Pinto: Ok, and Not Ok

Much of our knowledge of dog structure comes from the English horse world,  so it’s not surprising that some of our terminology comes from that arena, as well.

What surprises some people is that the word, “pinto,” the Spanish word for “painted,” “dappled,” or “spotted,” should be used in the breed standards of two breeds that are Japanese in origin.

At this point, we ask you to bear with us because in some circles, the same patterning can be called piebald or pied. This can get confusing. In fact, the website, doggentics, does a marvelous job of pointing out the vast array of different names given to the same colors in different breeds.

Several breeds carry the piebald gene, including Pomeranians, Bulldogs, and Dachshunds. Recessive colors that are known to exist in Anatolian Shepherds include piebald/pinto. The Siberian Husky’s AKC breed standard also states, “A variety of symmetrical or asymmetrical markings and patterns are common, including piebald.”

Again, however, only two AKC breeds mention “pinto” in their standards, both of them Japanese in origin. Interestingly, pinto is regarded very differently in these standards.

In the Shiba Inu, cream, white pinto, or any other color or marking not specified are considered to be very serious faults that must be penalized.

In the Akita, however, any color including white; brindle or pinto are fine. In fact, the Akita’s AKC breed standard goes on to define the pinto color as that with a white background with large, evenly placed patches covering head and more than one-third of body. Curiously, England’s Kennel Club Akita standard goes the other way. It reads,  “Any colour [is acceptable] except merle, including white brindle or pinto.” 

The FCI standard for the American Akita reads, “Colour: Any colour like red, fawn, white, etc; or even pinto and brindle.”  Pinto is not mentioned at all in the FCI standard for the Akita-Inu (or Japanese Akita).

Genetically speaking, most white spots on a dog are the result of genes on the S locus. The white spotting can happen with any coat color and take over both eumelanin (brown/black) and phaeomelanin (yellow/red). It’s the white spotting gene that stops the cells from producing skin pigment which causes white areas in the coat. As far as is known so far, only two alleles are known to exist on the S locus. These are S, which produces no or very little white, and sp, which produces the piebald pattern.  It’s suspected that a third allele might exist on the S locus, but it hasn’t been proven so far. This allele is the “extreme white.”

There are now tests available for what causes “pinto” markings in a Shiba Inu, and some suspect the color may even be a by-product of domestication, but that remains to be proved.

Image: Pinto Akita/ Deposit stock photo


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