by   David Hancock

Strangely Undesirable Diversity
In the German Shepherd Dog, whites or near whites are listed as 'highly undesirable'; but the standard goes on to inform us, in direct contradiction of this, that 'colour in itself is of secondary importance having no effect on character or fitness for work.' I find the whites and creams the most appealing, the solid blacks the most impressive. It is interesting to note that in 1905, the leading dog expert in Germany of his time, Richard Strebel, was depicting harlequin/merle specimens in this breed. I can understand the exercise of human preference in coat colours by individuals but find it difficult to comprehend the virtual banning of colours available from a breed's own gene pool. Narrowing down selection in a closed gene pool makes little sense and isn't in the best interests of the breed - which fanciers claim to foster. The German standard of 1930 for their shepherd dog mentions, under colour: white mixed with dark patches (blue, red, roan, etc.), mostly dark-cloudy (black tinge on grey, yellow, red-yellow, or light-brown ground with the corresponding light markings). White GSDs were once favoured by farmers in Northern Germany; the Pomeranian Sheepdog was all-white.

Excellent Whites
One of the best security dogs in the Armed Forces in recent years was a white German Shepherd Dog (GSD). Captain von Stephanitz, a pillar in the development of the breed, once wrote: “...our German sheepdogs have never been bred for colour, the latter being of complete indifference in a working dog." I haven't seen that written in more recent times. I can understand the very sensible wish to avoid breeding albinos and to retain good pigmentation but find it hard to justify penalising a really good dog because of the colour of its coat. In his Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders of 1992, Malcolm Willis wrote: “Do not breed for colour, breed for quality of character and conformation using the best dogs you can find, regardless of colour and take what colours you get. By all means include colour in your list of features sought but do not put it as a high priority.” To me, that sounds like very good sense from an informed source. But you don't see many white, cream or whole black GSDs.

The Pomeranian Sheepdog, now lost to us, was a pure-white German sheepdog, appearing at Crufts as long ago as 1919. The dog acknowledged as the foundation dog of contemporary German Shepherd Dog bloodlines, Horand von Grafrath, born in 1895, had a white grandsire. But after the death of von Stephanitz, white dogs were discriminated against, leading to their disqualification in Germany and then in America in 1968, from conformation shows. One was however the top obedience German Shepherd in America in 1968. In 1978, a white dog was the top dog in the US police canine association and a white Canadian GSD police-dog has been credited with over 200 arrests and rated highly. I can find nothing but admiration for the white GSDs in the Hoof Print kennel of Joanne Chanyi in Ontario; why should such admirable dogs not be accepted on merit?

 In 1968, the German Shepherd Club of America voted to 'disqualify' white dogs in its breed standard. For the first time in its history, since its 1913 establishment, registered

purebred dogs were banned on colour grounds alone. But breed historians have discovered that of the thirty dogs identified as 'pillars of the modern breed of GSD', 18 either produced white dogs or had direct descendants which were white, often continuing white bloodlines through lots of early champions. Dr Neufeld writing in 1970 gave the view that: "...white shepherd dogs played a paramount role in creating the remarkable German Shepherd Dog...are intimately intertwined with and all but inseparable from the breed generally." For playing that foundation role the white GSD then gets banned!

Normality of Whites

 Dr Eugene Carver, in a 1984 article in the reputable Journal of Heredity on coat colour genetics in the GSD, wrote that vets who have examined white GSDs reported that they had observed no physical abnormalities or mental problems associated with the white dogs. I know of no reports linked to authoritative research that documents any deficiencies in white GSDs linked to their colour. On the contrary, whole volumes of information exist from breeders, owners, vets, breed historians, geneticists and scientific researchers indicating that white GSDs are normal in every way. A survey of 53 breeders of white GSDs, involving 5,320 white dogs, conducted in 1988, established that only a single dog was reported to be deaf. Any rational explanation of prejudice towards white GSDs would be likely to be found in human behaviour rather than in the genotype of the breed itself. When you knowingly narrow a breed's gene pool, you handicap breeders and harm the breed. For this to be done by those claiming to 'love the breed' is alarming, but then, a study of so many pedigree breeds soon shows this, sadly, to be a pattern rather than an exception, and that is extremely alarming! I still remember the strikingly-handsome, beautifully-tempered solid-white, still-young Alsatian 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.