Nose Pigment, Coat Color and Markings, and Eye Color

    On this page I will share some info on various aspects of color, markings, eye color and pigment in Aussies.



    I have had people ask me about the pigment or lack thereof on the noses newborn or young Aussie puppies.  It should be noted that on newborn Aussies, their noses are usually pink, especially in merles. The black (or brown pigment on reds) comes in as they grow.  It will develop at different rates, but often tri pups get their pigment in faster than merles, and pups with less white on the face develop it sooner than ones with more white.  That is not always the case however.  Even similarly marked pups in the same litter may develop the pigment at different rates.  In AKC, as long as 75% of the nose is filled in by a year of age, it's acceptable.  In ASCA, all the nose must fill in by that age.  I will also comment that I had one merle take several years to completely fill in, but he was not used for show or breeding.  Once in a while the pigment never fills in, and this is a fault.  It can leave the dog open to skin damage from exposure to the sun. 

     Toward the bottom of the page, I have included a couple photos of a merle pup at various ages, showing how the pigment fills in, and some more info.

   It should be noted that  pink on noses, the top of the muzzle, on eye rims and other exposed areas is subject to sunburn and has a potential to develop skin cancer.  If your dog is to be out in the sun for any length of time,  you can use a sunblock product to prevent that. 

    White markings on the face tend to shrink with age.  Collars don't change so much though, so a pup with a big or small collar will have that as an adult.  In the photos below, it's the same Aussie on her birthday and at about 6 months of age.  It shows how much the white blaze has changed.


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The shade of merling on a merle may darken wtih age too, depending on bloodline. I have seen blue merle pups with merle so light it's hard to tell it apart from the white, when they are young pups.  Then at middle age it's a medium shade of blue.  The same can be said for red merles where the shade of merle may darken with age.  I put a picture of a blue merle Aussie below, showing her as a puppy and at 8 months of age. Her color has already darkened quite a bit.
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   Below is another set of photos showing an Aussie as a puppy of about 6 weeks of age and again at about 3 years of age.  You can see how much his coat has darkened in color, as well as his nose pigment filled in. His copper has gotten richer which is also normal. He's a gorgeous dog.


 

  Some black tri Aussies may get a reddish tint to their coats before they blow their coat.  This will go away when the old coat sheds and new coat comes in. It is usually just caused by sunburn.  It's even more noticable in red Aussies, as their coats are far more prone to sun bleaching than black or blue merle Aussies.  Darker or deeper red Aussies may bleach to a very pale orange shade before they shed their old coat and grow a new one.

   Some Aussies also have "dilute" spots.  These are areas on a blue merle Aussie that are not affected by the merle gene, but are diluted from black to steel blue or sometimes a rusty brown.  On red merles, it may be solid areas that are paler in color than the darkest brown areas.   These are faults, but since many merles have a small dilute spot or two, it's not as big a deal as if there are large areas of dilution or many dilute spots. 


Below is a normal blue merle and black tri, and a blue merle pup on the far right with a huge amount of dilute area.  In a "normal" colored pup the steel grey would be dark black.  There is no health risk associated with this color but it is a disqualification from the show ring and the pup shouldn't be bred.   Most merles with some dilute spots are not this extreme.


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Below on the left is another blue merle with a large area of dilute on her side.  In her case it is showing as a brownish grey.  Again it's just a color fault and has no health problems associated with it.  On the right is a dilute red merle female. Her solid areas are pale, more like that of a Weimaraner than the richer or darker red normally seen in red Aussies.  She is a pretty puppy and will make a great companion.


Below are photos of a dilute black tri puppies, and one of the boy in the center with two black siblings.  They have steel grey nose pigment and her coat will be a dark grey as an adult.   This is a simple recessive trait, the D locus.  She has to be dd at that spot, and both parents had to carry one copy.  Some of these also  has one blue eye which is not related to dilute coat color.

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   With markings such as copper or tan points, that also will become more rich and noticeable as the pup grows. Many look almost bi-color at birth (tri or merle and white, without tan or copper points). The black or merle covers over the points but the tan or copper becomes more rich as the pup grows, and even more so as the adult coat comes in.  So just because a pup looks like it lacks the points at birth, doesn't mean they aren't there.  If in doubt, look under the tail and if there is copper or tan there, the pup is a tri, not a bicolor. 

The three photos below are the same boy. You can see more copper as he matures, and  can also see he has less ticking here than as an adult. That's normal too, ticking may increase as the dog matures.  I have added a picture of the pup as an adult, so you can see the increase in ticking, and how his white blaze has shrunk in size.  His copper has become more rich, and his ticking is darker.  Not all Aussies have ticking though.
 
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I also wanted to show some of the difference in the amount of copper in various lines of Aussies.  I have seen them go from very dark faced "e-locus" masked dogs, to "average" ones, and on the other end of the range are dogs who have a copper mask that seemed to overpower the black areas around their faces.   None of these is more correct or desirable than the other, though many people prefer one style over another.

I put photos in order of ver heavy e-locus mask through moderately heavy e-locus mask and then the opposite of running copper.  Dogs with a heavy mask will barely show eye brow dots, though some come in over the years.  The dogs with running copper start off looking more "normal" and the black around their eyes fades as they grow.  Just like with ticking, it seems to be a dominant trait and will be passed on to offspring even if the other parent does not carry it.  The last row shows it on merles, with the far right pup being a daughter of the male center in the row above her.  She has extreme running copper. The male in the center has a heavy mask, and the male far right has none but no running copper either.

 






Below is an example of what running copper looks like in a pup and the same girl as a young adult.
                                                        

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NOSE PIGMENT AND EAR WHITE

This puppy in the series below has white on the ear and plenty of white on her face. The only "mismark" is the partially white ear.  Like many merles, she has a partially pigmented nose at this age, though chances are good it will fill in totally before she's a year of age. She is from a breeding of a normally marked black tri sire and a normally marked blue merle dam.  In the picture on the left, she's about 4 weeks old, and is about 8 weeks in the center one, and 13 weeks old in the one on the right. You can see how much pigment has filled in during such a short time. 


   I wanted to make a note about the white on that pup's ear.  I have seen some people call this "pattern white" but it is just an extension of the Irish pattern that puts the white on faces, feet, chests and faces.  There is also something called the "spotting gene" that creates random white spotting on the body of a dog, more like a pinto horse..  These are two different, and distinct genetic patterns.  To my knowledge, my lines don't carry that as I've never seen in it any relatives or pups.  This merle  pup is marked correctly everywhere else and can hear fine.  I have no reason to believe, if she was bred, she'd produce anything but an occasional pup with white on the ear, if any at all with that marking.  Usually breeders will sell puppies with extra white as pets to be spayed or neutered.


  Another trait I see is where there is white going too high up the hocks and stifles on the back legs, or up from the underside into the sides.    You can read Shelly Hollen's site for good examples of this.  The link is below.  These dogs would be disqualified from conformation showing and should not be bred. Excessive white is a recessive trait.




EYE COLOR

I wanted to include a section on eye colors in Aussies.  As with their coat colors and markings, they may have a wide variety of eye colors and patterns.  Some Aussies have solid blue eyes, or eyes that are brown, amber, or gold, in various shades but that are solid in that shade.  They may have two different eye colors or they may have marbled eyes were at least two different colors occur in the same eye.  This is more common in merles but I have seen it in tri pups as well.  Usually those are tri pups from lines carrying the "blue eyed solid" or "blue eyed tri" gene (though that isn't an accurate description and blue eyed solid, since it can occur in bi or self colored Aussies, meaning all black or all red.)  Blue eyes in solid colored Aussies (solid body color) is a somewhat recessive trait, but it isn't a simple recessive.  It occurs more in some lines than others, and I've seen it skip generations.  It's more common to have blue eyed pups in solid or merle if one of the parents has them though.  I find it an appealing trait but like any good breeder, would never breed for just one trait such as blue eyes. 

  I should also note that many red Aussies, tri or merle, may have a lighter shade of brown or amber eye color, if they are not blue eyed. It's similar to the difference one may see in a black Labrador Retriever, versus a chocolate one.  Also, puppy eye color will change.  There is a picture on this page of a darker faced black tri pup who has almost green eyes.  As an adult he will have a lighter shade of brown eye, rather than very dark brown ones.  Even blue eyes in pups will lighten somewhat from puppyhood to adulthood. 

   You can see many blue eyed tri Aussies on this site, as well as merles with various eye colors from blue, to marbled or brown.   There are also bi-eyed (one of each color) or brown eyed tri Aussies pictured on this site.  There is a great page on the ASHGI site showing a wide variety of marled or other eye colors, so I won't attempted to duplicate that here. 

   One thing I should note is there are no more health problems associated with any particular eye color.   Uneducated people may try to claim blue eyed dogs are blind, but that is not true, at least not due to eye color.  I CAER test all my dogs and as many others, have never seen a correlation between eye color and eye defects.  One thing I have seen is that a specific eye defect called an "iris coloboma" seems to be more common in merle pups than tri pups, but is still not a really common problem. 

  I will show some of the variation in eye color in a few pictures below.

 

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Here is a comparison of pigment on reds.  While two are tris and one a merle, you can see this variation on either pattern. Some red tris are pale, almost orange.  Some red merles have very dark brown colored (liver)  pigment.   The dog on the left has dark, rich pigment. His nose and eye rims are a much darker shade than the dog on the right.  You can also see the lighter amber colored eye that is typical of a red. The tri on the left also has one blue eye. The red merle has lighter base color and nose pigment, and the tri on the right has dark pigment and really dark eye color.



For more comprehensive information on color and markings, see


http://www.ashgi.org/color/index.html


Sometimes this site doesn't load properly and if that happens to you, try reloading it.  It's a GREAT site!




    Another really good site is the Illustrated Standard website by breeder judge Shelly Hollen.



http://www.shalakoaussies.com/BreedStandard_Main.html



It has great information on various aspects of the standard, not just structure and type but also markings and more.  I highly recommend visiting this one, especially if you are breeding Aussies.  It will help you learn to assess the quality of your dogs and understand structure.  Shelly also has put together a book called "The Australian Shepherd Structure and Gait" that will also teach you how to assess those aspects of the breed.  You can access order information from her website at:


http://www.shalakoaussies.com/


 

     

 

 

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     "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

Psalm 23:6 

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