White Shepherd Myths

A long time ago, it was thought that shepherds of white coat color were albinos, and that they had and would produce health problems often seen in albinos of other specifics, such as deafness. It was also thought that the white coat color would “dilute” the coat colors of dark-colored dogs if bred to them. Both of these concerns are false and have no basis in scientific fact.

“Albino” is a term that many people find confusing. Some think it is a synonym for white, and refer to any dogs that are white with some color as “part albino” (which isn’t possible). Others know that albino animals are white with pink eyes, which is true, but not the whole story. A pure white animal, with pale pink skin and pink eyes, is an albino (technically known as tyrosinase-negative). This is a recessive gene (genetic notation is “c”), so a dog would need two copies for it to show. These animals have no color whatsoever – not even skin spots. White shepherds have an “e/e” genotype at the MC1R gene or E locus, which keeps the coat from having color except for red. This would be why some white shepherds have a cream or buff color on them, but they do have skin and eye pigment, and thus are not tyrosinase-negative (albino).

Although the canine genome is currently still being researched, no proof has been produced to tie white coat color to the production of diluted offspring when bred to a colored parent. Dogs that are white coated in and of themselves are not necessarily able to produce liver- or blue-colored coats, which are considered dilutes. The allele that produces the white coat color is a recessive marking gene, and a white shepherd bred to a colored (coated) dog will produce a combination of whatever color it is masking, along with the color the other parent carries. In other words, a white dog bred to a black dog will not produce a grey (blue) dog, unless one of the parents already carries the gene to produce grey (blue).

Some people argue that white shepherds are genetically inferior representations of the German shepherd dog. White shepherds are bred to a different breed standard and have a distinctly separate physical type as compared to both the American lines of German shepherd dog, as well as typical working lines of German shepherd. Examples of this is the white shepherd breed standard calling for less angulation in the front and rear hip and shoulder bone structure, the desire for flat toplines, and the acceptability in the conformation ring to have either plush or long coats. These differences give white shepherds an overall more square and upright look as compared to the show lines of German shepherd dog, and they have a very different side gait when comparing movement. Now talking of comparisons: when comparing an equal quality show white shepherd and a show German shepherd dog, the differences in the 2 breeds become very obvious. Relating to health, since genetically the two breeds are identical (with the exception of the coat color allele), any known genetic anomalies a White Shepherd will have actually would come from its German shepherd genetic base.

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