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BREEDING AND TRAINING GERMAN SHEPHERD DOGS

The Sable GSD


The Sable German Shepherd Dog . A Guide for Breeders and Buyers

Sarah Slader
Petersburg; New York

 Most people who go shopping for a German Shepherd Dog have a specific type of canine companion anchored firmly in mind. Many purchasers are trying to replace a dog that has passed on, or perhaps, seeking to obtain a pup like the one they remember from childhood. Whatever the reason, most folks who call us are looking for a traditional black and tan dog, and usually - a male. Many of the dogs we breed here at our kennel are sable (or grey) in color. There are many reasons for this. The intent of this article is to explore some of these reasons and to explain the stages of pigment that a sable dog goes through on the way to its adult coat color. I hope this information is helpful to you in your choice of a puppy or adult dog that can do whatever "job" you have to do.

What Is a Sable or Grey Dog?
Is their a Difference?

A sable dog has two coat colors on almost every hair of itís body. Run your hand "against" an adult dog's coat. That is run your hand from tail to head and look under the black hair found on the back of most German Shepherd Dogs. A sable dog will have a lighter undercolor of grey, red or brown. In essence, each hair has a black tip and the remaining hair shaft is the undercolor. This is the sable color.

Viewed from a short distance, a sable dog may appear black, grey or even black and tan. Many black and tan dogs have a sable area around the neck, but this is not the dog's true coat color. A true sable has the undercolor over the saddle area of its back.

Where Did We Get the Word Sable?

The term "sable" seems to be German in origin. What the American Kennel Club considers a "grey" dog would be called "sable" in Germany. On the other hand, the SV (Schaferhunde Verein - the German Shepherd "master" club in Germany, a regulatory agency for the breed) records coat colors in terms of grey (thus: gr = grey; grb= grey and brown; dgrgA = very darkgrey, etc.) So, when we are dealing with German bred dogs (as is the case today with the tremendous increase of canine imports), we frequently hear the term "sable" referring to most grey dogs. Sable Comes in a Variety of Colors

Actually, sable dogs come in a wide variety of colors and pigments. The very darkest dogs are called "black sables" and are considered highly desirable because of the extremely dark pigment they possess. In my experience, black sable dogs often carry the black recessive gene, and can pro- duce solid black puppies when bred to another dog that carries the black recessive. Black sables usually, but not always, have DDR (East German) ancestry. Sable dogs can be used by a breeder to darken the pigment of the next generation. Two sable dogs with similar color will have offspring that are darker than either parent. It should be mentioned here that dark pigment of eyes and coat is highly desirable in the German Shepherd Dog. Some lines carry the dilute gene which causes the coat to be washed out in color. White Shepherds carry the extreme form of the dilute gene, and while they may be very lovely dogs, this lack of pigment is considered undesirable according to the breed standard.

Working Bloodlines Most breeders have a pretty clear idea of the type of dog they are trying to produce. The characteristics of this dog usually include the following:
1. Temperament: "A sound mind to do the job" required of the dog.
2. Good hips, elbows, good health and longevity.
3. Freedom from genetic anomalies (i.e., missing teeth, soft ears, undescended testicles, pancreatitis, blood disorders, etc.)
4. Size and structure within the parameters of the breed standard.
5. Proper coat length and good pigment.

While your dog- may get by without some of these attributes, the breeder tries to get them all in every puppy all the time. This is not easy! I placed temperament first on the list. The dog must have a good temperament to do its job in life. Most of the time, the dog's job is simply watching the house and kids. Sometimes, its job is Schutzhund sport, search and rescue work, police K-9 or guide dog. Some dogs wear many hats. But the best temperament is no good with-out a sound body.

Two Types of German Shepherd Dogs .

In Germany it is generally accepted that there are two varieties of German Shepherd Dog. There are dog bred primarily to excel in Schutzhund sport. These dogs have "working lines" and many famous working lines are Grey or sable. Schutzhund sport demands a fit body, sound mind, and good hips. There are also German dog bred to excel in the showring. These dogs have "high lines" or "show lines." Many of them are black and tan or black and red. High line dogs are also required to pass a Schutzhund trial, but once titled, show dogs usually leave the Schutzhund field behind. Of course, the best of both worlds is a beautiful show dog that works well. While this is certainly possible, it doesn't happen often. Crossing working lines and show lines can give us pups that do not belong in either world. They are not tough enough to do the work nor pretty enough to compete in the showring. Working dogs do not always produce working dogs. But the chances are far better if every canine relative in the last six generations was able to a pass a Schutzhund trial or herd sheep for a living. German dogs (East and West, high lines or working lines) must have working titles and hip x-rays before they are bred. However, my experience is that many of the best working bloodlines carry the sable/grey gene.

Why Are So Many Good Working Dogs Sable?

We may never know all the facts about this. Some well-known German trainers say that the sable color was never very popular in Germany. As a result, the sable dog had to be very good in order to get breedings. The grey dog of today carry those very good traits. Here is a partial list of well-known working dogs. They are all sable dogs.

1. V-Sagus v. Busecker Schloss SchH III, FH, IP III, West Germany.
2. SG-Lord v. Gleisdreieck SchH III ,FH, DDR (East German) Bundessieger(three times).
3. Brix v. Laimbachtal SchH III, FH, imported to the United States.
4. Bill v.d. Wahrburgerstrasse SchH III, FH, DDR, imported to the United States, a Fidelco Guide Dog sire.
5. V-Zorro v. Laager Wall SchH III, FH, DDR, and his son:
6. SG-Bob v.d. Neptungrotte SchH III, PSH III, FH, now in Texas as Spedalblut Kennel.
7. SG-Artus v.d. Westenhohe SchH II, DDR.
8. V-Uwe vom Kirschental SchH III, FH, West Germany. (This famous "U" litter also contained Uran.)
9. Racker v. Itztal SchH III, FH.
10. SG-Voldo v. Kirschental SchH III, FH, imported to the United States.
11. VA-Wanko v.d. Maarue SchH III (a "tough" conformation, that is, a dog who excelled in the showring and also excelled in Schutzhund sport).

There are many, many more that deserve mention.

German Shepherd or Raccoon?

A breeder who has sable color in his/her lines may have a carefully thought out breeding program designed to produce a type of dog that exhibits the good traits we examined earlier. The prospective buyer, when presented a well pigmented six- to eight-week-old sable puppy, often asks the breeder, "Why does it look like a raccoon?" Indeed, even black sable pups are washed out in color by the time they are six to eight weeks old. Their body color is usually the same as their adult undercolor is destined to be. At this stage, these pups typically have a black stripe down the spoke, black around the eyes, and a single black ring around the tail. This bizarre color scheme is only around a few weeks. The pups soon get progressively darker (and more German Shepherd-like) until they finally reach their adult coat. Unfortunately for the hardworking breeder, this "raccoon" color phase arrives just about the same time pups are usually ready to be sold. No one can blame a novice for wondering if the breeder is "on the level," or if some local Don Juan didn't slip in and visit "mom" in the dark of night. It is helpful if you have several sable dogs about the place and their puppy pictures to prove that this metamorphosis does in fact take place. But, more often than not, the breeder is left in the rather pathetic position of saying to the buyer, "Look, trust me. They get darker!"

How Dark Will They Get?

The breeder usually has a pretty good idea of how dark his/her sable pups will eventually become. After all, he/she has seen the pups from birth. Black sable pups are almost solid black when born, then the color starts to fade. Red sables can have a brilliant red undercoat, and are born a bit lighter, with that black stripe already in evidence. Check the parents. If the dam and sire are dark, the pups will usually be as dark, if not darker. Other signs of exceptional pigment are black toes ("muddy feet" in the lingo), a black mask and black appearing on the front of the leg running down towards the feet. Dark eyes are tough to be sure of in a pup, as the eye color changes along with the coat color. If you are dealing with a Fairly dark set of parents, the eyes should be no problem.

The DDR Dog

We have mentioned East German dogs several times in passing. East Germany spent many years behind the Iron Curtain breeding a different type of German Shepherd Dog. This "type" of dog has a great deal to offer the breed. The DDR dog has, typically, larger bone and darker pigment than many of the West German and American bred dogs. The DDR dogs were ruthlessly culled for good hips. Extensive records were kept on stud dog progeny, which included missing teeth, long coats, undescended testicles, and temperament problems. These records are available to us today, and while not perfect, they do offer a breeder a wealth of information. A breeder friend of mine refers to the DDR dogs as "muddy water dogs." They are very healthy, robust dogs, who do well under adverse conditions. Some breeders, myself included, fear the attributes of this valuable gene pool will be diminished or lost altogether now that Germany has been reunified. Many DDR dogs whose blood-lines are available in this country are dark grey or black sable dogs. A Shepherd of Another Color There is nothing wrong with having a color preference when shopping for a pup. There are many German Shepherd breeders in this country and a buyer has a host of colors to choose from. But there is a great deal more to breeding a good dog than shooting for your favorite color. Don't overlook the Shepherd of another color! The breeder who has sable dogs, given today's market, has good reason for breeding them. There is a rich heritage of intelligence, as well as physical and mental soundness, in today's grey lines. Maybe you'll find, as I did, the best thing about a sable dog is sharing your life with one!
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