Australian Shepherds are loyal, affectionate and serious workers. All of which, are traits that make them some of the best companion family dogs.
There’s no surprise they’re the 17th most popular dog breed in the United States. But did you know they’re one of the most unique dog breeds as well?
In fact, Aussies have four officially recognized coat colors with several variations within each color. On top of that, even more color combinations are seen outside of the recognized colors.
If you’re looking for a specific Australian Shepherd color that you’ve seen, this is the complete guide.
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Table of Contents
- The 4 Main Coat Colors
- Black Australian Shepherds
- Blue Merle Australian Shepherd
- Red Australian Shepherds
- Red Merle Australian Shepherds
- Aussie Non-Standard Colors
- History of Australian Shepherd Colors
The 4 Main Coat Colors
Australian Shepherds come in four officially recognized colors. Any other colors outside these four are considered mongrel dogs (mixed with other breeds). For those with other color combinations, they are disqualified as purebred Aussies .
Australian Shepherds come in these four accepted coat colors:
- Blue Merle
- Red Merle
You might have noticed the title stating there are 14 different Aussie colors. Although these four colors are the main color groups, each group has several variations.
Let’s further examine each main color category and their variations.
Black Australian Shepherds
Black-colored Australian Shepherds come in four variations, all with different markings. The four versions of the black-coated Aussie are: tri-color, black bi, black and tan and solid black.
1. Black Tri Australian Shepherds
The black tri Australian Shepherd is one of the most common and basic colors combination of this dog. With this color scheme, they look like a leaner version of the Bernese Mountain Dog.
Often times, but not always, the black coat is highlighted with white markings on the face, chest, belly and legs. In addition, copper/tan highlights are also sometimes present on both the face and legs. When this happens, you have a black tri Aussie.
Black tri coats can be both trimmed or untrimmed, and officially accepted either way. However, every black Aussie may vary in the location and amount of a certain color. It’s what makes them so unique.
2. Black and White Aussie
The tri-colored black coat, as described above, is not the only possible combination of black Australian Shepherds.
Although tri-colored is the most popular variation of this coat color, there are many with just black and white. These are called “black bi” Australian Shepherds, which stand for black bicolor.
Most of the time, you’ll see white marking on just the face, chest, belly and legs. White will be in points similar to the tri-colored version – but without the copper.
3. Black and Tan Australian Shepherd
Black and tan dogs are the second rarest versions of black Australian Shepherds. These dogs have primarily a black coat with copper/tan highlights around the face, chest and legs. In other words, they’re the Rottweilers of black Aussies.
Personally, this is my favorite combination of the black. However, it’s all personal taste.
4. Solid Black Australian Shepherd
The last but not least version of this color is a solid black Australian Shepherd. This means they have no white or copper marks anywhere on their body.
They’re probably the least popular among black Australian Shepherds, but you still see them from time to time.
Sometimes an Aussie will have just a hint of white on their chest. Some may still classify such a dog as a solid black Australian Shepherd, despite the white marking.
Black Australian Shepherd Eye Color
One of the best things about the Aussie is the color combination of their eyes. However, most black Australian Shepherds, regardless of color markings, have two brown colored eyes. Although it’s possible to have different colored eyes as seen in many other Aussies, it’s not common.
The brown colored eyes of the black Aussie can come in different shades of brown. For this specific color coat, a darker brown is most common. In other cases, there are even black Aussies with hazel-colored eyes (brown and green) with brown being the dominant color.
Blue Merle Australian Shepherd
The Blue Merle Australian Shepherd has, perhaps, the most unique color combination among the four basic colors. Still, there are three versions of Blue Merle Aussies. Each, as spectacular as the rest.
1. Blue Merle Tri Color
The Blue Merle Tri Australian Shepherd is my favorite version from this group. They have such a breathtaking color combination that passersby can’t help but stare in awe.
These dogs have a base coat of the blue merle color, which is essentially black spots on a gray coat. The spots can vary in both shape and size, but are always over a gray background.
The blue merle is overlapped with markings of white and copper around the face, legs, chest and belly. Thus, forming a tri-colored blue merle Australian Shepherd.
2. Blue Merle and White Aussie
The second most popular variation of the blue merle Aussie is when the dog has a blue merle base coat and only white markings. Most of the time, the markings are on the face, legs and chest.
These dogs look just as magnificent as the tri colored variation without the copper. In this case, they look a little bit like the husky. And often times, they’ve been mistaken for huskies at an early age.
3. Blue Merle and Tan
It’s fairly rare to see a blue merle with only copper/tan accompanying. Most of the time, when there is tan, there is also white. However, this combination is still seen in litters.
4. Solid Blue Merle
As mentioned, blue merle makes up the base coat for this group of Aussie dogs. It’s a color that features a gray coat with black spots in arbitrary locations. As of a result, this creates a “blue effect,” hence the name – blue merle.
The gray can range anywhere between silver to a dark smoke-like gray, whereas the black spots can be small specks or large patches. For this reason, you can find a lot of interesting and unique blue merle Aussies.
It’s not too often you run into a solid blue merle, but when you do they look amazing.
Blue Merle Aussie Eye Color
For the most part, blue merles have a solid eye color. However, there will be instances where the eyes contain specks of other colors. We called this “marble eyes.”
As for the base color of the eyes, blue merles have been known to have brown or blue eyes – often marbled with the other color. For example, a blue eyed Aussie may have brown highlights and vice versa.
It’s possible to have a blue merle Aussie with two different colored eyes – one blue and the other brown. However, marbled blue eyes are a lot more common with blue merle Australian Shepherds.
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Red Australian Shepherds
Red Australian Shepherds come in three variations. The color combinations of this color group include: red tri, red bi and solid red. All of which, are distinct in their own right.
1. Red Tri Australian Shepherd
A red tri Aussie has a base of red, which ranges anywhere from light cinnamon to a dark liver color. Whatever the spectrum of color, it gives off a “red” color look.
In addition, tri colored red Australian Shepherds have white markings on the chest, face, legs and belly. They also have copper highlights on the face and legs.
Although uncommon, it’s not unusual to see one with copper highlights on the chest as well.
2. Red and White Aussie
Some red Australian Shepherds come in only red and white, as seen above. These dogs have a red base coat with white typically found on the chest, legs and face.
They don’t look like your typical Aussie, but this color combination has been increasing in popularity over the last few years.
More often than not, you’ll find red Australian Shepherds with at least a hint of copper/tan. Still, they may be classified as Red and White dogs due to the minimal tan coloring.
3. Solid Red Australian Shepherds
Solid red Australian Shepherds are hard to come by. And the reason? Presumably because they’re just not as interesting as all the other color variations of this breed.
However, i’d argue that they’re just as great as any Aussie. In fact, I know they are!
Don’t shy away if you have the chance to pick one of these guys up. What’s ironic is that the solid red Australian Shepherd may be the most unique of them all (because they’re rare!).
Red Australian Shepherd Eye Color
Red Aussies tend to have amber colored eyes that surprisingly match their coats very well. Although rare, it’s possible to find one in this color group with blue eyes. And it’s even more rare to find one with one blue and one amber colored eye.
It’s worth noting that the shade of amber and blue in their eyes can vary from light to dark.
Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to find a red Aussie with the “marble” effect. Flecks of other colors are way more common in the merle color groups.
Red Merle Australian Shepherds
The red merle Australian Shepherd color group comes with three different versions. These variations include: red merle tri color, red merle and white, and solid red merle. They’re just as exotic-looking as their blue merle counterparts, except with a different color merle effect.
1. Red Merle Tri Aussie
Red merle makes up this base coat for this color combination. They have red spots on top of an buff (a light orange-brown) to silver base color. The tri colored version has white markings found on the face, chest, legs and belly. They also have copper highlights usually seen on the face and legs only.
If blue merle isn’t your thing, but you still want an exotic-looking Australian Shepherd – i’d take a long hard look at the red merle tri Aussie.
2. Red Merle and White
Australian Shepherds in this color group come in just red merle and white. It’s rather difficult to tell apart a red merle tri color and a red merle and white.
Sometimes, the base color of the red merle may look very similar to white. So, it’s okay to expect some degree of confusion when classifying these variations.
Personally, I think the red merle tri and red merle and white both like very similar and would not mind having either or
3. Solid Red Merle
An Australian Shepherd with a solid red merle coat looks very similar to the other two variations as well.
The red patches can range in color, size and shape. The spots can be tiny speckles or large patches – depending on the dog.
Many people can make the argument that solid red merles are actually red merle/white Aussies. However, it’s all in the detail. Solid red merles are more consistent in their merle coats throughout the body.
Red Merle Aussie Eye Color
Most red merle Australia Shepherds have solid eye colors. However, like the blue merle counterpart, they tend to have a “marbled” look in their eyes.
The marble refers to specks of other colors and truly creates a unique appearance in these dogs.
Red merles also have blue and brown eyes. Blue eyes could have speckles of brown, whereas brown eyes can have speckles of blue.
But for the most part, the eye colors are consistent. In addition, a red merle can have two different colored eyes, one blue and one brown.
Still, it’s much more common for a red merle to have blue eyes than brown eyes. But red merle Aussies with brown eyes can still be found.
Aussie Non-Standard Colors
Most Australian Shepherds fall into one of the variations in the four color groups. However, you’ll spot the occasional Aussie with other colors in their coats.
With that said, what are the most common non-standard colors seen in Australian Shepherds? Colors ranked from most common to least common:
- White (excessive white)
Both yellow and dilute colors are recessive genes. This means that an Australian Shepherd showing these colors will need both parents to carry this specific color gene.
Because this gene is still circulating within the breed gene pool, these colors still come up from time to time.
Also called the “Maltese dilution” or MLPH for short, the dilute color is a recessive gene that’s become one of the most common non-standard color on Aussies.
It’s not so much a specific color, but rather a recessive mutation that causes the colors on a coat to be a different shade, typically lighter. This color only affects black and liver-colored hair. Highlights such as copper aren’t affected.
For example, Black Australian Shepherds will become a slate blue – similar to a blue Doberman Pinscher.
A red Australian Shepherd will likely become a beige, such as a Weimaraner. The black spots and patches on a blue merle Aussie will likely become slate colored instead.
A dilute Australian Shepherd will more than likely have different colored noses and eyes as well. Their eyes are usually lighter than their non-dilute counterparts, while the noses may be a slate or light liver color.
The good news is that dilute Aussies don’t experience any negative health side effects. They can live just as well as the non-dilute dogs.
However, this can’t be said for other breeds, such as a dilute Dobermann.
Dilute Aussie Comparison
Photo courtesy of the Australian Shepherd Health & Gene Institute (ASHGI).
The picture shown above is a classic example of the difference between a dilute and non-dilute Aussie.
The puppy on the left is a dilute dog. On the other side, the right puppy is a non-dilute black tri Aussie – with a true black coat.
If you look closer, you’ll notice a difference in eye and nose color as well. The dilute Aussie has a slightly lighter slate nose.
It’s not uncommon to see lighter shades of eye color with the dilute Aussie, however, this example shows more solid colored eyes shaded by the eyelid.
The only similarity is the consistency of the copper/tan highlights on both dogs.
Yellow Australian Shepherd
Unlike the dilute mutation, the inherited yellow recessive gene will affect the copper/tan highlights on an Aussie (if present). This gene will restrict the dog’s pigment on a coat, but not the nose.
For example, a black Aussie will still have a black nose, while a red Aussie will have a liver-colored nose.
The yellow color produced by this recessive gene can vary widely depending on the dog. Some yellow Australian Shepherds will develop a light yellow (Labrador).
However, others may have a deeper goldish yellow, such as a Golden Retriever. In some cases, a mahogany red can also be found, though not typical.
Because this characteristic is a recessive gene, both parents must carry the E-locus gene to produce a yellow Aussie puppy. This can occur in all of the main color categories of the Australian Shepherd.
Like the dilute Australian Shepherds, the yellow counterparts don’t experience any negative side effects from this condition. They’re as robust as any other color.
Sable vs. Yellow
Because of the wide range of yellows, these dogs are often mistaken for sable Australian Shepherds. To verify a dog with this gene, you’ll need to examine the guard hairs of the Aussie. Note: guard hairs are the outer layer of the dog’s coat, which protects their skin.
Sable Aussies have guard hair that is light red, often accompanied by a dark black or blue tip. These colors will be scattered among the yellow hairs of the coat.
On the other hand, a yellow Aussie will not have these highlights of dark black or blue over the yellow coat. Rather, the entire shaft is a consistent variation of yellow.
History of Australian Shepherd Colors
Today, the most popular preference and common Aussie is the blue merle. However, this was not the case many years ago. Way before the four standard colors were set, we saw all types and color combinations of these dogs.
For example, you would have seen Aussies with brindle, sable, piebald, in addition to yellow and dilute coats. Some would have a combination of the colors too.
It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that organizations established the standard colors of the Australian Shepherds.
As a result, breeders started a selection process and began breeding only colors and patterns that were officially recognized. It’s relatively difficult to find a non-standard Aussie today.
However, these recessive genes still linger in the breed gene pool. It’s more likely you find other coat colors from non-professional breeders.
Still, I would always go to a reputable breeder for an Australian Shepherd. The official coat colors are downright beautiful and you don’t want to take a risk with potential health issues.
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