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What A Collie Is: Coat Colors

Collies come in a surprising range of colors, adding to their overall beauty! Whether it's a fluffy Rough Collie or a sleek Smooth Collie, these color variations apply to both types.

This article will explore the following sections of the four main Collie colors as well as the color variations in each:

  • Sable: This classic "Lassie" look comes in shades of red, brown, or even buff.

    • Sable Merle: A lighter-colored Sable with marbled patterns and sometimes with blue eyes.

  • Tri-Color: Striking black coats with brown markings on the face and legs, similar to a Doberman (but with Collie white markings).

  • Blue Merle: Essentially a Tri-Color with a Merle gene, which creates a unique blue-grey patterned coat.

  • White: The rarest Collie color, appears white with possible Sable, Merle, Tri-Color, or Blue Merle markings on the head and sometimes body.

    • White Merle: Almost entirely white due to the Merle gene, but at higher risk for hearing and vision problems.

So, the next time you see a Collie, take a moment to appreciate the amazing variety of colors that make them so special!


Collie coats come in a variety of stunning patterns, which further add to the breed's beauty. Whether on a Rough Collie or a Smooth Collie, these color patterns are essentially the same. While it can be challenging to distinguish between a smooth and rough puppy at birth, their markings typically remain consistent throughout their lives.

The Official Collie Standard recognizes four basic colors, each with significant visual variations. The AKC Standard prioritizes rich, deep colors in any design, not a specific color scheme. While some Collie colors and patterns resemble other breeds, they are unique to Collies.

Clearvu's Addie (tri) with her only baby (sable)
Clearvu's Addie and Sven

Fun Fact: Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties) share some color variations with Collies, but they also come in distinct colors like black and white without tan markings.


Sable (Sable and White)

The Sable color is known for being the classic "Lassie" coat and comes in various shades, ranging from rich red to deep mahogany brown to a lighter "buff" color. A variation of the sable includes the tri-factored sable, which carries a single recessive tri-color gene, often resulting in a darker sable coat. Sable Collies typically darken with each shed. This coat color can be recognized by distinct characteristics as such white markings on the legs, tail tip, and chest.

Sable and White Smooth Collie Male
Clearvu's Bond (Gemma Grandson)
Sable and White Rough Collie Female
Clearvu's Gemma

Sable Merle

A Sable Merle is a Sable that has inherited the Merle gene from one of its parents. Their coat color is generally lighter with subtle marbled patterns, speckling, or "ghost" markings. These Sable Merle markings can diminish with age and eventually blend with a regular Sable coat. Blue eyes can be another indicator of this merle gene.

Sable Merle colored Rough Collie Female
Clearvu's Bella

Breeders identify the Sable Merle as a distinct hue and breed their dogs accordingly, even though the AKC lists it as a Sable. This is one of the most exquisite colors of all Collie hues which was formerly a contentious hue.

In mentioning this color variation we cannot do so without mentioning our own beautifully merled girl Bella. Bella has since passed, but she had one of the most distinct sable merle markings seen in my lifetime. While some sable merles can go undetected until genetic testing Bella was a marvel as she was just if not more merled than a blue. 

Tri (Black, White, and Tan)

Tri-colored Collies are characterized by their striking black coat with brown markings on the face and legs. This color pattern can resemble more well-known breeds such as the Doberman but with distinct Collie white markings on the legs, tail tip, and chest. This recessive color requires both parents to carry the tri-color gene.

Tri Rough Collie Female
Clearvu's Bling
Tri Smooth Collie Female
Clearvu's Addie

Blue Merle (Blue/Grey, White, and Tan)

Genetically the Blue Merle is a Tri-Color that receives the Merle gene from one parent. The merle dilution gene affects both the black and red pigments, creating a unique blue/grey patterned coat with black speckles. For most people the "ideal" blue merle coats are light and have an almost crystal blue hue. Dark grey and white ice harlequin colors are less desirable due to bigger spots of black on the body. Blue merles share the Tri-Color's tan facial features and white markings.

Harlequin Blue Merle Smooth Collie Male
Clearvu's Wilder (Harlequin)
Blue Merle Smooth Collie Female
Clearvu's Summer

White (White, and Sable/Blue/Black)

Tri Headed White Smooth Collie Female
Clearvu's Panda (Tri-headed White)

The rarest Collie coat color is white and can appear in combination with either Sable, Sable Merle, Tri-Color, or Blue Merle coloring. White Collies have a normally color-marked head but a primarily white body usually with smaller spots of color on their body.

The white gene is recessive, which means it must be inherited from both parents. When a Collie inherits this white-factored gene from both parents, it becomes a White Collie regardless of the parents' colors. Collies with only one white gene are white-factored, often having more white on their markings and faces. White-factored Collies can be particularly striking.

Fun Fact: You can tell if a collie is white-factored based on markings. If a collie has an unbroken white line running from their hind end paws up to their belly they are white factored. (see example below)

Example of white marking on a Collie to show white factoring
Clearvu's Celeste

White Merle

A White Merle must inherit the Merle gene from both parents. Unlike a White Collie with a Merle's head, a White Merle is characterized by being almost entirely white, including their head and face, due to the dominant dilution effect of the Merle genes. While White Merles can have a stunning appearance, they are often at an increased risk for deafness and eye problems.

Since White Merles have increased hearing and vision problems (unlike Collie's Eye Anomaly or Progressive Retinal Atrophy) responsible Collie breeders must avoid purposely breeding two Merles. 



Blue Merle Smooth Collie Male
Clearvu's Glacier

The collie coat comes in a vibrant array of colors and patterns. From the classic Sable to the striking Blue Merle and the rare White, each variation adds to the Collie's unique charm. Understanding these color variations can help potential owners appreciate the full spectrum of beauty within this beloved breed.

Whether you're a longtime Collie lover or simply curious about the breed, this series on "What a Collie Is" aims to provide valuable insights into these magnificent dogs.



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