American Bully Breeding

An introduction

Hi, my name is Isaac Brule and I'm the head breeder and owner of Handsome Boy Kennels. American Bully breeding is my art and my passion. Specifically Merle Tricolor American Bullys. Through hard work and dedication we have built our operation from the ground up and are living out our dream of creating the most amazing American Bullies the world has ever seen. 

 I have gathered this information over years of study and dedication to this game and I consider it my pleasure and privilege to share some of the information that I've acquired  along the way with all of you! 

So without further ado, lets get right into the good stuff!

Understanding Dog Genetics

I dont chase peds or color coat conditions. I create them. Really... The key to understanding dog genetics is simply this: there are two types of pigment that create coat color in dogs (and most other mammals). Pigment is the thing that gives each strand of hair its color. All coat colors and patterns in dogs are created by two pigments, which are both forms of melanin. Each of the pigments has a "default" color, and it can then be modified by various genes. Melanin plays a big part in the color of almost all animals, even humans. Melanin is found almost all the way across the board, in mammals, birds, fish and insects, and even makes up the dark color of squid ink. Our own skin, hair and eye colors are determined by melanin production, and melanin plays an important part in protecting our cells from harmful UV rays. In fact, melanin (particularly eumelanin) has been found to play a part in health and immunity in a number of species.

Hair and feathers are stronger and longer-lasting when pigmented with melanin, which is one reason why many white birds have black wingtips - their flight feathers need to be durable. Interestingly, the health link doesn't seem to be present to the same extent in dogs as in some species, and a black dog is no more or less healthy than any other color. Most dogs have both eumelanin (black) and phaeomelanin (red) in their coats, these two examples show a mix of eumelanin and phaeomelanin (known as tricolor tan points), tricolor has very clear boundaries between the two pigments. How the two pigments mix in the coat is mostly controlled by the A ("agouti") locus in dogs. Black is the "default" eumelanin color for dogs. 

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A dog that isn't homozygous for liver (bb) or for dilution (dd) will have black eumelanin. This means that it will have a black nose and, usually, brown eyes (eumelanin affects eye color too), and any eumelanin in its coat will be black. Phaeomelanin, doesn't affect the eyes or nose and is only visible in the coat. It produces the color "red", which is anything from deep Irish Setter red to light cream. Phaeomelanin doesn't "naturally" occur in the coat - it only appears if the dog has particular genes which allow it to occur. White isn't really a color, so white hair on animals isn't caused by pigment but by a lack of pigment. In dogs it is a lack of both eumelanin and phaeomelanin. White areas on animals are simply caused when the cells cannot or do not produce any pigment at all.


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We talk about modifiers that effect coat color and conditions, one of my favorites is the liver gene. The liver gene causes a brownish color (chocolate). It's recessive. This means that a liver puppy can be born from black parents if both are carriers of the liver allele. The liver gene affects eumelanin (black pigment) only. All of the black in the coat will be turned to liver (brown) when a dog is bb on the B locus. This includes saddles, shading, merle etc. It is genetically impossible for a liver dog to have even one black or grey hair in its coat, or for a black or blue dog to have liver in its coat. However, a liver dog may have some "red" (phaeomelanin) hairs depending on the K and A locus alleles present such as the red tan points in chocolate tricolor pups.  The red (Tan) phaeomelanin will not be effected. 

You may sometimes hear of liver dogs being described as "dilutes". Liver is not technically dilution, but just a different color of eumelanin, black turned brown as a result of the liver gene. Dilution in dogs is controlled by a separate locus and causes blue and isabella/lilac. The dilution gene affects eumelanin (black and liver), although phaeomelanin (red) may be lightened as well. It's often claimed that dilute dogs are less healthy than those with normal pigment. This misconception has most likely come from the prevalence in some breeds of a condition known as Color Dilution Alopecia (CDA). Color Dilution Alopecia is in fact the result of a faulty version of the d allele, known as d1. Not all breeds carry this faulty allele, and the majority of blues and isabellas are completely healthy. When a dog has two copies of the d allele, a black dog will become blue (aka slate) and a liver (chocolate) dog becomes isabella (aka lilac). A blue or isabella can have any coat pattern, but whatever they have, any black or liver in the coat will be turned to blue or isabella. It is genetically impossible for a blue dog to have any black in its coat, or for an isabella to have liver.

The main giveaway that a dog is a dilute is generally its nose color. The coat may be entirely fawn or shaded sable for example, but if the dog has a blue nose, it is genetically blue-pigmented. Isabella (lilac), however, is slightly trickier. With liver and isabella it's common for both colors to have very light, even pink, noses, and it is also common for isabellas to have darkish noses that look like liver. It is therefore very difficult to tell a liver from an isabella unless there is some liver/isabella in the coat. Black turns to blue and chocolate turns to lilac/isabella with the dilution gene. The tan points are also much lighter in the dilute dogs. Intensity and dilution causes the phaeomelanin to range in shade from deep Irish Setter red to pale cream or ivory. All these colors are hidden in black just waiting for a genetic modifier like liver or dilution or both to be expressed. Dilution and liver are both recessive and relatively rare, so lilac/isabella is a rarely seen color.

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Blue (Dilute Black). Black dogs become blue when they are dd on the D locus. Blues can range from silver to almost black, and it can be difficult to tell a blue from a black by just looking at photographs. However, when the dog is actually examined, it should be obvious that the nose is blue. Brindle stripes, tipping on a sable, masks, black patches on merles, saddles, patches on a black piebald, and the black on a tan-pointed dog will all be turned to blue when a dog has the dilution gene. Any and all black on the dog is included.
Isabella (Dilute Liver). The same dilution gene that causes a black dog to become blue also causes a liver dog to become isabella (aka lilac), which is a pale greyish brown. Definitely my favorite. Dilution and liver are both recessive and relatively rare, so lilac/isabella is a rarely seen color. The dilution gene affects phaeomelanin too (although to a lesser extent than eumelanin) but it is the Intensity gene that determines how rich the red (phaeomelanin) pigment is.


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Achieving Tan Points

Now we have a firm understanding of the basics of pigment lets talk about some more intermediate ideas. Controlling the distribution of melanin to achieve tan points. Broadly speaking, the agouti series controls which cells produce eumelanin (black pigment, or liver/isabella/pearl/blue/platinum when modified). The tan point gene (sometimes known as "traditional tan points") is almost the bottom recessive in the agouti series. This means that, generally, a dog must have two copies of the tan point gene in order to express tan points. The range of markings on a tan pointed dog are very restricted. Red (tan) phaeomelanin appears as pips above the eyes, on the sides of the muzzle extending to the cheeks, as pips on the cheeks, on the front of the neck just below the head, as two triangular patches on the front of the chest, on the lower legs and feet (and inside of the legs), and as a patch underneath the tail (and sometimes along the bottom edge of the tail too). The main color is solid black (or any other eumelanin color - liver, isabella, pearl or blue, platinum - depending on the other genes involved).

White Genetics

White may not be color but it is still controlled by its own set of rules. We can use white to control the distribution of pigment as well. Most white spotting on dogs is determined by the genes on the S locus. When we use the term "white spotting" we simply mean white areas on the dog, not actually white spots. White spotting can occur on any color, and will cover up both eumelanin and phaeomelanin. So any dog can have white markings, whether they're black, blue, platinum, liver, isabella, pearl, brindle, sable, tan-pointed, merle or whatever. White hair occurs when the skin cells are unable to produce any pigment. The white spotting gene impairs the ability of cells on particular parts of the skin to make pigment, so the skin becomes pink and the fur white. Nails and paw pads will also become pink in areas where pigment is not produced. The range of white patterns can be bred true leading researchers to believe each pattern, white-spotting, split faces, white heads, irish spotting, psuedo-irish, extreme white, and piebald are controlled by their own modifiers.

The white rules aren't set in stone - sometimes individual dogs can have unusual white patterns, where, for example, the white on the legs is very uneven, or they have piebald patches in unexpected places, like on the neck or chest. However, in general, they do hold relatively true. Extreme dilution of the phaeomelanin can turn tan points to a light cream. Many people enjoy the varies patterns white creates. Im interested for one other reason. Any white areas on a dog, no matter how big or small, may be ticked or roan due to the T gene. Ticking or roan cannot be expressed if the dog does not have white areas...and this is where we leave the intermediate level and venture into the advanced area of coat colors and conditions.

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Ticking Genetics

Ticking is flecks or spots of color on white areas. It can occur on any white area on a dog, so long as the white is "real" white (i.e. so long as it's caused by the white spotting series and not by the Intensity gene). If a dog has the ticking allele but doesn't have any white areas, there will be no visible effect. Any white areas on a dog, no matter how big or small, may be ticked due to the T gene. Ticking cannot be expressed if the dog does not have white areas.Ticking amount and density varies greatly between dogs, and this can be partly explained by the idea of incomplete dominance. If the ticking gene (T) displays incomplete dominance over the clear white gene (t), then a TT dog would have heavy ticking and a Tt dog would have lighter ticking. Generally, ticking is heaviest on the legs and the muzzle. If a dog has only a small amount of ticking, it will appear in these areas before appearing anywhere else.

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Here is wear it gets really interesting to me. Dogs with ticking are generally born white. The ticking develops as the dog grows. This can be rather dramatic. Also, the color of ticking corresponds to the color that the area would have been if there wasn't any white there. For example, a black-and-tan dog with white markings and ticking would have black ticking on its body and tan ticking on its legs, chest, eye-brows, and muzzle, where it would be tan if it didn't have white.

Merle Genetics

Disclaimer: Merle is a fascinating and varied coat pattern, and there is no doubt that many of the merles shown further down this page are beautiful, unusual and exotic. However, the pictures and information are provided entirely for educational purposes and I do not in any way condone the breeding of dogs deliberately for color, or breeding for colors or patterns. The primary concerns for any dog breeder must be health, temperament and conformation. Color should only be a consideration after these primary concerns. Special care must also be taken when breeding merles to avoid health problems (which we will not go into here), so merle is an advanced color coat condition best left to very experienced dog breeders.

The merle gene dilutes random sections of the coat to a lighter color (usually grey in a black-pigmented dog), leaving patches of the original color remaining. The patches can be any size and can be located anywhere on the dog, unlike the patches on a piebald dog (which are generally confined to the body and head). The edges of the patches may appear jagged and torn. Merle affects only eumelanin. That means that any black, liver, blue or isabella in the coat, eyes or nose will be merled, whether it's the whole of the body, a mask on a sable, shading, or even brindle stripes. Phaeomelanin (red) is not affected at all and will appear as normal.The base color (the diluted parts) on a merle can vary greatly, lilac and pearl, platinum, or a very pale "blue" to a dark grey. Fawn merles sometimes called muddy merles and "ticked" merles. Note that this "ticking" is not the same as the ticking that appears on the white areas of a dog due to the ticking (T) gene, and doesn't have the same genetic basis.

Merle Tricolor American Bully

Due to the unstable and variable nature of the merle gene, sometimes merles have patches that are only partially diluted, and are between the base and the patch colour. These are known as dilute spots, and they may sometimes appear brownish. We talk about coat color being "diluted" in a merle, but note that dilute spots don't have anything at all to do with the Dilution gene (d), and are just a normal variation of the merle pattern. When is Ticking not Ticking? The answer is: when it's on the base of a merle. The diluted areas on a merle are often described as being "ticked", however this is not the same as T locus ticking and is just a natural part of the merle pattern. Merle WILL NOT continue onto the white and ticking WILL NOT be present on the base coat as white will cover both types of melanin and it (ticking) needs white areas to be expressed.

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Continuing on with some more advanced concepts we have the merle tricolor. Merle is interesting because all normal merles are heterozygous (Mm). A homozygous merle is actually a double merle. Problems are unusual in heterozygous merles (Mm) but unfortunately common in double merles (MM). For this reason two merles should never be bred together, as this will result in some double merle puppies. The reason double merle, back breeding, or line breeding merle can be problematic is it can cause lack of pigment in certain vital areas (eyes, ears, nose, etc.). Again I must stress merle should be given the respect it deserves and reserved for the advanced breeder, productions soft culled into pet homes. NEVER BREED TWO MERLE CARRIERS. The tan point gene (sometimes known as "traditional tan points") is almost the bottom recessive in the agouti series. This means that, generally, a dog must have two copies of the tan point gene in order to express tan points.The main color is solid black (or any other eumelanin color - liver, isabella, pearl or blue, platinum - now that merle genes are involved). As you can see advanced concepts are just basics done well. We are now starting to combine concepts to create extraordinary animals.

Natural Selection And Evolution

With natural selection and evolution, when a mutation occurs, the new protein may be more or less effective at its job than the original one. Mutations which result in the animal being less able to survive are not likely to become part of a species' general DNA. The simple reason for this is that animals with the mutation are likely to die before they have a chance to pass on their genes. Animals without the mutation will live longer and reproduce more, so the number of animals of the species without the mutation will eventually outnumber those with it. Sometimes mutations occur which are beneficial to the animal, and these may well become part of the species' DNA, because of the increased survival and reproduction rate of animals with them. Evolution is the accumulation of genetic changes in a species over time. It is a slow process, as most genetic changes are very minor. Selective breeding is basically intelligent design. It's selection of breeding couples by conscious beings for a purpose, whether that purpose is to create a working dog or a one of a kind designer pet. Natural selection, by contrast, has no purpose. There is no conscious selection of particular traits, and as a result, natural selection is much, much slower than selective breeding. A trait can be bred into a species by selective breeding in just a few generations, when it may take hundreds or thousands of years in a wild species. Advanced concepts are basics done well, the combination of dilution, tricolor, liver, and merle for example produces one of the most amazing color coat conditions you can find on the planet, Lilac/pearl merle and cream tricolor.

Genes control just about everything about a living creature. They control how the creature grows and develops, how it functions and how it looks too. On this post we're focusing on just one aspect of looks - color. A gene is basically a set of instructions, contained within an animal's DNA, which tells the cell how to produce a particular protein (in our case, pigment). The genetic make-up of a creature is described as its genotype. While a genotype is the genetic makeup of an organism (a technical list of locii, genes and alleles), phenotype describes the effect of the genotype on the look of the organism. If we talk about a black dog with white markings then we are talking about its phenotype. There may be more than one selection of genes that could cause this phenotype. 

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All black areas on a dog are caused by cells producing eumelanin. However, there are genes which turn eumelanin into other colors - liver (brown), blue (grey), platinum (silver) or isabella (a dusty pale brown) and pearl (creamy off white). If a dog has any of the genes to turn its black eumelanin into liver, blue or isabella then all of the black in its coat will be changed. This is because these genes restrict and/or alter the production of eumelanin, so none of the cells are able to produce full-strength pigment. We call blue and isabella dogs "dilutes" for this reason. A dilute is a dog that is dd on the D locus. dd turns a black dog into a blue dog (with a blue nose and amber eyes) and a liver dog into an isabella. A merle with the dilution gene will appear very washed-out. The black or liver patches will be diluted almost to the same shade as the base color. So a blue merle (a true blue merle with the dilution gene, not a black merle!) will appear almost completely light grey to platinum with some faint darker grey patches, and an isabella merle will be light greyish brown to pearl. To distinguish between a merle with dilution and a basic merle, look at the nose. If the dog has a blue (or lilac) nose, it has the dilution gene.

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The merle gene dilutes random sections of the coat again to a lighter color (usually grey in a black-pigmented dog), leaving patches of the original color remaining. The patches can be any size and can be located anywhere on the dog. The edges of the patches may appear jagged and torn. The base coat color in this case (the phenotype) will be lighter then the actual pigment of the dog (the genotype). If the dog didnt have the merle gene it would be solid black. In dilutes, blue becomes platinum but the dog is still genetically a blue dilute not a platinum dilute. In the case of the lilac/pearl merle phenotype the dog is genetically lilac, the merle area is pearl so its labelled lilac and pearl merle. So where the merle gene changes the phenotype by diluting the already diluted base coat it does not change the genotype. Merles can come with or without any of the tan patterns. Labeling in this way describes both the genotype and the phenotype more accurately and is extremely important for breeders with specific goals.

In Conclusion

Selective breeding is basically intelligent design. It's selection of breeding couples by conscious beings for a purpose, whether that purpose is to create a working dog or a one of a kind designer pet. Using our knowledge of basic theory we can combine genetic modifiers to creat some advanced color coat conditions. We see that all these colors are contained in black. All it takes is a few genetic modifiers (dilution, merle, tri color) to take your line from basic black to a platinum merle tri in just a few generations. I feel there is no need risk the health or structure, brachycephalic skulls, shortened airways, temperature intolerance, shortened life spans, limited exercise and movement, or stacked up wrinkles under the eye, cutting corners and mixing breeds to reach our vision. If we focus on structure, bloodlines with proven health and temperament, and a good knowledge of genetic basics there is no reason we cant take this whole breed to the next level.

Congratulations! If you made it this far You have officially been schooled in some of the art and science behind achieving different genetic conditions when breeding American Bullies. This is a subject that continues to be the object of my fascination and I hope all of you find it just as interesting as I do.

We at Handsome Boy Kennels would like to thank all of you for the love and support we receive from you guys and girls. Its all of you that make it possible for us to continue perusing our dream of advancing these breeds to their fullest potential!

Please leave a comment below in the comment section and let us know your thoughts or reach out to me Via Email!

Until next time my Friends

~ Isaac Brule - Founder of Handsome Boy Kennels




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