The Varieties of Sheltie Coat Color and Markings

Dog lovers are in the know when it comes to the importance of coat color. Breeders can relate to this issue the most; after all, who doesn’t want the colors to adhere and be consistent with the breed standards as much as possible?

Shelties’ coat colors, the topic of this article, genetically come in only two shades: black and brown. As expected many terms are used to denote the different shades of a sheltie.

Sable shelties are brown or black, with coats that can either be yellowish then darkening to mahogany. Darker ones appear so, due to black “guard” hairs dotting the brown. Some sables have a red cast to their coats, which explains the term “red sables.” White markings will vary in terms of prominence; sometimes, they are almost unnoticeable. The AKC rules that Sables are sables with a bit of white, black or red cast.

Black shelties are registered as tri-colors in case of tan and white shades, or bi-blacks in case they are marked with white alone. “Rusting” is a term for black shelties with a coppery cast to their coat.  While rusting is frowned upon in the show ring, this has no impact whatsoever on the nature of the dog as pets.

Blue merles are genetically black, but their color has been affected by the merling gene. The result is that the dog looks silver and black, with black patches too. These dogs also have blue or brown eyes (or one of each), or merle eyes, which can either be brown or blue. Fortunately, merle eyes are not the sign of any lurking vision issue.

In the case of a white sheltie, the dog can be called color-headed white. The extent of this “white factor” will decide the Irish markings, which are remembered as the colors of Lassie, but are not needed for show. The factor can be so extensive sometimes, that a dog only has color on its back, or only has a few patches of color. While the AKC currently is not in favor of any show sheltie that is more than 50% white, color-headed whites are nevertheless perfect for non-AKC shows, as pets or as obedience dogs.

Merle-merle breedings result to white “double” merles. This type has a great deal of white on its head as well as its body. They are not recommended as pets, given the risk of heart problems, and the risk of blindness (unless there is a patch over an eye) or of deafness (unless a patch covers an ear).

Aside from the double merle, shelties make excellent pets. Moreover, there does not seem to be any link with a dog’s coat color and its degree of trainability. When it comes to demand, sables are popular with enthusiasts, but breed fanciers still go for blue merles and tri-colors.