The Colors of American (AKC) Champion Shelties

There are Champion Shetland Sheepdogs in all of the five recognised colors. All US Champions have had white markings, ranging from white paws or a neck spot to full white collar, white legs, white tail tip and white blaze on the face. However, a show dog cannot (since the 50's) exceed 50% white.

Sable is basically a red/gold/tan/brown color, with varying degrees of black overlay. Extremes in overlay may vary from red, gold or tan with black confined to the whiskers to a dog that at first glance looks black with tan on the face and legs. All sables have some tan in the undercoat of the body, and so far as I have been able to observe, all have an "open" tan face (that is, the hair around the eyes is tan. ) Ch Halstors Peter Pumpkin ROM is an outstanding example of a sable Sheltie.

Tricolor is basically black with tan points on legs, muzzle, under the tail and over the eyes, with white markings. (Black and tan, which would not have the white markings, has apparently been lost in the American Sheltie.) The undercoat on the body may be grayish, but is not tan. On the head, the hair surrounding the eyes is normally black, in a "bandit mask" effect. One description of a tricolor is the color of a Rottweiler or a black Dobermann with the addition of white markings. Am/Can Ch Banchory High Born ROM is the top producing tricolor in breed history.

Not all black dogs have the tan points. At one time the lack of tan was considered a fault, but in fact black or black and white without tan was an original color of the Sheltie, and it is now once again fully accepted. Black and white dogs are just what they sound like: black dogs with white markings. Ch Macdega The Piano Man ROM is an outstanding example of this color, which is often called a bi-black. In terms of total number of Champions, bi-black and bi-blue are still the least common.

Blue merle is the result of a diluting gene, called merle, on a basically black coat. If the dog has the genes to be a tricolor, it will be a blue merle, tan and white, often called just blue merle. The coat dilution is rather splotchy, so a blue merle will have the parts of the coat that would otherwise be black diluted to blue-gray with varying splotches of black. This is probably the most variable color in Shelties, with the blue part of the coat varying from a clear silver blue to a pewter color, and the amount of black varying from flecking or marbling of the coat to patches that cover most of the body. The tan points do not show obvious merling unless a masking factor produces black tips. The merle gene can also affect how much area white markings cover. Probably the most important blue merle was the top producing bitch in Sheltie history: Ch Larkspur of Pocono CDX ROM. Unfortunately no color picture exists of her, so for a color view of a blue merle have a look at Ch Karelane Royal Flush of Kismet ROM.

Blue merle and white or (as it is more often called) bi-blue is a merled black and white, just as a blue merle, tan and white is a merled tricolor. It was accepted a little earlier than the black and white because the lack of tan in a blue is not as obvious as it is in a black. In recent years the color has become more popular.

The first US Champion, in 1916, was in fact a black and white. However, the breed then died out in the US, and when Champions began to be finished again, in 1927, black and white was unknown and sables dominated. This was largely a result of the colors being imported. The first blue merle import, Eltham Park Bluette, was not imported until 1929, and the first imported blue merle Champion, Ch Sheltieland Thistle, was registered in the 1930 Stud Book and finished her title in 1935. The Sheltie who really put the color on the map was Ch Larkspur of Pocono CDX ROM, still the top producing bitch in breed history. Most blue merles today trace to her. Traces from the imports to ROM Shelties are available on this site.

In order to plot the American Champion colors (provided by Bob Miller) I have combined tricolor and bi-black, as I have combined blue merle with and without tan, leaving the three categories of black, sable and blue:

To give some idea of the data on which each column is based, I have also plotted the number of Champions finished each year since 1927:

It is clear that the dominant color among show Shelties is sable, as has been the case since the breed was reintroduced to the United States in the 20's. However, the distinction between black and blue, and between tan-point dogs and bicolors, has also changed through time. This plot shows only the the Champion Shelties recorded as some shade of black or blue. Again, it is a percent plot - the bar length is proportional to the number of Champions of the given color, divided by the sum of all of the non-sable Champions.

I plan eventually to have a color list of photos on this site, but I need to get more photos, first. Similar plots have also been made for British dogs listed in the Kennel Club Stud Book.


Last update March 8, 2010