Recessive White Coat Gene in German Shepherd Dog Breed DNA
German Shepherd Dog breed DNA includes a recessive gene for white coats. The recessive gene for white hair was fixed in the German Shepherd Dog breed DNA by the late 19th and early 20th century German breeding program that extensively used "color coat" dogs that carried a recessive gene for "white coats." White puppies appear in litters when both the male and female partners of a mating pair carry a recessive gene for "white coats." When only one partner of a mating pair carries a recessive gene for white coats, the recessive gene is passed on to the offspring, but white puppies will not present in the litter. Naturally, a significant percentage of German Shepherd puppies born in the early 20th century had white coats. During this early period of breed expansion some breeders viewed white German Shepherds as a natural part of the breed and cherished them, while other early German breeders, who particularly wanted the breed to have a standardize 'wolf-like' appearance, utterly rejected white coats as a "defective" breed trait and sought to prohibit white coats in the governing German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany (Der Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde, the SV) breed standard.
White Coats vs Wolf-Like Coloration in the Pre-WWII Germany Breed Standard
Through the 1920’s German breeders advocating for a strict wolf-like coloration breed standard constantly increased pressure within the German club to eliminate white dogs from the breeding program. In 1933 the German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany updated their breed standard to officially forbid the breeding and registration of white coat dogs or even dark coat dogs proven to have produced litters with white puppies. The Nazis so extensively employed German Shepherd Dogs in war duties during WWII that the breed was nearly extinguished in Europe at war's end. Of the few German Shepherd dogs available for breeding in post WWII East and West Germany, only the dogs thought to have no white coats in their family tree were used for breeding. The German Club has strictly enforced the “no white coats” breed standard restriction to this day.
White Coat Gene and German Shepherd Dog Breed Expansion in the Americas
The white coat recessive gene was pervasive in the expanding German population of dogs before and immediately after WWI when the original German Shepherd Dogs were imported to populate new breeding programs throughout the Americas. By the end of WWII the population of German Shepherds in the Americas had grown both large and healthy out of that population of breeding dogs imported from Germany before the United States entered WWI and immediately after as some U.S. soldiers returned home with the dogs. In contrast to the German club’s actions, one of the key founders of the German Shepherd Dog Club of America, as well as other influential American breeders in the years from 1913 through the WWII era accepted and supported white coat German Shepherds as a natural part of the breed. The white coat recessive gene remained pervasive in the large and growing American population of dogs through WWII and into the 1950's when demand for white coat German Shepherds steadily increased in the family dog market. Even though some influential breeders of the period accepted and even admired white coat German Shepherds some other breeders did not.
White Coats vs Exclusive Wolf-Like Coloration Standard Debate Goes Global After WWII
After WWII a new generation of German Shepherd Dog Club of America, German Shepherd Dog Club of Canada and German Shepherd Dog Club of Australia member breeders active in dog show events increasingly advocated for the adoption the German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany breed standard that strictly forbids white coats. The German Shepherd Dog Club of America and the German Shepherd Dog Club of Canada ultimately adopted the “no white coat” breed standard by the mid-1960’s and then petitioned the American Kennel Club (A.K.C) and Canadian Kennel Club (C.K.C) to accept the standard change. The A.K.C accepted the restrictive German Club breed standard in 1968 and the C.K.C, after long deliberation with white coat German Shepherd supporters, accepted the standard change in 1998. On January 1, 1994 the Australian National Kennel Council accepted the restrictive “no white coat” breed standard change request made by the German Shepherd Dog Club of Australia.
National Kennel Clubs Individually Accept, Restrict and Reject White Coat German Shepherd Dogs
While the A.K.C. and C.K.C. adopted the "no white coat" breed standard for conformation dog show events, they did not accept the "no white coat" standard change for their German Shepherd Dog breed registry business or other dog show events. As of mid-2007 the A.K.C. and C.K.C. continue to accept white coat German Shepherd Dogs for breed registration, as well as obedience, tracking, herding, and temperament trial show ring competitions. The other principle kennel club in North America, the United Kennel Club, fully recognizes white coat German Shepherd Dogs as part of the German Shepherd Dog breed. The United Kennel Club (U.K.C.) fully accepts white coat German Shepherd Dogs for breed registration, as well as conformation, obedience, tracking, herding, and temperament trial show ring competitions. The Australian National Kennel Council (A.N.K.C.) stopped accepting white coat German Shepherd Dogs for their breed registry in 1995 and barred white coat dogs from all A.N.K.C. sanctioned dog show event.
White German Shepherd Breed Clubs Emerge Around the Globe
Beginning in the early 1970’s German Shepherd Dog breeders in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, who favored white coat dogs, grouped together to form White German Shepherd breed clubs in their respective countries. Breeders associated with these clubs selective bred white and colored Shepherds, that carry the recessive white gene, to produce white coat German Shepherd puppies. European breeders initially imported North American White German Shepherd dogs, some originally registered as A.K.C. or C.K.C. white coat German Shepherd Dogs, to start their breeding programs. (A few small lines of German Shepherd Dogs carrying the recessive white coat gene did manage to survive WWII in Germany and Holland. Even though these populations of dogs have not enjoyed registration by the German breed club since 1933, they can "unofficially" trace their heritage directly to the original early 20th century German population of German Shepherd Dog lines.)
Pure "White Shepherd" Breed Lines Emerge
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s a few ‘white’ German Shepherd Dog breeders in Europe and the Americas began to continually pair and repair only white coat male and female dogs over several generations to create a "pure" White Shepherd breed.
These American and European “pure” breeders formed their own White Shepherd breed clubs in their respective countries beginning in 1991. The first club in Australia for the white German Shepherds was "The White and Silver German Shepherd Club" set up in 1997 and one of the first kennels for breeding exclusively white shepherds was Edelweiss Kennels in South Australia from 1997-2000.
A New "Berger Blanc Suisse" White Shepherd Breed is Recognized in Europe
In Europe, the Swiss Kennel Club (S.K.C.) recognized the White Swiss Shepherd Dog club (Berger Blanc International or BBI) and began registering its new "pure" White Swiss Shepherd Dog (Berger Blanc Suisse) breed in 1991. The White Swiss Shepherd Dog traces its origin to American A.K.C registered white coat German Shepherd dogs imported from the Americas to Switzerland in the early 1970's. In 2002 the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) (translation - World Canine Federation) accepted a petition from B.B.I. and S.K.C. to recognize the Berger Blanc Suisse dog as a new international breed. The F.C.I. does not generally acknowledge or register any of the white or colored North American breed lines registered by U.K.C, A.K.C or C.K.C.
Partial Recognition Of A New "White Shepherd" Breed in the Americas
In 1999, the North American U.K.C fully accepted a "United" White Shepherd breed line developed in the United States by the United White Shepherd breed club. Another breed club in the United States and yet another breed club in Canada each individually developed additional "pure" White Shepherd breed lines in their respective countries. The two breed clubs have each made efforts to gain breed recognition with the A.K.C. and C.K.C. in their respective countries, but neither national kennel club has, as yet, recognize these new White Shepherd breed lines. The U.K.C, A.K.C. and C.K.C. do not generally acknowledge or register the F.C.I recognized white or colored breed lines. As of mid-2007, the White Swiss Shepherd Dog (Berger Blanc Suisse) breed has not appeared in the Americas.
The white vs colored German Shepherd Dog controversy continues to this day. (Article by Fred Lanting)