546 WEARING THE WRONG JACKET - Coats In Pastoral Breeds
WEARING THE WRONG JACKET - Coat Colours In Pastoral Breeds
Colour Prejudice in the Pastures and the Show Ring
In 1877, a dealer in sheep and dogs, James Whitburn, was about to leave for New Zealand with a cargo of breeding sheep and rough-coated herding dogs, when he received a letter of warning. It was from his cousin John Logan of Lanarkshire and it contained these words: "Above all I urge you to beware of white collies. I have heard they do not inspire respect from sheep, but this is not the reason for the wisdom I offer you. I have found them recalcitrant, difficult to train and of a stubborn difficult nature. Two I have known, bred near Penicuik, have a reputation for savagery to their shepherds." The 'difficult to train' allegation in these words of warning could of course have been rooted in deafness in solid white dogs, a recurring problem in all-white dogs in some breeds. But usually blind prejudice beats fears of deafness every time.
Colour Prejudice in the Breeds
For a fancier to opt for a colour other than white in his preferred breed is an exercise in personal choice. But for an approved breed standard to exclude or frown on white as a colour is somewhat dictatorial and can so easily consign an otherwise excellent white pup to oblivion. Where is the logic in white being encouraged in the Maremma, the Hungarian and the Slovak Kuvasz, the Komondor, the Greek Sheepdog, the Tatra Mountain Dog, the Owtcharkas and the Algerian sheepdog but discouraged in some other pastoral breeds? Again and again, you can read the tired old theories about the white dog merging better with the sheep or the shepherd being able to see the white dog better at night or sheep not being able to tell a non-white dog from a wolf. Such theorists conveniently overlook the fact that most sheep are not white and that most flock-guarding breeds are not white either, like the Caucasian, the Anatolian, the Karst, the Croatian, the Estrela Mountain Dog, the Tibetan Mastiff, the Vikhan, the Powinder, the Bhotia, the Bangara, the Bisben, the Cao Rafeiro do Alentejo and the Appenzeller mountain dog, some of these actually being wolf-colour. The breed standards reveal the irrational prejudice. In rural Hungary, there used to be so-called 'white villages' where only white pastoral dogs were tolerated; irrational prejudices know no bounds!.
Breed Standard Restrictions
In the Bearded Collie, white should not appear above the hocks on the outside of the hindlegs. In the Border Collie, white should never predominate. In the Bouvier des Flandres white predominating is highly undesirable. In the Rough and Smooth Collies mainly or wholly white is not recognised. In the Estrela Mountain Dog white markings are tolerated but are considered undesirable. In the German Shepherd Dog whites or even near-whites are highly undesirable. In the Old English Sheepdog, white patches in the main colour are discouraged. In the Shetland Sheepdog patches of white on the body are regarded as highly undesirable. In the Cardigan Corgi, white should not predominate.
Fifty years ago, I was visiting a remote farm in northern Norway when I became highly impressed by a white spitz herding dog. The farmer called it his ‘buhund’ (cowdog) and had chosen it from a litter of six, two creams, two reds, a black and this white one. It turned out to be a quite brilliant herder, on sheep as well as cows. It had a black nose and black eye rims. It was pure white, without any other markings. It was superbly constructed and moved with great drive. This outstanding working dog is always in my mind when I see the Norwegian Buhund classes at dog shows. I see wheaten, black and light-red dogs there, some with small white chest and head markings, but never a solid white dog. The impressive herding dog I saw in northern Norway all those years ago had such a local reputation that it was almost certainly bred from; farmers don't get excited about colours in their working dogs. This dog was worth breeding from; it had style, substance, speed. stamina, eagerness to work and was extremely handsome; it was not an albino but would probably be unwanted today. Albinophobia should never lead us into overlooking gifted dogs in any breed.
Burns (1952) suggested that the true albino may be blue-eyed, but Little (1957) indicated that this was incorrect. Robinson (1990) reported that: "The homozygous merle is white or almost white, with patches of coloured hair on the head. Some individuals develop into fine dogs, but the majority suffer from one or more defects. These include blue iris colour, deafness in one or both ears, and reduction in size of the eye, even to the point that one or both eyes may be absent. In general, it is advisable that white merle animals should not be bred." Whitney (1947) writes that: "Inbreeding blues (i.e. blue merle collies) for several generations often so dilutes the color as to result in a white with very little blue present and the blue in these cases will again appear last on the ears of such an animal. This has led white breeders to seek type through the inbreeding of blues, but the results have never been satisfactory..."
Colours with White
None of us want to breed albinos, perpetuate congenital deafness or dilute the desired colours in our favoured breeds. We all like to see good pigmentation and strong colours in our dogs. There is no harm in preferring certain colours in pedigree breeds, especially where the coat-colour establishes 'type', as in red Irish Setters, Dandie Dinmont Terriers, Golden Retrievers, yellow Labradors, West Highland Whites, Kerry Blues, Wheaten Terriers, Vizslas, Weimaraners, Dalmatians, Sussex Spaniels and Blenheim Cavaliers. But soundly-bred otherwise good all-white dogs should never be put down just because of irrational human whim or show ring decree. Their blood may be genetically important and surely even out of plain good sense there is no bad colour for a good dog. I still remember the strikingly-handsome, beautifully-tempered solid-white, still-young German Shepherd bitch brought into the vet's surgery where I worked as a teenaged kennel-boy over fifty years ago. It was destroyed on the instructions of its owner (whom it seemed to adore) - just because it was white.
Value of Colour Diversity
Associations with Colour
In her chapter on the origins of the dog in Serpell’s The Domestic Dog (Cambridge University Press) of 1995, Juliet Clutton-Brock points out that coat colour can be closely associated with temperament. She stated that small dogs with a single-coloured pale coat may have proved more manageable than large wolf-like animals, arguing that the earliest dogs were tawny-yellow in colour, as in the dingo, which never had the ‘wild pelage’ of the wolf. She refers to other traits bringing an effect: drop-ears reducing hearing, a tightly-curled tail reducing the dog’s ability to communicate, a heavy coat reducing its speed and hair over the eyes impairing its vision. The length and texture of a dog’s coat can affect its ability to control its body temperature, to communicate with other dogs through reduced ‘sniff-denial’ and its ability to clean itself. Some pastoral breeds have been, in modern times, given a coat length not previously seen in that breed and not always conducive to working ease, just out of cosmetic appeal. But to breed so as to avoid colours present in the gene pool is the worst kind of prejudice, leading to many pups in the 'wrong' jacket being destroyed at birth - this is not just inhumane but foolish breeding, denying a rich heritage full play.