Are We Colorblind?

Janice Anderson, Lynne Anderson-Powell, & John Cornell 
Breeder Education Committee 

To know where we are going, we need to know where we have been. This is as true in life, as it is with our breed. The Newfoundland of yesteryear is a far cry from the dog of today. As depicted in books and art from 1680 through the mid-1900s, Newfoundlands came in a multitude of colors, including black, bronze, tri-color, brindle, black & white and white and black.  Sporting magazines from 1690 and 1798, comment that English Newfoundlands were rough-coated, curly haired, liver and white dogs. In the 1800s, the Newfoundland was a predominantly white dog. The noted animal and landscape painter, Philip Reinagle, wrote, "The predominant colour of the Newfoundland is white.  His marks are nearly invariable-namely a black head or face mask, a black saddle mark, and the tip of the stern is also black.

Around 1886, the Newfoundland club in England decided that the really typical color was black, although a splash of white on chest and toes was not objectionable. At the same time, they added as a new classification, "dogs other than black, the colours being most encouraged being white and black and bronze, and beauty in marking to be taken greatly into consideration.

Despite our breed's rich history of color (or perhaps because of it), some of today's NCA breeders have strong opinions and concerns about color. Coat color has become such an area of strong opinion and concern in many breeds that DNA testing for color and color pattern characteristics is becoming common. Currently available are DNA tests in the Newfoundland for grey and brown recessives and a test for the white and black coat recessive (Landseer) is on the horizon. We soon won't take the chance of producing disqualifying color/patterns, e.g., brown and white or grey and white. Clearly, we can look forward to even more refined tests in the future. 

While increasing availability of DNA testing will certainly make it easier for breeders to select the genotypes they want, a cheek swab or a blood sample cannot help a breeder answer many of the more general questions that have been vexing to breeders through the years, such as: 

• Does breeding color to color across time produce dogs with undesirable traits (e.g., less bone, less desirable heads, different temperament) in any way other than limiting your options for each specific breeding? 
• Should we eliminate poorly marked dogs from the breeding pool? 
• Are there health problems that are associated with the color/pattern genes per se? 

Breeding is a huge responsibility. Therefore, regardless of color, breeding should be done based on the whole dog: quality, temperament, soundness, health and, whenever possible, performance in the show ring, in working events and in the whelping box. 

In future articles and on the NCA website, we will be discussing the background for these questions and hopefully come to some, at least, tentative conclusions. 

reprinted from Newf Tide 4Q 2008