Sheltie Planet

The 8 Sheltie Coat Colors

Brain Training for Sheltie Dogs

Here's a showcase of all 8 Sheltie colors, creating the coats of Sable, Mahogany Sable, Bi Black, Tri Color, Blue Merle, Bi Blue, White Factored and Color Headed White Shetland Sheepdogs. Check out pictures of these beautiful coat colors and their intriguing genetic causes.

The Sheltie Colors

The 8 Sheltie Coat Colors

The Sheltie colors come in three broad strokes: Sable, Black and Blue Merle, which are made up of varying amounts of tan, mahogany, black, gray and white fur. The result? Many beautiful coat types officially known as Sable, Tri Color, Bi Black, Blue Merle and Bi Blue.

Is your head spinning yet? The color variations can get complicated so I've broken them all down here. My goal today is to give you a good insight into the overall appearance, breed standard, and genetics of the Shetland Sheepdog coat colors.

The Pet Owner's Guide to Shelties by Becky Casale

Article Contents

The Sable Coat
The Bi Black Coat
The Tri Color Coat
The Blue Merle Coat
The Bi Blue Coat
The White Factored Coat
The Color Headed White Coat

The Sable Sheltie

The Golden Sable

The Golden Sable

The Sable Coat - This is the classic Shetland Sheepdog look, with Sable coats ranging from golden to mahogany. As you can see in the mahogany example, the tan color can be overlaid with flashes of black. Traditional golden Sables might have no black at all. Sable Shelties feature patches of white around the neck, chest, legs and toes in what's called an "Irish" pattern, common to all the Sheltie coats.

The Mahogany Sable

The Mahogany Sable

Sable Genetics and Development - The Sable Sheltie color arises from a dominant allele (gene variant). This dominance makes it the most common coat color among Shetland Sheepdogs. Curiously, Sable Sheltie puppies are born with subtle gray hues which deepen and intensify to golden with the development of the double coat. The Sable color may develop further as the dog matures, as does the thickness and quality of the coat.

Sable Shelties: Golden vs Mahogany

Sable Shelties: Golden vs Mahogany

The Sable Breed Standard - Sables can range through many shades of golden through mahogany, but washed-out colors or brindle (striped) markings are considered faults. Conspicuous white body spots (other than the normal distribution of white on the chest and legs) also lose points. Shetland Sheepdogs with more than 50 percent white fur are disqualified. Yep, dog standards are pretty strict and they need to be because that's how breeders maintain the specific look of the breed.

The Bi Black Sheltie

The Bi Black Sheltie

The Bi Black

The Bi Black Coat - Bi Blacks comprise of solid black hairs which make up most of the color, alongside Irish patches of white fur. Bi Black Shelties are so named for their black-and-white mixture, where bi is Latin for two. They fall under the umbrella term of Black Shetland Sheepdogs.

Bi Black Genetics and Development - The Bi Black allele is recessive, which makes it the least common type of Sheltie color. Interestingly, the opposite is true in many other dog breeds, where black is the dominant allele. To produce Bi Black puppies, breeders either need one or both parents to be Bi Black too. That said, breeding two Tri Colors (see below) can also produce a few Bi Black puppies if both parents are carriers of the recessive black allele.

The Bi Black Breed Standard - Solid black-and-white fur is expected, while rustiness or fading in black fur is seen as a fault. Bi Black Shetland Sheepdogs with more than 50 percent white fur are disqualified.

The Tri Color Sheltie

The Tri Color Sheltie

The Tri Color

The Tri Color Coat - Tri Colors are a gorgeous combination of black, white and tan. They fall under the Black Sheltie category too. As per the Irish pattern, the white fur appears on the chest and legs. The tan fur is usually found on the cheeks, throat, ears, eyes, legs and under the tail.

Tri Color Genetics and Development - You'll see a few more Tri Colors around thanks to their genetics: Tri Color is recessive to Sable, but dominant to Bi Black. Shetland Sheepdogs with both Sable and Tri Color alleles are known as "Tri Factored" and can pass on either coat color to their puppies.

The Tri Color Breed Standard - Tri Colors should feature distinctive blocks of each color, with the tan shades ranging from golden through mahogany. Conspicuous white body spots are faults, as are washed-out of degenerate colors.

Here are the most likely outcomes of crossing coat colors of different parents. This illustration is simplified for clarity. For instance, breeding Bi Factored Tri Colored parents can produce Bi Black offspring, but this less common possibility is not shown here.

Sheltie Coat Color Genetics

The Blue Merle Sheltie

Blue Merle Sheltie

The Blue Merle

The Blue Merle Coat - Look at this handsome devil. Blue Merles could be considered Tri Color Shelties with color modifications. This creates a coat in which the black hairs are diluted into various shades of gray-blue. There's also the white and tan distribution of a regular Tri Color.

Blue Merle Genetics and Development - Unlike the coat colors seen so far, Blue Merles are not produced by color genes. Instead, they are created by a color modifier gene which affects the base color of the dog (ie, Black or Sable). The same modifier gene can also give the dog either one or two blue eyes.

Breeding two Blue Merles creates a 1 in 4 chance of producing a Double Merle puppy - and this has serious health consequences. While it results in a stunning all-white coat, the lack of melanin drastically impacts development of the eyes in the womb. Many Double Merles are born blind, deaf, or both.

The Blue Merle Breed Standard - Judges deduct points for rustiness in a Blue Merle coat, as well as faded or washed-out colors. Self-color (without any merling or mottling, appearing as a faded or diluted Tri Color) is also a fault. As we've seen earlier, dogs with more than 50 percent white are excluded from competition and this includes Double Merles.

The Bi Blue Sheltie

Bi-Blue Sheltie

The Bi Blue

The Bi Blue Coat - Bi Blues have only blue and white colors (ie, no tan). Like the other Sheltie colors, the overall pattern is Irish with a white chest and legs. They have varying degrees of mottling and the eye color can be blue or merled.

Bi Blue Genetics and Development - A Bi Blue is created when a Bi Black gene meets a merle modifier. It's fairly unusual to see, although careful Shetland Sheepdog breeders can manipulate the odds of producing Bi Blues by having a handle on the underlying genetics. Bi Blues are healthy dogs, possessing only one merle gene, as opposed to two merle genes which creates the blind or deaf Double Merle.

The Bi Blue Breed Standard - Judges look for clear, silvery blue colors which are marbled with black. There's no penalty for the absence of tan markings in Bi Blues. The general look should be blue, however and heavy black markings or rusty effects are considered faults.

The White Factored Sheltie

White Factoring

White Factoring

The White Factored Coat - White Factored Shelties are excellent specimens of the Sable, Black and Blue Merle coat colors. They have an abundance of pure white fur on their collar, chest and legs. More often than not, they have a strong white stifle running up the back leg which connects with the white on the belly.

White Factored Genetics and Development - This Sheltie color comes from a modifying gene, as opposed to a base color gene. Like the merle gene, it can also produce blue eyes. White factored Shetland Sheepdogs are valuable to some breeders as a way of producing sufficient white markings in Sheltie puppies. When two White Factored dogs are bred together, you get the remarkable result of a Color Headed White. This may strike you as a Double Merle but in fact is completely healthy.

The White Factored Breed Standard - White Factored dogs are welcomed as long as the white fur doesn't exceed 50 percent of the overall coat or show up as conspicuous white body spots. In fact, white factoring is often seen in champions.

The Color Headed White Sheltie

CHW Sheltie

The Color Headed White Shetland Sheepdog

The Color Headed White Coat - The Color Headed White (or CHW) is rare to see. As the name suggests, the coat is virtually all-white, except for the head markings which are like any of the Sheltie colors described above. CHWs look like regular Shetland Sheepdogs who've been dipped in white paint from the neck down and are fascinating to look at.

Color Headed White Genetics and Development - Unlike Double Merles, Color Headed Whites have no hearing or vision defects. They're perfectly healthy dogs, often with no merle genes at all. The color is created by breeding two White Factored dogs together, which gives a 1 in 4 chance of producing a CHW.

The Color Headed White Breed Standard - CHWs formed part of the breed standard until 1952 when it was last updated. Nowadays when a Sheltie coat has more than 50 percent white markings, it means an automatic disqualification from conformation. However, some breeders continue to create Color Headed Whites in the hope they might one day be reintroduced to the Shetland Sheepdog standard.

Thanks for checking out the beautiful Sheltie colors. If you enjoyed this article please share it with your dog-loving friends.

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Author Bio

Becky Casale is a writer and science student. She has two Sheltie babies and two human babies who all smell like popcorn. See her Pet Owner's Guide to Shelties and her illustrated blog Science Me.

The Pet Owner's Guide to Shelties by Becky Casale