With their unique spotted patterns and distinctive eyes, these merle breeds will certainly make you look twice…
Just like us, dogs have many characteristics that make them unique. Merle dog breeds are canines that primarily have the merle pattern, a set of spots that appear on their coats, usually in red (merle liver), black or gray (merle blue) spots.
This phenomenon is due to genetics: if a dog inherits one dominant and one recessive copy of the same gene from its parents, it will have a standard merle coat (Mm), but you may also have heard of a double merle coat in a dog (MM). This can occur if a dog inherits two dominant copies, resulting in a coat that, despite what the name suggests, has fewer merle spots, but is widely considered irresponsible by breeders who seek to breed dogs not only for aesthetic purposes, but also for their welfare.
Another characteristic of the merle dog is that it can have different colored eyes, for example a blue and a brown. A good example is the affectionate and loyal Australian Shepherd. Not only does it have the typical blackbird markings on its coat, but it is often seen with one eye different from the other.
The blackbird should not be confused with the markings seen on brindle breeds, which are typically tabby stripes on the coat, but this is a trait that is also inherited from the parents’ genes.
Let’s take a closer look at 10 of the most popular merle dog breeds, each with its own unique characteristics.
- The Border Collie
When you picture the beautiful Border Collie, you probably think of its distinctive black and white coat. In general, Border Collies are mostly black with a white chest, muzzle and legs, but they can also have a merle coat, which gives them a similar appearance, but not to be confused with the Australian Shepherd.
Border Collies actually come in shades of blue, red and sable, but the merle pattern is the least common of all the coat traits.
- Great Dane
Measuring up to 50 cm at the shoulders, the gentle Great Dane has a majestic appearance thanks to its above-average size. Many dog people think of the Great Dane’s coat as black, blue or tan, but the merle pattern is typically a light to dark gray coat, covered with darker patches. It is rare to see a white Great Dane, as it is created when a Great Dane puppy has two merle genes.
- The Australian Shepherd
Did you know that at least 40% of all Aussies are merle? So how do you tell the difference between a merle Aussie and a non-merle Aussie?
Although Australian Shepherds also come in red, white, black and tan, the merle coat is characterized by dark spots on a light coat. The blue merle dog has black spots on gray, while the red merle dog has red spots on beige.
- The Dachshund
The soft-natured Dachshund can have a long, short or wiry coat, with black and tan being the most common color. There is, however, the spotted dachshund, which is another way of saying “merle” in the wiener dog world. It is not seen very often, but it can appear in all three coat types.
- The Catahoula Leopard Dog
Another breed frequently cited as an example of a blackbird is the Catahoula Leopard Dog, a lesser-known American dog breed named after the parish of Catahoula, Louisiana. As the name suggests, this breed tends to have a leopard-like coat, which is due to, you guessed it, the merle gene.
The breed also comes in solid colors, but the merle coat doesn’t usually cover the entire body of the Catahoula, but only certain parts.
- French Bulldog
Have you ever seen a merle French bulldog? No ? This can be explained by the fact that these dogs are rather rare. While most French Bulldogs are brindle, white, fawn or tan, the blue merle French Bulldog is the rarest color of all in this breed group.
- English Bulldog
It is rare to see an English Bulldog merle, but they do exist. There are actually three types of merle types in this breed: a dilute merle that is essentially a blue merle, just without the dark gray, a cryptic merle that may carry the merle gene but has a classic appearance, and merlequins that have merle spots on a classic colored coat.
You might think that a merle Chihuahua is the rarest color of all in this group of dog breeds, but it’s actually a white caused by a lack of pigmentation. Merle versions of this breed, however, are generally popularized as a “rare” color pattern, which is controversial among breeders who believe in developing good health and positive attributes in their dogs rather than purely cosmetic colorings for money.
- The Welsh Corgi Cardigan
The merle pattern is only found in the Welsh Corgi Cardigan, typically not in the Pembroke breed. A Welsh Corgi Cardigan merle can be of many colors such as sable, brindle, black, gray or red, but blue is generally considered the predominant color that classifies this breed.
An Australian Shepherd Dog, the Koolie can be solid or merle in color. The breed comes in a wide variety of colors, including black, red, chocolate, cream, fawn and lilac, with the merle variety having large darker color patches that are usually red and chocolate for red merles or black and gray for blue merles.
Mating two merle dogs has a high risk of creating vision and hearing defects in the offspring.