White Collies, Beauty or Genetic Defect

Regulation and Breeding, 1870–2013

In: Society & Animals
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  • 1 Department of History, University of Guelph, Canada


This article explores the relationship between standards of beauty and genetic knowledge in regulations for the breeding of nonhuman animals. Collie breeding and views concerning the coat color white, in North America and Britain between 1870 and the present, illustrate how advances in dog coat genetics did little to alter perceptions concerning beauty and/or quality held in the different countries. Today, North American Collie breeders consider white coats to be desirable. Modern British breeders see these coats as unacceptable. Breed standards that support practices have not changed to reflect a better understanding of genetics. An assessment of how attitudes to white Collies arose, and why these views differed between North America and Britain, illustrates how entrenched cultural perceptions concerning beauty/quality can be in the face of information that undermines their validity. The story introduces a larger topic: how can change be introduced in light of the complicated beauty/science axis?

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