ON CARDIGAN COLOR BREEDING

Our opinion on the subject of coat color in the Cardigan Corgi, and the breeding choices we make based upon coat color, is quite simple. We believe our standard should be amended to state:

COLOR: No good Cardigan is a bad color.

Such a position simply relegates coat color in the Cardigan to a non-issue. We should strive to breed and exhibit the soundest, typiest dogs that we can, regardless of their color.

While we recognize that this suggestion is near heresy to many, we believe that we inappropriately and unnecessarily artificially limit our available gene pool based upon a dog’s color, to the detriment of our breed’s overall soundness and type. Having judged hundreds of Cardigans over the past 10 years, I (SDG) believe that we have much more important problems to address in our breeding programs then coat color. Many of our "show" dogs are not quality exhibits. Those few of us breeders who judge the breed regularly and nationally all agree that the structural problems presented to us in the ring week after week are significant. We see MANY unsound dogs. We see MANY dogs of poor Cardigan type. We see them in ALL colors.

In 1974 the Cardigan gene pool was segregated by color. We drastically reduced our available breeding choices in a breed that starts with a comparably miniscule gene pool. Thus, we have created two nearly mutually exclusive gene pools within a small breed. The suggestion that the black & white dog with tan or brindle points (Cardigans with either tan or brindle points are referred to hereafter as "black, pointed" dogs) is sufficient to link the two gene pools so as to disburse the positive traits from one pool to the other is mathematically preposterous. This argument says that we need not breed a blue merle to a brindle to acquire the positive traits of the brindle in the blue lines. Rather, the argument goes, we should seek out a black, pointed offspring of a brindle and use that instead.

But black, pointed offspring of brindles are numerically rare. The gene that restricts the brindle or tan base color to the point area, thus creating the black & white Cardigan with either tan or brindle points, is recessive to the gene allowing full distribution of the tan or brindle base (the red/sable or brindle Cardigan). Thus, even when breeding two brindles who each had a black, pointed dog (either tan or brindle points) as a parent, only 25% of the offspring will be black, pointed. If one of those brindles was the produce of two brindle parents itself, the odds of producing a black, pointed dog (the only ones suitable for breeding to a blue merle under this restrictive theory) are reduced to 6.25% or less depending upon the genetics of the dogs.

Of course this argument eliminates from consideration for breeding to a blue merle 100% of the brindle population of the breed and anywhere from 75% to 100% of the offspring of any of those brindles. To suggest that a blue merle line can effectively benefit from the gene pool of a brindle line by seeking out and using only the black, pointed offspring is to effectively eliminate nearly the entire gene pool, but for a few black, pointed dogs, which may or may not exhibit themselves the positive qualities sought from the brindle line in the first place. Of course the same is true in reverse. The breeder wishing to obtain positive genetic influences for his brindle line from the blue merle gene pool faces nearly identical isolation.

Many of the recent articles, posts and comments on this issue that we have read are simply not relevant. They talk of the blue merle gene and its semi-lethal status and many of the supposed problems which the gene brings into our gene pool. What these authors do not recognize is that the current debate is not whether to eliminate the blue merle gene from the breed. If that were the subject then many of the scientific data presented might be relevant. But that is not the subject. Blue merles are in this breed and will remain.

The relevant question is, we believe, "Do the potential benefits of allowing any colored Cardigan to be bred to any other colored Cardigan outweigh the potential detriments of allowing such breedings?"

The benefits of allowing these breedings are, to me, self evident. By segregating the breed’s gene pool into two nearly exclusive sub-sets we make breeding quality sound dogs of good Cardigan type extremely difficult by eliminating an overwhelming percentage of available breedings.

The detriment most often expressed from allowing brindle to blue merle breedings is the concern of the "hidden" merle in a red. This theory says that if a brindle is bred to a blue merle it MAY produce a red which displays no signs of its merle genetics. The objection continues to postulate that this "hidden merle" red may then be unknowingly bred and may produce (if to a brindle) unwanted "off colored merles" or (if to another "hidden merle" red), homozygous merles.

First, the likelihood of producing such a "hidden merle" red is minimal. The genes responsible for our red dogs are recessive to those responsible for our brindles. Thus, again, the vast majority (75%) of "off-colored" merles produced will, by virtue of the brindle dominance, be readily identifiable. Less then 1% of the offspring of a brindle to blue merle breeding can be expected to be both homozygous red and a merle, the "hidden" red merle.

Notwithstanding the unlikely production of a truly "hidden" merle, my greatest concern with this theory of detriment is the assumption that it makes that a breeder will not know and consider the possibility that his red dog which he proposes to breed is indeed a "hidden" merle. If a member of the CWCCA is about to breed a red bitch and is concerned about the "hidden" merle possibility, the answer is simple.

First, a cursory examination of the bitches pedigree will disclose whether or not she might be a "hidden" merle red or a non-merle red. Remember, the merle gene is dominant to the non-merle. In order for an offspring to be a merle, even if hidden, ONE OF ITS PARENTS MUST BE A MERLE. The merle gene cannot sit dormant for multiple generations and then express itself. It is dominant. ONLY RECESSIVES can remain "unseen" for multiple generations and then be expressed suddenly. So our breeder’s first choice is relatively easy. If his red bitch is out of two non-merle parents IT CANNOT BE A "HIDDEN MERLE" RED and he can breed it confidently any way that he chooses.

If, indeed, either parent of the red bitch suspected of being a "hidden" merle is a merle, or if the parents’ color is not definitively known, then our breeder concerned of breeding a homozygous merle can breed his bitch only to a black, pointed dog. Then, even if the red bitch is truly a "hidden" merle, no homozygous merles are possible and only traditional blue merles, reds, black and white with tan points and, depending upon the point color of the black sire, perhaps brindle and brindle pointed blacks, would result.

It seems to us that the scare of producing off colored merles from a hidden merle red is preposterous for anyone who spends even a few moments learning about coat color genetics in Cardigans. Advocates of this position necessarily sacrifice all of the potential good from merging our breed back into one gene pool from which the best qualities of dogs can be chosen for reproduction, regardless of color, in order to guard against a problem which is theoretical at best, numerically insignificant and readily avoided by a little bit of breeder education. This sacrifice is not, in my opinion, worth the detriment to our breed of maintaining two gene pools. Why do we eliminate an entire breeding pool to avoid a simply identified problem that can be readily avoided. The burden should be on the least impacted: the breeders of homozygous red Cardigans, not all others.

The obvious competitive advantage gained by those who breed brindles and demand to retain the separate gene pools might well explain their rationale, but competitive advantage is not a valid reason for maintaining our current position. Indeed, it is the antithesis of all that for which our club should stand.

One writer, citing homespun anecdotal experiences asks "Is it fair to those of us who desire true Cardigan colors to saddle the future generations in the breed with our "fad colors"? What are "true Cardigan colors". Our old standards, as originally adopted in this country, and current standards in effect elsewhere, including Great Briton, made no color preference except against "predominantly white" dogs. It is only due to "fads" adopted since 1964 that we eliminate any naturally occurring color in the breed. Why do we want to disqualify perfectly healthy dogs under our standard just because some prefer one shade of color to another. Certainly, the many various and sundry colors available in Cardigans are part of the attraction and charm of this breed. Why do we artificially constrain our naturally occurring gene pool to only the colors accepted in our current standard? Who says a blue merle is a "true" Cardigan color but that a brindle merle is not? Why do we disqualify a Chocolate merle Cardigan, identical in color and genetics to a red merle Australian Shepherd. The "dudley" liver dilution of the black pigment in our Cardigans has long been documented by those of us interested in coat colors in our breed. Why are they not "true" Cardigan colors?

We should stop worrying about color and start worrying about sound dogs of excellent Cardigan type. No color disqualification (other than perhaps the "predominantly white" of the homozygous merle) in Cardigans can be justified by either biological defect or purpose defect related to it.

Of course, no breeder is required to breed a brindle to a blue to try and improve the offspring, nor is anyone required to breed a dudley and produce a chocolate merle. Why should those who wish to do so be forbidden when no sound reasons OTHER THEN PERSONAL LIKES AND DISLIKES support such restrictions. As Malcomb B. Willis, Ph.D. wrote in his book Genetics of the Dog (1989 Howell) "… if a particular group of breeders wants to select against a color for aesthetic reasons then they are perfectly entitled to make their breeding life harder than it inevitably will be. That is their choice." Why is that choice being fostered upon the rest of us?

Let us breed better Cardigans of ALL colors. We repeat, our standard should be amended to read:

COLOR: No good Cardigan is a bad color.

All colors are acceptable.   There is no preference with regard to color.

Steven and Marieann Gladstone
Aragorn Cardigans

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