Fawn and Cream Pembroke Corgis

In an article on Coat Color Inheritance in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, spread over three issues of the PWCCA Newsletter in 1995-1996, Patti Gustafson writes:

The difficulty of keeping the "red" in the Corgi has been around a long time. In 1946 in her third edition of "The Welsh Corgi", Thelma Gray tells us that in general appearance the Pembroke "greatly resembles a fox, and the fact that he is often a rich tawny red or red-sable greatly adds to the illusion. The rich foxlike shades are the most popular."

Red, undocked Pembroke, born in 2013

The red dog of yesterday is rapidly disappearing. Those that were called variously, "deep red," "dark red," "rich fox red," "bright red" are hardly to be seen anymore. Why is the red dog, when we can find one, a light red or golden red? Why are the majority of our dogs now goldens and fawns? Will another ten years find us with just fawns and creams?

The age old remedy for correcting paling, which either we're not using or it doesn't work, is to keep breeding back to a tricolor every so often. Pat Curties mentions this in her article in the 1957 Corgi League handbook, "Colour Inheritance in Pembrokes," saying, "Although some people do not agree, I think that to obtain a good red, it is important to keep an infusion of pure tricolour or pure black and tan running through a strain, otherwise the colour in succeeding generations tends to become lighter and lighter, until eventually the majority of the puppies become a light, rather unattractive sand colour with a lot of cream shading around the face."

As an aside, I would point out that when Pat Curties says "tricolors" she means black-headed tricolors. Red-headed tricolors were not common in the fifty's and were generally designated as red or sable-headed tricolors to distinguish them from the more common black-headed tri. Now, of course, the reverse is true and in conversation and critiques the term "tricolor" is most frequently used to indicate the more common red-headed tri, and the more rarely occurring black-headed tri is designated by the full, color-indicated term.

W. H. Harding expresses the same thought in his 1958 Corgi League article, "The Genetics of Colour Inheritance in Pembroke Corgis." "It is a peculiar fact that the black gene appears to have a stimulating effect on the red. A strain which is entirely free from the black gene tends to degenerate to a pale fawn or golden colour..."

Fawn Pembroke

"Fawn-headed" tricolor Pembroke

In the December 1982 Pembroke Welsh Corgi Newsletter, editor Ron Shakely (Ehrstag) puzzled, "We wonder where the red went. The brilliant red dog is almost gone, and no one seems to care. It is said that a good dog can't be a bad color, but some colors are more attractive than others. The standard's allowance of golden and fawn self-colors seems to have bred a tolerance of extremely pale coloration, often associated with a large amount of white; and sabling is mostly on a brown rather than a red base, contributing to an unnecessary plainness."

And Derek Rayne, (judge and breeder of Pemwelgi Corgis), in an interview given to Corgi Quarterly (Summer 1986), states, "We don't want to get Corgis too light a brown; if you keep breeding two light reds together, eventually you will get a dog who is almost a beige color which is not good. I used to try to use a dark red or tricolor in my breeding every once in a while to strengthen the red tones back into more of a fox red which is the original color and which you don't see too often anymore. We do have some of these sandy shades now which look rather washed out."

Coat color is determined by gene pairs, one gene coming from the sire, one from the dam. The most important gene pair for Pembroke coat color comes from the agouti or A series (see The Inheritance of Coat Color in Dogs by Clarence Little). Little says that the genes of the A series producing Pembroke coat color are "ay" which produces the solid tan (red) color, and "at" which produces the tan pointed black dog or what we more generally call a tricolor. In the Pembroke the tan gene (ay) is dominant to or will conceal the tri genes.

Sable, as defined in the explanatory text of "An Illustrated Study of the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Standard (1975) is "red laced with black hairs to give a penciled effect. The sabling varies in intensity and extent, usually forming a pointed skull cap, or sometimes limited to ears, ruff "fairy saddle" and tail." Frequently the black hair lacing the red is the result of black tipping to otherwise red hairs. ("Tipped sables" are red dogs with black eumelanin hairs, usually on the back, head, ears and tail.)

These photos show the change from the mousey brown coat of newborn Pembroke pups to the clearing color of their adult coat, which most show by eight weeks of age.

New born Pembroke puppies. The small one on the left is the red bitch pictured above.

One of the red bitch's puppies at the age of 5 weeks

Same pup at the age of 8 weeks

At the age of 9 weeks. Note the red color is breaking through.

At the age of 11 weeks

At the age of 4 months. Not many black hairs are left by now.

Since Patti Gustafson wrote her article, 20 years have passed and the paling of the red color is still progressing.

Judge and breeder of Pembrokes, Stephanie S. Hedgepath (Jimanie), writes that she has seen a few creams in Pems all the way back into the 1980's and "it seems we are seeing the color pop up more lately. These Corgis may appear "white", with black leather and dark eyes, but the real color is cream, not chinchilla or silver or whatever someone decides to name it to make it sound more exotic and thus, perhaps, fetch a higher price."

This cute pup still shows clear sable markings on the head and sabling on the back.

Gradually the sabling disappeared and the light cream color blended with the white markings giving the appearance of a white dog. Note the dark eyes and black nose.

But what are these cream Pembrokes?
The key to understanding dog genetics is simply this: there are two types of pigment that create coat color in dogs (and most other mammals): eumelanin and phaeomelanin. All coat colors and patterns in dogs are created by these two pigments, which are both forms of melanin. Each of the pigments has a "default" color, and it can then be modified by various genes.

Black is the "default" eumelanin color for dogs. A dog that isn't homozygous for liver (bb) or for dilution (dd) will have black eumelanin. This means that it will have a black nose and, usually, brown eyes (eumelanin affects eye color too), and any eumelanin in its coat will be black.

Phaeomelanin produces the color "red", which is anything from deep Irish Setter red to light cream. It is only visible in the coat and doesn't affect the eyes, nose or pads of feet.

The two cream puppies have some black on the ears and the cheeks and sabling on the head and back.

One of the two puppies as a youngster. The sabling has disappeared and you see a cream dog with white markings.

This photo shows the same dog at 2 years of age. The cream color is now so pale that the dog looks almost white. Again, note the dark eyes and black nose.

Until recently it was thought that the C locus was responsible for the intensity of phaeomelanin, causing the difference between rich Irish Setter red and the almost pure white seen on breeds such as the Samoyed and German Shepherd Dog.

However, it has now been shown that ivory and white dogs do not have any mutations on the C locus. Sponenberg and Rothschild describe a gene they name I (for Intense) that dilutes only phaeomelanin:
I=intense red, not diluted
i=co-dominant, so i/i dogs are paler than I/i dogs
However this gene has not yet been fully identified. The general idea is that this gene causes the phaeomelanin in the coat to lighten or darken. "Diluted" phaeomelanin colors are sometimes called cream, buff, apricot, lemon, etc. (Remember that eyes and nose color are not affected!)

Quoting Patti Gustafson: "Such a theory would better explain the many varying shades of red and tan in the Corgi and would also help explain why the now established pale colors are in the majority and seem so hard to get rid of. Remember that these paling factors also typify the color of the tan/red in both tricolors and the base color of sables.

"Here, too, we can see that keeping an infusion of tricolor or dark red pigment in your line would be necessary in order to increase the number of dogs with the "good red" color. We can also see that if one did not conscientiously keep such an infusion in one's line that the odds of getting back to that rich red would be low."

Comment by Simon Parsons, breed judge and associate editor of Dog World:
"I can't imagine that breeding to a tricolour is in itself a way to get richer colours. Surely it all depends on how rich the tan is on that particular tri!"

The current AKC-standard for the Pembroke Welsh Corgi states:
Color: The outer coat is to be of self-colors in red, sable, fawn, black and tan with or without white markings. White is acceptable on legs, chest, neck (either in part or as a collar), muzzle, underparts and as a narrow blaze on head.
Very Serious Faults: Whitelies - Body color white, with red or dark markings.


The color "cream" is not mentioned in the AKC standard for the Pembroke Corgi, but a dog of such a light color that it appears white, would probably be regarded as a "whitely" and a judge may well excuse it if it should show up in the show ring.

Stephanie S. Hedgepath has never seen a solid cream shown in an official AKC show. Neither has judge and breeder Anne Indergaard (Annwn) from Norway seen any creams when judging in Europe, Australia and the USA.

Whitelies and Creams should not be bred so as not to pass on the genes. However, they are not different in personality from Corgis with proper markings and make excellent pets.