An Introduction to ...

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Pictures of Sable Merle Dogs

(and some yellow dogs too)

(Remember, all pictures with blue borders are links.)

Sable and yellow are thought to be in separate gene series. We decided to discuss them on the same page because the effects are similar. Both colors are both caused by a form of melanin called pheomelaninG. Since merle only affects eumelaninG, the pattern isn't visible at all in yellow dogs, and only in the hair tip color of sable dogs. This does not make either color dominantG to merle - the merle gene is still present, just as it is in cryptic merlesG. When a dog appears to be red, but has black skin pigment (nose, lips, eyerims), look closely at the coat to determine if it might be either a sable or a yellow.


e locus yellow is a color seen in many breeds. Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, Cocker Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers are well-known examples. This gene causes the color of the dog's hair (from the skin to the tip) to change from black (or red/brown) to "yellow" (which can vary from the extremely pale, almost white color sometimes seen in yellow Labs to the dark red color seen in Irish Setters). The skin (including nose, eyerims, paw pads and lips) is still black (or red). In some yellow (and sable) dogs, the center part of their black nose will fade to pink (called "snow nose") but the other dark skin pigment is not affected. Yellow appears in Aussies because it is recessive to black and red, meaning that both parents have to carry the gene for any yellow pups to appear. It is possible for a yellow dog to have a red nose, and "pass" as a normal (or possibly light) red (see Yellow Lab pigment - Woodhaven Labradors for a picture - also has a information on snow nose). A "yellow" dog is always ee; Ee would mean it was normally colored but carrying yellow, and an EE dog has no genes for yellow. Merle is almost impossible to spot in a yellow dog, but blue eyes might indicate the dog is a merle.


A Yellow Aussie

We have two other yellow dogs on our site. See Mack on the Puzzles page and Tater on the Double Merle page.

Sable & Sable Merles

Sable is markedly similar to yellow, in that it changes the color of the hair from black (or red) to yellow. In sable dogs, a percentage of the hairs will have black (or red) tips. Sometimes it's just a "dusting" of black tips, but other times the dog can look almost solid black. The black is typically concentrated on the dog's face, shoulders, and along the spine. Depending on the breed, sable is known by different names. Danes and Boxers call it fawn. Red Australian Cattle Dogs and Basenjis are actually sables. Sable in German Shepherds is a different gene altogether (part of the agouti series). Sables should always have black on their noses, lips, eyerims, and pawpads (unless the dog is a red sable, in which case these areas will be liver/brown). Differentiating between a sable with minimal dark pigment and a yellow dog can be difficult. One hint involves the dog's whiskers (vibrissae). If they are located in a pigmented area, sable dogs should have black whiskers.

Sable (A^y) is a dominant gene, so a dog only needs one copy of the gene to be a sable. In order for a dog to have copper trim (black or red with tan on face and lower legs), it must have two copies of the genes for this pattern (A^t) and so cannot carry a sable gene (and cannot produce sable pups unless bred to a sable dog). Because copper trim is popular, sable is very uncommon in Aussies. Sable merle is easier to detect than yellow merle, but still can be tricky. Since merle only visibly affects the fully pigmented hair tips, if the dog has minimal dark hair tips (and those are all or mostly merled), it could easily appear to be a solid colored dog. It is much easier to spot the merle in a newborn puppy's coat than in an adult dog. A clue is marbled (or solid blue) eye coloring, particularly in a dog with very little white.

At this time, we don't have any pictures of sable merles (we're also interested in a plain non-merle sable). If you have one that you would like to share, please let us know!

As an aside, "gray" sables are the result of the chinchilla "C" series (which is an "albino" gene). This series only acts on "yellow" pigments (pheomelanin), turning them to gray. It won't affect a dog with only eumelanin (black and red) present in the coat. So a sable dog who is also carrying 2 copies of the chinchilla gene will have a gray base to the coat, rather than yellow (sometimes this is seen in Belgian Tervurens).

So why are these "wrong" colors for Aussies?

The Australian Shepherd breed standard does not recognize either color - for a very good reason. It can be difficult to spot a sable merle, and virtually impossible to know if a yellow dog is a solid or a merle. The "invisible merle" can especially be an issue if the dog actually is red (and has a liver nose). He (or she) might be assumed to be a normal red dog (perhaps in a lighter shade of red), and safe to breed to a merle. There could be yellow pups born who are actually double merles, but appear to be "solid" dogs with excess white (Pattern Whites). The tip off that something more is "wrong" may only come from the pups' eyes, assuming they have easily visible Double Merle eye defects (see Tater).

Since it is preferable to know if a breeding has a possibility of producing MM pups, sable and yellow are not "showable" colors. But these dogs will still make fine pets, and there is no reason the pups couldn't be placed in a home with a neuter agreement (and "not for breeding" registration papers, meaning that if the dog was bred, none of the pups could be registered). In breeds where both sable and merle are acceptable colors (examples would be Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Great Danes), the reputable breeders try to keep the merle and fawn lines completely separate. This avoids producing sable merles.

To see more pictures of sables (not all are merles), visit Inheritance of Color in the Australian Shepherd - Sable Aussies, and also Inheritance of Color in the Australian Shepherd - E Locus Yellows to see plain yellow dogs (one example has a red nose). See also The Genetics of Color In Labradors (explanation of black, red, and yellow in Labs), and BC Museum: Yellow or Tan Border Collies for yellow Border Collies.