Sheltie Planet

The Sheltie Colors

By Becky Turner

Photos of the beautiful Sheltie coat colors: Sable, Bi-Black, Tri-Color, Bi-Blue, Blue Merle, Color Headed Whites, Double Merles and White Factored Shelties.

Sheltie coat colors are generally defined in three ways:

  1. Sable
  2. Black
  3. Blue Merle

Within these categories, the coats show varying amounts of tan, black, gray and white. However there are many ways these colors and patterns show up in Shelties, and this article aims to highlight them all.

We'll also take a look at the genetics of rarer coat colors like White Factoring, Color Headed Whites and Double Merles.

The Sable Sheltie

Sable Shetland Sheepdog

A Sable Sheltie

The Sable Sheltie colors range from light gold to dark mahogany. The tan coloring is overlaid with some black.

They also feature patches of white - typically around the neck, chest, and little "socks" on each of the legs. Sometimes these cover just the tips of the toes (or nothing at all) while other times the white socks go all the way up the legs.

Mahogany Sable Shetland Sheepdog

A Mahogany Sable Sheltie

The Sable Sheltie is the most common coat color because it is the most dominant gene (the other two being Tri-Color and Recessive Black).

Sable Sheltie puppies are often born dark then lighten up considerably with the soft puppy coat. The color then darkens again as the dog matures.

The Black or Tri-Color Sheltie

The Black Sheltie

A Black Sheltie

The next most common Sheltie coat color is the Black coat, comprising of solid black hairs which make up the dominant coat color.

It's also sometimes called the Tri-Color Sheltie, and the two sub-types are distinguished as follows:

  1. Bi-Black Shelties are black and white only, with the same Irish color patterns as the Sable Sheltie.
  2. Tri-Color Shelties are black, white and tan. While the white appears on the chest and legs, the tan is usually located on the cheeks, throat, ears, eyes, legs and under the tail.
The Tri-Color Sheltie

A Tri-Color Sheltie

The Blue Merle Sheltie

Blue Merle Sheltie

A Blue Merle Sheltie

The Blue Merle coat color is created by one Black gene and one Merle gene. It creates a color pattern in which the black hairs are diluted into various shades of gray/blue.

Blue Merles come in two kinds:

  1. Blue Merle Shelties have blue merle, tan and white (tan being caused by a Tri-Color parent).
  2. Bi-Blue Shelties have only blue merle and white (no tan) colors.
Bi-Blue Sheltie

A Bi-Blue Sheltie

Like the other Sheltie colors, the overall pattern is still Irish with predominantly white chests and legs.

Interestingly, the eye color can be blue or merled. This coat pattern can also appear in Sables to produce Sable Merles (though the American Kennel Club Standard says they should not have merled eyes).

If two Blue Merles are bred together, there is a 25% chance of producing a Double Merle. These have defective hearing and/or vision, so responsible breeders don't match two Merles together.

Color Headed Whites

CHW Sheltie

The Color Headed White or CHW Sheltie

The Color Headed White (CHW) Sheltie is rare - mostly white with a head color like any coat described above.

Unlike Double Merles, CHWs have no hearing or vision defects. They formed part of the breed standard until 1952. Nowadays if a Sheltie coat has more than 50% white markings, they are disqualified from conformation.

However some breeders continue to produce Color Headed Whites with the hope that they will one day be reintroduced to the standard. This coat color is created by breeding two White Factored dogs together.

White Factored Shelties

The White Factored Sheltie

A White Factored Sheltie (Blue Merle)

White Factored Shelties have a good amount of white 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.

Aside from this, they have all the usual coat colors and markings of Sables, Blacks and Blue Merles. If you breed two White Factored dogs, the chances of getting Color Headed White puppies are 1 in 4.

About The Author

Becky Turner is a writer and zoologist-in-training. Learn more about Becky here. If you'd like to support her work, check out her ebook, The Sheltie Anthology, a complete guide to everything Sheltie.