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18 Merle Dog Breeds

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

cardigan welsh corgi outdoors

There’s no doubt about it. The merle color pattern is striking. Dogs with this trait might also have similar variations on their noses and pads, and one or two blue eyes. Some breeds are more likely to have this coloration than others. It can show up if one or both of the genes for this characteristic are present in the pup’s DNA.

Sometimes, dogs carry the gene but don’t show any signs of it. That’s called a cryptic or phantom merle. A dog that has both merle genes is a double-merle. Unfortunately, this trait can carry other undesirable characteristics, such as hearing or vision problems, if two merle pups are bred. Luckily, there are DNA tests that can determine the genetic makeup of your pooch so that you can avoid mating at-risk dogs.

Nevertheless, it’s worth getting to know these canines and enjoying the uniqueness of their coloration. After all, it wasn’t their fault that nature cast an unfavorable role of the dice for them. Let’s delve into the list of breeds where you may see the color merle appear. Here are the top 18 merle dog breeds you should know:

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Top 18 Merle Dog Breeds:

1. Shetland Sheepdog

shetland sheepdog outdoor
Image Credit: JACLOU-DL, Pixabay

The name of the Shetland Sheepdog shares a common trait with the ponies of the same moniker. Farmers selectively bred both animals smaller because of the scarcity of food in the rugged terrain where they lived. As his name implies, this pooch is a herding dog and still bears quite a resemblance to standard-sized Collies from which they were bred. An early name for the pup was Shetland Collie.

2. Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherd
Image Credit By: Asiabasia, pixabay

The Australian Shepherd is a spirited pooch that enjoys lots of activity and attention. His name would lead you to believe he came from down under, but he’s actually an American dog, selectively bred from European stock. The pup was a favorite of sheepherders from Australia who immigrated to the United States. This merle pooch was a fixture on the rodeo circuit with cowboys.

3. Old English Sheepdog

old english sheep dog
Image Credit: Svetlana Valoueva, Shutterstock

The Old English Sheepdog is an anomaly. His name would imply that it’s an ancient breed, but it’s not. It is English, but only partly so. The pup was a herding dog—for cattle. Nevertheless, he is a handsome pooch that is gentle and affectionate, despite his large size. His lovable personality has captured the hearts of many famous people, including Paul McCartney and J.P. Morgan.

4. Collie

blue border collie
Image Credit: Pikist

The Collie’s origins may stretch back to the days of the Romans. This pooch is the consummate herding dog, hardworking, and easy to train. The pup’s friendly personality has won many fans through the ages, thanks to Queen Victoria and her love of the breed. Across the pond, the Collie captured the hearts of young and old as the heroic and faithful companion, Lassie.

5. American Bully

american bully brown
Image Credit: Pikrepo

The American Bully is a relatively new breed recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC). It is the result of selective breeding to emphasize the shorter and more muscular form. It also tamed down the pup’s prey drive to make him a more desirable pet. Several other breeds contributed to the final standard, including the French Bulldog. Interestingly, UKC considers merle a disqualification.

6. Beauceron

Although the Beauceron’s history goes back to the Middle Ages, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed relatively recently in 2007.  It is a French herding dog, known for his gentle manner. His coloration is unique with a jet black coat and rust-colored legs, which have earned him the nickname, Red Stockings.

7. Chihuahua

chihuahua enjoying sunlight
Image Credit: Jumpstory


There’s no mistaking the feisty personality of the Chihuahua. Even though he usually isn’t heavier than 6 pounds, he has the fearless nature of a dog many times his size. Many pups with the merle trait experience negative health consequences. That has prompted the Chihuahua Club of America to recommend genetic testing before breeding.

8. Pomeranian

merle pomeranian
Image Credit: Jumpstory

It’s hard to believe that the small Pomeranian was once a much larger dog on the order of other Spitz breeds like the Chow Chow. Selective breeding by Queen Victoria reduced the pup’s size to put it in AKC’s Toy Group. Like the Chihuahua, the Pom sometimes forgets how little he is. He is an affectionate pooch that is easy to train.

9. Great Dane

Fawn great dane standing outdoor during snowy day
Image Credit: Dmussman, Shutterstock

The imposing figure of the Great Dane is hard to ignore. Despite his size, he is truly a gentle giant. They have been faithful companions for thousands of years with a history that goes back to 3000 B.C. He is such a lovable pooch that it’s hard to believe he once hunted wild boars. This pup is a handsome dog with merle, an accepted color, according to the AKC.

10. Dachshund

Image Credit: Liliya Kulianionak, Shutterstock

Size is no barrier for the spirited Dachshund. His name in German means “badger dog.” You know you’re dealing with a fearless dog, considering his prey could easily outweigh him. Enough said. You’ll see Doxies in smooth, long-haired, or wire-haired coat variations. The Dachshund has a long history in Europe, going back hundreds of years. AKC recognized the breed in 1885.

11. Border Collie

merle border collie
Image Credit: Pxhere

The energy level of the Border Collie is evident when you look at him. Here is a dog that needs a job and wants to run. He is extremely intelligent, too, which means that he must have mental stimulation to avoid bad habits from developing. His history goes back to the time of the Romans. This pup can do it all, from herding to agility trials. He’ll even round up the kids for you.

12. Cardigan Welsh Corgi

cardigan welsh corgi at the garden
Image Credit: Nicky Shearman, Pixabay

The Cardigan Welsh Corgi packs a lot of energy in a small package. Cardiganshire, Wales, is the inspiration for the breed’s name. His short height gives him an advantage when working with cattle. As you may guess, a pup working this job has a courageous demeanor. He differs from his close relative, the Pembroke Corgi, in that he has a tail.

13. Hungarian Mudi

Image Credit: Joe Barti, Shutterstock

The Hungarian Mudi is the dog you want on the job if you have livestock that fight herding. He’ll get it done. The breed has a long history in Eastern Europe before the AKC put him in the Miscellaneous Class. Merle is an accepted color.  Unlike many herding dogs, the Mudi still fulfills this role even today in his native country.

14. American Pit Bull Terrier

The American Pit Bull Terrier is all muscle. He is a dog that has the goods to back up his bark. Heis an excellent example of selective breeding to bring out the best in this canine. The terrier in him brings the feistiness that defines the group. Confidence is a desirable quality in this pooch. Merle, however, is a fault with the UKC breed standard.

15. Catahoula Leopard Dog

Catahoula Leopard Dog
Image Credit By: Eudyptula, shutterstock

The Catahoula Leopard Dog is an all-American breed with origins in Louisiana, despite the exotic name. He is an independent pup that is better for an experienced pet owner than a novice. He’s the Heinz 57 of canines that includes a mix of Greyhounds and Mastiffs. It gives him a formidable appearance, although he is a sweetheart that is an affectionate and loyal companion.

16. Cockapoo

This mix of the Cocker Spaniel and Poodle is an adorable pup that brings together the best with two lovable breeds. This pooch has everything you could want in a dog. He is affectionate and kid-friendly. He’s easy to train and very playful. It’s not an official breed recognized by the AKC, but that doesn’t take away from the many loyal enthusiasts of this hybrid.

17. Cocker Spaniel

colonial cocker spaniel
Image Credit: kerswelljohn, Pixabay

There’s so much to love about the Cocker Spaniel. He is such a happy, go-lucky dog! He started as a companion for bird hunters. That set the stage for a loyal and affectionate pooch. You’ll see both English and American variants. We adore them both! The pup got his—or more correctly her—15 minutes with the movie, Lady and the Tramp.

18. Pyrenean Shepherd


The Pyrenean Shepherd has a murky history, but he’s a keeper, nonetheless. He’s a small dog, yet he makes up for his size with plenty of spunk. He is an ancient breed, although he is a recent addition to the AKC honor roll. He has the energy and intelligence that you’d expect to find in a pup with this job. That makes him an excellent choice for other circuits, such as agility.

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Merle Dogs: Final Thoughts

The merle color variation is striking and draws your attention. It is a beautiful combination of unique hues, and none are ever alike. Not many dog breeds can claim these same bragging rights. Unfortunately, there are unintended consequences associated with it. It’s essential, therefore, to do your homework. Investigate the standards and follow the advice of the breed clubs.

In the meantime, we can appreciate the striking color combinations of these 18 merle dog breeds, knowing that they are truly one of a kind.

Featured Image Credit: Svetlbel, Pixabay

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