Edit: it has come to my attention that this blog post is being shared and used as another reason to vote against black dogs being accepted into the AKC standard. To clarify, the gene is not affiliated with black dogs and has shown up just as much, if not more in liver dogs. Tan markings has absolutely nothing to do with the color black. Please read on for a full understanding.
Dogs are not only my hobby and love, but also my livelihood and profession. It is pretty clear to anyone who knows me that I am passionate about dogs in general, especially the German Shorthaired Pointer. As a dog owner and trainer, I am constantly learning and evolving, as we all should be. None of us knows it all. I try to soak up everything I can when it comes to this breed, and a recent learning opportunity fell right into my lap: color.
As an owner of black GSP’s, I have always been very intrigued by their color history. Although it’s still somewhat a controversy in this country, black GSP’s have long been a part of the breed in Germany and are accepted under their breed standard. Also accepted are yellow/tan markings. I have often wondered about the tan markings, but never really learned much about it because I have never seen it, so I suppose “out of sight, out of mind.” That changed recently for me when little tan markings appeared in a litter produced by my stud dog Ozzy. Although I knew they were permitted under the German and UKC standards, it was still quite shocking and, I will admit, upsetting when I first saw them.
This drove me to find out everything I could about these markings: where they come from, the genetics, what can and should be done, and learning more about pedigrees. I’ve talked to a lot of people in the breed, geneticists, the past president of UKC, and UC Davis. I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time. The main thing I have learned is that there is a lot of shaming and stigma associated with this coloring, which is very unfortunate and results in a lot of secrecy and sweeping these under the rug. As such, I won’t “out” any of the kennels who have shared information with me, but personally I am choosing to instead be open about this and share what I have learned, so we can better understand what is undeniably present in our dogs’ gene pool.
I am not going to go deep into the history of our breed; there are plenty of books out there that do that much more in-depth than is necessary to this discussion. And honestly, the history on this particular coloring is a lot of conjecture BECAUSE it has been so hush-hush. I suspect a lot more information about it would be available in Germany. Early pictures of GSP’s were quite heavy and very houndy dogs, developed from the St Hubert Hound and the Spanish Pointer. Tri-color or tan points is a common pattern in most hound breeds. There was a tri-colored pointing dog called the Wurttemburger that disappeared just after WWI that never had a separate stud book and was registered in the GSP stud book. Also added to the mix were the German tracking hound, English Foxhound, and English Pointer (I am talking early in development of the breed and not in the past 50 years—that’s a whole separate can of worms). With all this hound influence, it should really be no surprise that tan markings can exist.
I see the term “Gelber brand” discussed a lot, but it doesn’t appear in any of the breed standards. Some argue that the Gelber brand means mild sandy markings on the muzzle and feet, but most refer to the term tri-color which in all other breeds refers to tan points (muzzle, eyebrows, feet, chest, underside of tail). Most information I have found, particularly in discussions with breeders who have actually seen this, refers to actual tan points. Finding a true definition of what it means has thus far proven impossible. Georgina Byrne talks about it in her book, and even in her discussion with German fanciers she found that there is disagreement as to what it really is. She referred to it as “what amounts to tricolor with its allowed ‘sandy colour’ on the muzzle and feet.” The FCI standard at that time stated “slight tendency to sandy colour around the muzzle and feet is permissible.” However she also states that “one would expect that a tricolored GSP would have markings similar to those of, for example, a tricolored spaniel.” The standard now currently states in English: “yellow tan markings are permissible.” Gelb is german for yellow. Braune is German for tan. Perhaps “Gelber brand” could even be a bad translation of “yellow tan”?
Wayne Cavanaugh, past UKC President, past AKC VP, judge for both registries, and current Chairman for UKC wrote the following breakdown on GSP colors and the breed standards.
It’s said that diehards on the east coast see the map of the USA differently: to them, it’s a giant NYC on one coast, a giant LA on the other, with some insignificant corn states in the middle. What does this have to do with German Shorthair Pointer colors? Well, we live on a very big planet – color in GSPs is only a topic among some purists in some places. No one else cares nor should they because, clearly, it does not impact the breed’s health and function. To put it in perspective, there are 196 countries in the world, 94 have dog registries, Only two countries on the planet have a registry that disallows black GSPs and one of those two has other registries that do allow both liver and black.
Of the 94 countries that have dog registries, 91 have registries that are members of the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI). The FCI is the largest dog organization in the world; all 91 FCI member registries use the same FCI breed standards. When the FCI writes a breed standard, it yields to and relies on the country of origin. As you may have guessed, Germany is a full FCI member, and therefore the FCI standard is indeed the standard of the country of origin. The FCI standard allows liver and black colors for GSPs – blacks and livers are also both acceptable with or without “yellow tan markings,” the markings that result from the seemingly genetically insignificant ‘at at’ allele that lives in the A locus for color. If you attend dog shows in any of those 91 FCI countries, you could see all of those colors and markings represented in the ring. Yes, the ‘at at’ marker is alive and well in GSPs all around the world, though as we know, it is usually suppressed by the K locus.
There are only three (non-third world) countries with all-breed registries that are not FCI members: USA, Canada, and England. Accordingly, there are virtually only 3 all-breed registries in the world that do not allow yellow and tan markings.
Only two of the 23 countries in North America have all-breed registries that are not FCI members: the USA and Canada. The AKC general information page explains that GSPs come in 8 colors and 3 markings including liver and black, but any color other than liver is a disqualification. The CKC standard states that colours other than liver and white are not permitted. Interestingly though, AKC and CKC both register GSPs that are other than liver and they allow them to compete in all of their events except conformation shows.
The KC, England, allows blacks and livers in their show rings but unlike the FCI standard, their standard has a parenthetical remark stating “(not tri-colour)” in the colour section. Unlike the AKC and CKC, the KC, England, only grants registration to black or liver GSPs as described in their breed standard.
Color disqualifications may keep certain colors and markings out of some show rings in some countries. They cannot, however, keep the colors and marking that have always naturally occurred in GSPs everywhere in the world out of the much larger gene pool. Nor should they. Liver and black GSPs with or without yellow tan markings have occurred naturally since the breed’s beginning as is evidenced in the GSP root breeds, including the scent hounds and pointing breeds. The colors and markings do not hinder the GSPs work in the field as is evidenced by dogs that have been successful all over the world. They do not effect or impair the dog’s health in any way. The only other reasonable criteria for color in any breed is to rule out evidence of impure breeding. Simple enough; yellow tan markings produced by the unsuppressed ‘at at’ marker at the A locus naturally occur and are clearly and genetically not a result of impure breeding. Red or orange markings on liver or black GSPs that are not a result of the unsuppressed ‘at at’ marker are identifiable results of unnecessary crosses.
I would only add to this that the UKC standard, which is aligned with the German standard, states that “tan markings are permissible.” I would also add that Wayne teaches UKC Judging seminars across the country and I would encourage any breeder or purebred dog enthusiast to go. I have sat through several and it never gets old for me—the knowledge I’ve gained from those is invaluable.
This is where it gets super sticky for me. Genetics hurt my head a bit. With the help of Dr. Jim Edwards, geneticist and previous Director of DNA at AKC, Wayne Cavanaugh, and Jen Grahn, scientist at UC Davis, they have explained this to me from the genetics perspective, and I will attempt to explain it as simply as I can, because it’s not as straightforward as you might think. It’s not just one gene here at play but two, and one is dependent on the other.
First we have to look at the “dominant black”, or solid gene. It’s not what you think, not necessarily for the color black in GSP’s in the traditional sense. (Those are the B and b genes for color, whether the dog is liver or black, but they don’t come into play here.) Basically, this gene determines whether or not the gene for tan markings can occur, and has nothing to do with roan, ticking, or patch patterns. The two that come into play with GSP’s are:
K- dominant black, which means solid with no tan
k – recessive non-black, which means non-solid could happen
So, K is DOMINANT black which means even if a dog is Kk, it will not have tan regardless of what gene they have for tan markings. A dog with two recessive non-blacks (kk) could show tan markings, dependent on what genes they have for tan markings.
What are the genes for tan markings? Tan points come under the Agouti, or A series of alleles. There are 4, but only 2 occur in GSP’s:
at– allele for tan points
a-allele for recessive black
In order for tan points to occur, the dog must first be kk recessive non-black in order for the at gene to express, and must also be a at or at at to actually display tan markings. It can occur no matter what the B gene is—that part is irrelevant. So, even if a dog is at at , if it is first KK or Kk, the tan will not show but the dog will carry the tan point gene.
UC Davis already tests for these genes, but haven’t done so specifically in GSP’s. They have tested for dilutes, and found that a lot of dogs carry the at gene, but as demonstrated, you must first determine what K alleles they are carrying. We ran my Ozzy, my Sue, his littermate Rosie, and his dam June as a test case. I thought for sure since Ozzy has produced a pup with tan points, he would come back with the at gene. Following were the results:
Liver Roan Patch & Ticked
Dominant Black: K/K
Agouti : at/at
Black Roan Patch & Ticked
Dominant Black: K/k
Agouti : a/a
Black Roan & Ticked
Dominant Black: K/K
Agouti : at/a
Black Roan Patch & Ticked
Dominant Black: K/K
Agouti : at/a
What does that all mean? Well, even though June has the at gene, it doesn’t matter because she carries dominant black so it cancels those out, and the same with the puppies. Even if they were bred to another that carried the at gene, it won’t express or matter because they are dominant black (solid). Kind of like you can’t have a black GSP without a black parent—same thing here.
Now Ozzy is different than what we expected. He doesn’t even carry the tan gene; the dominant black gene means no tan color comes through on him physically. But, because he has a recessive non-solid gene (k), if bred to a female with a recessive non-solid gene AND an at gene, tan marked pups could result.
Where do we go from here?
In my current situation, I have recommended that the pups be sold with limited registration or even withholding papers. Although the color is acceptable under UKC and German standards, as is black, and technically I could take one of these into the UKC show ring, it is not accepted in the GSP community in this country as a whole. There is still plenty of controversy over black GSP’s in America but that continues to change, and they are much more welcomed in the hunting groups as there are also a great many DK’s. But this tan coloring is quite rare and causes quite an uproar and as such is very undesirable at this time. With so little known or understood about it, I would be concerned about people obtaining a pup and breeding solely just to try to get more of this color. It’s concerning when breeding is done solely for ANY color, whether it’s acceptable or not. However, I don’t think a good dog should be thrown out of the gene pool simply because this could potentially happen. Now with this information to understand it and UC Davis genetic testing, we can DNA test for it to prevent it from happening, and no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater so to speak.
For me personally, any future potential females should be DNA tested first for the dominant black test. If the female comes back KK, no worries. If she comes back as Kk or kk, then she must be tested for at . If she carries one, then the breeding could result in tan puppies. But if she is then a/a like Ozzy, once again no worries. The likelihood of a female having both a recessive non-solid gene AND the tan point gene is apparently fairly low, which is why no tan puppies have appeared in Ozzy’s litters until now. With all I have learned, it’s not such a big deal as I first thought in my initial reaction: it’s not connected to any health issue and has nothing to do whatsoever with function, but is something that should be in the back of all GSP breeders’ minds.
Der Deutsch Kurzhaar, The German Shorthaired Pointer, Georgina Byrne
The New German Shorthaired Pointer, C. Bede Maxwell
GSPCA Breeder’s Education Series: History and Origin of the Breed, Joan Tabor
Pointing Dog Blog: Breed of the Week: The Wurttemberger, Craig Koshyk
Pointing Dogs Volume One: The Continentals; German Shorthaired Pointer, Craig Koshyk
Dog Coat Color Genetics, Jessica Chappell, at http://www.doggenetics.co.uk/index.htm
Canine Coat Color, at http://www.vetgen.com/canine-coat-color.html
Special thanks to the following:
Jen Grahn, scientist at UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Genetics Laboratory
Dr. James Edwards, geneticist, previous Director of DNA at AKC, DNA consultant for UKC
Wayne Cavanaugh, Chairman of UKC, previous president of UKC
Conversations with many GSP and DK breeders, some of whom have produced tri-colored GSP’s.