Colors of a Rare Coat on a Collie

Most people picture the sable-colored dog, similar to Lassie, when they picture a rough collie.

Most people picture the sable-colored dog, similar to Lassie, when they picture a rough collie.

The American kennel clubs, AKC and UKC, accept four colors in their collie breed standards. The UK Kennel Club accepts only three. Any color existing outside these standards is technically rare. Calling a color rare, however, does not necessarily increase its value either to the buyer or to the breed.

Standard Collie Colors

The American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club limit collie coat colors to four: sable, tricolor, blue merle and white. Sable, tricolor and blue merle dogs also have "Irish" white markings: a white collar, white feet or legs and a white tail tip. Dogs with these markings may also have a white blaze on the face or one that extends up the back of its head. No minimum amount of white is required, but these markings must be present in some degree. The Kennel Club (UK) standard eliminates white as an accepted collie color. The sable collie has a gold-colored coat of varying shades. Each gold hair is tipped with black, creating a shaded appearance. Sable coloration is dominant to the tricolor coloration. Sable, introduced to the collie in 1872 through a dog named Old Cockie, also introduced colors hidden by the sable gene. The tricolor collie is black with tan markings on his lips and cheeks, dots of tan over his eyes and tan markings on all four of his legs when they are not obscured by white markings. The blue merle collie, genetically a tricolor, has an additional pattern gene that dilutes part of its coat color. White collies are rarely pure white. The white “masking” gene covers the dog’s true body color. Patches of color usually bleed through the white, particularly on the dog’s head.

Gunmetal (Slate) Merle

The "gunmetal" or "slate" merle collie has dark gray (blue) markings on a light gray background. It is an unusual border collie color, although not rare for the breed. The gunmetal merle occurs on a tricolor collie when the recessive gene that dilutes colors occurs simultaneously with the dominant gene that causes the marbled merle pattern. Unlike border collies, the recessive dilute gene that causes the dark gray “blue” coat is not present in collie color genes. While gunmetal merles and their blue base color are rare, they are not particularly valuable.

Red Merle

The red merle also appears due to the expression of the recessive dilute gene that causes the “red” or chocolate coat color acting on the tricolor coat in combination with the dominant dilute merle pattern gene. This combination results in a random series of dark red patches over a background of gray. The red merle and its red base color are also rare but not particularly valuable dogs.

Sable Merle

Sable merle is more common than other rare colors; however, it is not particularly well-known. It occurs when the merle pattern gene modifies the sable coat color. No recessive dilute gene is involved; rather, the darkness of the sable merle coat color varies due to the amount of black present on the dog’s individual hairs.


American collie standards allow a white coat color, but a second, unhealthy variety of white coat is often sold as “rare.” Two merle dogs bred together produce a dog with pale color patches on a white background. Dogs from a double merle breeding are usually deaf and are often born blind. The double merle white is indeed rare, but the cost in vet bills will exceed any extra value. Responsible and ethical breeders breed only the white collie with the masking gene, not the double merle.

About the Author

Jo Chester holds a certificate in pet dog training from Triple Crown Academy for Dog Trainers. She has trained dogs for competition in conformation, Rally and traditional obedience and agility. Chester has two goats, chickens, rabbits, a collie and a pet rat, in addition to several much-loved Toy Fox Terriers.

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