What is Sable?

A few helpful - or not - quotations.

<<The generally recognised color series (loci) in dogs are called A (agouti), B (brown), C (albino series), D (blue dilution) E (extension), G (graying), M (merle), R (roaning), S (white spotting) and T (ticking.) There may be more, unrecognised gene series, and in a given breed modifying factors may drastically affect the actual appearance. Thus one school of thought holds that the round spots on a Dalmation are due to the same gene that produces the roaned areas on a German Shorthair Pointer, but with vastly different modifiers.>>

<<* ay in the absense of As produces a dog which is predominantly tan (phaeomelanin) sometimes with black tipped hairs or interspersed black hairs. The usual term for this color is "sable." >>

<<The Ever Varying Sable:  Anyone who owns a Sable dog can probably tell you that it went through an amazing number of shades and patterns and colours before settling on it's semi-permanent adult 'look' ;)  Sable puppies change immensely as they grow, and often end up either darker or lighter than they were as a pup.  There is also quite the array of  Sable colours, ranging from the lightest Tan to the darkest Black.

The term "Sable" (or Agouti) itself refers to the banding of colour on the dogs individual hairs.  The hairs on a sable dog are 'tipped' with varying amounts of black on the ends, with the rest of the hair being any shade of tan, red, gray, etc - which accounts for the large array of shades of sable.>>

<<SABLE - Sable coats are distinguished by darker tipping on a lighter coloured underfur. The amount of tipping may be very heavy or very light. The underfur can be brown, fawn, red, gold or silver. Tipping is generally black but may also be darker shades of brown, gold or silver. Sable coats often lighten or progressively silver as the dog matures. Some Sable dogs lighten dramatically almost all the way to a pale Ivory or Off-white leaving just subtle shadings and highlights of colour. A true Sable will always retain the dark tipping on the ears and tail ( even if its just a few hairs). Sable is the most changeable of all the Havanese colours. The degree of silvering is dependent on the other colours in the genetic makeup of the dog. If the tipping is cut off, generally it will not return except on the ears and tail.>>

<<SABLES: GENETICS AND MYTHS (in the German Shepherd Dog)
by Fred Lanting

The color pattern we in America call  sable  is called  grau  (gray) in Germany. Neither word is fully accurate, but experienced dog people know what is meant. The strict translation of what is possibly originally Latin, then Russian-Scandinavian in origin, but is found in variations in many languages including  sable  in English and French, is  black . Actually, even before that meaning, it was the name of a small glossy-black weasel or ermine found in far-northern Europe and Asia. From the Latin zobola, Russian soboli, Scandinavian sabel, and German zobel, we get our word, but not our meaning. It brings a different image in other breeds, such as the Collie, Basenji, and Sheltie where it refers to a reddish-yellow dog. Even in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, the sable dog gives mostly an orange impression. In the Shar-Pei, we see a color that looks like the GSD sable, but has a different genetic constitution. There is even the white GSD, some of which appear to be genetically modified sables, but certainly without any black.

...color  is often the term used when GSD people talk about black-and-tans, blacks, bi-colored dogs, or sables. For that meaning we really should use the term  color pattern , because some of these dogs may have more than one color or hue in the coat: shades of red/yellow/brown, black, white, and  dilutes  (blue and liver). The German word for what we call  tan  is  gelbe  (yellow). While  braun  (what Americans often braggingly like to call  red ) is also seen in the Ahnentafeln (SV registration-pedigree), it is genetically and chemically the same as yellow or red, altered with hue and intensity modifier genes.

A hair bulb can manufacture more than one type of melanin, and can alternate production in such a way that some hairs, such as most of those on a sable dog, are dark tipped, followed by a lighter midpiece and an even lighter base (or perhaps a dark base). There may be two shades of yellow: one reddish and the other cream, on one shaft. Sometimes the phaeomelanin (this form produces the non-dark pigment) is concentrated in the tip, and the eumelanin (which produces the black, blue, or liver) is in the base, though not often. The banding or alternating between dark and light sections results in a beautiful variety of colorations in the breed (GSD), especially around the neck, withers, and shoulders. The definition of a sable pattern should refer to the guard hairs being tipped with black. The more hairs and the longer that tipping, the darker the dog. The richer the phaeomelanin-influenced parts (undercoat and lower/ventral/leg portions), the more the dog is called a  red sable  instead of a  gray sable  (or faded). The  black sables  are those with much tipping but not always much red underneath.

When the GSD breed got started, there were many sables, probably far more than there were B&Ts.....>>

If the dog in question is a B&T, it has NO sable in it, sable cannot be recessive to B&T, and therefore is not present to wield any influence.

There are many misconceptions about coat color or pattern, and the supposed effects on other characteristics.>>

<<Sheltie Coat Color Genes

Shelties have lots of different coat colors:
Golden Sable Shaded Sable
Coat Colors golden sable sheltie, head color is sable shaded sable sheltie, head color is sable with black overlay

The Agouti gene produces sable or black coats>>

Trying to make sense of all of this and everything which is currently being said on the subject, is not easy and indeed there do appear to be a number of contradictions, especially when applying what has been said above, to the TM.  If things were not confused enough, it has now been implied that our own Shaydo is Sable. Both we and her breeder were rather surprised to hear this. Now if Shaydo is Sable then perhaps it must be the case that every TM which has an overlay of darker hairs on their tan or undercoat is also a Sable. But, and this is a big but, since Sable or Sabling is not allowed under the UK Standard,  where does that leave the majority of TM owners? In theory, this is with an inability to show their dogs. I for one have never thought of Black and Tan dogs as being Sable or having Sabling but if the merest amount of dark hairs over lighter hairs does mean that, then clearly many, many people have overlooked this for many years. I find this very strange and have to ask myself, why now is it being raised as a problem for the breed? Maybe stepping back in time will help?

Nothing was said in any TM Standard about Sable being an acceptable colour until fairly recent times and this seems to have coincided with the introduction of white, cream and other colours as being acceptable in one particular Standard. For some this appears to be more than a coincidence, coming as it does, from a small number of people with strongly held views, that all colours should be acceptable in a TM and based on a comment made about a 'white' TM in Nepal. It is hard to escape the conclusion that there is more than a chance that these changes to the historically acceptable colours, owed more to the alleged 'rarity' value of such coloured dogs and the higher prices they might command.

I have to agree that from what is said in the sources I have used above, Black and Tan is different from Black Sable but, on the other hand, it does seem quite clear that " there are many misconceptions about coat color or pattern..." Could it be that those who are now telling us what is, do not actually know what is and are merely speculating to promote mischief or misinformation? Would it not be easier to accept that what everyone has always accepted as a Black and Tan dog, with or without any black hairs over any lighter hairs, is simply that, a Black and Tan TM? (I have shown Black and tan dogs under some of the most experienced judges in the world and not a single one of them has ever said that those dogs are Sable). Likewise a Gold dog with some black tipping, should simply called a Gold dog, after all, I know of very few Gold dogs which have not had some degree of black tipping to their guard hairs. Perhaps though, those who have bred Gold dogs should comment more on this particular aspect. Moreover could it be that there is more to the current discussion than is apparent : is colour once again being used as a camouflage to direct attention away from type, construction etc.?  Perhaps the discussions should not centre round colour at all but instead concentrate more on the question of type? For, of course, there is more, much more, to a TM than the colour of its coat.

One thing which should not be overlooked is the fact that Brindle TMs do exist, or at least have done, but Brindle and Sable dogs are definitely not the same thing although the two 'colours' often are mentioned at the same time as being somehow related.

Lastly, I found it interesting what Fred Lanting said about Braun (Brown). I have always believed that Red and Brown are the same colour and now I have learned they are the same genetically and chemically as Yellow. Is Yellow the same as Gold though?

Post Scriptum  -  2nd February 2007

Having written the above it is gratifying to know that what I wrote is being discussed, I always advocate discussion. But I have to make it clear that when I wrote  " there is more, much more, to a TM than the colour of its coat " this should not be taken to mean that I am in any way condoning the breeding of dogs with colours other than those stipulated in the current UK Standard: I am not. It is the disregard for what the Standard says about colour and other aspects of the breed, which is a major cause of concern for those of us who have been involved with the breed for many years.