Fawn – or sable? Red – or grizzle?

Some personal thoughts about coat colour in the Basset Fauve de Bretagne.

Roughly translated as ” Fawn Brittany Basset”, the UK Breed Standard gives a range of colours to define this; ” fawn, gold wheaten or red wheaten”. The UK standard allows a small amount of white on the chest. The Standard of the country of origin ( F.C.I.) says a white star on the chest may exist, but should not be sought after. There is a slightly wider colour range for  fawn,  from gold wheaten to red brick. A few black hairs dispersed on the back and tail  are tolerated.

red wheaten - or gold wheaten?
red wheaten – or gold wheaten?

All very easy – until you breed a litter, that is. My second litter was from a lovely red champion dog to a red wheaten bitch from red wheaten parents. Four of the six puppies were almost black at birth, with comical “panda” masks and a very small amount of red visible in the undercoat on the heads and legs. I was on to the stud dog owner straight away, as my previous litter from this bitch had resulted in  six puppies of the dam’s  red wheaten colour. Nothing to worry about, I was told. The sire had been just the same, and the puppies should lighten in colour as time went by. A photograph of the father of the litter aged eight weeks of age came with the reply, and there he was with dark hairs overlaying a completely red body. I kept a dog puppy and watched the dark hairs recede steadily,  as predicted, until the final black hairs on his tail vanished by around six months of age. All of the puppies ended as reds with no black hairs on adulthood, and with the added benefit of jet black pigmentation to nose, eye rims and nails, and very dark eyes.

Bred to another champion dog, a red bitch from red parents produced the puppy pictured below. Photograph aged eight weeks:

a " sable" puppy
a ” sable” puppy

Colour upon maturity –  with no black hairs :

a red fawn adult who was " born black"
a red fawn adult who was ” born black”

The dog from my second litter was bred to a ( red from birth) distant relation and we discovered that the dark colour came through – with variations ! The three photos below follow the progress of the darkest puppy Treacle, who gained her name because of her colour.

" Treacle" at a week of age.
” Treacle” at a week of age.
Treacle aged 8 weeks
Treacle aged 8 weeks
Red as an adult
Red as an adult

By this point I was beginning to develop a theory. I suspected these darker born puppies which “fade ” to red have a sable gene affected by colour paling, as when you have a very close look at the adult coat there is a scattering of white hairs throughout , in greater numbers where the black lasted for longest. Once you strip the puppy coat out when its ready to moult, the dark has gone forever. Some white hairs seem to replace them, and these are so outnumbered by the red wheaten hairs you don’t notice them. I have also noticed that the  puppies which are going to ” go red” have an entirely red head by eight weeks of age. this ‘ red tide” slowly continues down the body of the puppy until he is red all over. And always possesses fabulous pigmentation.

I then got to know a pair of puppies from a mother who had been ” born black” and who had ended a clear wheaten colour. I anticipated the coats would clear, in the same way as the ones I was used to, and as their mother had. Their father was a red wheaten.

Dog puppy 3 months
Dog puppy 3 months
bitch puppy 8 months
bitch puppy 8 months

We did not see what we thought we would when these puppies grew up ! The dog cleared to red fawn, with a few dark hairs in his tail. The bitch had a red head, legs and chest but a grizzled ” saddle” extending to her darker tail. The underside of her tail is a darker red than her body hair.

I was aware that a ” grizzle” colour pattern exists in the breed and it must be a recessive gene. This “saddle marked” coat pattern was an interesting one, as to my eye both puppies were as dark as each other, and the individual hairs appeared the same within the undercoat when you riffled the coat backwards for close examination.

In the same litter as Treacle was ” Honey” who, if you refer back to the baby puppy photograph above, was born a red colour – but with black eye “patches”, like a little pirate. Honey grew up to be mainly wheaten in colour – but with a darker head and tail. So perhaps she had some inhibition of the colour paling gene of her sire?

Honey, aged two
Honey, aged two

Now lets add another colour variation into the equation. I imported two hounds from a French pack, and wasn’t too concerned about how dark they were as puppies. They had great conformation and type and size and were just what I was looking for at the time. Both lightened up to red as they reached maturity , but both retained very dark red ears and dark hairs in the tail. Both of their parents were “red at birth”, the sire red and the dam fawn wheaten.

The imports as adults
The imports as adults

When both these hounds were outcrossed to bitches which were ” born red” they produced a more ” diluted” colour than themselves. Dark red puppies from birth but not the dark hairs on back and tail to the same extent  – occasionally a ” smudge” on the head, but otherwise red throughout the coats. In the photograph below, the bitch to the left has retained a darker ” widows peak” colouration on her head.

Puppies from the imported bitch
Puppies from the imported bitch

I suspect there may be a ” liver” pigmentation rather than black underlying the mask on these imports, as if you look closely at the face of the parent on the photograph above with that of   the puppy on the left on the photograph above, you see a different shade of red around the muzzle and eyes to the rest of the body coat. They can sometimes have ” two tone noses” in both liver and black !

Last year, the dog I mentioned in the first paragraph was bred to a distantly related  red wheaten of red wheaten and wheaten parentage. The only bitch in the litter he sired was dark from birth – but we’d had that before, and the coats had always paled to red. Therefore there was every chance this puppy would do the same (?).

Clover as a puppy
Clover as a puppy

Not necessarily ! Clover is the darkest puppy we have known so far – this is her coat colour aged 11 months ( below). She has red on her chest, muzzle and legs but remains black and grizzled through her body coat.

Clover is on the left
Clover is on the left

Older breeders have told me that the test for whether a coat will end up the right colour is to look closely at the body hairs, and any which have black to their skins will stay black. I think these ” grizzled” variants add another level of difficulty to this, as they also change colour but presumably carry the ” agouti” gene rather than what I am guessing is a ” sable with colour paling” gene.

If anyone with a better grip on colour genetics would like to correspond on the subject, that would be great. The basic books on genetics say two reds bred together which are homozygous for red will produce red, yet clearly there is more going on in these Fawn Brittany Bassets than meets the eye.

There’s also the question of breed type. Young Clover has become more and more like her larger relative, the Griffon Nivernois, especially in head. She’s also longer legged and a little taller and leaner than most of her relatives.  I also look at the smooth coated immensely pliable ears and ” deer red” on some puppies stemming from lines bred in Brittany ( not only my own imports)  and wonder about the Bavarian Mountain Hound colour and ear texture. I ponder upon the grizzles, and think about the Dachshund cross which was admitted to by the French – plus  whatever else might have been mixed in by keen hunters to improve the abilities of the breed. How difficult it must be breeding red to red over generations, where pigmentation will be liver more often than black, and where dark is desired more than light in the hunting and the conformation standards relating to eye colour and pigment.

I’m sure there will be more to learn about colour in this breed – I have yet to breed a black and tan, for instance, but have seen a photograph of one. Its not something I am afraid of, because of the advantages of good pigmentation on the hounds which pale to red. Ironically the more unusual coloured fauves – and all of them by this particular  stud dog , or bred by me,  are pictured above, I wouldn’t like the casual reader to think the other 95 % of the hounds bred here aren’t ” standard coloured” – attract very positive comments from people who meet them, and in some cases enquire how to obtain one in this colour. No, we aren’t going to  breed ” rare black fauves” ( what a tautology,  for heavens sake!)  but we will be prepared for what might appear naturally.

 

 

 

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