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More Shades of Grey for the Weimaraner

When I check the stats on hits to this blog, my posts about Weimaraners consistently rank at the top of the list, especially if they deal with the breed's coat colour. This morning I received a comment on one of the posts that posed a couple of questions that I felt deserved more than just a few lines to answer. So I decided to write an entire article in reply. 

Souris-Manon. The Grandest of the Grand Old Ladies!

Here is the comment:

I just got a Weimaraner that is all white/blonde in color. He came from a litter of nine in which 4 were his color, 4 were silver and 1 was blue. The Sire was silver and the dam was blue. I performed a DNA test to confirm that he is indeed a purebred weim and the results came back as 100%! However, despite having scientific evidence backing my boys purebred status, I have all sorts of weim breeders on Facebook getting very nasty with me when I post a pic on the weim site of my boy...they claim that I have been duped and am naive to think that he is purebred and that DNA tests aren't always right. Could you please tell me exactly what occurred scientifically for my boy to be born the color he is...is it the same occurrence genetically as the piebald weims? Thanks.

And here is my long-winded reply:

Congratulations on the new pup! I am sure he is a sweet-heart and that you'll have a ton of fun with him. And welcome to the world of the Weimaraner where, as you are finding out, things tend to get a bit heated when non-standard colours are discussed.

I am not a geneticist so I cannot tell you with any degree of scientific accuracy how your boy's coat colour came to be. And I am sure that even a canine geneticist would not be able to help you without doing some pretty extensive testing of your pup and a whole bunch of its relatives. So the only option for us here is to look at the possibilities and then place odds on how likely they are to be true.


Souris-Manon and Quell each pointing a woodcock (and I missed both birds!)

Could it be a gene mutation like the one that I wrote about here?  

Maybe. 

Genes mutate all the time and clearly, Dr. Epplen's research showed that in at least one case, a de novo (new) mutation in a Weim pup did indeed result in a purebred Weimaraner with a grey and white (piebald) coat. So could it happen again? Sure, there is a one in a million (or billion or something) chance of it occurring again...in a single pup. But in 4 pups? Well that would make the odds one in a million (or billion or something) to the fourth power. In other words, about the same odds as me landing a hot date with Beyonce. So I don't think that the coat on your pup and its three siblings is related to the same kind of genetic mutation event that caused the piebald coat in Dr. Epplen's study.

Could it be due to a throwback to the old days? Does the (real) history of the Weim offer any clues about how your dog's coat colour could occur? 

Maybe.

Today, we all know that there is only one officially accepted Weimaraner colour (silver-grey) but it was not really standardized until later on. Reading the literature from the first phase of the Weim's development, from about 1880 to just before the first world war (1914), we can see that there was actually quite a bit of discussion about what the 'correct' colour for the breed should be. In the early years the most common non-standard colours discussed were white, yellow and yellow-red. For example, here is what the breed standard in 1884 said:

White markings are common in most dogs, on the chest and toes. It is however, desirable to eliminate these in breeding. Yellow burned (tan markings) dogs are to be discarded completely. 

By 1935 however, it seems that those markings were still there.

...the reddish-yellow shade on the head or legs, which nowadays occurs seldom, to be regarded as a fault; however a Weimaraner with reddish-yellow coloring should not receive more than 'good' when tested...if outstanding for hunting purposes, he should not be excluded from breeding

Clearly, genes for yellow or yellow-red where part of the genetic make-up of the Weim's coat, at least in the early days. So could your pup's coat colour be due to a one-in-a-billion chance of old, rare yellow genes suddenly aligning in it's DNA? Maybe. But I doubt it.

You see, the yellow and yellow red shades discussed in the old literature involved markings in the coat, specifically on the head and legs. Those markings are in fact still with us today. Although very, very rare, they are called "dobe" markings (as in Doberman) and they look like this:


Not my photo. This could actually
be a Doberman x Weim mix.
Used for illustration purposes only.
Your dog seems to be self-coloured (ie: the entire coat is all one colour, not 'marked' with a different colours on the head, legs and chest). So if the yellow or yellow red genes that were in the background of the Weim are responsible for your pup's coat colour, then they would have had to not only lay dormant for over a century and then, by pure luck, happen to find the right combination to appear, but they would also have to mutate in some way and go from just 'markings' to affecting the entire coat....of four pups! Is it possible? Maybe (I am not a geneticist) but I would put the odds at around a gajillion-gajillion to one.

So, if we eliminate the possibility of a mutation and of a throwback to the early days (and I think we can in both cases), what else could result in such a coat?

Occam's razor would lead us to the very real possibility that the genes responsible for your pup's coat were introduced by an external source at some point in the past. In other words, somewhere in your dog's ancestry, there is at least one non-Weim ancestor that brought in the genes for the white/blond coat your pup has.

Where, when and how could this happen? I have no idea. What I do know is there is no such thing as a 'pure' breed. All breeds have a bit of this and a bit of that in them. That is how they were created and every now and then, by accident or on purpose under the light of the moon, a bit more of this or bit more of that gets added into the mix.
AAAOOOOO!!!!!

You said that one of the parents is a blue Weim. They are handsome dogs, I've written about them here. And it is pretty well accepted nowadays that the blue coat is the result of a bit of this or that getting into the breed in the US (the most common theory is that is was from a Doberman). So we know that there is at least one source of 'outside' genetic material in your pup. As an aside, it has been estimated by the owner of the Weimaraner pedigree data base that 99.9% of Weims in the world today have the original 'blue' weim somewhere in their pedigree as well.

But could there be another source of outside genes, ones that could lead to a white/blond coat? Of course. In fact, I believe that the vast majority of all the Weims out there with non-standard colors (and even some with the standard color) are the result of something happening behind the woodshed in the past. Gene mutations like the one described by Dr. Epplen are extremely rare. Cross breeding (accidental or otherwise) is not.

But what about the pedigrees of our dogs? What about the records that show they are pure?

Dr. Epplen, the same fellow who did the DNA article on the piebald weim published another study on Weims that (among other things) looked into the accuracy of the Weimaraner pedigree information stored in Germany. The results indicated that:
Tracing patri- and matrilineages, several entries in the Weimaraner stud book cannot be reconciled with the male-only, Y chromosomal neither the female-only, mt inheritance patterns, respectively.
In other words, the pedigree record in the homeland of the breed, where there is a system with the most rigorous checks and balances and the most tightly controlled stud book on the planet is not 100% accurate. So how accurate is the pedigree information outside of Germany, in free-wheeling North America were there are far fewer rules, no breed wardens and a much stronger tradition of 'anything goes'?  Pedigrees are not perfect. Some are accurate, some less so, and some are pure fiction.

But what about the DNA breed testing results that say he is a purebred Weim? 

I am not sure what breed DNA testing service you used, but I assume it was one of the many such services that are now being sold online and through vet clinics. I don't want to go into all the details here, and it really is quite a rabbit hole to go down if you google it, so I will just link to an article written by a guy who does not pull his punches when it comes to such things, Terrierman, in which he says:
Breed DNA tests are not too different from Gypsy Fortune telling, Fortune Cookies, the I-Ching, Numerology and Tarot Card reading. 
Unfortunately, unlike DNA parentage tests which can tell you with near 100% accuracy who your pup's mother and father are, tests for breed-specific DNA markers are generally not nearly as reliable and are not really designed to determine if a dog is purebred or not. They are mainly designed to narrow down the ancestry of mixed-breed dogs and in almost all cases where purebred samples are sent in, the result are the same: yup! your dog is what you say it is.

Felix in neoprene at the Libau marsh on opening day, 1999.

Bottom line: As a guy on the sidelines who just wants everyone to have a dog that puts a smile on their his or her face, here is what I think is going on.
1. You have a very cute pup that deserves 100% of your love and devotion.
2. Anyone who says nasty things about you or your pup is not worth your time or attention.
3. The most likely explanation for your pup's white/blond coat is that genes from outside the breed were introduced into its lineage at some point in the relatively recent past. Your pup is therefore probably not a 'purebred' Weimaraner and only you can decide how much that actually matters.

Me and the Amazing Maisey.
Personally, I don't think it matters at all and I get the feeling that it will not really change the way you feel about your pup. He deserves, and I am sure he will receive, 100% of your love and devotion.

The only issue you may have in regards to his lack of 'purity' is if you feel that you were defrauded by the breeder. I have no idea where you got the pup or under what circumstances, but if you were specifically told in no uncertain terms that your pup is 100% purebred and guaranteed to be from purebred parents and grandparents etc., well then you may have grounds for a complaint. But remember, the breeder may believe that the parents are purebred because that is what the person they got them from told them...and so on down the line.

In reality, without video evidence or a written confession, it would be impossible to determine exactly how and where the outside gene event happened and who knew about it at the time. So tread very carefully in that regard. It might not be worth picking a fight with anyone at this point. The most important thing is that you now have a pup that deserves 100% of your love and devotion.

Where I would speak out and where I would have deep concerns is if you see any effort by anyone out there to launch some sort of super duper, rare, cool new white/blond colour of Weimaraner. It is not because the colour is unattractive - your pup is super cute and will be a stunning adult. And it is not because the white/blond dogs themselves are bad or undeserving of loving homes - your pup should be the light of your life. But as you are finding out, the Weim world (and the entire purebred dog world) can be an unforgiving place, and you can go insane by tilting at its windmills. So any effort to launch a new designer colour of Weim is guaranteed to end in misery for everyone involved.

Here is my advice: 
  • Love your pup. 
  • Take care of your pup. 
  • Give him the fantastic life he deserves and forget about what nasty people have to say. Your pup doesn't give a rat's ass about them, why should you?


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4 comments:

  1. I agree with Rick Sojda. Love them. I left the group after I saw this post and all the nasty comments. I live in Scotland, Great Britain and we are more tolerant of inadequacies with the breed.

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  2. Perfect answer! Coming from a breed that we know has outcrosses- you still love them and they still hunt great.

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  3. Hi. I have recently lost a Weim boy with brilliant blood lines.... A total supermodel. The real zoolander. All looks. No brains. Heart of gold and sadly the top breeder. An international judge sold us a dud. She doesn't even acknowledge his existence. We had him for just over 9 years, it broke our hearts to let him pass away. Our other Weim, a girl nearly ten. Purchased from a newspaper ad with breed lines confirmed on one side and guessed on the other. Well she is brilliant. it's sad when people hassle over breeding. They are all versions of wolves at the end of the day. Great blog. ๐Ÿ‘

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