Cardigan Color

 The CWCCA Board is bringing the color issue to the membership for another vote.  Members can access Cardigan websites to learn basic Cardigan coat color genetics. This has been both an ongoing learning experience and a hot issue for controversy and emotions.  Those favoring breeding blues to other colors want to use to quality dogs in the gene pool regardless of color.  Breeding two specimens based on quality breed type, structure, and related sound movement is most important – color an added cosmetic trait.

At one time there were no color breeding restrictions. The Standard allowed for “Any color (other than white)”.  History indicates reputable breeders did cross-color breeding to save color. Many concentrated on saving blue merles, yet they maintained breeding for quality a prime concern, and re-established blues from merle to both red and brindle crosses.  (Are there no dilutes today because there no one championed that cause?) 

The original colors were brindle, red (golden) and merle, indicated by early historians, and colors were crossbred. Blue merle is only one of merle shades available in Cardigans.  The original Bronant Cardigan facing extinction was bred to other herding dogs, (red heeler, brindle heeler) and black color was later acquired when bred to Scottish Collies.

The merle to merle breeding is controversial because the merle gene is "semi-lethal” when homozygous, that is, when both parents are merle, the double merle is predisposed to health issues.  Consider the following:

1. Merles may be bred to any color

2. Merles may be bred to any color other than another merle

3. Merles may only be bred to black

Some concede lifting the breeding restriction; recognizing the need to breed equally for everyone, yet don’t agree on exhibiting unrecognized colors.  They believe in exhibiting the five stated colors because of tradition.  Others feel that all colors naturally occurring in Cardigans should be allowed.

With the current restrictions, color is forced to be the first consideration for some. Consider two artists drawing landscapes.  One is given a full box of crayons, and the other a box with only a third of the colors.  Who would draw a more lovely landscape?  Blue merle breeders want use of the same tools as their peers, but now must choose from only black dogs. Why breed to a correct color but less quality dog and not breed for type and soundness first? 

According to our current Standard, merles other than blue cannot be shown. Resulting colors of a blue to brindle or red yield colors acceptable and not acceptable. Accurate color coded pedigrees are a must. Through pedigree research and past breeding results, the brindle or red chosen in cross-color breeding should genetically throw black, thus improving odds in producing more acceptable colors.  A quality but questionable “hidden merle” red bred to black will prove or disprove the question of merle.  Merle is expressed on black hairs, if merled puppies result, the parent “hidden merle” red is proven to be merle - nothing is hidden.  Breeding brindle merles or sable merles can be incorporated into breeding programs by being bred to black and will not produce health problems as in the merle-to-merle cross.  It may produce some unrecognized colors and non-merle dogs with blue eyes, traits already existing in Cardigans and in other breeds.

The goal is breeding quality Cardigans. Blue breeders feel they should not be short-changed the benefits of the entire gene pool.  There was no harm done to the breed because of cross-color breeding done in the past, and with increased knowledge of genetics, no harm would be done today. 

Marieann Gladstone
As submitted for the March 2003 AKC Gazette column

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