This writing is meant to be as basic as possible with no use of technical terms. It is meant to answer some of the questions ASCA receives and to help the novice and beginning breeder. The information contained here is regarding the body color of Aussies without discussion of white or copper trim.
The basic body colors of Australian Shepherds are red and black. 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).
The red merle is genetically a red dog carrying a merling gene (which breaks up the red color into a pattern of red patches on beige).
IMPORTANT!! 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, gray/slate, diluted red, and blond. 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 characteristics 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.
BLACK IS DOMINANT OVER RED!!!
Keeping this in mind, the rules for Aussie color are constant and simple:
- A dog with two black genes is BLACK/BLACK- He appears BLACK
- A dog with one black gene and one red gene is BLACK/RED he appears BLACK
- A dog with two red genes is RED/RED- He appears RED
All properly colored Australian Shepherds are one of these three!Remember, each parent will give ONE GENE to each puppy. Important: Again, black refers to solid black and blue merle. Red refers to solid red and red merle.
- (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.
- (BLACK/RED) will produce black or red pups. When it passes on its black gene, black pups will result. When it passes on its 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".
- (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.
REMEMBER AGAIN! ALL ABOVE REFERENCES TO BLACK REFERS TO BLACK AND BLUE MERLES. ALL REFERENCES TO RED INCLUDES RED AND RED MERLES.
Some Additional Facts Regarding Color
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 coloring on a blue merle should be a base color of jet black with all merling patches some shade of gray. Merling that has a rusty appearance is not desirable.
IDEAL coloring on a red merle is a base color ofliver or dark mahogany with all merling patches some shade of lighter red.
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).