Why Is the White German Shepherd "White?"
There are many misconceptions about white-coated German Shepherd Dogs and the gene that expresses their coat color. First and foremost, white German Shepherd Dogs are NOT albinos. Albinos lack all pigment where white German Shepherd Dogs have brown eyes and black pigment on their noses, around their mouth, on their paw pads, around their eye rims and sometimes have darker skin and nails.
It was once thought that breeding to white German Shepherd Dogs would definitely lead to color paling, but the white gene is not a dilute gene (such as liver and blue) but a masking gene. A masking gene masks the real color and pattern of the dog. A white German Shepherd Dog can be any color and pattern found in the breed including black, black and tan, black and red, black and silver, black and cream, blue, liver, sable, saddled and bi-colored. The only possibility for dilution when using a white dog in a breeding program is if the white is masking a diluted color such as a black and silver, black and cream or is a blue or liver. Because it is unknown what color or pattern a white German Shepherd Dog is masking, it is hard to determine what colors the dog will throw when bred to a non-white German Shepherd Dog.
The white gene is also a recessive gene. The gene ONLY expresses coat color and is not linked to poor health, temperament or any other part of the dog’s genetic make-up. The black coat color is also a recessive. A non-white German Shepherd Dog can carry the gene but not express it. When breeding non-white German Shepherd Dogs, the only way the gene can be expressed in some of the offspring is if both parents carry it. When a white dog is bred to a non-white dog that does not carry the gene, none of the offspring will express the white coat but they will be carriers of the white gene. If offspring are bred to a white, some of their offspring will express the white coat color. White bred to white will always produce white offspring.
Many of the misconceptions about the white coat color came into existence before modern genetics research. Many people thought white was linked to albinism and other health issues. Although these thoughts have been found to be untrue, the misconceptions have been hard to correct.
The White Shepherd as we know it today can be considered a dog of international origin and development, with several countries having a marked influence upon the formulation of the breed. The history of this noble dog has been mired and to an extent fostered by the political environments from which it emerged from a white coated GSD to a White Shepherd. Being somewhat of a paradox, those very factors which had the greatest potential to extinguish the existence of the white coated German Shepherd Dog ended up providing the very avenue in which the White Shepherd breed was able to be developed and grow as a separate and unique breed of dog.
Throughout the 1970’s and into the 1990’s, parallel efforts to preserve and promote the white coated dog took place. In Europe, where the white coated GSD was no longer acceptable and almost eliminated, the White Shepherd was re-introduced by the importation of what was referred to as the ”American-Canadian White Shepherd”. A dog benefiting from these early preservation efforts, AKC registered GSD, Lobo White Burch, whelped in 1967, was to be exported to Switzerland and later to be considered as the progenitor of the White Swiss Shepherd Breed in Switzerland. He along with other imported dogs mostly from the United States and Canada, but also England were used as the foundation dogs to establish the new breed there. The identity for the new breed and the ability to establish the dogs as their own breed was facilitated in Europe because these dogs were no longer permitted to be registered as German Shepherd Dogs there. Since 1991, the Berger Blanc Suisse or White Swiss Shepherd has been registered as a new breed in the appendix of the Swiss Stud Book (LOS).
Conversely, in the United States and Canada, what started out as an effort to preserve the white coated German Shepherd Dog within the GSD breed after the color white became a disqualifying fault, evolved into the establishment of a separate and unique breed outside of the GSD breed now known as the White Shepherd. In 1995, some members of the original White German Shepherd Dog clubs formed the American White Shepherd Association (AWSA) to promote worldwide recognition and acceptance of the White Shepherd as a separate and distinct breed of working and herding dog. AWSA along with the White Shepherd Club of Canada (WSCC), originally established in 1971, have been diligently working to establish the White Shepherd as a distinct breed in the Americas.
In the latter 1990’s, AWSA members petitioned the United Kennel Club, the second largest kennel club in the United States, for White Shepherd breed recognition. Subsequently, the United White Shepherd Club was formed and, on April 14, 1999, the UKC officially recognized the White Shepherd as a distinct breed of herding dog. Since the birth of the UKC White Shepherd, the breed has flourished and was ranked 47 out of 300 breeds in 2009. UKC White Shepherd fanciers continue to enjoy the versatility of the breed and participate in a host of UKC venues including breed shows, obedience, agility, fly ball, dock diving, dog sports, and weight pull.
AWSA licensed breed shows are hosted throughout the USA. Champion points are tracked and AWSA Champion titles are recorded. White Shepherd owners who wish to take part in AKC events must continue to register their dogs as German Shepherds but may not compete in AKC breed shows.
On December 31, 2012 the UKC closed the stud book for the White Shepherd. In May of 2015 the UKC accepted a request from AWSA and sent official notification that they would accept AWSA proof of registration for single registration as UKC White Shepherds. This decision by the UKC helps to insure that the genetic diversity within the breed continues to grow.
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