The Shetland Sheepdog’s Coat of Many Colors
The variations and diversity in the coat colors of the Shetland Sheepdog help make the Sheltie such an interesting and special breed.
Without delving into the genetics, for our purposes we’ll say that there are three basic colors for the Shetland Sheepdog. Within these three groups there are varying amounts of white and/or tan markings and various sub-groups as well. The three main color groups are:
A sable Shetland Sheepdog shows a coat color ranging from gold or ginger, through mahogany, marked with differing amounts of white and/or tan. The darker coats (mahogany) usually have abundant black hairs over the tan in the primary coat. These are called “shaded sables”. The entire hair may be black, or it may be only black tipped. Some sable Shelties have very little black overlay at all. There are also sables, both light and dark, that have a red appearance to their coats, thus the term “red sables.” Most sables have white markings, and can vary from prominent to almost non-existent.
Visit the Sable Shetland Sheepdog Photo Gallery to view more gorgeous photos.
A little more rare, but occurs none-the-less, is the sable merle. This color variant occurs when the merle pattern is superimposed on a sable color to dilute some of the black hair to blue as in the Blue Merle color group. See Blue Merle for a further explanation of the merling gene.
Black Shelties that have a body coat color consisting of solid black hairs with varying amounts of white markings are called bi-black.
Visit the Bi-Black Shetland Sheepdog Photo Gallery to view more gorgeous photos.
Black Shetland Sheepdogs can also be tri-color, in which case the Sheltie can have tan points on the cheeks and throat, inside the ears, above the eyes, under the tail and on the legs.
Visit the Tri-Color Shetland Sheepdog Photo Gallery to view more gorgeous photos.
Blue Merle Shelties are genetically black, but the coat color has been modified by the merling gene. This merling gene dilutes the black coat to a silver grey, making them appear to be a mottled silver and black, usually with random black patches. Blue merle occurs when a genetically tri-color or bi-black Sheltie also carries the merle gene. The name, blue merle is used when a Sheltie shows blue merle, tan and white. The tan markings can be on the face and/or the legs.
Visit the Blue Merle Shetland Sheepdog Photo Gallery to view more gorgeous photos.
The term bi-blue refers to a blue merle Sheltie that lacks the tan points.
Visit the Bi-Blue Merle Shetland Sheepdog Photo Gallery to view more gorgeous photos.
A third blue merle group, much smaller, yet a valid blue merle nonetheless, is called a cryptic blue merle. A cryptic blue merle is a Sheltie who appears to be a tri-color or bi-color black. (The amount of black may vary from even flecking to actually more black than blue.) If one looks closer though, they will see a small amount of merling somewhere on the body. These shelties are genetically merles, and will reproduce merle offspring just like any other merle.
Another feature that differentiates the blue merle from the other groups is the fact that they may have either brown or blue eyes. (Or even one of each!) The blue merle may also have “merle eyes”, in which the eyes have the appearance of being both brown and blue. Blue merle eye color is otherwise normal in every way and is no indication of any problem with vision.
If two merles are bred together, there is a one in four chance of producing a “double merle”, meaning that the offspring can have two merle genes, one from each parent.
Unfortunately, this situation produces offspring that generally have defective hearing and/or defective vision, along with other problems, including the heart. The “double merle” generally shows primarily white on its head and body. The ears and nose can show mainly pink.
Visit the Double Merle Shetland Sheepdog Photo Gallery to view more gorgeous photos.
The White Factor
The white factor gene is a color modifier that controls the amount of white on the body. Typical white markings occur in what is called the Irish or Dutch pattern: white feet and legs, white collar and bib, white tail tip, white muzzle and chin, and white blaze (the white stripe that travels from the nose to the top of the head). White factored dogs are most commonly indicated by a larger white tip on the tail and/or white along the stifle (the front of the hind legs). A good indication of a white factor Sheltie (but not always so), is when the white on the stifle connects with the white on the belly.
A Sheltie with two white factor genes is called a “color-headed white” or CHW. A CHW has a predominantly white body along with a colored head. The genetics that create a CHW are different than those that produce a double merle white. Unlike double merles (which also are white, but usually don’t have a colored head), color-headed whites are perfectly normal in every way. The only difference between a CHW and the other colors is the amount of white on their bodies. CHWs can come in any of the Sheltie colors – sable, bi-black or blue merle (along with any of the divergent color groups as well). They can also come in many patterns. The most predominant pattern in a CHW is a colored head and a white body. The chances of getting a color-headed white when breeding two white-factored Shelties, are one in four.
Visit the Color Headed White Shetland Sheepdog Photo Gallery to view more gorgeous photos.