Normal Aussie Coat Coloring
August 2013 by ASHGI (Australian Shepherd Health and Genetic Institute)
The breed standards state “All colors are strong, clear and rich. The recognized colors are blue merle, red (liver) merle, solid black, and solid red (liver) all with or without white markings and/or tan (copper) points with no order of preference. The blue merle and black have black pigmentation on nose, lips, and eye-rims. Reds and red merles have liver pigmentation on nose, lips, and eye rims. Butterfly nose should not be faulted under one year of age. On all colors, the areas surrounding the ears and eyes are dominated by color other than white. The hairline of a white collar does not exceed the point at the withers. These are all distinct genetic traits and breeders need to understand how they are inherited.
Black is dominant to liver, therefore a liver colored dog (whether merle or not) can only pass along genes for liver and when bred to another liver-colored dog all resulting puppies will be liver. A black dog, on the other hand, may produce puppies of either color if it happens to carry a liver version of the gene, referred to as ‘red factored”. Those with no liver version will never produce liver colored offspring. You can determine whether a black dog is red factored several ways: If it has a liver parent or offspring, by doing a DNA test, or by breeding it to a liver colored dog to see if you get liver puppies. If you try the test mating you need six puppies to be 98% sure of the result – all black would mean the dog is not red factored but even one liver pup would mean it is.
The Merle Pattern
A blue merle is a black dog with the merle pattern; a red merle is a liver dog with the merle pattern. All the merle gene does is determine whether or not a dog is merle. This gene is an incomplete dominant. Two dominant copies produce a “double merle” which will most likely have serious eye defects and may be deaf. Two recessive copies result in a dog that is not merle. One of each is a normal merle, a state midway between the two homozygous forms.
There is also another version of this gene, called cryptic, that falls in dominance between the other two. A cryptic merle dog will have only a small merle patch somewhere on the body. It is possible if that patch lies somewhere that also gets a white marking, that you might not know a dog carried this version of the gene. While it was once thought that these dogs would, like normal merles, produce defective double merles if bred to another merle dog, this does not appear to be the case. Cryptic merles might be bred to a merle or a non-merle with no fear of merle-related defects.
Tan or Copper
Tan points are caused by one of the several versions of a gene called agouti. Only two of these are contributors to normal Aussie coat coloration, the one that causes tan and another that gives no tan. Most Aussies have two copies of the tan version of this gene, though it is possible that some Aussies without tan may have two copies of the recessive version. However, there is a weasel in this particular hen-house in the form of a gene called K. If a dog has a single copy of the dominant version of K it will not have tan trim. This gene version has been found in Aussies though most have two copies of the version that allows tan trim. Therefore, lack of tan trim may be either dominant or recessive depending on whether it is caused by versions of agouti or K. If you have a line where lack of tan is common the breeding patterns for the trait should tell you which you are dealing with – though it is possible that some lines might have both and be difficult to predict.
White markings are the most genetically complex aspect of normal Aussie color. Only two white marking genes have been clearly identified so far in dogs. One causes the type of pattern seen in Boxers. The other is associated with the “Irish” pattern seen in collie-type dogs, like the Aussie. However, the specific extent of these markings on any individual dog can be highly variable due to the actions of other genes or gene regulatory factors. In general, though, less white is dominant to more: Two dogs with little white can sometimes produce offspring with lots of white, but two with maximum white trim will not produce a puppy with almost none.
Non Standard Coat Colors
Rev. March 2013 by ASHGI (Australian Shepherd Health and Genetic Institute)
Many years ago one would occasionally see sable Australian Shepherds, however it is very unlikely that the gene still exists in the breed gene pool today. The sable gene is dominant to the tan trim gene. Most Aussies have tan (copper) trim and therefore cannot carry sable. Sable has been a disqualification in the Australian Shepherd breed standards at least since the mid 1970s. It is most associated with Rough Collies and was never considered typical for Aussies.
Aussies people sometimes think are sable are actually yellow. (The shade can vary from deep chestnut to pale lemon.) The gene for this color is separate from the one that produces sable. It is recessive, so any time yellow pups are produced, both parents carry the gene. Yellow Labradors and lemon Pointers have the same gene for yellow, but in those breeds the color is allowed.
In sable dogs, the hair is banded – the tip will be black (or liver if the dog has liver pigment on it’s nose, etc.). Yellow hair is the same color throughout. The color of the nose is not an indication because the black/liver coloration is controlled by yet another gene.
Yellow dogs will not have tan trim, no matter whether their parents had it or not. White markings are not affected.
While both sable and yellow are attractive colors, they are disallowed in the Aussie breed standards and with good reason. Both can mask the presence of merle. Because of this, one wouldn’t necessarily know that a dog was merle and might breed it to another merle, producing puppies that are blind or deaf because they have two copies of the merle gene.
Blue Eyes in Non-Merles
March 2013 by ASHGI (Australian Shepherd Health and Genetic Institute)
Sometimes Australian Shepherds which are not merle will have blue eyes. Either or both eyes may be blue. Sometimes they are half blue/half pigmented. They are rarely flecked or marbled. This kind of blue eye has nothing to do with the merle gene, white trim genes or the albino gene (which probably does not exist in dogs). These eyes are completely sound, though perhaps slightly light sensitive just as blue-eyed people are slightly more light-sensitive than those with brown eyes. Siberian Huskies are an example of another breed with this type of blue eye.
The mode of inheritance is unknown, but since the blue eyes can be single or a pair and an individual eye may be half-and-half, there probably are either more than one gene involved or there is regulatory DNA that influences the function of the gene(s) that cause this type of blue eye.
Blue-eyed non-merle Aussies are not prone to congenital deafness. They are sound and are correct as per the breed standards.
We do not guarantee eye color. Your puppy may have blue eyes when you receive it at eight weeks old, but there’s a good chance the eyes will change over the next few weeks, or within a year. We can only give our best guess at what they will be but there is no guarantee.
Examples of Coat Colors
Our Australian Shepherds are the size of the breed standard of the AKC and the ASCA. Adult males are 20 - 23 inches, and adult femalea are 18 - 21 inches, as measured from the withers. We do NOT breed Miniature American Shepherds, Toys or AussieDoodles, as those breeds are mixed breeds and NOT a purebred Australian Shepherd.