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Article published in Unkarinpaimenkoirat magazine 4/2002

COLOUR IS A CHALLENGE TO US ALL - thoughts about the heredity of maszkos fakó colour


The "scientific" breeding of puli began in the 1920’s. At the time there were many colors of puli: white, cream, apricot, different shades of grey, many sorts of black and also big white patches were usual. Black pulis were not even necessarily considered as purebred. The book "Hungarian Dog Breeds" (1987) tells that black didn't become general until the 1950’s. All other colors almost disappeared then due to the dominating power of the black color. As early as in the 1960’s puli's breed standard regarded black as the best color, in a way the ideal puli color. Trough the times (that is at least since 1920’s when proper pedigrees were registered) black pigment has been essential to puli’s color. Brown and cream have never been approved because of their wrong pigment color. Brown puli has brown skin and nose, cream puli's nose is pink. Both have also too pale eyes. Puli’s eyes must and have always had to be very dark. Multicolored pulis with white patches was the other case one wanted to get rid of already in the 1920’s. In the 1940’s both of these unwanted features had disappeared and in the 1960’s most pulis were black. (Breeding aimed also to pure breed characteristics , for example excluding spitz-like pulis but we concentrate to color here).

Portiers Kiteflyer a.k.a Kite, bitch whose maszkos fakó color comply with the current breed standard.


Current FCI breed standard which became valid in 2002 accepts only three colors. Black and maszkos fakó (fawn with a distinct black mask) compete with each other in shows. These may also be crossbred. The third color is white which is regarded its' own "breed" in Finland likewise in Hungary (and this is in line with the FCI standard). White competes in shows in its' own category and it musn't be crossbred with a black or a maszkos fakó puli (at least not without a special permit). If one reads carefully the Finnish translation (or English as well) of the current breed standard it follows that only fawn colored pulis with black mask are accepted. The word fawn meaning yellow-brown here. Too dark or greyish pulis are not accepted. Also completely grey pulis are excluded. This has caused problems especially to English breeders who have many good grey pulis. These dogs have been born rather dark grey but have grown more pale when adultcoat has appeared. In England breeders are sure that Hungarians have simply left grey out from the breed standard just by mistake. Neither are apricot/orange and pale apricot/yellow pulis (who are fakos without mask) accepted in the current breed stantard. The word maszkos fakó has been very difficult to translate in the breed standard. It has been translated in English to masked-pale or masked-fawn. Different translations, like the Finnish one, has been made from the English version, not from the Hungarian. So any mistake in the English version spreads to other countries as well. It may be questioned if the maszkos fakó color has any real resemblance to fallow deer in reference to masked-fawn. Fakó literally means faded, hazy, smudgy or tarnished. In fact Hungarians say it means something that has been for example washed for thousand times and is like worn out. It doesn't refer to any specific color. So the previous breed standard, which accepted all pulis with some black hair among pale coat and a black mask, is nearer to the right translation. At present - fortunately - in all countries judges accept all sable colored with a mask and even prefer dogs with dark hair among pale coat together with a big mask.


Color genes of dogs are common, shared. Maszkos fakó genes can be found from many other breeds as well. In genetical maps one talks about sabel with a dark mask. Along with a mask these dogs often have dark shading (that is dark hair among pale coat) in their backs. Legs remain the most pale area. All dog people know Tibetan spaniel, Belgian shepherd dog tervueren, yellow Great Danes and Leonberg dogs. In all of these breeds there are dogs with the sabel color and a mask. Diffrerent breeds have same kind of genotypes (genes) but their phenotypes are different. Phenotype is the appearence influenced by the environment. Especially in the case of puli the phenotype is characteristic with a long coat. Coat makes it difficult to estimate what are the real color genes in each case. This is and always has been ecxeptionally difficult with cream colored pulis making the difference between them and white pulis. In the worst case cream puli is almost pink but "at its' best" almost as white as a really (genetically pure) white dog. Sometimes cream can be mistaken for a very pale fakó or a light apricot (also known as yellow). Hungarians have learned trough experience that cream and apricot are quite problematic in breeding because they "exerminate" pure white. Estimating color is problematic even with maszkos fakó dogs (sable with mask) due to the long coat. They may be registered as different color than they grow to be. For example a dog born black may as an adult be very pale in color (grey or yellowish) or pale-colored puppy grow to be almost black. In shows pulis with maszkos fakó coat easily get complaints about poor coat quality especially from judges not thoroughly familiar with the breed. Coat is usually more plaque-like, matted and grows more slowly to full lenght. There is often more soft undercoat than in case of black pulis who have more hard uppercoat. Maszkos fakó's uppercoat may also be almost as soft as undercoat. Black coat is in average longer and thicker than yellow. Maszkos fakó puppy, whose both parents are black, has just the same kind of coat as a puppy, whose parents are maszkos fakós. That means that regardless of parents' color pale coat develops always more slowly than black. Maszkos fakó with much shading (dark hair among pale coat) has also coat of better quality and more beautiful cords than a more pale-colored puli. Black coat goes into cords more easily and nicely.

Dogs who have changed to almost black as adults: Portiers Kedves Kafka, Kite's brother (left) and D Ch Szabadi Aladin (right).

Black is puli's most dominating color gene. Completely black dog can carry as a latent characteristic and propagate almost any resessive genes. Maszkos fakó (sable with mask) gene dominates yellow. And yellow dominates white either by transmitting yellow or white color trough one gene pair or the yellow-white color scale is sliding (yellow dog just seems white but doesn't have the white gene). If color is a result of a single gene pair and if the yellow dog also has the white color gene, white puppies can still be born. But if the color scale is sliding, all puppies are more or less yellow (unless there are white genes in parents' pedigrees and a puppy gets these latent genes from both parents). In order to solve and to handle this problem the white puli has been separated into its' own breed as mentioned before. Crossbreeding white, black and maszkos fakó dogs always ends up in producing "incorrect" dogs to breed's population even if parents comply with the standard. Maszkos fakós without mask or grey or too dark maszkos fakós will be born. It doesn't mean that this would be the case in every litter but still it happens quite often. The only way to avoid this is to forbid crossbreeding diffrerent colors. If one examines breeds who have sable with mask as its' own breed and the separation may have even been made for a long time ago, like 100 years ago, there are still "impure" sable (yellow-brown) with a mask puppies born. These puppies may have many different shades of the sable color. (See links in the end of this article.) Even among breeds whose only accepted color is sable with a mask they don't have as strict breed standards as puli's. For example grey may be accepted but not recommended, or greys and sables without a mask are completely acceptable. Pumi's breed standard has maszkos fakó color as one alternative and the standard is much more permissive than puli's although both breeds are from the same origin. (Read breed standards from Hungarian Herding Dogs' site.)


Particularly in Sweden maszkos fakó is in "fashion" at the moment. There is still a problem: the narrow gene basis of maszkos fakó pulis. Like Arany Csaba's book "The History of the Puli" (1998) tells when describing history of maszkos fakó pulis that a dog named Királikerti Tigris can be found far too often from maszkos fakó pulis' pedigrees. In fact it is very difficult to find a dog without Királikerti Tigris' name at least twice in the same pedigree. There are cases where the same name pops up four times in a single dog's pedigree. Problem is the same in Finland but only on a smaller scale. It would be extremely important to find dogs who transmit maszkos fakó color but who don't have Királikerti Tigris in their pedigree at all or at least only once. There are only a small amount of maszkos fakó pulis in all (my estimate is less than 100) and it seems unlikely that we will see it as its' own breed for years from now. White pulis are quite rare so it is difficult to call it a succes as a breed. White pulis have catastrophically diminished in all countries forbidding crossbreeding whites with other colors although this has been seen the only way to secure pure white's existence. I agree with writers of "Hungarian Dog Breeds" in regarding character and health as puli's most important qualities. Both of these are endangered when population is small and the breeding aim is a certain beauty ideal (such as strict color standards). Strict color standards may also cause breeders to leave wrong colored pulis unregistered, registered them as different colored or even kill them. Anyway we are left without any true information about their genes. Taking the poor health situation and need for revival of puli into account I think it would be wise to accept all fakós for breeding . These fakós transmit such as right or wrong genes as their parents who comply with the current breed standard. It is also essential to notice that this way we would have right color information from pedigrees for years from now. This we shall achieve only by adding official, approved colors, in other words being more permissive with colors. Otherwise good, healthy fakós will be left out from breeding due to their poor show results which depends only on a too small mask or too dark shade of coat. Genetically colors are much more easy to handle than sicknesses which are not mentioned in pedigrees. Of course colors have their own hazards like I have been myself able to experience during my short breeder's career. Some black pulis may carry rare characteristics like black and tan marks. Genes are propagated and inherited trough decades; genes of our dogs' ancestors can only be guessed. Hopefully the situation is different in the future. Nowadays we luckily have color pictures making this task much more easy.

Makers of the future: (left.) Kennel Csigora's puppy born last summer whose father Mournebrake Fades to Grey at Bookhaven, "Tiger" (below) is imported from Canada and lives now in Sweden. There are grey, apricot and black dogs in his pedigree. (In the middle) Male Idefix von Discher's Hoff, owner Jesper Ravn, Denmark. Grandparents are white, fako and black dogs. (Right and below at the end if arcticle) Bitch Xaida'z Ca-Fa Misztika af Marmor, "Miszti", owner and breeder Carina Karlsson, Sweden. Black and maszkos fakós in pedigree



Permission to use pictures in this article has been in each case asked from dog's owner or photographer.

Heidi Valo



Zoltan (Kennel van Breugels Dreven, Holland)

Image galleries in the Internet:

Belgian shepder dog: www.finbelge.fi

Leonbergs: www.leonet.fi/finnish/vari.html

Tibetan spaniel: www.geocities.com/tipsut/galleria.html

See also for example Dog breed info for breed standards.

List of sources:

Csaba, Arany: A puli története. The history of the Puli. Debrecen 1998.

Paatsama, Saki: Terve ja sairas koira. Uusittu laitos. Otava Keuruu 1995.

Sárkány, Pál & Ócsag, Imre: Hungarian Dog Breeds. Corvina. Printed in Hungary 1987.

Sundgren, Per-Erik: Lemmikkieläinten jalostus. suom. Juhani Hirvensalo. Suomen Kennelliitto 1993.

Discussions in Yahoo's e-kromosomi discussion forum for dogs' heredity issues http://groups.yahoo.com/group/e-kromosomi/ (Special thanks to Liisa Sarakontu! If I have misunderstood something the fault is only mine)