Friday, November 25, 2011

Mismark Case Study: Poodle

Poodles in two of the accepted colors according to the various standards throughout the world.
This poodle is a sable mismark
The standard for the poodle does accept a fairly wide range of type. Dogs can range from eight inches tall to twenty or more and still be perfectly allowable. There are also a great number of colors that are allowed. The AKC allows blue, gray, silver, brown, cafe-au-lait (the blue+brown=fawn), apricot, cream, black, and white. Dogs other than the brown and cafe-au-lait are not allowed to have liver pigmentation. What is considered a "mismark" on a poodle mostly depends on what standard you are looking at. For example, the AKC does not allow piebald, sable, brindle, or "phantom" (tan pointed) poodles. Some standards allow phantoms. From what I can find, nearly all standards are like the AKC, with only solidly colored dogs being "acceptable." So, the potential mismarks for poodles are:
  • Off-pigmented dogs
    • In apricot, cream, red, or white
    • This poodle is a piebald mismark
    • With brown pigment
  • Sable
    • In red, apricot, or cream
    • With black, liver, blue, or fawn pigment
  • Phantom
    • In red, apricot, or cream
    • With black, liver, blue, or fawn pigment
  • Brindle
    • In red, apricot, or cream
    • Possibly in combination with sable or phantom
    • With black, liver, blue, or fawn pigment
  • Piebald
    • In any of the previously mentioned colors
    • With or without ticking

There are even breeders offering merle poodles. The appearance of the color in the breed likely occurred through an out-cross to some breed where merle is more common, since there is no precedence for merle poodles. For some reason, merle seems to be a major trend in color lately, with many breeds that did not previously come in merle "mysteriously" having merle appear in the population. Of course, a breeder probably did it out of curiosity to begin with, but adding merle to a breed opens up an all new kettle of potentially deformed fish. Double merle (and all of the health issues and deformities that are likely to happen) is always a major concern, so I don't see why someone would purposefully add merle to a breed where it previously was not present.

These poodles are phantom mismarks
Now, what issues do I see with the standard? Several. For example, like so many other breeds, poodles are usually bred in color classes. This is to avoid the production of such things as a liver-nosed cream. Of course, thanks mostly to the breed's popularity as a pet, there are breeders out there that breed specifically for the pied, phantom, and other mismark colorations. Both of these practices are ones that cause "breeds within breeds" and, in a breed with several size standards, creates quite numerous isolated populations that limit genetic variation considerably.

This poodle is a piebald mismark
In addition, as with every breed with a significant number of mismarks, I don't see why it's so terrible if a dog doesn't fit what some people think is ideal. Say, if an apricot dog has a liver nose. Or a black dog has brindle points. Or a red dog has sable overlay. Every breed standard in existence was written by a single person or a small group of people and what is considered "unacceptable" is purely based on their opinions. Breeding by color class splits up an already narrow gene pool and leads to major issues with inbreeding and thus worsened health. In the past, people didn't know any better, but now we have a good understanding of population genetics. All efforts should be made to maintain genetic diversity in domestic species. And, for the sake of general health, purebreds usually need as much help that they can get.


  1. While I can understand not allowing merle as it does not occur naturally in the breed and thus reflects (oh dear!!) UNPURE BLOOD, I truly do not understand why other "mismark" colors are unacceptable. I know the UKC now allows parti-color dogs, and maybe phantom? Breeding for color alone is never good, but that goes both ways, no?

  2. I agree with you there. It's good that at least some registries are accepting some of the "mismarks," but there's still a lot of restrictions. And indeed, breeding for color shouldn't be the goal. What only makes sense is breeding for good health and temperament as the main goals, especially since most purebreds just end up being pets.

    I personally find the poodle mismarks quite attractive. I'm a sucker for brindle, honestly, and brindle poodles are quite intriguing.

  3. Why are blue and liver pigment with red/yellow or sable fur considered mismarks in so many breeds? Even ignoring (like so many breeders seem to) that color is usually pretty trivial to a dog's health and abilities, many dogs I've seen with such color combinations are far from ugly!

    1. I agree, but many of the standards were created for extremely superficial reasons or are quite old and from days when people didn't know any better. Despite this, the standards stand and thus dogs who are no different from their litter mates other than being born with a differently colored nose (or some other "mismark") are passed by as disappointing, shocking, or even horrible.

  4. Poodles were originally multiple colours. The solid colours are the result of breeding for it.

  5. I have read that merle Standard Poodles could be a result of a mutated gene. Since this is not a recessive gene, there is no concern of inbreeding to get a desired color, ie: red, red partis, brindle. No breeder wants to have blind or deaf puppies. AKC is registering Merle Standard Poodles. In fact I just bought a black merle phantom Standard Poodle that will be my future stud. Of course he will be completely health tested before we breed him. Puppies will all be neutered before they leave my home to insure no byb will breed a double merle. There is a place for this beautiful color.