Dogs can come in dozens of different colors and patterns, but one of the most eye-catching is merle. Merle dogs have a solid base color with random patches and speckles of another color throughout their coat. A genetic mutation is actually responsible for this stunning pattern. Merle is a naturally occurring pattern in a lot of dog breeds (you'll be surprised how many!), but it's also a trait many breeders have bred into some lines. Check out these gorgeous merle dog photos and learn a bit more about each breed.
1. Australian Shepherd
When you imagine a merle dog, you probably see an Australian Shepherd in your head. They're definitely the most common merle breed, and over 1/3 of all Aussies are reportedly merle. This breed comes in blue merle as well as red merle.
2. Border Collie
Another of your favorite herding breeds can be found in merle: the Border Collie. That said, merle Border Collies are definitely rare. Most individuals of this breed are the classic black and white, although they also come in pure black, red, sable, brindle, red merle, and blue merle.
3. Cardigan Welsh Corgi
There are two types of Corgis, but only one carries the merle gene: the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. These shorties are slightly bigger than their cousins, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and have long, feathered tails. This breed is most commonly found in blue merle; red merle Corgis are extremely rare.
4. Catahoula Leopard Dog
The Catahoula Leopard Dog earned their name from their spotted merle coat. Most are blue or red merle, though it's possible to find Catahoulas in solid colors. Dogs with the merle gene often have heterochromia, which is where each eye is a different color, usually one brown and one blue.
The Catahoula Leopard Dog is named for Catahoula Parish, Louisiana, and is the state's official dog.
You're probably used to seeing Chihuahuas in fawn, white, or black, but they can also be found in merle. Merle isn't a naturally occurring Chihuahua color; the gene was bred into this breed, so technically a merle Chihuahua isn't a purebred dog. They can also have a lot of health problems with their hearing and sight, so most ethical breeders refuse to breed merle chis.
"Lassie Goes Merle" could be the name of a blockbuster movie, and it's not a big stretch because Collies can definitely come in a merle pattern. Both rough and smooth collies can possess the merle gene, which gives their long, flowing coat that eye-catching mottled pattern. Collies are found in a blue merle that usually appears light or dark grey. We think it's stunning.
Merle in the Dachshund breed is referred to as "dappling," so instead of a merle Dachshund, you'll find a dapple Dachshund. These dogs have the same cute mottled, patchy pattern as other merle breeds. But unfortunately, dapple Dachshunds are prone to more health problems than other doxies due to the merle gene.
8. French Bulldog
A merle French Bulldog? Yep! Though this pattern is very rare within the breed, so merle Frenchies are incredibly pricy; you could pay well over $5,000 for one of these special dogs. The merle gene was introduced to this breed fairly recently, so they're also hard to come by. Unfortunately, the breed is at high risk for several health issues already, but those with the merle gene can experience eye and hearing abnormalities, too. This coloration is different than the brindle pattern, which is also common within French Bulldogs.
9. Great Dane
Have you ever seen anything more majestic than a merle Great Dane? The merle gene in Great Danes is very closely related to the gene that produces their Harlequin pattern, which features big dark patches across their body. Just as two merles bred together can create "double merle" dogs with health problems, breeding a merle and harlequin can produce the same.
10. Miniature American Shepherd
The Miniature American Shepherd is the official name of what most people refer to as the "Mini Aussie." These snack-sized dogs descended from the original Australian Shepherd and retained a lot of their characteristics, including the merle gene. Like the standard Aussie, minis can also be "double merles," which happens when a dog inherits two copies of the merle gene from their parents.
How cute is the merle Pomeranian?! This speckled pattern is a newer trait that has been bred into some Pomeranian lines. Unlike many other breeds that don't naturally have the merle gene, poms of all colors (including merle!) are accepted by the AKC breed standard. But finding a merle Pomeranian can be difficult and expensive.
12. Shetland Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdogs are more commonly known as the sheltie and can be picked out of a crowd thanks to their luscious coat. Shelties with the merle gene feature that pretty speckled pattern. You can find blue merle shelties or sable merles, which is a reddish-brown. Because the merle gene is dominant, if a dog gets one copy of the gene, they'll show merle coloration. And we think it looks pretty darn cute on the sheltie!
Merle Dog Considerations
You've probably heard people say that merle dogs are unhealthy, but that's not entirely true. Dog genetics is often a mixed bag, so while some merle dogs might have health defects, most can live long, healthy lives. However, double merles, who are dogs with two merle genes and the result of two merle dogs bred together, are at higher risk for health problems. If you're thinking about getting a merle dog from a breeder, ask them if they perform genetic testing on their breeding dogs and puppies to ensure they're healthy. If they don't, it's a red flag.