White Markings in the Welsh Corgi

White Markings in the Pembroke Corgi

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.

FCI Standard
Colour: Self colours in Red, Sable, Fawn, Black and Tan, with or without white markings on legs, brisket and neck. Some white on head and foreface permissible.

In Part III of her article on The Inheritance of Coat Color in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, published in the PWCCA Newsletter of June 1996, Patti Gustafson writes as follows:

A solid red dog would be a rarity today, if one exists at all, and the white markings of today extend well beyond "front, paws and nose" to include the entire chest, four entire legs, large full white collars, and wide white blazes on the face. Certainly there are many winning Corgis today who push even the limits of "acceptable" white as depicted in our 1975 "An Illustrated Study of the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Standard." So what is happening here? What are the factors leading to large amounts of white?

Ch. Bowhit Pivot

Ch. Bowhit Pepper

The S series of genes controls the presence and amount of white "flashing" in the dog. The dominant gene S produces a solid colored dog with no white. The self-colored Pems, such as those among the early English champions which Thelma Gray described, all carried at least one S gene. Hypostatic or recessive to the S gene is the si gene for Irish spotting. The si gene produces white in one or more of these specific locations: muzzle, forehead star or blaze, chest, belly, one or more feet and tail tip.

Fairly early breeders seemed to select for the more flashy "Irish spotting" white in the Pembroke. If a solid red dog was "S S" in genotype and was mated to a red and white dog, all puppies would be solid, but all would also carry the Irish spotting factor. If one of those puppies, who were genotypically "S si", was mated to a red and white ("si si"), then statistically half of the puppies produced from such a breeding should also be red and white. And, of course, two red and whites bred to each other would produce no solid offspring, just red and whites.

Thus it is easy to see how with very little effort we have arrived at the present day situation where it is questionable whether the S gene is still in the gene pool. The one major virtue and the one greatest problem with a trait which is homozygous recessive (expressed phenotypically only when the dog carries two of the same recessive genes, e.g. "si si" or "at at" (tricolor) is that it is very easy to lose the dominant gene of that series. Whether it's a problem or a virtue depends on the individual homozygous recessive trait involved.



Hypostatic to or standing under the "si" Irish spotting gene is "sp" the piebald gene where the white is expressed to a much greater extent and may show up on any part of the body. It is the piebald gene that gives the Beagle its characteristic color pattern and also what most probably gives us the "whitely" in the Pembroke. It appears that either the incidence of whitelies in the breed is greatly decreased or we just are not as open as were breeders in the past. Although I have frequently heard of mismarks in Corgi litters, I have never heard of a litter in the last ten years that has contained a whitely. Both Thelma Gray and Pat Curties mention them as popping up occasionally and I have often wondered if the decreased incidence of whitelies now (if indeed it is a true decrease) is due to the fact that we have moved farther and farther away from that time when Pems and Cardigans were interbred. Cardigans do carry the sp gene, whereas Little says Pembrokes carry only the S and si genes.

The varying amounts of white in Pems with the si gene is due to the presence of modifiers. Plus-modifiers give the dog more pigment and less white, while minus-modifiers favor more white, less pigment. Thus those Corgis with just a little flash carry plus-modifiers to their si genes and those Corgis showing "lots of chrome" carry minus-modifiers to their si genes. The greater the plus-modifiers the plainer and closer to self-colored is the dog. The greater the minus-modifiers, the whiter and closer to piebald is the dog.

Little doesn't really detail how these modifiers work, but I've always thought of it as rather like mixing paint. If you breed a dog with plus-modifiers to a dog with minus-modifiers, you should get more white on the puppies than is on the first dog and less white than is on the second dog. Again, these are the statistical expectations; in any given litter you may find a puppy that is very much like Mom (plus-modifiers) with very little white and/or a puppy like Dad (minus-modifiers) sporting a lot of white.

Where I think we invite mismarks is by breeding two dogs who both have a lot of white and thus minus-modifiers. This may just push the white towards the piebald pattern and give rise to white on a part of the body not associated with Irish spotting, or it may push the white in the Irish spotting areas past the limits of what the standard holds as acceptable, e.g. farther back into the shoulder from a white chest and collar or farther up on the stifle from the white of the back leg.

It is also my opinion and that of many other breeders I have talked to that these modifiers affect different areas. Thus certain lines are more affected with head white, for example, and other lines have to watch the amount of stifle white or white coming up onto the side of the body from the belly. If you were to breed a dog with lots of head white, maybe a large area of white around the nose and a fairly wide full blaze between the eyes to the forehead (minus-modifiers for head) but relatively little body white, maybe just white chest and four white "anklet" socks but no collar (plus-modifiers for body) to a dog with a plain head (plus-modifiers for head) but white chest and four white legs with some stifle white (minus-modifiers for body), you should be bringing both head and body areas of white more towards the mean. And if you breed two dogs who both have quite a bit of white on the face, and minimum white on the body and get a mismark, it's almost certain that the mismark will be one of too much white on the face or of white on the ear, but not one of too much white on the stifle or a white spot on the side of the body.

White Markings in the Cardigan Corgi

AKC standard
Color: All shades of red, sable and brindle. Black with or without tan or brindle points. Blue merle (black and gray; marbled) with or without tan or brindle points. There is no color preference. White flashings are usual on the neck (either in part or as a collar), chest, legs, muzzle, underparts, tip of tail and as a blaze on head. White on the head should not predominate and should never surround the eyes. Any color other than specified and/or body color predominantly white are disqualifications.

So far the FCI standard, based on the standard of the country of the breed's origin, is much more tolerant regarding color and white markings. It simply states: Any colour, with or without white markings, but white should not predominate.

However, The Cardigan Welsh Corgi Association has petitioned the Kennel Club for a revision of the breed standard's color section in such a way as to specify the acceptable colors as well as the extension of white markings.

The following is an extract from Cardigan Commentary International, the international website on the Cardigan Corgi:

Traditional Irish Pattern white markings (blaze, collar, white feet and tip of tail) have always been considered aesthetically pleasing in the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. However, opinions differ greatly when it comes to how much white is desirable both on the head and the body. Because the wording of the standards both in the country of origin and AKC / FCI is not that clear, the issue of how much white is acceptable can be confusing both for breeders and judges. By contrast, the standard for the Pembroke Welsh Corgi is much more severe than that of the Cardigan regarding the amount and placement of white markings, and too many judges transfer those ideas over to Cardigans. That is incorrect and will lead to wrong decisions.

Cassie, one of the two first Cardigans imported to the US
by Mrs. P.B. Bole in 1931

Irregular white, or a dog whose background colour was white, was not uncommon among the early Cardigans rescued from Welsh farms or purchased from the few breeders who retained old stock that their ancestors had on the farm, and used as foundation stock in the early 20th century. Thus, irregular white might be considered part of the breed heritage. White markings and/or spots might also have been desirable in a farm dog because it was better visible when out working. Restrictions from those starting points have been introduced, as far as we can determine, mostly from aesthetic preference.

In the UK show ring of today you would hardly see a dog carrying the type of white markings seen on some of the dogs in the past such as Ch. Parmel Digger or Ch. Echium of Hezelclose although the wording of the standard would not prevent such a dog from winning.

Ch. Echium of Hezelclose (born 23.7.1966)

Ch. Parmel Digger (born 05.09.1963)