The merle color pattern is striking, and dogs with the 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 genes for the characteristic are present in the pup’s DNA.
Sometimes, dogs carry the gene but don’t show any signs of it, which is a cryptic or phantom merle. A dog that has both merle genes is a double-merle. Unfortunately, the 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 your dog’s genetic makeup so that you can avoid mating at-risk dogs.
In this article, we’ll discuss the top 18 merle dog breeds you should know.
Top 18 Merle Dog Breeds
1. Shetland Sheepdog
As the name implies, the Shetland Sheepdog 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 the Shetland Collie.
2. Australian Shepherd
The Australian Shepherd is a spirited canine that enjoys lots of exercise and attention. Their name would lead you to believe they came from down under, but they’re an American dog, selectively bred from European stock.
They were a favorite of sheepherders from Australia who immigrated to the United States. The Merle Australian Shepherd was a fixture on the rodeo circuit with cowboys.
3. Old English Sheepdog
The Old English Sheepdog is an anomaly. Although their name implies they’re an ancient breed, they were developed in the 19th century. They’re well known for their herding skills, and they primarily herded cattle.
They’re attractive dogs and are gentle and affectionate despite their large size. Their lovable personality has captured the hearts of many famous people, including Paul McCartney and J.P. Morgan.
The Collie’s origins may stretch back to the days of the Romans. They’re the consummate herding dogs and are 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
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 their prey drive to make them more desirable as pets.
Several other breeds contributed to the final standard, including the French Bulldog. Interestingly, UKC considers the merle coat a disqualification.
Although the Beauceron’s history goes back to the Middle Ages, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed relatively recently in 2007. This French herding dog is known for their gentle manner. Their coloration is unique, with a jet-black coat and rust-colored legs, which have earned them the nickname Red Stockings.
There’s no mistaking the feisty personality of the Chihuahua. Even though most weigh less than 6 pounds, they have the fearless nature of a dog many times their 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.
It’s hard to believe that the tiny Pomeranian was once a much larger dog 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 they are. They’re affectionate and relatively easy to train.
9. Great Dane
The imposing figure of the Great Dane is hard to ignore. Despite their size, they’re gentle and loving. They have been faithful companions for thousands of years with a history that goes back to 3000 B.C. They’re so affectionate that it’s hard to believe they once hunted wild boars. They’re stunning dogs when they have the merle color, which is accepted by the AKC.
You’ll see Doxies in smooth, long-haired, or wire-haired coat variations. They have a long history in Europe, going back hundreds of years. AKC recognized the breed in 1885.
11. Border Collie
The energy level of the Border Collie is evident when you see them run and perform tricks. Here is a dog that needs a job and wants to run. They’re incredibly intelligent and must have mental stimulation to prevent bad habits from developing. Their history goes back to the time of the Romans. The Border Collie can do it all, from herding to agility trials. They’ll even round up the kids for you.
12. Cardigan Welsh Corgi
The Cardigan Welsh Corgi packs a lot of energy in a small package. Cardiganshire, Wales, is the inspiration for the breed’s name. Their short height gives them an advantage when working with cattle. As you may guess, Welsh Corgis have courageous demeanors. They’re slightly different than their close relative, the Pembroke Corgi, because they have a longer tail.
13. Hungarian Mudi
The Hungarian Mudi is the dog you want on the job if you have livestock that resist herding. The breed has a long history in Eastern Europe before the AKC put them in the Miscellaneous Class. Merle is an accepted color.
Unlike many herding dogs, the Mudi still fulfill their herding duties in their native country.
14. American Pit Bull Terrier
The American Pit Bull Terrier is all muscle and has the goods to back up their bark. They’re an excellent example of selective breeding to bring out the best in a canine. The terrier in them brings the feistiness that defines the group. They’re confident and loyal, but merle, however, is not accepted by the UKC breed standard.
15. Catahoula Leopard Dog
The Catahoula Leopard Dog is an all-American breed with origins in Louisiana, despite the exotic name. They’re independent dogs that are better for experienced owners.
The mix of canines used to develop the Catahoula Leopard include Greyhounds and Mastiffs. This gives them a formidable appearance, but they’re sweethearts that make excellent companions.
This mix of the Cocker Spaniel and Poodle is an adorable pup that brings together the best with two lovable breeds. The Cockapoo has everything you could want in a dog. They’re affectionate, kid-friendly, easy to train, and very playful.
They’re 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
There’s so much to love about the Cocker Spaniel. They’re happy, go-lucky dogs that were developed to assist bird hunters. The English and American variants are very similar, but we adore them both! One of Hollywood’s most famous Cocker Spaniels is featured in Lady and the Tramp.
18. Pyrenean Shepherd
The Pyrenean Shepherd has a murky history, but that doesn’t take away from their beauty. They’re small dogs that have plenty of energy and make excellent pets. They’re an ancient breed but are a recent addition to the AKC honor roll. They have the energy and intelligence that require owners to keep them happy. Pyrenean Shepherds excel at canine sports, such as agility.
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 breeds have the color, and unfortunately, there are unintended consequences associated with it. It’s essential, therefore, to request health records when you adopt a merle dog.
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.