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Australian Shepherd Colors: Standard And Non-Standard

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Last Updated: October 10, 2023 | 8 min read | Leave a Comment

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The Australian Shepherd, sweetly named the Aussie, is a popular dog breed in America. Not everyone knows that they aren’t Australian. Their descendants, the Pyrenean Shepherd, originate from the border of France and Spain, whose owners then traveled to Australia. But they didn’t stay in Australia long because the land was barren. So they moved to America’s cowboy country, where they perfected the breed, making them some of the best herders around and true American sweethearts.

Aussies are intelligent and work-oriented and need a very active family to keep them happy and healthy. Their exuberant zest for life and family-friendly nature make them great family companions. Plus, their coat is so beautiful, adding to their flamboyant charm. Sadly, many people take these dogs on because of their beautiful coats, not realizing how much exercise and mental stimulation they need.

You might be wondering how many Australian Shepherd coat colors there are. Well, the American Kennel Club (AKC) lists four colors as standard, but each coat color has many variations. There are also a few non-standard coat colors that are very rare and one color that you should avoid due to a very high risk of health problems. Let’s learn about Aussie coat colors and everything you need to know about them.

Australian Shepherd Breed Standard

The Australian Shepherd breed standard sets out the ideal appearance and personality of show-standard Aussie Sheps. Unless you want to show them in the conformation ring, treat them as guidelines rather than necessity. All that matters is that your Aussie is healthy and happy. Here’s what their breed standard says about Australian Shepherd colors:

Blue merle, black, red merle, red-all with or without white markings and/or tan (copper) points, with no order of preference. The hairline of a white collar does not exceed the point of the withers at the skin. White is acceptable on the neck (either in part or as a full collar), chest, legs, muzzle underparts, blaze on head and white extension from underpart up to four inches, measuring from a horizontal line at the elbow. White on the head should not predominate, and the eyes must be fully surrounded by color and pigment. Merles characteristically become darker with increasing age.

American Kennel Club

Standard Australian Shepherd Colors

There are four standard colors in the Australian Shepherd breed, but each coat has several variations. We have listed each variation under their primary coat color, sometimes called the base color. Some coat colors are rarer than others, and some are more desirable too, which can lead to higher puppy prices. Let’s look at the wide variety of Aussie coat colors.

Black

Black Australian Shepherd sitting outside
Black Aussies come in a variety of color combos.

There are four variations of Aussie black coats, each with different patterns. Black-coated Aussies are often confused for their canine cousin, the Border Collie. Let’s take a closer look.

Solid Black

Solid black Aussies are very rare. Aussies with black coats and a tiny white patch on their chest are still solid black. Not only are they rarer, but they are also probably the least popular color, too, because of their simple one-color coat.

Black & White Bicolor

Aussies with a black and white bicolor coat are the most likely to be mistaken for Border Collies. The coat is primarily black but with white markings around the face, chest, belly, and legs. These coats are sometimes referred to as “black bi.”

Black & Tan Bicolor

Black and tan Aussies are the second-rarest black color, after the solid black coat. The majority of their coat is solid black, with tan or copper markings around their face, chest, and legs, similar to a Doberman Pinscher. The tan markings range from intense chestnut to light caramel. This coat color combo is why many people mistake them for a German Shepherd cross.

Black Tricolor

Black tricolor coats are one of the most common but still one of the most popular. The coat is more black than any other color, and the white markings appear on the face, chest, belly, and legs. The tan/copper highlights usually appear on the face and legs. This coat causes them to be confused with a Bernese Mountain Dog.

Blue Merle

Blue Merle Australian Shepherd standing outside
Merle is one of the most striking coats in the doggy kingdom.

A blue merle coat consists of irregular black blotches of fur on a lighter gray coat. Blue and partially blue eyes are common in merle dogs, as is heterochromia, which is two different eye colors. There are four blue merle variations.

Solid Blue Merle

A solid blue merle Aussie has a gray basecoat with irregular black blotches, causing a marble effect. The black blotches can be large or consist of tiny specks, making each merle coat unique. The black and the gray together create a blue effect, which is why it is called blue merle. The gray can be intensely dark and smoke-like, or it can be light silver, which is so light it can be mistaken for white.

Blue Merle & White Bicolor

A blue merle and white bicolor coat is similar to a solid blue merle, but there is a subtle difference. Blue merle and white bicolors have a blue merle basecoat but with white markings on the face, legs, and chest.

Blue Merle & Tan Bicolor

Like the blue merle and white bicolor coat, this coat has tan markings instead of white. This coat color is scarce because when tan appears in this breed, it usually comes with white. The tan comes in various shades of intense chestnut or light copper. The tan markings typically appear around the face, chest, and legs.

Blue Merle Tricolor

A blue merle tricolor Aussie is the same as a blue merle bicolor coat but with extra tan markings. The tan markings appear around the face, legs, chest, and belly. This is one of the most striking coat colors because of the contrasting mix between white, black, tan, and gray.

Red

Red Australian Shepherd face up close
A red coat results from both parents passing the rare recessive red gene.

The red color gene is recessive in dogs, which means that red Aussie coats and their variations are some of the rarest. Unfortunately, some irresponsible breeders inbreed red relatives to increase the chances of having red pups. This significantly increases the chances of genetic defects and health problems. If you want a red Aussie, please work with a breeder with a random red puppy in their litter rather than breeding reds for colors. Ask to see their parents. There are three red variations to consider.

Solid Red

Solid red is the rarest standard color in the Aussie bloodline. They range from dark chestnut to light cinnamon and all the hues in between. Some red coats are so light they appear copper or gold. Most red-coated Sheps have similar color eyes, ranging from amber to brown. It is rare for them to have blue eyes or heterochromia.

Red Bicolor

A red bicolor Aussie has a red coat base with white markings, which is why they are sometimes called “red and white Aussies.” These markings are usually on their face, chest, and legs, and sometimes the white markings around the chest cover their neck like a collar. Like the solid red coat, the red shades can vary from deep chestnut to light copper.

Red Tricolor

Red tricolor coats are the same as red bicolors but have additional coppery-tan markings, usually around their face and legs. The white markings are typically on their legs, chests, faces, and sometimes necks.

Red Merle

Red Merle Australian Shepherd face sitting outside
There are three red merle coat variations.

A red merle coat has irregular blotches of darker brown fur on a lighter tan background. Red merles often have uniquely pretty eyes that are usually amber, blue, or brown, sometimes with contrasting colored spots, known as flecking or marbling. There are three red merle variations to look at.

Solid Red Merle

A solid red merle is very similar to red merle bicolors, but there is a subtle difference between the two. Solid red merles have darker brown or red fur blotches on a lighter tan coat. The blend of the red shades offers a stunning marble effect, often resulting in a shimmery sandstone effect with highlights. Sometimes the lighter parts of the coat are so light they appear white, which is why they are often confused with red merle bicolors.

Red Merle Bicolor

Red merle bicolor coats look super similar to solid red merles, and they are almost always confused with one another. The red merle bicolor coat is a red merle coat but with white markings on the coat. These white markings are usually on the face, chest, belly, and legs. These coats are sometimes called “red merle and white” Aussies.

Red Merle Tricolor

Red merle tricolor Aussies have the red merle basecoat but with additional white and tan markings. Like before, the white markings are usually on the face, chest, belly, and legs, while the tan markings tend to be on the eyes and legs only.

Non-Standard Australian Shepherd Colors

Most Aussies have coats in one of the standard colors above. However, a small minority of pups are born with other coat colors. But because the gene is still in the bloodline, they appear in litters occasionally.

White

White Aussies are rare and usually result from breeding two merle Aussies together, commonly called “double merles” or “lethal whites.” They are usually partially white with slight merle shading or completely white, with very pale eyes. Studies show that the merle color is linked to a higher rate of sight and hearing problems, and double merles are even more at risk. In the United Kingdom, the Kennel Club does not recognize double merles and puppies of double merles to reduce health problems in the breed. Although white Aussies are just as cute as all the other colors here, it’s best to avoid them due to their health issues.

Dilute

A dilute coat is hard to identify and usually mistaken for one of the standard colors. It’s not a color itself but a lighter version of another color, which looks like it has been diluted. For example, dilute red Aussies appear beige and dilute black Aussies appear charcoal gray. The blotches and flecks are diluted, too, as is the color of their features, such as their eyes and nose. Unlike other breeds, a dilute coat isn’t linked to health issues in Aussies.

Yellow

A yellow Aussie is the rarest color, hardly ever seen. Both parents must carry the recessive yellow-color gene for this coat color to appear. Yellow Aussies look a lot like Golden Retrievers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Calculate An Australian Shepherd’s Coat Color?

DNA is not as simple as ABC, and although you can statistically predict the outcome of coat color based on their genes, there is no way to calculate it. Although an Aussie’s coat color is a huge part of their appeal, picking a puppy based on their personality rather than focusing on their coat is essential.

Can An Australian Shepherd’s Coat Color Change?

Like all dog breeds, a dog’s coat can change color over time. This is due to various factors, such as genetics, sunlight exposure, skin conditions, diet, and more. Merle Aussies are the most prone to coat color change, and they can darken slightly with age. At the same time, some red Aussies lighten in color.

What Is The Rarest Australian Shepherd Coat Color?

The rarest coat colors are the non-standard colors, white, dilute, and yellow. The rarest standard colors are solid red and solid black.

What Is The Healthiest Australian Shepherd Coat Color?

The healthiest Australian Shepherd coat colors are the standard colors. Merle coats are linked to an increased risk of health problems in their eyes and ears. When buying a merle puppy, it is essential to ask for their health certificates and establish they aren’t a double merle pup. Double merles are at high risk of multiple health problems. Always work with a responsible breeder who breeds for health over color.

Final Thoughts

There’s a vast range of Aussie coat colors, including standard and non-standard colors. Their coat color variation is one of the reasons why they are so popular. Although the breed standard isn’t necessarily crucial for non-show dogs, picking a puppy with a recognized coat color increases the chances of having a healthy pup for many reasons. The only coat color you definitely should avoid is a white Australian Shepherd due to their high risk of health problems.

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