There are 2 basic coat colors in Shelties, sable and black. These 2
colors are found in 3 different combinations, sable and white ("sable"), black and white ("bicolor
or bi-black"), and black, white
and tan ("tricolor" or "tri"). Each dog carries 2
genes for color.
Sable is dominant over both tricolor and bi-black. Any dog that
has a sable
gene, will be a sable, regardless of what other color gene it carries. A
sable can be a wide range of shades, from golden brown or red to dark brown with
heavy black shading. Some people erroneously think that a sable with black
shading is a tricolor. If a dog's predominant coat color is brown or red, it is
a sable, regardless of how much black overlay the coat exhibits.
is a black and white dog with tan points (small areas of tan above the eyes, on
the sides of the face and possibly on the legs. If
a dog has a sable gene and a tricolor gene, it is referred to as a
"tri-factored sable," meaning that it can pass on either a sable or a
tricolor gene. A sable with a bi-black gene is called a "bi-factored
Tricolor is dominant over bi-black, so a tricolor can have either 2
genes for tricolor or one for tricolor and one for bi-black (referred to as a
"bi-factored tri"). Since the bi-black gene is recessive to both
other combinations, a bi-black can only have 2 genes for bi-black.
The merle gene is a color modifier that acts on the basic coat color and
produces a mottled pattern and can also produce blue eyes. This gene is in
addition to the 2 color genes that each dog carries. A dog with a merle
gene will be a merle. A sable with a merle gene is referred to as a sable
merle. Merling in a sable coat is more subtle than it is in a black
coat. In a black coat, the merle gene produces a pattern of varying
shades of gray with black patches. Although the term "blue
merle" actually denotes this gray blue pattern, breeders most often refer
to a tricolor dog with the merle gene (blue merle, white and tan) as a blue
merle, and a bi-black dog with the merle gene (blue merle and white) as a bi-blue.
If 2 merles are bred together, the offspring can have 2 merle
genes, one from each parent. These are referred to as "double
merles," and most often are blind and/or deaf to some degree. For
this reason, merle to merle breedings are not done by most breeders.
The white factor gene is a color modifier that affects the amount of
white on a dog. Unlike the merle gene, a dog with only one white factor
gene may not be easy to distinguish. White factored dogs often will have a
larger white tip on the tail and/or white along the stifle (the front edge of
the hind leg). However, there are dogs with these markings that are not
white factored, as well as white factored dogs that have very little
white. Where the white factor gene becomes readily apparent is when a dog
receives 2 white factor genes, from breeding 2 white factored dogs
together. A dog with 2 white factor genes is called a "color-headed
white" (CHW) and has a normally colored head and a predominantly white
body. In contrast to the double merle, (which also looks white, but does
not have a normally colored head), color-headed whites are perfectly normal in
every way. The only difference between them and the other
colors is the amount of white on their bodies.