All Border Collie Colors, Patterns & Combinations
Animal file: Border Collie
The Border Collie is one of the most iconic dog breeds, known in particular for their intelligence and employment as a type of herding dog. Part of the reason is also because they have a lithe frame which allows them to dart across fields and paddocks longer than the farmer commanding them can. When you see them rush past you will see their moderate length coat waving in the wind. Border Collies are also known for the diverse and extensive range of colors and patterns of said coat. All of which are beautiful and some of which are fairly rare.
At AnimalWised, we bring you a complete list of all Border Collie coat colors, patterns and combinations. We provide pictures so you can see how they appear and explain the genetic reasons why they look how they look.
Border collie colors accepted by breed standard organizations
One of the most notable curiosities of the Border Collie is their wide range of colors. The reason for this is due to the genetic history of the breed. The International Cynological Federation (FCI) is one of the main breed standard organizations in the world. They provide details on the ideal characteristics of officially recognized dog breeds (there are many other unofficial or yet-to-be official dog breeds).
All the Border Collie colors detailed in the sections below are officially recognized by the FCI. However, we need to point out that pure white Border Collies are not and must be avoided by breeders. A pure white Border Collie is known as a ‘lethal white’. The reason for this because pure white Collies are more prone to physical defects such as blindness and deafness.
However, all Border Collie coat patterns will be based on a mainly white layer. Tricolor patterns will show various combinations of red, black and white. The coat colors for Border Collies are:
- Black and white
- Black and white tricolor
- Blue merle
- Blue merle tricolor
- Chocolate/liver tricolor
- Red merle
- Red merle tricolor
- Seal merle
- Tan/copper merle
- Lilac merle
- Slate merle
- Australian red
- White (not recognized)
Regardless of coat color in a Border Collie, it is important we provide for their specific needs. Our article on caring for a Border Collie can help us to know more.
Border collie coat color genetics
Everything about a dog's morphology (their physical makeup) is determined by genetics passed down from their parents. A Border Collie's coat and eye color are no exception. In the case of this breed, scientists have identified a total of 10 genes which are directly involved in pigmentation. This pigmentation is due to melanin, a pigment of which there are two classes: pheomelanin and eumelanin. Pheomelanin is responsible for pigments ranging from red to yellow and eumelanin for those ranging from black to brown.
Of these 10 genes, 3 are direct determinants of basic coloration. These determinants are made up variants of genes known as alleles which come in pairs. The degree to which the alleles are similar is determined by their zygosity. For example, if one or more of the alleles is the same it is homozygous. If they are different they are heterozygous.
The genome (the genetic material of the dog) contains its alleles in loci (individual parts of the chromosome which contains the genetic material) make up the various genes:
- Gene A: if the allele Ay presents on the chromosome of the Border Collie (capital letters meaning the dominant allele), the animal has a coat which includes tan and red. If it is At, it will have a tricolor coat. However, the expression of the gene A depends on whether or not the K and E genes are present.
- Gene K: in this cases, three different alleles occur. The K, being dominant, prevents the expression of A, causing a black coloration. If it is Kbr allele, A is allowed to express itself, causing a coloration in which markings of the tan-red color appear. This gives it a ticked coat pattern. Finally, if the recessive gene is K, A is also expressed as it is dominant.
- Gene E: this gene is responsible for eumelanin, thus if the dominant allele E is present, both A and K can be expressed. In the case of the recessive allele in homozygotic genes (ee), the expression of eumelanin is prevented meaning those dogs only produce pheomelanin.
But the expression of these main genes can only explain the following colors and patterns: red, black, tan and tricolor.
Secondary genes in Border Collie coat colors
In addition to the 3 main genes discussed above, there are a total of 5 genes that interfere and modify the coloration in the Border Collie. Briefly, these genes are:
- Gene B: has effects on eumelanin. The dominant allele B is considered normal, while b causes the black color to become brown.
- Gene D: this gene affects the intensity of the color, acting as a diluent when it is the recessive d. For example, it turns black into blue, lightens yellow and red and makes brown lilac.
- Gene M: like D, the M gene in its dominant allele causes a dilution of color, having an effect on eumelanin. In this case, black would turn to blue merle and brown to red merle. The process of homozygosis of the dominant gene (MM) causes specimens of the white-merle type, which lack any coloration. Unfortunately, this can lead to the ‘lethal white’ problems mentioned above. These include deafness, blindness or even having no eyes at all, among other conditions. For this reason, the crossing of two merle specimens is prohibited by breed standard organizations and they prevent the registration of these types of Border Collie to reduce the future suffering of these animals.
- Gene S: there are 4 alleles of this gene, responsible for the expression of the white color in the animal's coat. In the case of the dominant S allele, white would be almost absent, whereas in sw, the most recessive of all, the animal would be completely white. There may be some exceptions for isolated colored spots on the face, body and snout.
- Gene T: the recessive t allele is normal and T causes the marbled coloration to appear, which only becomes visible when the dog is already at a certain age.
The combination of all these genes already explains the total color range of the Border Collie's coat, which we detail below.
All the color types of the Border Collie (with photos)
The different genetic combinations cause multiple variations in the coat color of the Border Collie. These genetic changes also cause different patterns to emerge. This is why we show you all the possible coat color combinations and explain which genes dominate. We also provide a picture of each pattern to further illuminate.
Black and white Border Collie
The black and white coat is perhaps the most common and easy to find. It is determined by the dominant gene B, which, accompanied by the recessive (a), does not allow any other color to be displayed.
Black and white tricolor Border Collie
The gene M in its heterozygous dominant allele (Mm) causes three colors to appear on the coat: white, black, and tan, the latter of which is especially visible around the black markings, as you can see in the photo below.
Blue merle Border Collie
This coat pattern and color was previously not accepted by many farmers and shepherd because it resembled the markings of a wolf. It is due to the dominant M allele in heterozygous genes, bearing the color blue as a dilution of the black color due to the presence of this diluent gene.
Blue merle tricolor Border Collie
In the case of blue merle or tricolor merle, a genotype is given in which there is a dominant gene E and another B (excepting the gene M in heterozygosity), which causes the expression of the three colors on the coat as well as a grayish nose.
Chocolate Border Collie
Chocolate is another of the most popular Border Collie colors, especially because it is generally ‘rarer’ to find. Chocolate Collies are those that are brown or liver in color, with brown noses and green or brown eyes. In fact, you may hear the color described as liver rather than chocolate. They always have the B gene in recessive homozygosity (bb), i.e. when both alleles are recessive.
Tricolor chocolate Border Collie
This type of Border Collie is the same as the previous except for the presence of a single dominant M allele. This makes the brown coloring appear diluted in certain areas. Therefore, three different shades are presented: white, chocolate and tan. Again, they could also be described as tricolor liver Border Collies.
Red merle Border Collie
In the red merle Border Collie, the non-white markings have a brown base, but are always merle due to the presence of the dominant allele Mm. The red merle color is quite infrequent, since it requires the combination of the recessive bb allele to appear in the chocolate/liver color.
Red merle tricolor Border Collie
In this case, in addition to what is necessary for the merle pattern to occur, we also have the presence of the dominant allele of the A gene. This causes the appearance of the three colors. In this case, this uneven dilution of color appears, presenting a white base with marks in which black and red are present. Red is the most prevalent. In this type of Border Collie, more shades of brown and some black lines are observed, unlike the previous one. They can look quite similar until you discern the darker third color.
Seal Border Collie
In these coat colors, a different manifestation of the gene that creates the tan color occurs. Although lacking the dominant black allele, it appears much darker than the tan. The seal color can almost look like a tricolor as there are shades of tan in the coat. However, technically it is part of the same coat color. Due to this they can be difficult to distinguish.
Seal merle Border Collie
As with the rest of the merle coat Border Collies, the presence of the dominant allele M causes an irregular color dilution to appear. Specifically, it causes 3 colors to appear. In this case, the Border Collie colors that we see are tan, seal and white presenting in the merle pattern.
Tan Border Collie
The tan or sable color appears due to the interaction of eumelanin and pheomelanin. It causes the color to be lighter at the roots and darker at the tips. This causes a us to observe different shades of a copper/tan color combined with the white.
Tan merle Border Collie
This coat type of Border Collie has the same genetic coding as the tan Border Collie, but with the presence of the dominant M allele combined with the recessive (making it Mm). In this way, the dilution of the color is observed, resulting in the merle pattern.
Lilac Border Collie
The lilac color arises from the dilution of the brown color, so that this diluted color appears on the coat with a white base. The nose of these dogs is brown or cream, showing that brown is the base color.
Lilac merle Border Collie
In lilac merle Border Collies. there is a dominant allele of the M gene, which acts by diluting the lilac base brown color irregularly. The resulting pattern is fairly rare, but very beautiful.
Slate Border Collie
In these dogs, the original black base courtesy of the D gene is in its homozygous recessive version (dd). This causes the black color to be diluted. Therefore, the colors of the Border Collie present in this type of coat are white and slate.
Slate merle Border Collie
The black spots and the black nose indicate that the base color of these animals is black, but their phenotype, presented by Mm, causes the black color to be further diluted in the different parts of the coat. The result is the presence of different shades, including tan brown hairs on the legs and head. Unlike blue merle, slate merle has a black nose and a generally dark gray or blue eye color. Also, the coat color is usually lighter.
Australian red Border Collie or ee-red Border Collie
The main characteristic of the Australian red border collie is that this color usually appears masking other colors and showing itself in blond tones of different intensity. The base color can often be determined by looking at the nose and the eyelids, although it is not always possible to observe in this way. The only surefire way to know the base color is through a genetic test. In ee-red border collies, red appears above another color that cannot be seen with the naked eye, considered the base color. This means the following subtypes of Australian red border collie can be distinguished:
- Ee-red black: black base color with a shabby red color that covers it.
- Ee-red chocolate: red is intermediate, neither excessively intense nor very faded.
- Ee-red blue: with a blue base coat and a more blond red over it.
- Ee-red merle: this is the exception in terms of being able to distinguish the base color from the Australian red form, since at first the Australian red Border Collie merle base looks like red is a solid color. Only by using genetic tests can it be known exactly if it is a copy of the Border Collie Ee-red merle.
- Ee-red sable, lilac or blue: although less common, there are also examples in which Australian red masks these colors.
White Border Collie
As mentioned previously, the white Border Collie is born as a result of the presence of two dominant alleles of the M gene. This heterozygosity of the merle gene produces a completely white puppy, without pigmentation in the nose or iris. But, these animals have very delicate health, presenting serious health problems that affect their entire well-being. These can be more obvious in the form of blindness or deafness, or less so when causing heart disease or liver disease in dogs.
For this reason, the crossing of two merle individuals is prohibited by most canine federations, due to the possibility of Border Collie pups being born which carry and propagate these problems to future generations. It is the same reason double dapple breeding in Dachshund dogs is also restricted.
White is the only Border Collie coat color that is not accepted by the FCI. Although it is indeed a type of Border Collie coat color which exists, its reproduction is not recommended. This doesn't mean we can't care for and love white Border Collies which currently exist. Albinos dogs are just as deserving as any other dog. However, their breeding should be halted.
The Australian Shepherd is often mixed up with the Border Collie as they bear a close resemblance. This can also be seen the various coat colors which Australia Shepherds can display. To know more, you can take a look at the videos in the gallery below or check out our article on the differences between the Australian Shepherd and Border Collie.
If you want to read similar articles to All Border Collie Colors, Patterns & Combinations, we recommend you visit our Comparisons category.
- International Cynological Federation. (2010). Border Collie. From: http://www.fci.be/Nomenclature/Standards/297g01-en.pdf