- The Merle is a genetic marking found in the fur of dogs, which is available in various shades and designs and has the potential to impact all types of coat colors.
- Merle can present in two different types, blue merle (black patches on gray base) and red (brown patches on tan base).
- Merle puppies have striking blue or partially blue eyes, which is a merle mutation that is also expressed in their coat and paw color.
- While the colors produced by Merle breeding are aesthetically pleasing, it is important to note that it can increase the risk of certain health issues, especially for a double merle, such as deafness and blindness, making it crucial for us owners to pay close attention to the dog’s health.
Dogs can possess a genetic marking in their fur called Merle, which has the ability to come in a range of colors and patterns and can potentially influence the appearance of any coat color. The merle coat pattern, also known as dapple, is identified by irregular patches of fur on a lighter base of the same pigment. This pattern may be solid black on gray, which is referred to as blue merle, or solid brown on tan, known as red merle. A Merle pup with the blue merle pattern may also have blue or partially blue eyes, which is a genetic characteristic that is expressed through their eyes, coat, and paw color.
Although merle coloring does not make a dog fundamentally different from a typically colored dog, it can enhance its beauty. Nonetheless, merle-colored dogs are more prone to specific health concerns, such as deafness and blindness. Generally, merle pups have mottled coats in shades of white, black, or tan, and they’re known to be dog breeds with blue eyes or odd-colored eyes. I have had the pleasure of fostering these dogs and while many of them are wonderfully intelligent and gorgeous, the health problems that come with the coat can be heartbreaking.
What is a Merle Coat?
A merle pattern  is typically characterized by the colors black, tan, and white. The gene that causes a dog to have merle patterning can also affect a dog’s eye color and the skin pigment of a dog. The most common dog to have the merle genetics is an Australian Shepherd, but there are several other breeds that can have copies of the merle gene as well as the beautiful merle pattern. It’s more likely to happen in double merles or merle-to-merle matings which I will also discuss here. Here are a few of the most common Merle dog breeds today.
Merle Dog Breeds
Australian Shepherd dog breeds
The most common dog to have the merle allele, Merle Australian Shepherds have icy blue eyes and come in one of two merle variations, either blue or red. It’s important to be careful when you purchase a puppy in case it’s an Australian Shepherd mix by two merle-coated parents that will then produce more puppies with the merle-coating in a litter. When crossing two genes, there’s a strong possibility of getting one merle-coated puppy for every four puppies born that will develop deafness or blindness.
Border Collie merle dogs
A well-known working dog breed, a Border Collie is the rarest of all the breeds to be bred for his merle markings. Featuring either a rough or smooth coat, Merle Border Collies will have a white and black splotched coat and weigh between 30 and 55 pounds. Standing up to 20 inches high, the Merle Border Collie is a highly intelligent breed in the dog world and can also have health issues if the breeder has practiced unsafe breeding.
In comparison, the Smooth Collies has a shorter coat, which also requires less grooming. This is a playful breed that has tons of energy, so he will need lots of exercise, or he may become destructive. Smooth Collies with the merle gene will often have brown or blue eyes or just one brown and one blue eye.
Dachshund dog breeds
Dachshunds are those adorable German dogs that look like sausages walking around. They are smart, brave, and excellent guard dogs, and people love them for their large personalities. These popular dogs can also exhibit the merle gene and feature either a blue or red merle color pattern.
The blue merle coloring is not particularly common in Dachshunds, but it’s an acceptable color for breed registries. A Merle Dachshund can have either long or short hair. Typically, merle genes are dominant over the other coat color genes, so when breeding a non-merle dog with merle dogs, statistically there’s a good chance o getting one puppy in a litter of four puppies to have a merle-colored coat.
Known for its dependability, courage, and friendliness, the Great Dane is a graceful giant. Capable of being protective and aggressive when needed, the Great Dane can be a powerful protector against an unwelcome guest. All the blue merle Great Danes I’ve met are just gentle giants – making them perfect for families. A double merle Great Dane is prone to deafness so I discourage seeking merle patterns in favor of health.
This purebred giant can be found in several different color patterns that include cryptic merle, dilute, harlequin, and merle. A Great Dane merle dog can be an extremely beautiful pet and is a rare pattern that is sought by many Great Dane lovers. Despite their massive size, I find that Great Danes are just cuddle bugs.
Cardigan Welsh Corgi
A Merle Cardigan Welsh Corgi is very high in demand, so they tend to be pretty expensive. This very loyal dog has traditionally been used as a shepherd dog. The average Corgi weighs between 11 and 15 kg and stands up to 13 inches.
I find these breeds to be excellent companions and it’s no wonder the late Queen Elizabeth loved them so much! The Cardigan Welsh Corgi lives on average for 14 years. It’s a beautiful breed that features a white and tan coat, but the Corgi is capable of carrying the merle gene, which can result in a beautiful merle coat.
A Shetland Sheepdog is sometimes also considered a tri-color Sheltie that has had its color altered. The Shetland Sheepdog has a long coat that has a blue-grey appearance thanks to the black hair he has. The color modification genes also give these gorgeous dogs a sable merle and the occasional blue eye or two as well as their characteristic coat appearance. Remember, that a breeder shouldn’t cross two blue merle dog breeds of the Shetland variety as they can have puppies that are born deaf.
Chihuahua dog breeds
An irresistible pup to many dog breeders, the Merle Chihuahua is sought after for its rare color pattern. Merle Chihuahuas typically have a mottled coat that features black or blue spots. They are also born as chocolate-patterned Chihuahuas. Charming, loving, and bold, Chihuahuas are a popular breed that is also very energetic and spirited.
Descendants of the Koolie dogs that were brought to Australia from Great Britain hundreds of years ago, the Australian Koolies are hard-working and scrappy. This Merle breed can be found in two color variations, either the blue or red merle. It’s also possible for Australian Koolie Merles to have a nose and eye color that resembles their coat. A great service dog, the Australian Koolie Merle is very intelligent and energetic, but destructive without proper exercise.
Pit Bull Merle
The Merle Pit Bull looks like a regular Pit Bull except for the light coat that includes dark splotches. They can also have odd or blue-colored eyes and it’s not uncommon for this breed to have one brown and one blue eye. The Pit Bull Merle features a flat head with perky ears, a short tail, and a beautiful muzzle.
A natural working dog, the Beauceron Merle is a French dog that is often used in police work. They need to be trained and socialized early if you want them to not be aggressive in a social situation. This Merle breed is a great protector that can end up controlling its owner. In my fostering days, I’ve only come across this breed once and it was definitely a memorable experience!
A Merle Pomeranian is known for his diluted blue fur. This small dog features a coat color that can alter the dog’s eye rim color, pads, nose, and eyes. These dogs are a perky bunch that is generally pretty sweet.
Catahoula Leopard Dog
Featuring a leopard-like coat, the Catahoula features the merle gene, so you can get them in a range of colors, including blue merles. Plus, their short coat makes grooming super easy. This medium-sized dog is very protective of their family, and they are great jogging partner.
Known for its smooth or rough face, the breed also features eyes with an almond shape and a well-supported, but long body. This medium-sized dog has a triangular-shaped head and slightly rounded ribs. Affectionate and energetic, the Pyrenean Shepherd is enthusiastic and expressive even with the merle pattern.
Old English Sheepdog
Another herding dog on this list, the Old English Sheepdog dates back to 19th century England. Capable of producing a merle pattern, this intelligent, big-hearted, and playful breed is super gentle and affectionate, which makes him a great dog for a family with children.
A great herder, the Hungarian Mudi is a medium-sized dog from Eastern Europe. It sports a dark coat with blue splotches. Although it’s not recognized officially by the American Kennel Club, this is a pure breed with the merle gene that allows it to be a great Miscellaneous Class participant.
An adorable crossbreed of a Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle, the Cockapoo is really everything a dog owner wants in a dog. This hybrid also carries the Merle gene, but it isn’t recognized officially by the AKC. I find that there are lots of Merle breeds not recognized by the AKC like Merle poodles and American Staffordshire Terrier with a Merle coat color.
Are merle dog breeds unhealthy?
The Merle gene affects the dog’s health, but that doesn’t the dog will always have health issues. However, there is a higher amount of health issues in breeding Merle allele like blindness and deafness than in the non-Merle allele. Note though that not every Merle dog has these issues. Actually, most of them don’t. Studies have found that the risk of deafness in a merle dog is less than those found in certain breeds like Dalmatians and white Bull Terriers. Most of the issues actually seem to come from dogs that are a result of two merle dogs breeding or double Merles. Double merles are more likely to suffer from the health problems mentioned above.
A double-merle dog has a higher chance of having health issues since double-merle puppies have a direct association with auditory defects, ocular defects, and an increased possibility of sunburn from skin exposure. This does not mean that all double-merle dogs will suffer from these issues. Some double-merle dogs are able to live happy and healthy lives. But it is still a big risk, and a responsible breeder will strictly follow non-merle dog breeding. Others simply avoid double-merle breeding or make sure they don’t produce double-merles.
What does merle mean in dogs?
In a dog, merle alleles will lead to beautiful and interesting variations due to breeding that is a result of having one parent that has the merle gene. This type of patterning in some breeds is a distinguishing trait and is found in Dachshunds, Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, and Great Danes. In fact, it’s the merle gene that plays a vital role when we see the harlequin coat in a Great Dane.
Why are merle dogs expensive?
Basically, because they are very rare, especially for other breeds, merle pattern in dogs are harder to find and therefore more valuable. For example, the Merle French Bulldog is a high-demand breed that is difficult to find, which is due to the difficulty in breeding them.
These expensive puppies require two Merle French bulldog parents to create a Merle French Bulldog puppy or at least a Merle dog that is from a different breed to produce a new Merle Frenchie. A Merle French Bulldog exhibits a rare pattern that gives them a different look from the other French bulldogs that makes them stand out. They are also desirable since they retain the same cuteness and small size that other Frenchies have. They are also super easy to groom and don’t need a lot of exercise.
Other reasons that Merle French Bulldogs have such a high price will depend on the breeder. The price can also depend on the dog’s coloring. A Merle French bulldog comes in different colors like blue, black, and lilac, but it’s the lilac coloring that is the rarest and will cost the most.
How do I know if my dog is Merle?
The merle coloring on a dog is not always apparent, and the dog’s color isn’t always enough to determine if he is displaying the merle gene or not. This is due to some dogs just having darker coloring than others. From my experience, the best way to is to consult with a veterinarian or use a dog DNA test kit that can make a definite determination. Note that there is a phantom merle or a cryptic merle dog which means that it carries the merle gene but still has a solid coat.