Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mismark Case Study: Doberman Pinscher

Doberman pinschers in the breed's most commonly seen color: black and rust. Image from Flickr.com under a Creative Commons license.
Dobermans, to most people, come in one color: black and rust. However, standards for registries such as the AKC allow four: black, liver (red), blue, and fawn (Isabella), all with rust/tan markings. Anything else is considered a mismark. The mismarks include:
  • Too much white
    • Anything more than a small spot on the chest
  • Not enough tan
    • If any of the normal tan/rust markings are not present
  • Solid colors
  • Albino (white)
    • Appears as cream with white points
A Doberman with too much white
Though the reason why some of these colors are not allowed makes sense, the majority still seem odd to exclude. To begin, let's look at too much white. By the nature of normal canine development in the uterus, even dogs that are genetically solid in color will sometimes end up with white on the chest and/or toes. This can potentially be a fairly large amount of white. Dobermans with a white spot up to half of an inch square are considered acceptable, but as soon as a dog has a spot larger than that or has white on the toes it is unacceptable.

This Doberman is missing some tan
Next comes not enough tan. Normally, tan pointed dogs will have tan in the following places: above the eyes, on the muzzle to the cheeks and throat, the chest, under the tail and all four legs. It is not uncommon for a dog with tan points to end up, for whatever reason, with one or more of these missing. The missing tan as a mismark isn't exactly explicitly mentioned in the standard, however since all of the previously mentioned locations for the tan are outlined in the standard, it can easily be assumed that too little tan isn't allowed. Not to mention the fact that you can't really find a Doberman in the show ring that is missing any of the required tan/rust.

Solid colors in the breed are really quite unusual. However, that doesn't mean they don't exist. The occasional solid red Doberman is born, and the origin of the color goes back to the use of such breeds as the German pinscher in the Doberman's creation. German pinschers are known for coming in two forms of solid red: stag red and clear red. Stag red is caused by the sable gene while clear red is caused by the recessive red gene. While Dobermans are fixed for the tan point gene and thus cannot be sable, it is very possible for some Dobermans to carry the recessive red gene. Clearly, some do because some solid reds have been born. Since the gene is recessive, it cannot really be bred out unless genetic testing is done, and, honestly, why do that? Eliminating all dog carrying recessive red from the gene pool would only decrease genetic diversity and potentially cause problems.

This Doberman is white
Probably the most controversial color in the breed is white. White is caused by a form of albinism that turns the black-based hairs (black, blue, liver, or fawn) to cream and the red hairs to white. The major reasons behind the controversy are the health issues that are so common in these white dogs. Not only are they prone to skin issues due to the albino gene, but heavy inbreeding involved in producing white dogs has lead to even more health issues. To me, it's not the color that is inherently wrong, but the breeding practices involved in the perpetuation of the color. The recessive white gene originates from a single bitch, and as such extremely heavy inbreeding was required to create more than the occasional white dog. This is why white Dobermans have so many health problems: any health issues that already occurred in the lines were compounded when the inbreeding happened. To me, the white gene could have better connotations today if people stopped breeding specifically for white, which could lead to the occasional white popping up, but those occasional dogs would likely have far better health than the whites produced today.

This fawn Doberman has dilution alopecia
Doberman pinscher standards in some other countries also list blue and fawn as colors that are not allowed, and there is a fairly good reason for this. In the breed, a condition known as color dilution alopecia or blue dilution alopecia is exceedingly common in, as the name implies, dogs expressing the blue dilution gene. As a result, some registries banned the showing of blue (dilute black) and fawn (dilute liver) dogs.

All in all, the Doberman pinscher was originally meant to be a working breed. In a working breed, capability to do the job is far more important than looks. As such, why does it matter if a dog has two inches of white on its chest? A dog needs to be sound more-so than anything else to be able to do the sort of jobs that Dobermans were first bred for. Also, now most Dobermans are not used as working dogs. Most end up being pets, which means that temperament and health should be the first concerns of every Doberman breeder. However, if these breeders also want to maintain the idea of the Doberman as a working breed, why should color, of all things, matter?


  1. I've never had a breeder give me anything close to a logical explanation of why a spot of the wrong color on a working or herding dog should be a disqualification.

    1. I've honestly never asked someone to try, but I can't imagine any excuse they give would be a good one.

    2. The answer to this is actually simple:
      The Doberman is a standardized breed, meaning there is an expectation placed on the appearance of the dog to fit within a certain type. Since this breed in particular is named for a man (note that it is NOT the "Giant Pinscher" (because both standard and miniature varieties also exist) but "Mr. Dobermann's Pinscher" the dog has an expectation to be representative of the dogs Mr Doberman made famous associated with his name (these were Black and Tan marked dogs, and since Mr Doberman is long dead, the club of people who maintain the standard that the dogs are measured against to represent what defined his dogs decide what is and isn't considered a Doberman.

      The simple answer to why they are disallowed is that Mr Doberman didn't favor solid red and it wasn't part of his kennel.

      The SIMPLE SOLUTION is to understand that the PINSCHER TYPE is not exclusive to Mr Dobermans dogs, and to call disallowed colors of purebred "Giant Pinschers" (to mirror the related Giant Schnauzer, and a little research into the history of the Pinschers and Schnauzers quickly reveals that they were the same dog in two coat varieties -and interbred- for a very long time. Before their breed fancier club decided to separate them and made them separate breeds. This was when the colors also were separated, and schnauzers aren't supposed to have red varieties and Pinschers were always to have some degree of red in their coats. The terrific irony is that the Giant Schnauzer existed along side all of its smaller brothers, and one would also conclude that the smooth coated version also existed... But as they were so famously associated with Mr. doberman, the large variety obviously was credited to him instead of the more obvious idea that that kind of dog already existed and he just made them well known.

      At any rate, off colors of Doberman or oversized standard Pinschers COULD (and probably should) be more correctly categorized as "giant Pinschers" as they would obviously still be Pinschers just not withing the scope of what represents Mr. Dobermans dogs

  2. I thought this mismarked Dobie very beautiful, especially with the penciling on the toes.


    1. Indeed, a very pretty dog! But of course, the norm is dark red so I bet if they tried to enter it into a show they would be laughed out of the ring.

    2. There is actually a smooth Afghan hound born in 2010 here in the US that has been shown a couple of times. She doesn't place, but the owner shows her as an example. There is another smooth, a male, in Europe that has been shown, again, he doesn't place but as an example that naturally smooth dogs do occur.

    3. I've seen at least one smooth Afghan before. I think they're beautiful dogs, and would be far easier to care for without all of that coat.

  3. Interesting to me that white is a problem in so many different breeds, for different reasons... Here you give a clear explanation for white as a problem of genetic health, but there are others where the link is not so clear. I am waiting for your take on the white/cream Shiba, if/when you're willing to take it on.

    1. Some forms of "white" definitely have more problems than others, but many aren't problematic unless poor breeding practices are taken into account.

      As for cream Shibas, I hadn't thought of them! I've been randomly picking breeds for these posts, honestly, but I think the Shiba Inu would be a good breed to do.

    2. There is a difference between white, the absence of pigment, as you would see in a the white areas of a particolored dog (this can carry a risk of deafness depending on pigmentation inside the ears), white as in white Dobes (a form of albinism and no other breed has a color like that that I'm aware of) and 'white' which is really just a very light cream. I am not aware of any health issues associated with light cream with normal pigment, other than susceptibility to dirt.

      I have a number of studies on canine coat color in my Google docs if you're interested:


    3. Hmm, Jess, "The page you requested is invalid." (The tinyurl)

      I don't have a refined understanding of the genetics of whiteness or albinism or dilution at all... but I do understand that they were caused by different factors. Part of what's interesting to me is that whiteness itself *can* be SO frowned upon even without explanation, it becomes almost a conditioned reflex.

      With Shibas, pinto markings frequently bring about an immediate unease in me, not because they're "mismarked" (though that is what they're considered), but because it is SO prevalent in bad breeding situations (puppy mills -- I'm not quibbling with this term for this specific example).

      I don't harbor that same sense of dread when I see white Shibas, because I realize the color is relatively common even in ethically bred Shibas. But still not very well understood. I do have a post drafted about the *cultural* significance of the white Japanese dog, but I have no sources to adequately explain the breed standard bias. The most compelling explanations still come from anecdotal experience and oral transmission (i.e. Lindsay's post on her blog http://masakadoshiba.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/another-perspective-on-cream-and-white-in-nihon-ken/).


      Of related interest is the case of the cream Basenji that never came to be, which I'm sure you've already considered, Steph:


    4. Just go through the 'studies and info' link on my blog. You can search by subject or just browse. Color studies are in the dog genetics section.

      I think it's important to get on the same page regarding terms: most 'white' dogs are not white (absence of pigment.) They are genetically red. Whether they are e/e red (clear red, unable to form black pigment in the hair), or they are ay red (sable, where the sabling fades completely), they are still not white. In a breed with particolor you may have dogs that are extreme particolors with very little markings, but genetically, these dogs are still not white, they are extreme particolor with very little markings.

      Tradition is regards to colors in dogs is very, very strong. Tradition does not have to make any sense. Do not discount rivalry, either (that guy's dogs are obviously not *purebred,* look at the color!)

      The domino (grizzle) pattern in Afghans was very, very rare until the fifties, after a dog named Tanjores Domino was imported from Europe to the US. Prior to that most domino pups were bucketed. I don't know why, except to speculate that because the grizzle pattern is very common in Salukis, there was a rumor or question of taint; the genes that comprise domino were present from the beginning of the Afghan in the West, however, if we can trust colors listed on the early dogs. After Tanjores Domino came on the scene there is an explosion of domino dogs, and whether this is due to acceptance of the pattern, or due to breeding with Salukis after the bottleneck caused by WWII is anyones guess.

      Don't discount politics in regards to breed standards, especially the Western versions, either. The Afghan standard is rife with them. That is what happens when things get done by committees.

    5. Point taken about the need for precision in color terminology. I will continue to watch and learn.

      That is a fantastic collection of Google Docs. Oh whyyyy must I be more interested in reading everything other than what I'm *supposed* to be reading...

    6. I am always curious to see why bias has appeared in this breed standard or that. However, even if bias has been around for centuries it doesn't make it any less silly. This is what so many mismarks are: very common colors that, for some reason or other, were cut out of the standard for nothing more than aesthetic reasons.

      From what I have seen, cream basenjis look suspiciously similar to white Dobermans. I think they might have been caused by the same albino-type gene. Their reasoning behind breeding them out is another case of strange standard choices (they lacked pigmentation of the nose and eyes).

      Jess, as always, a very interesting insight into the Afghans and salukis. I didn't know that domino used to be so rare. The whole "tainted breed" thing is just ridiculous. I wish more people would realize that quite a number of standards were skewed for silly reasons such as politics, personal preference, or the drive to be "unique."

      I might need to do a post that speaks in detail about "white," the genetics that go into the various types, and why some are more harmful than others.