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How many Australian Shepherd colors are there?

Updated: Jul 10

My mom has had a handful of dogs throughout her life, all of which have been Australian Shepards. The most recent couple have been blue merles. My dad has a beautiful tri-colored merle... though that isn't actually a recognized color... which lead me to wonder what colors are there?


While there are many theories as to the origin of the Australian Shepherd, the breed as we know it today developed exclusively in the United States. The Australian Shepherd was given its name because of their association with the Basque sheepherders who came to the United States from Australia in the 1800’s. The Aussie popularity rose rapidly with the boom of western riding after World War II, becoming known to the general public via rodeos, horse shows, movies and television.


Their inherent versatility and trainability made them useful on American farms and ranches. The American stockmen continued the development of the breed, maintaining the versatility, keen intelligence, strong herding instinct and eye-catching appearance, known mostly for their piercing gazing.

Australian Shepherds have been registered by various registries since the early 1950’s. In 1990, the United States Australian Shepherd Association was established as the parent club of the Australian Shepherd representing the breed to the American Kennel Club. On September 1, 1991, the AKC recognized the Australian Shepherd breed and on January 1, 1993, accepted them into the Herding Group.


There are four accepted colors of the breed:

1. Black which is frequently, but not necessarily, accompanied by white markings on the face, chest, legs, and belly. Copper points are also commonly seen on the face and legs.

Black coated Aussies may be:

  • black and white with copper points – familiarly called “black tri” instead of the more formal black tricolor

  • black and white – known as “black bi” for black bicolor

  • solid black

Black Aussies usually have brown colored eyes, although they may occasionally have one or both eyes that are blue.


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.


2. Blue merle which is a marbling of gray/silver and black, often creating a “blue” effect, hence the name “blue merle.” The shades of gray can range from light silver to dark smoke, and the black spots can be small specks to very large patches, creating a wide variety of interesting combinations. Blue merle Aussies may also have white markings on the face, chest, legs, and belly. Copper points are also commonly seen on the face and legs. So this type of Aussie may be:

  • solid blue merle

  • blue merle and white

  • blue merle, white, and copper

Blue merle Aussies may have solid colored eyes, but frequently the eyes will be “marbled” or flecked with other colors. So a blue merle Aussie could have blue eyes marbled with brown, or vice versa. It could also have a blue eye and a brown eye. Blue eyes are much more common in the merles than in the solid color black and red Aussies.


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.


3. Red which ranges from light cinnamon to a darker liver color

Red tri Aussies can range in color from light cinnamon to dark liver, but overall have a light to dark “red” aspect. They may also have white markings on the face, chest, legs, and under parts. Copper points are also commonly seen on the face and legs. A “red” Aussie may be:

  • red and white with copper points – “red tri” as this is called, meaning red tricolor

  • red and white – “red bi” for red bicolor

  • solid red

Red Aussies usually have amber colored eyes, although they may occasionally have one or both eyes that are blue.


4. Red merle – a marbling of red and silver or buff. The red can be light cinnamon to dark liver color, on a background that can range from buff to silver. Just as the background color can vary, so can the color and size of the red areas. Spots can be small speckles to patches that cover large areas of the dog. Red merles may also have white markings on the face, chest, legs, and belly. Copper points are also commonly seen on the face and legs. A red merle Aussie may be:

  • solid red merle

  • red merle and white

  • red merle, white, and copper

Red merle Aussies may have solid colored eyes, but frequently the eyes will be “marbled” or flecked with other colors. So a red merle Aussie could have blue eyes marbled with brown, or vice versa. It could also have a blue eye and a brown eye. Blue eyes are much more common in the merles than in the solid color black and red Aussies.




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