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Australian Shepherds and Nose Pigmentation

Strong nose pigmentation is desirable in the Australian Shepherd and many other breeds. Many standards call for “solid” or “complete pigmentation,” indicating that partially pigmented noses are not desirable. Strong pigmentation means that the nose leather is fully black on a black tri or blue merle Aussie, and fully liver on a red tri or red merle.

For AKC, for example, 21 herding breeds require black, brown, liver, or blue noses in accordance with the coat color of the dog, and 7 herding breeds have disqualifications or faults listed with regard to nose color.

Dudley Nose

A Dudley nose is a nose that is entirely pink, which is uncommon in Aussies. Both the CKC and the ASCA breed standards list a Dudley nose as a disqualification.

Pink Spots and Butterfly Nose

Pinks spots, also called “butterfly nose,” are common in merle Aussies. The merle gene randomly dilutes melanin from parts of the body, such as the coat, the inner ear, the nose, and structures of the eye. Nose pigment can be slower to develop in merle puppies and faster to develop in solid colored Aussie puppies. Pink spots on a nose may fill in over time as a dog matures but some dogs with pink spots may never develop a completely pigmented nose.

Note that Dudley nose and butterfly nose are not the same thing as temporary loss of pigment due to hypopigmentation (winter nose or snow nose), contact dermatitis (from plastic feeding bowls for example), scarring of the nose from trauma, or an underlying disease condition such as vitiligo.

According to Lisa McDonald, “The amount of pink coverage on noses tends to be more pronounced in breeding programs where there is active selection toward maximum allowable white markings. Dogs with minimal to no white markings seldom have unpigmented noses.”

The photo in this article shows a highly desirable, completely pigmented nose on the left, and a butterfly nose on a young puppy on the right. The puppy's nose might fill in over time.

If it’s Pink, It’s a Fault

The CKC, AKC, and ASCA breed standards for the Australian Shepherd all list pink spots or butterfly nose as a fault on a dog over one year of age.

CKC Breed Standard

“Butterfly nose should not be faulted under one year of age.”

AKC Breed Standard

“On the merles it is permissible to have small pink spots; however, they should not exceed 25 percent of the nose on dogs over one year of age, which is a serious fault.”

ASCA Breed Standard

“Butterfly nose should not be faulted under one year of age.”

AKC provides a 25% guideline for pink spots, but the CKC and ASCA breed standards do not specify coverage. According to ASCA, it’s “implicit that variation from the ideal is to be faulted according to the extent of deviation”. Therefore, one can infer that the greater the amount of pink on a nose, the more it should be faulted in the show ring, at least for ASCA purposes.

Why Is Poor Pigmentation a Fault?

According to ASHGI, unpigmented areas on the nose and the top of the muzzle are undesirable because they are more subject to sun damage and have a potential to develop skin cancer. This may especially be the case at higher altitudes.

What Should I do about Pink Spots?

If you’re an owner of a dog whose nose and/or muzzle significantly lack pigment, it may be a good idea to apply sun block to the nose and pink areas on the muzzle before the dog spends time outside in the sun. I know of an Aussie girl with poor pigment, both on her nose leather and just above the nose on the muzzle, who lives at almost 6500 ft elevation; without sunblock, the pink areas on her nose and muzzle would crack and weep with sun exposure, putting her at greater risk of developing cancer from sun damage. I owned an Aussie girl with a fully pigmented black nose; however, the area right above her nose on her muzzle was very pink. I observed that this pink area burned with prolonged sun exposure without sunblock.

If you’re a breeder, you might consider trying to select for good pigment and perhaps less white in your breeding program. While it’s never a good idea to breed for just one trait, keeping good pigment in mind when you’re selecting a stud dog for a breeding or when you’re evaluating puppies in a litter may help promote desirable nose pigmentation. We do not at this time have a DNA test to test for lasting pink spots on a nose.



© 2016 Valerie Yates

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