Purebred dogs have hidden genes
Photo courtesy of Purdue University.

Is your purebred “different” from others of his kind? A recent discovery made by scientists might explain why.

Most purebred dogs within a breed look the same – from size to coat color, they’re very similar. But every once in a while, a puppy is born with different features. Although many breeders and those who frequent dog shows might consider this a flaw, it’s more than likely just a gene variant, according to researchers from Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The research team, led by Kari Ekenstedt, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of anatomy and genetics, and Dayna Dreger, PhD, the lead scientist in Dr. Ekenstedt’s laboratory, studied a dozen different genes in 212 dog breeds, and discovered that some have hidden coat colors and other traits that have been dormant all along.

“These are purebred dogs with traits that their breed clubs say they’re not supposed to have,” says Dr. Ekenstedt, whose research program focuses on canine genetics. “The message of this paper is: ‘Hey, these gene variants exist in your breed, and if a few dogs are born with these traits, it’s not caused by accidental breeding and it’s not a mutt; it’s a purebred showing this known genetic potential.’”

Many different traits might show up, but one example is the tailless gene variant. Around 18 breeds have the genetic potential to be born without a tail – such as the Australian shepherd. But according to the new research, up to 48 of the breeds analyzed possess the tailless gene variant, including the Dachshund.

“A breeder would certainly be surprised to see a Dachshund born without a tail,” says Dr. Dreger. “The chances are low, but our research shows the potential is there.

Drs. Dreger and Ekenstedt both hope the research prompts some discussions within the dog community, and lowers expectations when it comes to what a breed “should or shouldn’t” look like.