Friday, December 16, 2011

Mismark Case Study: German Shepherd Dog

German shepherds are most commonly come in four colors: sable, black and tan (saddled tan), bicolor (tan point), and black. Sable and black and tan are seen in the above dogs in the order sable, black and tan, sable. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
According to the AKC, virtually any color of German shepherd is fine except for white. However, on further examination of the standard, it can easily be seen that this is really not the case. To begin with, liver and blue are serious faults, and as such are unlikely to show up in the show ring. On top of that, eyes are supposed to be quite dark, and the liver and blue dilutions will produce dogs with pale eyes. If these two points fail to keep these colors out of shows, this will: a nose that is not black is a disqualification. Though blue can appear near-black in color, the lack of pigment produced by the dilutions causes noses to be non-black. Thus, there are quite a number of colors deemed "unacceptable" than would be expected from an initial examination of the standard. Here's a list of some mismarks:

  • White
    • Varies from pure white to biscuit/cream
  • Blue
    • May be in combination with any color, replacing black with blue
  • Liver
    • May be in combination with any color, replacing black with liver
  • Fawn
    • Blue and liver dilutions combined
    • May be in combination with any color, replacing black with fawn
  • Panda (a new mutation that causes Irish white-type markings)
    • May be in combination with any previous color
    • Though not specified as a disqualification, it is generally considered "unacceptable"

This GSD is white
Since the German shepherd is such a popular breed, the mismarks have proven to be rather popular colors, particularly the white and panda dogs. Since the colors are undesirable, the movement has been to produce independent breeding populations of the specific color. As with and splitting of a breed, this is of great concern. By isolating the dogs of these specific colors from the general population, it narrows the gene pool and leads to the potential for a marked increase in the health problems seen in the newly formed breed. This is more true for the white dogs than the pandas due to the recessive nature of the gene. Inbreeding is required to keep the color going, and this only narrows the gene pool further. Though out crossing to more traditionally colored dogs was likely done to expand the gene pool, this only does so much. Since the breed is now accepted by several registries as being separate, this basically prevents any more crossing between the two populations from occuring.

One of these GSDs is liver
Another major issue I see with the German shepherd standard is the dislike of the dilute colors. This breed is touted as a working breed and highly capable. Putting aside the weak hind ends and other traits that would impede working ability so often seen in show lines, why should color be a point of concern in a working dog? It makes no difference if a dog is black or fawn: if it can do what it was meant to do, then that is all that should matter. Having an all white coat will not prevent a dog from being able to protect its master or sniff out criminals.


  1. It's my understanding that the white being a mismark goes back to when GSDs were still commonly used as shepherd dogs – an all-white dog would be too hard to distinguish from the sheep.

  2. Seems probable. This makes it even more silly to me that the color is seen as a mismark. If they were preferred for use as herding dogs, why was the color disallowed by the standard? Even if now the dogs are rarely if ever used to herd, it is the German shepherd after all.

  3. I think you misunderstand. The original commenter argues that white dogs are NOT good for herding purposes (and I'd agree). Hence the fault.

  4. Okay, okay. Yes, I do see that now. Reasons I shouldn't comment while tired. I was thinking of the breed as what it is now: mostly a guardian. If one did have a white dog in among the herd, it would be a quite effective guardian since it would be so difficult to spot.

    My point still stands, though. The breed is rarely used to herd now, so why is color important?

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  6. white is a problem in two areas. One, a military dog -- unless the dog is working in the Arctic or snow areas, this is a target waiting for the enemy to shoot it. Second is in herding. The GSD is a large flock tending dog. Being able to spot the dog on the other side of 500 or more sheep is a plus. Now maybe most GSDs don't do that type of herding anymore other than as a sport, but some do. White MIGHT be a plus for a guide dog, on the same order as a white cane could be.