardigans we need to look back at the history of the breed first to see what was put in the mixing bowl to create the dogs we love today.

I'm going to rely on the CWCCA for most of the history part with other information I have gleaned over the years from various people and books.

The Cardigan descends from the Teckel family of dogs-those are dogs similar to the dachshund. There is also, due to the dwarf stature of our breed, some inclination that they are also related to the bassets, PBGV's and like breeds in France. The theory is that a relation to our cardigans, was around during the viking invasion, where the Spitz type dogs were introduced, leading to the creation of the Pemborke Welsh Corgi. The Cardigans remained unchanged.

During the time that followed, the Bronant Corgi-the original corgi, was bred with the brindle heeler. The colors prior to that were in the reds and sables, so now we add in the brindle. Okay, so where does the blue come from??? I can't seem to find a definitive answer to that, though I can theorize that if the relationship to the Teckel dogs is correct, that the merling pattern may have from come that direction,. ie the merled dachies we see today.

I know, I know, I'm beating around the bush here, but having laid the foundation that real working dogs centuries ago didn't rely on color to work, then why is it such a big deal today? Because we now show dogs and they now have to conform to a standard, aka a cookie cutter form in order to evaluated fairly. Fair is far from the truth these days as I could wander off into the whole style, type and pretty vs working and correctness for the job debate, but I won't. I know that you really want me to voice my opinion on the whole correct color debate, ie, the any color is a good color in a cardigan. So here it goes.

Because I belong to the CWCCA, I have to abide by the Code of Ethics, which means that the written standard is the one that I have to follow. There are only five accepted colors and only certain combinations that I am allowed to breed. Black and whites can be bred to any color. Blue merles can only be bred to black and whites, any other color-red, sable, brindle, can be bred to any color other then blue merles. I don't agree that that is the correct way to do it as many other combinations of the right genetic material can be bred to create a far superior dog, but I wont' cross that line. I might also add that it is well known fact that many of the corrections in the standard over time have been made due to dogs of unusual color or markings, doing so well in the ring. Not because of their color, but because the judge overlooked it and went for the most structurally correct dog. This in turn outraged many who then lobbied for change and won it. Change which was nothing more then a political move.

Having been involved in an other breed that also includes blue merles in it's color palate, I can, with first hand knowledge, tell you what can happen with so called "off color" breedings. Blue merles when bred to blue merles can create what are called double dilutes-dogs which carry both the merle genes. In the collie breed, this can spell disaster. DD's can carry multiple health risks such as blindness, deafness, other physical defects. What this comes down to is an ethical debate, not so much a color debate. Do you risk that health and well being of untold # of puppies in a blue/blue breeding, in order to maybe get a far superior puppy? Are you willing to cull that defective puppy or are you willing to keep it for it's life or place in the appropriate home, so that it will live a long and fulfilling life?

DD's health issues are limited to that dog. Unless it is rebred to another blue, there is no chance of it passing on it's defects to another generation. That is the limiting factor which is a good factor. But again, are you responsible enough to be ethical about the treatment of those puppies you produced. Just culling them to me is totally unethical, because as a responsible breeder, you place the health and well being of those dogs ahead of your own personal gain.

Okay, lets now talk about the other off color breedings and the effects. Merles to any other color. Again, I agree that there is no bad colored cardigans. A ginger, sable or brindle merle dog can do the job just as well as the red or black and white. One of my concerns in a health related issue and it's about pigment. Other breeds do allow the chocolate or brown pigment-dobermans, dachies, aussies, etc. No issues there. What I do have an issue with is that the lightness of the pigment can drastically change as generations progress to the point of having not brown or chocolate noses but in the case of the labradors, pink! If many of you remember, years ago the lab breeders were breeding chocolate to chocolate or to yellows in ever increasing rates, to get that "white or cream" lab. The lighter the better. What they lost was their pigment and in turn ended up with dogs with pink noses. Dogs with lighter coloring around their eyes, mouth and nose are at higher risk of cancers and other aliments, then those that retain a dark or black pigment. This is especially true for dogs that are out in the elements and working in the sun. If you want to argue with me on that, then look at the piebald clydesdale I have in my pasture that is missing his right eye due to cancer of the third eye lid. I can give you lots and lots of research on that. The lighter the coloring on the face and the less black pigment there is, the greater chances of facial cancers there will be.

So now that we have talked about the ins and outs of it, let's hit a lovely little note called popularity and it's evil cousin, uniqueness. We live in a world where instant is best, having a one of a kind is even better and the latest craze is gotta have! Designer mutts-labradoodles, teddy bears, what ever the latest and greatest name is, the better, or the worse. What I am hinting at is that if we as a parent club give free reign to anyone to breed any color with out disregard, well, then I am happy to report that our Rescue Trust will be doing overtime. In recent years I do know of a few breedings of brindles to merles. The puppies that resulted were advertised, by "responsible" breeders as unique colors, unusual and that this was a breeding that most breeders don't do. So let's hop on the bandwagon and have that most unusual color and one that will be the envy of your neighbors and friends. Okay, I might be going a little overboard, but there is another hitch to this. And luck has it, we do have a genetic test available for ...hidden merles. These are created when the overriding color, say a brindle, on the outside shows where the merle might not. We call that a hidden merle. Happens in black and whites too.

The hidden merle debate is one that we always bring up when the merle breeding discussion starts. I am not going to dive more into it then this, if the club would put forth a rule that states that any merle to other color breeding that happens, that all, all, repeat, all puppies are tested for the merle gene and then that DNA marker is attached to it's AKC registration for permanent identification, well then I might feel more comfortable about it. Many other clubs require that you have a DNA profile on record-I think the vizla club has something to that effect, don't know the reasoning but I noticed it when I do my online entries for the shows. Basically if someone wants to do that breeding, then they also need to be responsible for the consequences.

I've driveled on and on here. Judges will always have their preferences in the ring. Many can't look at a red or sable cardigan and not think pemmie. That's where it's hard to finish a nice red cardigan. Many judges fall back on a familiar color-brindle mostly, and that's their standby in case they can't make a decision. Then there's the oldies but goodies that love a blue. Any blue, even if it can't move correctly or slinks around the ring. That gets into the whole style, type and preference post for later.

What ever it is, I agree that there is no bad colored cardigan. I also agree that in order to maintain our breed, if "off color" breeding is allowed that we should regulate and document all puppies. I also state that color is the least of my worries as a dog doesn't herd, or guard or hunt or do therapy work or lay on my couch, based on it's color. It does all those things based on it's structure and brains.

Later gators...


dreameyce said...

Just a note- "double dilute" does not refer to homozygous merles in any circle I know of. In other breeds, "double dilute" is generally the combination of the blue, and chocolate dilute genes (dd, bb- called Isabella in many breeds), and is not a health risk, unlike double merles, which causes pigment depletion, and can be very problematic when combined with spotting genes (such as the Irish markings in Cardis), through extreme pigment depletion.

The "pink" noses in cream Labs stems from the bb, and ee genes being combined, and then the chinchilla dilute modifier on top of that. If the chinchilla modifier was not being bred for by those breeders (Which dilutes the ee red to cream), the noses would have stayed brown.

The dilution of pigment in 'cream' Labs is due to a true genetic modifier, and not breeding dilutes to dilutes. Just look at the Vizsla breed, which is its self, a dd, ee breed. Now, we *DO* have the chinchilla color modifier in Cardigans, but currently, 'pink' Cardigans are frowned upon, because their pigment is not true black (Though IMO it is not light enough to be of concern either)

I agree that if off-color merle litters are allowed, that any red/sable, and brindle intact puppies be color tested to be sure they are not merled, and if they are merled, to not be bred to other merles. Much like how while we can breed PRA carriers by the COE, we must test litters, and can't breed PRA carrier to carrier.

The merle gene test is showing to be accurate in other breeds, and a great way of showing clear status when there's political-based doubt (Drama), and in helping breeders with 'hidden merles', in breeds with merles, ee, and other dilute genes make the best breeding choices. IMO genetic testing is a valid option for off-color litters, just as it is for PRA status when breeding a possible carrier litter.

I'm a newbie though, and have never bred a litter of dogs though *G* I'm just a genetics geek, with a fascination for animal genetics.

Sherilyn said...

Amen, Cindy! Great post!

Cindy said...

Thanks for clearing that up. What I was always told, dd or double dilutes are the same as the double merles. Learned one there today!

Regardless of what we call it, my biggest concern is the resulting dd or dm puppies and how are the breeder's ethically going to provide for them? I've seen a litter that came from a merle to merle breeding-in collies, and it's not pretty. Why would anyone seriously want to create such a mess is beyond me.

Then don't let me get started on the whole designer colors thing. I can understand the club;s whole issue with wanting to make sure it doesn't make a bigger mess.

Good points and thanks!!!

Traci said...

I know breeders who have been breeding for YEARS (almost as many as I've been alive) who responsibly tackle the merle-merle breedings (rarely). Those white (or double merle) puppies are responsibly homed and are living happy lives. Interestingly, in the three litters I can think of off hand, none have horrible deformities, blindness, etc. One *might* be deaf... I'm not sure. It's the luck of the draw... such is genetics. In the most recent litter I know of, out of at least 8 puppies, there was ONE single white puppy. He was placed in a terrific home and is living the life of luxury :)
It's not necessarily something *I* myself would want to embark on.
As for the merle to "other colors" thing, I agree.... the test should be done on the litter to determine (without a question of doubt) what color the puppies are (do they have a hidden merle gene?).
Aside from the merle to merle possible breeding, I don't see any reason why we can't have "off colors" in our breed... if they're structurally correct and can do what they were bred to do, I have no problem with it.

Joanna said...

I wanted to tackle the alphabet soup:

D (or d) refers to the maltese dilution, the one that changes black to BLUE. It's the reason we really shouldn't call merle cardigans "blue." They're not blue dogs; they're black dogs, and since the maltese dilution does occur in the breed we should reserve the word blue for the actual blue dogs. But I digress.

B (or b) is the chocolate gene; B is black and b is chocolate.

Some people (breeders, not geneticists) refer to dogs that are BOTH blue and chocolate as "double dilutes." This is because they consider chocolate a dilution of black. It's not very defensible genetically. Blue/chocolate dogs are weimaraner grey--it's a color that occurs in Weims, Dobies, Bearded Collies, I think Bedlingtons, etc. It's actually pretty common and is not a health risk. It is problematic in SOME breeds that also have a genetic disorder called color dilution alopecia, where any blue (maltese) hair is unhealthy, but that's the fault of the CDA and not the color gene.

There was already a good comment on what causes that pink pigment. However, I would add that I really don't think pink facial pigment in dogs is the same thing (in terms of risk) as pink facial pigment in horses. The light or cream "pink" is actually a very light chocolate and the skin does still have pigment and it will tan in the sun. The sabino/bald face thing in horses is the complete lack of pigment; it's a white spot. And I am not sure that dogs have anywhere close to the same cancers--there are many breeds with totally white faces, hundreds of thousands of dogs with those markings, and there aren't a lot of sarcoids or similar out there.

The merle gene is M. Lower-case m equals non-merle, so the dog is fully colored throughout. A non-merle dog can be black, chocolate, or the dilutions or patterns of either one (so, theoretically, you could have a weim-grey brindle and it could still be changed by the merle gene).

The merle gene is a very unique thing because it doesn't change the expression of melanin like the other color genes do. Instead, it actually shuts off or deletes color cells. When it exists as a single copy of the gene, it actually "fights" with the solid-color gene. So you get a salt-and-pepper mixture of white, black, and grey hairs (where it's fighting) and solid patches (where the solid color "won").

When you have TWO copies of the merle gene (when the dog is MM) the merle "wins" utterly. It shuts down color production just about totally. The problem with that is NOT that the dog is white. The problem is that in the developing embryo the color cells don't just end up in the skin. Color cells (melanocytes) migrate to form the structures of the inner ear, the eye, and parts of the brain. So no good color cells = abnormalities in those structures.

The body is very smart. It will shunt the color cells to the brain first, then the eyes, then the ears. In other words, almost all MM whites have normal brains. The majority (in some breeds the vast majority) have normal (although blue) eyes. If you're lucky you can get partial hearing. In my experience this varies by breed; virtually all MM Danes are deaf and micropthalmia is also a problem. But many MM Cardigans seem to have at least partial (and several have full) hearing and they seem to have decent eyes too.

From my point of view, the likelihood that merles are actually going to fail to be recognized in a mixed-color litter is SO small that I would object to any requirement to test them. Merle is clearly visible in the guard hairs of the newborn puppy, even if that puppy will later lose those dark hairs and become red or a light brindle.

The only puppies that are truly not going to show merle as newborns are the ee reds (ee prevents any black or chocolate pigment from being expressed, so they won't show the merle).

So yes, if there is any intention of breeding an ee red from a merle litter, he or she should have a merle test. How often that actually happens is a good question--I suspect very seldom.

I think someone made this point on the show-cardi list years ago: Has anyone ever ACTUALLY seen a responsible breeder misidentify a merle and then breed it and get a white dog?

I come from Danes, where merle-to-merle (specifically harlequin to harlequin, but harls are just a variant of merle) is an acceptable and in fact encouraged breeding. Somehow the breed manages to survive and even novice breeders don't unleash the apocalypse. You have to be willing to make some hard choices if you end up with a white puppy that is not only deaf but blind, but I personally think that in many cases an outstanding breeding is worth it.

dreameyce said...

Whoops Joanna, you're right. I did mean "bb", not "dd".

I agree on the "blue merle" opinion. I wish that dog (and other animal) breeders would use universal terms for genetics.

Cindy said...

Now, I beg to differ on the horse vs dog and white issue. ISU college of veterinary medicine is where our gelding went for his cancer surgery. They remarked that any animal that has white, resulting in white areas around the mouth, nose and eyes, will have a higher risk of cancers-dog, horse, cat, etc. The particular horse is in deed white over the one eye, but it's not technically a piebald as he is roaned over the head, not solid and his pigment over the eye is speckled - part black and part white.

In talking with them, they also state the the pink portion of the horses nose and most light colored horses are that way, are the areas that they regularly inspect for cancerous lesions.

I understand about the lack of pigment and I could go indepth into the human aspect of how the human race has adapted their own skin color based on the amount of sun that they are exposed to-ie, african americans vs someone of Danish ancestory, or someone with a Hawaiian background vs someone with an English or Scottish ancestory.

Pigmentation is in the skin to protect it. Lack of in any form, historically, when exposed to high amounts of direct sunlight, causes a chemical reaction thatis one of causes of cancer.

All in all-dogs with light or no pigment around the eyes, are at higher risk.

Just wait till the millers and profiteers get ahold of the merle to merle breedings.....then we'll have something equally fun to talk about. A responsible breeding doing it because it's the best match, no issue. Just doing because you can, that's my issue.

Traci said...

Wow. that's about all I can say right now. I'm learning SO much ladies. Thank you! :)

Anonymous said...

I think those Codes of Ethics are there to protect our breed from stupid breeders. Want to know why we don't breed merles to colors other than black? Ask Bob Caldwell and he will let you know exactly why. I won't go into it but he is a great source of knowledge on the topic. It goes beyond a dog way back when winning. Just my two cents. Wow your boldness is admirable Cindy. I love it! =)

dreameyce said...

OK so it's just coming out this week, that my comment on "accurate merle testing" is a flop. While it was believed that the current merle gene test was accurate, some visible merle (but solid marked) dogs were testing as mm, rather than M- merled, plus some known mm dogs tested as M-.

Turns out unknown to the genetics experts, they were testing for MITF (microphthalmia transcription factor), a pigmentation development gene, and seems they don't know where the merle gene actually resides. MITF is common with piebald markings, and helps explain why homozygous merle is only harmful on white spotted dogs (Solid marked MM dogs only have a mock 'irish' pattern, rather than the extreme markings of the marked dogs)

I don't personally know much about the MIT factor, so can't speak much on it. It's still being researched, so not much is published on it. I'm eager to keep up on the develops though, as I've been watching the merle gene test since the work in creating it first started.

Darn though. I was really hoping it was a good solution to the fear of "hidden merles" in Cardigans.

Anonymous said...

Breeding to intentionally produce double dilutes certainly draws into question some ethics. However, there are times in purebred dogs where the best sire selection for a certain merle is another merle. Such a breeding will product 25% double dilutes. While you'd hope to not produce double dilutes, at certain times that breeding may be critical for the improvement of a bloodline. Such decisions should be left to expert breeders, but please realize this is not a black & white, or wrong & right issue.

Anonymous said...

Breeding to intentionally produce double dilutes certainly draws into question some ethics. However, there are times in purebred dogs where the best sire selection for a certain merle is another merle. Such a breeding will product 25% double dilutes. While you'd hope to not produce double dilutes, at certain times that breeding may be critical for the improvement of a bloodline. Such decisions should be left to expert breeders, but please realize this is not a black & white, or wrong & right issue.

S, Nottingham said...

A fellow breeder just had a litter of 9 out of a blue merle and a brindle pointed tri. Four of the pups are "ee reds". They are very blonde and super cute...wish I could include a photo.....Nott