Have you ever seen a Merle Border Collie? It is truly a sight to behold. Many have fallen in love with these beautiful dogs at first sight.
But is the merle Border Collie the right dog for you? What does it take to be a good Border Collie parent? Find out what it takes to be a good Border Collie owner in this 2023 article.
What is a Merle Border Collie?
A merle Border Collie is a purebred Border Collie with a coat color pattern called merle. Merle, also called dapple, is characterized by irregularly shaped dark patches of diluted pigment against a solid or dominant color. The Kennel Club describes the merle coat pattern as “usually a splash of darker shades, marbled against a lighter background”.
Merle is the rarest coat color pattern in the breed. Out of all the merle Border Collies, the blue merle Border Collie is the most common.
In Border Collie dogs, merle coats come in different color combinations: blue merle; sable merle; red merle; white and blue merle; and red and white merle. Other dog breeds that have the merle pattern are Great Danes, Australian Shepherds, Cardigan Welsh Corgis, Dachshunds, and more.
Other merle types that are not listed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) are the phantom merle and lilac merles. A phantom merle is a red merle dog that has a recessive gene that makes it unable to produce any eumelanin pigment, causing its red coat to appear a solid red. Lilac merles are dogs with a fawn or a chocolate and blue base with a merle pattern. Both can also have blue eyes.
The merle gene variant is incompletely dominant. This means that a border collie puppy must have at least one parent that carries the merle gene to inherit the merle coat.
The merle pattern is sometimes associated with poor health. Double merles or dogs who have inherited the merle gene from both parents, have an increased risk of problems with their eyes and ears, causing congenital deafness and/ or blindness compared to those who get the merle gene from just one of the parents.
Breed Overview: Merle Border Collie
Pedigree: Border Collie
Breed Group: Herding
Breed size: Medium
Height: 19 to 22 inches (male) ; 18 to 21 inches (female)
Weight: 30 to 55 lbs
Energy level: High
Lifespan: 12 to 15 years
The Border Collie
The Border Collie breed is a medium-sized herding dog that is consistently at the top of every list of the smartest dog breeds. These dogs are not just smart, they are also highly athletic and physically equipped to take on demanding jobs such as herding and protecting the flock from predators.
Some may think that getting an incredibly smart pup means they are independent and need less attention. The truth is, a very intelligent dog such as the Border Collie can easily get bored when not given enough enrichment in their day-to-day lives. They require mental stimulation, and having a job is what keeps them the happiest.
That said, there is so much to learn about this fascinating herding dog breed. Let’s dive deep into the Border Collie’s appearance, history, personality, and more.
The Appearance of the Merle Border Collie
Like the more common black and white dogs, the merle Border Collie is a medium-sized dog with a muscular build that gives them the strength and endurance required of a working herding dog.
Their bodies are slightly longer than they are tall. According to the American Kennel Club's (AKC) official breed standard, the length-to-height ratio is approximately 10:9. The length of the neck should be in proportion to the length of the body. They have deep, moderately broad chests.
Male Border Collie dogs stand about 19 to 22 inches tall, while females are around 18 to 21 inches in height. Their athletic and highly agile bodies weigh between 30 and 55 lbs.
Like all Border Collies, blue merle Border Collies have tails that are moderately long and carried low, especially when they are alert or focused on their jobs. Their tails are raised higher whenever they become excited.
The blue merle Border Collie has a face with unmistakable intelligence and eagerness. Their alert facial expression lets you know that they are laser-focused on the task at hand.
This supreme working dog has a flat skull with a moderate width. The muzzle of the blue merle Border Collie is about the same length as the skull, and the sides of the head should taper smoothly into the muzzle.
The Border Collie has medium-sized ears that stand erect or semi-erect on their heads. The AKC’s breed standard describes semi-erect ears as “varying from one-quarter to three-quarters of the ear”. The tips of the dog’s ears may fall forward or outward to the side when semi-erect.
Border Collies’ oval-shaped eyes come in many colors. The most commonly seen is brown. However, they can also have dark brown, light brown, amber/ yellow, light green, or blue eyes.
Heterochromia or different-colored eyes are also common in the breed. This condition does not affect their eyesight or overall health
Heterochromia is even more common among merle Border Collies, along with blue eyes. When a dog has mismatching eye colors (e.g. one blue eye and one brown eye), it is called complete heterochromia.
Some merle Border Collies have sectoral heterochromia – a condition where one or both eyes has more than one color in each eye (e.g. eye is part brown, part blue).
Once seen as an undesirable trait, mismatching eyes in both merle and regular Border Collie pups have become quite popular in recent years. As such, heterochromia in merle puppies is now more common than it used to be.
Purebred Border collies come in two coat types: smooth and rough coats. Both rough and smooth coat Border Collies have thick double coats that protect them from the elements. The undercoat is short, soft, and dense, keeping them warm and well-insulated. The outer coat is longer and coarser than the undercoat. It can be either wavy or straight.
The rough coat Border Collie has feathered legs, haunches, chest, and underside. The smooth Border Collie has slightly feathered legs, haunches, chest, and neck.
Color and Markings
The Border Collie dog’s coat color comes in many varieties and combinations such as tri-color. They also come in many types of markings including merle. Below are the lists of coat colors and markings as listed by the AKC.
- Blue Merle
- Sable Merle
- White & Black
- White & Gold
- White & Red
- Red Merle
- White & Blue
- White & Seal
- White & Blue Merle
- Saddleback Sable
- White & Red Merle
- White Ticked
- White Markings
- Merle Markings
- Tan Points
- White Markings, Tan Points
- White Markings, Ticked
- White Mkngs, Tan Pts, Ticked
- White Markings, Brindle Points
- White Mkng, Brindle Pt, Ticked
History of the Border Collie
Often called the world’s greatest herding dog, the Border Collie is said to have ancient roots as descendants of herding dogs brought to the British shores by both the Roman Empire and the Vikings.
In the Romans’ quest to occupy Britain, their armies brought with them their food source, which includes livestock. This livestock had with them shepherds and herding dogs. The Roman herding dogs were tall, large dogs that were different from the more agile sheepdogs that we see today.
When the Viking raiders came, they brought with them their own brand of herding canines. The Viking dogs were spitz-type ones that were smaller, lighter, and more agile than the large Roman dogs. According to the AKC, the Viking herding dogs were the progenitors of some contemporary breeds like the Icelandic Sheepdog.
With the practice of dog breeding passed down to the British by the Romans, soon they began breeding large Roman dogs with the smaller Viking dogs. Breeders in the lowland and border counties of England and Scotland eventually produced the perfect herding dog: the Border Collie.
Today, the incredibly smart Border Collie works in various industries other than farming. The eager-to-please dogs have found work as service dogs, guide dogs, narcotics, and bomb detection dogs among others.
The Personality of the Merle Border Collie
- Extremely active
- Highly intelligent
- Eager to please
The highly intelligent merle Border Collie is a dog with a very high energy level. They are eager to please and are a joy to train. They will fit well into a household with active family members who love to take their dogs on fun outdoor activities on a regular basis.
The blue merle Border Collie may not be the best for those who prefer a very chill, less outdoorsy lifestyle, or first-time dog owners. Because they are very intelligent, merle Border Collies require a lot of enrichment and stimulation to keep them away from trouble.
Boredom can cause these smart pups to develop destructive behaviors such as chewing holes through walls, destroying furniture, excessive barking, etc.
Merle Border Collies and other Border Collie pups are great with other pets and children. However, if not properly socialized, they may try to herd children and other pets. Obedience training and early socialization can help prevent behaviors such as nipping at heels that may be caused by their herding instincts.
This dog breed thrives when given a job. Originally bred to be herding dogs, blue merle Border Collies have “the eye” or “herding eye”. This is an intense gaze they give sheep to intimidate them when herding. Because they are highly trainable, Border Collies do well in other jobs as well. This includes work as guide dogs, therapy dogs, police work, etc.
During downtime, the very affectionate merle Border Collie loves to relax with their owners. They enjoy pets and snuggles just like other dogs.
The Exercise Needs of the Merle Border Collie
Dogs like the blue merle Border Collie have high exercise demands. Meeting their requirements is vital in keeping them happy, healthy, and away from destructive troublemaking. Not being able to provide their physical and mental needs can make these smart dogs bored and frustrated.
The highly agile merle Border Collie needs daily high-impact activities. A minimum of two hours' worth of exercise every day should keep your pup happy and fit. This can be split into morning and afternoon walks or off-leash playtime in a secure area.
Agility courses offer some of the best, most fun activities for your merle Border Collie. It not only allows them to show their full athletic potential, but it also gives them a lot of mental stimulation.
Food puzzles and other interactive toys are great ways to provide mental stimulation for your merle Border Collie puppy or adult while indoors.
Obedience training and early socialization provide any dog with many benefits. It not only teaches your merle Border Collie puppy good behavior but also exercises their brain function. These also are great for the well-being of a Border Collie as it minimizes the stress that can be caused by separation anxiety, nervousness, etc.
Ideal Activities for a Merle Border Collie
- Agility courses
- Herding activities
- Off-leash playtime
The Health of the Merle Border Collie
While a generally healthy and very athletic breed, the Border Collie is prone to some health conditions. Hip dysplasia is the most common medical issue observed in Border Collie dogs. However, certain health issues particularly affect some merle Border Collies more than the order colors.
Dogs known as double merles or “lethal white” are those that have inherited the merle gene variant from both parents (regardless of breed). They can be prone to congenital deafness, blindness, and other ear/ eye problems. It is important to note that the merle gene is not lethal, and the lethal white gene exists in horses and not in dogs.
Because of the increased risk of developing genetic illnesses and other issues, many canine organizations like the Border Collie Society of America do not recommend breeding two merle dogs. Some registries like The Kennel Club do not register puppies born from merle to merle matings.
By adding a non-merle parent’s genes into the mix, the risk of puppies developing such problems is significantly lowered. The following genetic conditions are unusual in merle dogs that only have one merle gene-carrying parent. A reputable breeder would have their stock tested for any history of genetic disorders.
Health Problems Commonly Seen in Double Merle Dogs
- Sun sensitivity
- Skin Cancer
- Other ear and eye problems
While some merle Border Collies are said to have a higher risk than others of having certain health problems, the breed itself is predisposed to have the following illnesses regardless of coat color.
Common Border Collie Health Issues
- Hip Dysplasia
- Collie Eye Anomaly
- Multidrug Resistance Mutation (MDR1)
- Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome (TNS)
- Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (CL)
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy
4 Ways To Keep Your Merle Border Collie Healthy
Feed the Right Food
Good food and nutrition go a long way in keeping your blue merle Border Collie happy and healthy for many years. Getting the proper amount of nutrients helps your pup build a strong immune system that can fight off diseases.
Find a high-quality dog food that is appropriate for your merle Border Collie’s age, activity level, and breed size. Such foods are not only highly nutritious but they are also packed with natural flavors that are sure to get your pup’s tail wagging.
Aside from meals, healthy dog treats are also highly recommended. Healthy treats that are minimally processed make training and snacktime enjoyable and guilt-free.
Provide Veterinary Care
Having a vet that you can easily go to in case of emergencies or advice is an important part of responsible pet ownership. Vets can not only help address medical issues, but they can also guide pet parents on so many aspects of a dog’s health and well-being.
From medications, nutrition, grooming, and even behavioral issues, your vet can give you advice on your dog’s needs. They can also recommend ways to help you add more years to your dog’s life.
Give Them Enough Exercise
Exercise is critical in caring for a merle Border Collie. They have very high exercise requirements which make them unsuitable for not-so-active households. They need a minimum of two hours of exercise per day.
Practice Good Dental Hygiene
Border Collies are hardy, working dogs that have average grooming needs. However, dental care is very important in every breed.
Brushing your merle Border Collie’s teeth regularly can help prevent plaque and tartar buildup that can cause tooth decay. Ideally, dogs’ teeth should be brushed twice daily. If daily brushings are not possible, you should brush their teeth at least 3 times a week.
No-brush toothpaste can be used on a merle Border Collie daily in between brushings. This type of dog toothpaste can be simply squirted into your dog’s mouth with no brushing required. Water additives for dental health can also help freshen their breath.
Grooming Needs of a Merle Border Collie
Whether you own rough-coated or smooth-coated blue merles, their grooming needs are pretty much the same. Unless they get really dirty, Border Collies don’t require frequent bathing. At most, bathing once every two months should be fine.
Merle Border Collie coats should be brushed with a pin brush once or twice a week. More frequent brushing needs to be done during shedding season. You can use a slicker brush or a de-shedding brush on your dog’s coat as well.
Aside from regular teeth brushing, blue merle Border Collies’ nails must be trimmed regularly as well. If they get enough exercise, their nails will not be needing frequent trimming.
The incredibly beautiful and smart merle Border Collie is truly a delightful pet to have. The American Border Collie Association recommends that pet owners look at their lifestyle and assess whether they have the time and energy to devote to their dog.
Not every pet owner can keep up with this breed’s needs. These dogs are not recommended for busy households who do not have time for daily extended exercise.
But to those who are willing to put in the time and effort, whether you have a blue merle or a sable Border Collie, the rewards that this dog can give are truly endless. They are affectionate and eager to please their owners. They would also happily take on a job if you’re willing to train them.