15 Beautiful Merle Dog Breeds
Merle is a particularly attractive and eye-catching coat for a dog to have. Did you know that no two merle dogs look the same? These doggos have darker spots and splodges on a lighter base color and they often have beautiful, bright blue eyes. Many Australian Shepherds are blue merle or red merle but there are actually many merle dog breeds.
The biggest dog breed, the smallest dog breed, and everything in between can have a merle coat – so there really is a dog for everyone. Which of these breeds is going to be your favorite?
But First, What Is a Merle Coat?
The merle gene doesn’t just affect your dog’s coat. It can affect their skin color, eye color, and even hearing.
The extent of the merle coloring can also vary a lot. Some dogs with have a full merle coat – think swirls and splashes of color – and others will have lighter or patterned skin. There are two possible merle colors: red merle and blue merle.
Blue merle doggos will have black, silver, and gray marbled markings. A red merle will have a range of dark to light liver patches with copper points and some white markings. Have a look at our list of red dogs for more beautiful copper pups!
What Are The Genetics Behind a Merle Coat?
OK, this might get a little tricky. We’ll do our best to explain it as simply as possible.
According to Breeding Business, merle is a heterozygote of an incompletely dominant gene.
You’re right. That’s not really simple.
The merle gene has a dominant part to it (written as M) and a recessive part (written m). Merle, therefore, is written M/m and non-merle is m/m.
So, the dominant part doesn’t totally mask the recessive part. When a merle dog is bred with another non-merle, it can have healthy puppies. Half of them will be M/m and half m/m (on average).
The problem with merle coats comes when two merles are bred together. When this happens, it’s possible that:
-50% of the puppies will be M/m
-25% of the puppies will be m/m
-25% of the puppies will be M/M
When a dog has the M/M gene, they’re more likely to suffer from hearing and eye problems. Some of the problems can be very serious.
So, What’s A Cryptic Merle?
A cryptic merle (also called phantom merle or hidden merle) is a dog that has the merle gene but doesn’t look like they do. Other dominant genes such as sable can make it very difficult to notice that your dog is a merle.
Unfortunately, this means it’s possible for two merles to breed without owners or breeders even knowing. Responsible breeders should always carry out the necessary tests to ensure there are no double-merle puppies.
15 Merle Dog Breeds
So, now you know what merle dogs look like and the genetics behind them, let’s have a look at some of our favorite canine friends with this unique pattern.
Aussies are probably the most famous of all the merle dog breeds. These excitable, active dogs need lots of exercise and mental stimulation. They’ll enjoy games of fetch, going on runs, and having fields to play in.
Merle Australian Shepherds are very intelligent dogs and enjoy training classes. They’re sociable, good-natured, and affectionate with their families – but work comes first.
There are lots of similarities between Australian Shepherds and Border Collies but a big difference is that it’s very common for Australian Shepherds to be both red and blue merles. It’s much less common for a Border Collie to be merle (and there’s an extra breed for you)!
Merle Dachshunds are called ‘dapple’ Dachshunds. Log-haired, short-haired, and wire-haired Dachshunds can have a merle coat and it’s accepted by the American Kennel Club.
Just like other merle breeds, merle Dachshunds often have light-colored eyes, which are particularly beautiful. The merle gene doesn’t affect the health of your pup’s eyes (unless they’re double merle). It just makes them extra special looking!
There are lots of different types of Chihuahuas and all of them can be merle. They can be red and blue merles.
Chihuahuas are wonderful little dogs with big dog personalities. They’re confident, vocal, and don’t mind showing you who’s boss (even if it’s technically you). Early socialization is crucial with Chihuahuas so they don’t get too big for their boots. They don’t need too much exercise and are relatively easy to groom.
Care should always be taken when small kids play with Chihuahuas as even small accidents can be fatal for a dog of this size.
Cardigan Welsh Corgi
It’s not very common to see a Cardigan Welsh Corgi with a merle coat – but it is possible! These pups usually have a blue merle coat which is light gray.
Of course, these iconic dogs can be difficult to distinguish from Pembroke Corgis, but the easiest way is by their tails. Pembrokes have a docked tail whereas Cardigan Corgis have an intact tail.
You might not think it, but Corgis were first bred to herd cattle and they can still be prone to herding people! Training is a must if these short-legged dogs aren’t to get too nippy, especially around children.
Catahoula Leopard Dog
The Catahoula Leopard Dog is a very attractive, athletic dog that can be several different colors. These pups can be demanding and need lots of vigorous, daily exercise to use up some of that energy!
They need a yard to roam in and won’t do well in a small apartment. They were first bred as hunting dogs, so the big outdoors is their natural habitat. Catahoula Leopard Dogs need early socialization to avoid serious behavioral problems in adult dogs.
Shelties are very beautiful dogs that are highly intelligent. They’re very loyal pups and a favorite family pet in many countries. Shelties love to please their owners and excel in a number of different canine classes such as hunting, obedience, and agility.
Blue merle, tri blue merle, and sable merle are all recognized in the breed standard. As well as the beautiful merle pattern, these dogs are well-known for their luxuriously long coats.
Such iconic coats come with a pretty strict grooming schedule. So, don’t be surprised if you spend a lot of your time brushing this amazing dog breed.
Oh, the merle Great Dane. Now that is a very striking dog! There are many different Great Dane colors but a personal favorite is definitely merle!
Although their name says Dane, these dogs were actually first bred in Germany as hunting dogs. They need quite a lot of exercise but are surprisingly adaptable for their size.
Naturally, Great Danes can appear intimidating (they’re even considered one of the scariest dog breeds) but these big dogs are actually gentle giants. They’re great around children and are seriously affectionate toward the humans they love.
Look familiar? These beloved Lassie dogs can easily be mistaken for a Shetland Sheepdog. Just like Shelties, you’ll have your hands full with grooming duties with a Rough Collie – but it will be totally worth it!
Like other Collies, these dogs are very intelligent. They love training and using their brains so puzzle toys are a great gift for this breed.
Sable is the most common color for these pups but merle is becoming more popular.
We’re a little biased when it comes to Yorkies (you can find out more about Nala here) but they really are amazing little dogs. There are lots of Yorkie colors and a really pretty one is merle. This breed can have blue merle patches all over its body and their fur can either be long or cropped.
Merle Yorkshire Terriers are feisty little characters that are confident but also sensitive. They love their family and can be a little yappy around people they’re unsure of until they get to know them.
Their exercise needs are fairly minimal and are a good choice for city dwellers.
Yes, Smooth Collies are very close cousins of Rough Collies (with one big difference). Whilst Rough Collies have a high-maintenance coat to take care of, rough collies have – well – a rough coat that’s much easier.
Although they look it, these dogs aren’t just shaved Rough Collies! But they are just as intelligent and active. They need lots of fun exercise and love having a job to do. They’re relatively easy to train because of how smart they are and their desire to please you. They need lots of early socialization so that they don’t become anxious.
There’s a bit of a theme of merle dog breeds and herding breeds. And this is another. These French dogs were first bred in the French Alps to herd cattle and sheep but tend nowadays to be guard dogs and companion dogs.
These pups are usually black and tan (kind of like a Doberman) but the breed standard also allows merle. They’re energetic and athletic dogs that need lots of daily exercise and mental stimulation. They can be prone to chewing, so getting them an indestructible dog toy will be a good idea!
Poms are very popular little dogs that are great companions for those living in the city. These fluffy balls can have lots of different colored coats and one of the most unique is a merle pattern.
Pomeranians are very sociable dogs that love other pups and their owners alike. They’re curious about their surroundings and like fun stimulation activities. They can have quite a strong prey drive, so they’re not the best choice for those with other, smaller pets.
One of the most popular French Bulldog colors is merle. It is particularly cute! Even though merle pups are possible, it’s not a coat color listed in the standard for French Bulldogs. This is because these dogs were likely mixed with merle Chihuahuas in the past to get the merle coat pattern.
Frenchies are loved family pets, in fact, they were the second most popular breed in 2021! They’re affectionate, adaptable, and easy to train. They get on well with other dogs and have an easy-to-care-for coat too.
Poodle mixes are getting ever-more popular thanks to their (often) hypoallergenic coats. An Aussiedoodle is the wonderful mix between an Australian Shepherd and a Poodle. As you can imagine, this is a high-energy breed that needs lots of exercise, attention, and activities to keep them happy.
They may be big fans of water (thanks to the Poodle in them) so you might want to think about getting them a waterproof dog collar. These dogs are adoring, and goofy, and love to take part in all family events. They can have a coat of many different colors and usually inherit the curly coat of their Poodle parent.
Pitbulls are amazing dogs that come in many different colors including merle. It’s true of any breed, but you must research your breeder carefully when it comes to a Pitbull. Especially if you want an uncommon color like merle. These dogs have been unethically bred in the past and breeders should be breeding for the health and temperament of these doggos, not their coat color.
Pitties are active dogs that need lots of exercise and mental stimulation – you really don’t want them getting bored! Pitbulls get on really well with children, they even have the nickname ‘nanny dog’. They’re protective but not overly aggressive (despite what some people may think).
Whether you decide to go for a black Pitbull, a brindle Pitbull, or a beautiful merle Pitbull, you’ll get a dog that’s a great family pet and that is extremely affectionate.
Merle Dog Breeds: Which Is For You?
We totally understand why you’d want to adopt a merle dog. Just look at how beautiful the merle pattern is!
But before color, it’s important to think about the temperament of a dog breed. Many on this list need lots of vigorous exercise and are only suited to living with lots of space to play in. The health of the dog is also very important. You need to make sure you get your merle puppy from an ethical breeder that has tested and can ensure your dog isn’t a double merle.
Which other breeds would you add to this list?