How does a GSD become blue?
The GSD is not the first dog that has a blue coat. You may have seen a blue Chihuahua, a Great Dane or a breed that is less common, the Thai Ridgeback. If you have a look on the internet you will see that almost every breed has at least a few individuals with blue coat. In some breeds, the blue colour appears more often than in others. (Note: Blue Merle, which is a shade is not the same as the blue (colour) dilution though there are blue merle GSDs as well, one has nothing to do with the other)
The blue colour is caused by the dilution gene on the d-locus. There are more types of dilution, but blue in particular happens, when black pigment of the dog is diluted into a blue-ish grey. Usually the red pigment remains unaffected, though in most cases the red pigment is faded too.
A blue German shepherd must be a mixed breed? Is it?
Why, because you’ve never seen once before? No, it’s not. According to the original German breed standard, blue is not desired and is therefore not recognized by the SV or the FCI. Sorting out off-colours is the reason why many people suspect it to be a mixed breed. Blue, same as brown (liver) German shepherds can be traced in studbooks back to the 1890s, so eventually to the origin of the breed. Just like other dogs with colours that differ from the breed standard and are not desired are usually being culled (in several ways) and most likely kept off the breeding lists. Due to selected breeding and culling the numbers of blue shepherds have almost vanished. In fact, recessive genes can happen to show up unexpected and even many generations later in a considered ‘clean’ breeding line. In the present time, different colours of the GSD are attracting positive attention among many people. They are still quite rare, however off colours are meanwhile accepted in many associations and are bred specifically by breeders all over the world. In fact the colours that evolved from the standard are not mixed with other breeds, but appear randomly (when not bred for a specific colour) in any known breed sooner or later, due to recessive gene combinations.
Are your blue German shepherds actually Blue Bay Shepherds or Timber Shepherds? They must be wolf crosses because they have yellow eyes. Is that right?
All of our dogs regardless their coat colour are DNA tested, which would reveal the wolf DNA if it would be present. You can find each dogs DNA profile next to health results on our website. We deliberately do not breed wolf content in our GSDs in order to keep the typical character of the GSD without wolf behaviour.
Our shepherds have nothing to do with the Blue Bay Shepherd or the Nordic Shepherd. Many people assume our blue dogs, to be Blue Bay Shepherds. Well, they are not. Actually they have the same roots. German Shepherds who have built the foundation for the Blue Bay Shepherd came from France and became a fundamental part of the BBS and Timber Shepherd. Halo and her progeny therefore has the same ancestry as the Blue Bay Shepherd, however, our lines are purebred GSDs and contain no wolf DNA. Yellow eyes are indeed a typical trait of the wolf, but yellow eyes are also known in the shepherd, though rarely seen. According to recent studies, these traits appear to be based on 2 different genes in which the wolf gene is not related to the dog gene. Both, wolf and GSD can therefore have yellow eyes. The yellow eye colour in wolfdogs and other hybrids usually have its source in the wolf genes. The bright eye colour of a blue coated dog are called amber eyes. If you look closely, you can see the difference between amber eyes of diluted dogs and the pale yellow eyes of the wolf.
I heard, all blue dogs are sick. Is that correct?
That’s nonsense. Just a simple example… Do you believe blonde people or red haired people are sick because of their different hair colour? Of course not. We are speaking about a colour trait – a colour like many others in the GSD breed. And there are several people having living proof of healthy blue coated GSDs at home, same as we do. If someone has genetic knowledge and uses more reliable sources than social media to educate himself, then he won’t tell you such a thing. Someone that dislikes something will always find a reason to badmouth it, right? The tendency to categorize is a human trait, some people are simply more open-minded and adjust themselves to new things. Isn’t that something we expect from our dogs too? There is no disadvantage or difference between a blue GSD or any other coloured GSD. A blue dog will perform on same level as a different coloured dog.
Why do people use to argument a blue GSD is sick?
In all type of animals, some genes that cause a specific visible trait like colour, coat type, skin colour, eye colour etc… can be linked to a health trait. Like you may have heard that some white or spotted animals can be blind or deaf. According to studies such a linked trait can occur in dogs too, in any dog. The blue coated dog is no exception.. It means, that some individuals with blue coat can be linked to a defect in coat development. (Please note that the word ‘can’ is the most important factor in this context). This coat defect is called Colour Dilution Alopecia, in short CDA. In the past years, CDA has been regularly brought up by people who believe the blue coat colour is tarnishing the GSD breed standard. Same as it is said, that white shepherds have bad temperament or they would be unhealthy because they are albinos. As I mentioned earlier, if someone wants to find a reason to colour you bad, there is always a way. Social media is a great tool to spread nonsense anonymously. If you’ve been told often enough, you tend to believe it. Spreading rumours about CDA is just one attempt to get rid of the blue coated GSD, with little success. Though there is one aspect I understand when people bring up this topic. CDA must been taken seriously in breeding and that’s why I agree with the opposition in one point: Unexperienced people should not breed this colour as long as they don’t understand the risks and how to recognize dogs at risk.
But isn’t Alopecia something that every dog can have despite the colour?
Yes. Every dog, never mind the coat colour can suffer from Alopecia. Alopecia is the general term for a skin/coat condition like hair loss, broken hair, destroyed hair follicles etc… There are more than a dozen types of Alopecia known in dogs. Each of them has own symptoms while some of them may show similarities. Whoever experienced hair loss, eczema or any type of allergy knows how difficult it is to specify the source causing the symptoms, because there are endless options like hormone imbalance, nutrition, organ malfunction, environmental causes, stress, etc…
But what is Colour Dilution Alopecia precisely?
I will try to keep it simple and understandable for everyone. ‘CDA is a skin condition caused by abnormal processing and storage of melanin (black) pigment. As a result, very large pigment clumps with melanin are stored in the upper skin layer and in the hair follicles, causing the hair follicle to be destroyed. These abnormal melanin accumulations affect the normal formation of the hair, causing hair to break and leading to baldness. ‘ That’s the official definition.
Are all blue dogs affected?
No. A blue dog needs 2 d alleles (d = dilution) to express the blue colour in a healthy way. A healthy blue coloured GSD therefore has the recessive combination of d/d on the d-locus. If you have basic knowledge in genetics and read the explanation how CDA develops in a blue dog, you will eventually understand why it is like that.
There is a minority of dogs having a defective d¹ allele (d¹ = defective dilution) instead of the healthy ‘d’ allele. If that happens, the dog is likely suffering from CDA. Depending on the genetic combination on the d-locus the dog can have either one of the combinations mentioned below:
In dogs, that express the blue colour
d/d – healthy
d¹/d – defective
d¹/d¹ – defective
In carriers (which have black or liver colour) but don’t express the blue colour
D/d – healthy
D/d¹ – carrier of the defective allele
D/D – not carrying the blue colour at all
It is not yet fully understood, how the defective allele combinations cause the intensity of symptoms. We know about the blue colour d-allele in general that it is a recessive trait and needs 2 alleles to express the blue colour. It would be logical to say the inheritance of the d¹ allele follows the same rule. And that is likely to be correct, but according to breeders experiences there are different symptoms, also as different intensity of the symptoms. That means, that CDA itself could be either incomplete dominant or codominant when it comes to expressing the skin condition on a specific dog. Besides that, some people reported to have non-blue dogs or carriers out of blue lines that show poor coat along the ear-edges. Research should reveal some new facts about that soon. This is the latest hypothesis of geneticists based on research. The German Shepherd is barely found in any research that has been done so far and if, then the test-subjects were clear when being examined. In the meantime breeders are suggesting their own ideas, but if we sum up the information we gathered with our colleague breeders, then the current hypothesis is still the most accurate to what happens in practice.
Why is it not possible to test for CDA?
There are several Alopecia types you can test for. Embark provides them in their test kit. Geneticists didn’t succeed yet in mapping the markers for CDA in the DNA of the dog. There are so many things labs are trying to decode recently. If we have a look on how far DNA testing in animals has improved and how fast it develops, we can assume that there will be many more tests possible in near future. It should be possible one day to test for CDA too, but until then, we have to be careful and do our best to avoid any CDA cases in breeding with the knowledge we have now.
How can a vet tell the difference between CDA and some other form of Alopecia?
They can’t. And that’s a problem, because dogs are likely to be declared wrongly in having CDA, while there is no proof at all. Probably you will be sent home with a wild guess, that your blue coloured dog has CDA, because he’s blue. How logical, isn’t it? No it’s not. He still can be affected by any other type of alopecia or skin anomaly with similar symptoms, an allergy or something else. If you have proof of a dog or results from excessive testing to determine CDA, then I would be grateful if you message me.
Then your dog could have something else than CDA?
Yes, there are so many skin issues where CDA is only one of many. Because people relate it to the coat colour the name CDA is given easily, while no vet, no lab, no geneticist, no breeder can actually say for sure it is CDA. Why? It cannot be tested yet, furthermore there is no diagnostic method to determine CDA in particular, it is not even fully understood yet. Unfortunately I have to say, that so far not even one vet I’ve ever asked about it could give a reasonable list of diagnostic methods, most of them didn’t even know what CDA is. So, you better don’t rely only on a vets final statement about CDA just because of the fact your dog has blue coat. Your dog could have a totally different problem. If you don’t trust it, go for a 2nd opinion. Besides, there are more people that can help, you can ask an experienced breeder for advice. Your vet may be not experienced enough in treating CDA, but the symptoms of CDA are pretty specific. Try to have a talk with your vet, my vet for example is very eager to learn about it and that’s great, because you can help each other, so he can offer specific help to other dogs eventually or help to find a way how to diagnose or treat it. We have to work together, only then we can find a way to eliminate it in future.
Is CDA a fake story then, if it cannot be diagnosed properly?
No, it’s not. CDA is definitely a form of defective skin condition in dogs that carry for the defective (blue) gene. But to confirm CDA (for as much as it is technically possible), a heavy and very expensive diagnostic is necessary, to rule out everything else possible. Probably most cases that has been marked as CDA never get proof to be truly CDA, simply because the heavy diagnostic is very expensive and the results can be similar to other issues like other alopecia types or allergies. I can understand, that people don’t want or can spend that much money for a full diagnostic profile, I just don’t like it when vets speak on media how many CDA cases they had, while they didn’t even do any proper diagnostics. Sadly, there are also vets that refuse to investigate at all, because they don’t have the knowledge or experience. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great if a vet is honest about his abilities, because he could sell you a lot of nonsense and earn a lot money on you. But too many vets wouldn’t admit their limits and they won’t investigate, because in their opinion it’s a dead end road and untreatable in their opinion. Finding the right vet to help is a question of luck, not only when it comes to CDA.
Why do some ‘blue’ breeds have so many CDA cases while other breeds seem to be healthy?
If you have read and understood the explanation of the defective allele causing the symptoms, you will find out that:
– It depends on how often the defective gene appears in a population of dogs
– Strict selection of the parents and documentation of all offspring born within the first years is crucial for a healthy litter (actually for every litter)
– Breeding any type of dog that has visibly potential issues is a no-go for a responsible breeder
– Small breeds, with small populations like the Doberman or Chihuahua have a higher inbreeding rate than highly populated breeds like the GSD. The higher the inbreeding, the faster it will increase the amount of defective genes in a breeding line. Look at the Weimaraner, which is bred generation over generation with the same genotype for colour and no one questions the topic CDA, while the Silver Labrador became one of the worst CDA breeds over time.
– Unfortunately there are too many breeders breeding for looks only, or a fast income – scored by selling a high amount of their puppy ‘rarities’ in a short time, before it becomes common.
Standard colour breeders argument, their dogs can never be affected by CDA when breeding only standard registered colours. Is that true?
No it’s not. No offence, but the majority of standard breeders are too sure of their doings testing only what’s mandatory to get pedigrees. You will barely see them DNA testing their dogs in detail. (Don’t be fooled: Notes like ‘DNA registered’ does not mean DNA tested for health or traits!! It means nothing more than the puppies and parents DNA has been compared as proof that they are their legit parents) Blue coloured GSD’s exist since the beginning of the GSD breed. As all recessive traits (same like long coat or white) will always take it’s way through the breeding lines. Only, if dogs are tested (or their parents must be tested and clear of the dilution alleles) can determine that a dog does not carry a blue allele that might be hidden – even if he is a simple Black and Tan GSD. So tell me, how can they know their dog does don’t carry for something if they don’t test it? Experience? Or because they never had it before? BS – whenever I asked breeders for health records or documentation about their lines I barely got information about the grandparents, let alone about 5-7 generations or more. As one of the most famous dog geneticist says… you can genotype and know for sure – or you keep guess-o-typing. And we don’t speak about colours only. Did you know that health and temperament is also inherited and can be improved?
What colours can suffer from CDA?
All dogs, that have at least one copy of the dilute gene in their genotype. That means:
– Blue dogs
– Any blue carriers
– White dogs (if they mask at least one copy of the blue allele)
How can I recognise a responsible breeder if I want a blue puppy?
You should look for a breeder that:
– Breeds blue dogs without any visibly potential risks for bad skin- or hair conditions (mainly ears, head and back).
– Has knowledge in genetics and can explain it to you if you ask for it
– Does not aim on breeding solid blue (solid Isabella/lilac) dogs
– Avoids mating blue with blue, but will breed mainly carriers
– Does not breed (or attempt to breed) blue dogs in every litter in a short period of time, but allows the puppies to grow up first and monitor them to be sure they won’t develop issues (as it should be done with any litter from a new parent combination)
– Knows several of the existing blue lines and can tell you about it.
– Answers all your questions about the earlier puppies of both parents and if the litters before had any CDA cases. He should be able to show you pictures of all puppies. If he’s a beginning breeder, then he should be honest about it.
– Has dogs with a good build and character. Dogs bred pure for colour will often show poor build and temperament (or may have health issues).
– Will not charge a significantly higher price for a ‘special’ colour puppy. Higher prices should never be based on looks, but the effort for quality and health or high expenses, f.e. imported parents, excessive testing, titles.
Can a responsible breeder, suiting all the requirements above still have CDA in a litter?
Yes. The healthy breeding stock of blue dogs worldwide is very small. You have to rely on the honesty of other breeders and your own feeling and knowledge. Never mind how careful a breeder is, it can happen but the chance is very low if a breeder knows what he is doing and will try his best to avoid it. Should it happen, then the most important question that reveals if the breeder is responsible: What happens next? A responsible breeder will seclude the potential carrier from the breeding stock and sell the puppies only into pet homes or keep the puppies himself and eventually spay them later.
Someone, who is knowing his dog has visible signs of suffering CDA, or has produced CDA cases before and he still continues breeding that dog, or selling the puppies into breeding homes is everything else than responsible!
Why do you breed blue dogs, if the risk is given for CDA?
Compared to other inherited issues, CDA is just one of many and is next to other risks a minor problem. A lot more dogs (and we don’t speak about blue only but all colours) suffers from Epilepsy, Hemangiosarcoma, Hyperthyroidism, Allergies… just to name a few.
Fact is, every dog breed has some breed related issues. Sometimes it seems, that off colour breeders take more responsibility to find potential inherited traits and eliminate them, than standard breeders. Every breeding bares risks and the argument ‘we breed like this since more than 20 years’ is no argument. A dog trainer once said… ‘because I am female and have a vagina since 30 years, doesn’t make me a gynaecologist’. Without trying to talk it ‘straight’, as breeder you can either ignore innovations like health testing and keep breeding the same stock. Breeding needs genetic diversity if we speak about a healthy future of the breed. And why would someone deny to do his best for his breeding stock and future puppies when health testing is possible nowadays? Not knowing or avoiding won’t make you less responsible. After all, CDA is actually good to control in breeding, when the knowledge is present. It is fairly easy to eliminate too. We are working together with a hand full of breeders to eliminate CDA in blue dogs on the long term and establish healthy lines to make sure they won’t cause issues anymore in future.
Besides that we have hope to breed this colour responsibly and with great care, which is probably one of the most beautiful coat colours in the long coated GSD. Our blues have overwhelmed us and many people with their extraordinary gentle and loving nature, a stunning dense and long coat and a beautiful build. You cannot breed the perfect dog in one attempt. The clue in breeding is to improve all traits in future generations, sometimes that means that one trait has to wait a few generations before it gets attention if it is to improve the whole picture or more important traits at that moment.
Aren’t ‘breeding for colour only’-breeders destroying the reputation of the blue GSD and responsible breeders when they breed so many blue dogs with health issues?
Yes they do. We spend a lot of time and effort in the improvement of all of our dogs. The more health issues will appear due to irresponsible and money-related breeding, the more they feed the arguments of haters. Not because they are true, but because of being careless. Breeding for money and fast results will always be faster than quality work. Nothing new about that.
Do you have any further advice for me, looking for the right puppy?
Well, if you want a blue GSD puppy… take your time. Colour alone should never be the main factor. Rushing to get hands on a blue puppy (actually any puppy) may end up in disappointment. It’s a living being and nature does not follow our rules. Check out several breeders. Ask them questions, ask for pedigrees and ancestry, visit them if possible. If you don’t trust it or you get the feeling they are unapproachable, find someone else. Don’t be disappointed if a breeder refuses to give you a puppy. Find someone else. A breeder should be someone you can contact for a long time, if necessary for the lifetime of a puppy. If the chemistry isn’t right, then it’s not the right place to be.
So far, none of your puppies have suffered any CDA issues. Aren’t you afraid of having a CDA case yourself one day? It may destroy your good reputation.
Of course I am. The last thing I want to see is one of my puppies ending up bald or with issues. I’m not afraid about my reputation. I will always do mybest to keep my dogs safe and healthy, but I would also like to see other blue dogs being healthy, same as my breeder colleagues that are working on this future target. We are very careful with our blues and the dogs we use for breeding and we still believe we can get there. Hopefully nature will bear with us to keep all of our puppies free of issues.
Is there totally nothing you can do, if you end up having a dog with CDA issues?
Yes, there are a few things you can do. In addition to good care of the coat by the owner symptoms can disappear almost fully. I hope you understand, that I won’t share the information here. Our target is to decrease the number of dogs with CDA issues, not providing a cure for irresponsible people. So, if you have a dog that suffers from CDA and you’re having a hard time curing it, feel free to drop me a message. I’ll be glad to help.
Isn’t that CDA thing a bit overrated?
Yes and no. Blue dogs have been a thorn in the eye of many conservative GSD breeders, same as the white shepherd, long coated or any other once ‘undesired’ variant of the breed. CDA is just another stone they can throw on off-colour breeders to promote their own ideas. The drama around this topic is overrated, the fact that it is an issue that has to be taken in careful consideration when breeding blue is real. That’s why it is important to decrease the numbers of eventual CDA issues and increase the numbers of healthy blue GSDs.
How does a healthy blue coat should look like?
I have added some pictures to give you an impression. Always have a close look on ears, upper head and backline. Those should be always covered nicely with hair. Please be aware that not every dog has such fluffy ears like on those pictures, but once you have seen dogs with Alopecia you will recognize the difference. Note: Dogs can have really shaggy coat after seasonal shedding, especially female dogs after giving birth (some even after being in heat) can develop bold spots. It is not considered CDA, so before you judge about other peoples dogs, be sure you know what is the case or ask for advice.
Sidenote: Though I have several pictures of CDA cases experienced by other people, I won’t post them here to protect their privacy. If you have pictures showing CDA on a blue GSD, feel free to message me. I can post them anonymous on this page if you are ok with it.