Carawind Aussies and Shelties - Colors of the Australian Shepherd
Carawind Aussies & Shelties


Colors of the Australian Shepherd

  1. THE BLUE MERLE IS GENETICALLY A BLACK DOG CARRYING THE MERLING GENE (which breaks up the black color into a pattern of black patches on grey).
  2. THE RED MERLE IS GENETICALLY A RED DOG CARRYING THE MERLING GENE (which breaks up the red color into a pattern of red patches on beige).
In this writing, black refers to both solid blacks and blue merles.

In this writing, red refers to both solid reds and red merles.

Remember, all blacks and blue merles have black noses and eye rims, and all reds and red merles have liver/brown noses and eye rims.

In the breed, there are non-recognized colors which are considered undesirable. These colors are disqualifying faults by the ASCA Breed Standard. These include sable, brown merles. brindle, grey/slate, diluted red, and blonde. The genetics of these colors is not discussed here. However, the reader should realize that if these colors exist in a properly colored dog's ancestry, they may be produced.

The four recognized colors for Australian Shepherds are: black, blue merle, red and red merle.

One basic rule of genetics the reader needs to know is that gene pairs determine charateristics like color. ONE GENE COMES FROM EACH PARENT. With color, THE DOMINANT GENE is the trait you SEE. The RECESSIVE GENE is the trait you DO NOT SEE UNLESS IT IS PAIRED WITH ANOTHER, SAME RECESSIVE GENE.

Keeping this in mind, the rules for Aussie color are constant and simple:
#1 A dog with two black genes is
He appears
#2 A dog with one black gene and one red gene is
He appears
#3 A dog with two red genes is
He appears

All properly colored Australian Shepherds are one of these three!

Remember, each parent will give ONE GENE to each puppy.

Important: Black refers to solid black and blue merle. Red refers to solid red and red merle.

#1 (BLACK/BLACK) has only black genes to give and thus ALL his pups will be black although they MAY carry a red gene if the other parent contributed a red gene.
#2 (BLACK/RED) will produce black or red pups. When it passes on it's black gene, black pups will result. When it passes on it's red gene, if paired with a red gene from the other parent, the pups will be red. These blacks are often referred to as "red carriers" or "red factored".
#3 (RED/RED) is a red. TWO REDS WILL PRODUCE 100% REDS. As you can see, there is no black gene to dominate. If a red is bred to a #1, ALL pups will be black, but ALL will carry a red gene. Bred to a #2, both black and red pups may result.

For the breeder, the only real uncertainty arises because #1 (BLACK/BLACK) and #2 (BLACK/RED) look exactly alike. If a black dog has a red parent, he will ALWAYS carry a red recessive gene. However, if he is from two black parents, only test breeding will tell if he is a BLACK/BLACK or a BLACK/RED.

You can see from this that the color of grandparents or ancestors of red dogs play no part in the colors they will produce. Red genes are all they have to pass on. The red dog from two black parents has the same genetic make-up for color as the red dog from two red parents. Occasionally, a red will show up in a long line of only black ancestry. This happens when a line of BLACK/RED's exists and two BLACK/RED's produce a RED/RED.


  • Occasionally a dog appearing to be solid black or solid red is a merle. One or two flecks of lighter merling on a solid dog will make him genetically a merle. These dogs will produce like any other merle and have been referred to as "phantom merles".
  • IDEAL merling on a blue merle should be patches of all black. Diluted patches will show up as gray, rusty or brown, and are not desirable.
  • IDEAL merling on a red merle is dark chocolate or liver patches and all the same shade. Diluted patches appear as lighter, "sorrel" patches, and are not desirable.
  • Copper trim color ranges from pale cream to dark, deep tan. IDEALLY, it appears as "shepherd's spots" above the eyes, on the sides of the muzzle, on the legs and under the tail. Copper trim extending into the body or onto the head is referred to as "running copper" and is not desirable.
  • All black and blue merle dogs have black noses, eye rims and lips.
  • All red and red merle dogs have liver/brown noses, eye rims and lips.
  • Reds NEVER have any black hair.
  • Blue eyes almost never appear in solid colored Aussies, although they are common in some other breeds.
  • Blue eyes and blue flecks in dark eyes occur in merles, and are not reliably predictable in a given litter. One eye color is not preferable over another.
  • The term "tri" refers to a solid black or solid red with copper and white trim.
  • The term "bi" refers to a solid black or solid red with white trim (no copper).


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