Chihuahua Information & Reference
Color depends on the breed and the genetics of that breed. An analysis by Gloria Lambert for TheDogPlace.
Chihuahuas - Any Color Marked Or Splashed?
Gloria Lambert, Tanyas Toys - June 2007
Roughly 28,000 Chihuahuas are registered each year with AKC but less than 2% are registered by active AKC breeder/exhibitors. Unfortunately, it seems like that makes our voice the minority when it comes to the purity of the stud book, historically the main focus of the AKC.
According to respected geneticists, Dr Malcolm Willis among them, the merle color pattern did NOT naturally mutate in the Chihuahua breed. So why would anyone risk introducing outside genetic faults into a supremely healthy breed? Was it accidental or was cash the motivation? Consider that many are marketing merle puppies as a “rare deviation” at higher prices than excellent show prospects from AKC show breeders.
Many of these merle-colored Chihuahuas are very poor representatives of the breed. Why? Well that's what happens when dogs are cross bred. You get undesirable characteristics of the breed that was used in the cross. Sadly they are all being registered as Chihuahuas. Some breeders are not concerned, claiming after 4 generations they are purebred. But a club must ask AKC for carefully monitored permission to crossbreed for the improvement of the breed, as was granted for example to the Basenjis. Continued registrations of merle Chihuahuas dispute that rule.
When one looks at the current trend in designer mutts it seems that the AKC would be concerned about losing registrations. Brindle coloration has recently been added to the "rare" colors for pugs, merle has been added to cocker spaniels, poodles and miniature pinchers and those genetically foreign colors are being registered. Why is such obvious cross breeding allowed to be registered as purebred? This is a question one must ask AKC. In fact, now might be a good time to ask as AKC has announced it is actually considering registering mongrels.
Breeds that are traditionally merle have limited the colors so that the dogs can be bred in a healthy and humane manner. Merle is perfectly acceptable in these breeds and genetic education is available. Sadly no one knows how merle will affect the gene pool of the Chihuahua because it is one of the few AKC breeds whose standard allows all colors. The effect on type, particularly the “saucy expression” called for in the standard all but disappears when one is confronted with the cold blue-eyed stare of a merle.
Of special concern, some geneticists have said that mixing the piebald gene and the merle gene is likely to cause the same defects as merle to merle breeding, one of the worst being pigmentation related deafness. The problem here is that some breeders cannot differentiate the piebald coat pattern from other spotting genes. Studies conducted with dapple dachshunds (another breed that allows several color choices) have confirmed that “single merles” can and do have the same defects as their “double merle” counterparts.
What will happen with the defective puppies? Are they bucket fodder or will they continue to genetically infect the breed, passing defective dogs to unsuspecting buyers? Rescue operations are already overloaded with our breed and sadly, this can only add dogs to their ranks.
All this being said why would anyone add this to a gene pool where it had never existed? It can not improve the breed. Perhaps they are bored with all the other lovely colors in the Chihuahua that are not linked to physical defects? These are things one must ask before breeding this pattern and claiming it to be a pleasant color variant. That is not a reason to cross breed. There is no breed improvement with the addition of this pattern. Some will claim bad patellas are the worst problem in our breed. While that is a concern, even a bad patella can be surgically corrected to give the dog quality of life plus, we can breed away from the trait. Deafness is a permanent defective feature, part and parcel of the merle gene and its pigment-reducing characteristics.
Most of the breeders involved with merle Chihuahuas have never bred quality dogs before taking on this pattern. How can they expect to take a cross breed and bring it up to the standard that exists in today's show ring? One would hope judges will not award such dogs merely because they want to see an unusual pattern flourish in a breed where it has never existed.
Several countries including Germany and Australia have banned or refused the registrations of merle Chihuahuas. The Canadian Kennel Club has allowed the Canadian Chihuahua Club's request for a disqualification. The UK and South Africa are now discussing the situation. Breeders in other countries also believe adding this pattern will bring with it many defects. That plays into the hands of Animal Rights Activists who want to ban breeding altogether because people are purposely breeding dogs that have known defects. Are foreign breeders more informed than their American counterparts or did they have a big heads up by watching merle cross breeding unfold in this country?
Reputable breeders of the future may have to resort to expensive genetic testing to insure they are not adding this pattern to their lines. With all colors allowed in Chihuahuas, there is more of a chance to have the phantom or hidden merles. For now, lines have been drawn in the sand and for concerned Chihuahua breeders “no merles bred here” will be a badge of honor and commitment to a breed that does not need this color pattern or its known defects. Any color “marked or splashed” is not a license to cross breed!
The Chihuahua Club of America will be voting on several standard revisions, including one to disqualify the merle pattern from the show ring. Note* The petitions must go for a vote within the 6 months time they have been received and we are confident that those concerned will do the right thing concerning our breed.
Note* TheDogPress.com covered the merle debate when Attorney-Corgi breeder-AKC Board member Steven Gladstone interfered with the parent club ballot to disqualify merles from the ring. The story begins here:
AKC Defended Board Member who interfered with Chihuahua Club ballot on merle color DQ. AKC communications with Gloria Lambert, internationally respected Chihuahua breeder.
Judge, British Chihuahua Club Chairman Graham Foote, on merle color gene, including Merle Gene Fact Sheet. One of the hottest international, genetics, and ethics issues in dogs...
Gladstone Letter to CCA Members See the letter by Steven Gladstone, who interfered with Chihuahua Club Of America ballot to DQ merle color, using his AKC and AKC/CHF Board positions.
Chihuahuas - Any Color Marked Or Splashed?? Gloria Lambert, Tanyas Toys, says absolutely not and explains the genetic deformities.
Chihuahua Breeder Rebuts disqualifying merle colored, defends genetics, breeds, shows, and wins with the color and thanks Gladstone for his letter to Chihuahua Club Of America members.
Pomeranian Club Ignores AKC guidelines, defies majority of members' wishes by adding merle pattern to revised Pomeranian breed standard.
World Bans Merle Chihuahuas but CCA voted down merle DQ following ballot interference by AKC Board member. Other countries refuse to register any dog out of merle parents. American Breeders unable to export.
Australian Chihuahua Breeder-Judge chastises AKC Director on his letter interfering with Parent Club vote on the merle gene.