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Merle Border Collies and Genetic problems?


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Hi,

 

So I have read a lot about merle BCs having problems. I know that when two merles are put together that the pups can have some serious

issues. I have finally found a breeder who I like who has been breeding for over 18 years. The puppy's mother will be regular black and white and

the Dad will be a merle...is this something I should be concerned about? The breeder says that they are healthy with no defects or problems...

Just curious. A lot of folks have told me to beware. What are your thoughts?

 

Thank you!

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Well, 99.99% of merle litters in this country are from puppy mills, back yard breeders and sport/show breeders, and I wouldn't buy a pup from any of those sources.

 

Let's say for the sake of argument that you are talking about a sport/show breeder. You can certainly debate whether or not breeding for sports/show is ok. I can not argue that sport/show breeders are being immoral as long as they don't represent pups from their dogs as being great working (sheep/cattle/goats) prospects. My own personal opinion is that breeding for sports/show is not breeding true Border Collies. The very breed is defined by the work they were bred to do.

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Hi Killi ~

 

Sometimes excessive white, especially in merles, (whether Aussie or BC) can be indicative of deafness or vision problems. Breeding merle-to-merle as you noted is a poor idea. Thus, I'd recommend querying the breeder about any vision or problems with deafness in her lines, though breeding black-and-white to merle is no indication the pups will be anything but healthy.

 

The thing about the merle coloring, though, is that to get merle in a border collie, one has to breed for that color. It's not a coloration that occurs without deliberate and rather narrow selection, and from what I've seen, that is almost always indicative that the dog is *not* from strict working lines. The working lines just aren't bred for color.

 

So, my question to you is, what do you want this dog for? If you're looking for a good working dog, I'd say be careful. There are a few merle working dogs out there, but I suspect they have show/sport lines in their background, and work instinct may not be very intense in pups from this breeding you're looking at.

 

But if you just want a pet, if none of the pups turn out excessively white, probably they'll be healthy.

 

Also, I'd check if the breeder has the sire and dam certified OFA for hips and elbows, and CEA for collie eye. I'm just very, very wary of breeders who go for color. To me, it means they're diluting the working ability, which is what I believe defines a border collie.

Cheers ~

 

Gloria

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Hi Killi ~

 

Sometimes excessive white, especially in merles, (whether Aussie or BC) can be indicative of deafness or vision problems. Breeding merle-to-merle as you noted is a poor idea. Thus, I'd recommend querying the breeder about any vision or problems with deafness in her lines, though breeding black-and-white to merle is no indication the pups will be anything but healthy.

 

The thing about the merle coloring, though, is that to get merle in a border collie, one has to breed for that color. It's not a coloration that occurs without deliberate and rather narrow selection, and from what I've seen, that is almost always indicative that the dog is *not* from strict working lines. The working lines just aren't bred for color.

 

So, my question to you is, what do you want this dog for? If you're looking for a good working dog, I'd say be careful. There are a few merle working dogs out there, but I suspect they have show/sport lines in their background, and work instinct may not be very intense in pups from this breeding you're looking at.

 

But if you just want a pet, if none of the pups turn out excessively white, probably they'll be healthy.

 

Also, I'd check if the breeder has the sire and dam certified OFA for hips and elbows, and CEA for collie eye. I'm just very, very wary of breeders who go for color. To me, it means they're diluting the working ability, which is what I believe defines a border collie.

Cheers ~

 

Gloria

 

Not to hijack the thread, but this could be useful for the OP

 

Now I have some thoughts on merle coloring because I have no clue...

Do you know how they got the color of the merle? Did they come from the original working lines and were cast out? I've heard the red/whites would be killed way back when because the farmers thought the sheep wouldn't respect them. I am curious if one of these farmers got a merle out of a breeding and thought badly of it. I could see how the farmers would think the pup looked like a sheep. ;)

While I agree on keeping the working collie alive... if you buy a merle from a breeder that is for sports, does this type of BC differ from a true working BC? I guess what I'm asking is does the merle have the drive, biddability and temper of a working collie? Or what?

 

I'm curious to see the responses

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While I agree on keeping the working collie alive... if you buy a merle from a breeder that is for sports, does this type of BC differ from a true working BC? I guess what I'm asking is does the merle have the drive, biddability and temper of a working collie? Or what?

 

I'm curious to see the responses

Please read "Read This First". That will explain a lot about the philosophy of responsible breeding of Border Collies, and why.

 

If you are not breeding for working ability (and all that entails), you are not breeding true working Border Collies. It's not the outside of the dog that matters, it's the inside that counts. And if you are breeding with color as a criterion (or any other cosmetic attributes), you are not longer breeding with working ability attributes as the only criteria.

 

If a breeder has been breeding for sports (or any other non-working purpose), within a very few generations, they are no longer producing Border Collies with those characteristics that made the breed what it is. It a complex combination of traits. Responsible breeding doesn't guarantee that a breeding will produce outstanding individuals - but it will certainly stack the odds in favor or producing sound, quality Border Collies.

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Please read "Read This First". That will explain a lot about the philosophy of responsible breeding of Border Collies, and why.

 

If you are not breeding for working ability (and all that entails), you are not breeding true working Border Collies. It's not the outside of the dog that matters, it's the inside that counts. And if you are breeding with color as a criterion (or any other cosmetic attributes), you are not longer breeding with working ability attributes as the only criteria.

 

If a breeder has been breeding for sports (or any other non-working purpose), within a very few generations, they are no longer producing Border Collies with those characteristics that made the breed what it is. It a complex combination of traits. Responsible breeding doesn't guarantee that a breeding will produce outstanding individuals - but it will certainly stack the odds in favor or producing sound, quality Border Collies.

 

I have read "Read this First." It offers a good explanation. It does say not to breed for coloring, but what colors are produced from working lines? That's what I don't know, and that was part of my question.

I should have worded my question better. I was mainly curious where the color merle comes from, how it appeared... That would explain why it's a "sport" or color bred dog and not a working collie. I have no clue the history on Merles and would love to know and further my knowledge on the Border Collie.

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There's a tremendous variation in appearance in working lines but you will find that black and white, and tricolor black and white vastly predominate. Why? Probably because for many generations while the breed was developing, "off color" pups were often culled at birth for whatever reason ("the sheep won't respect ____ color", "must have been caught by another male and isn't purebred", or whatever reason there might have been, valid or not).

 

Where did merle originate? I have no idea. However, in any breed, mutations can occur (there is, for instance, a line of "paint" non-registered GSDs that descend from one dog that had a genetic mutation for that pattern). Maybe that's where it originally came from, I don't know. Maybe there was a cross-breeding generations back?

 

I think it's a long history of "tradition" combined with whatever the root stock of the breed was, that has left the working dog primarily b/w and b/w tri. But in many, many different patterns and variations.

 

And there is, apparently, a liking for "flashy" and "rare" colors among sport and pet folks - which makes breeding for those colors a no-brainer for folks who want to sell to the first person with money in their hand. Some websites will list pricing based on things like color, white patterns, even whether the dog has one or two blue eyes. Definitely not breeding (or selling) for the right reasons.

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Hi,

 

So I have read a lot about merle BCs having problems. I know that when two merles are put together that the pups can have some serious

issues. I have finally found a breeder who I like who has been breeding for over 18 years. The puppy's mother will be regular black and white and

the Dad will be a merle...is this something I should be concerned about? The breeder says that they are healthy with no defects or problems...

Just curious. A lot of folks have told me to beware. What are your thoughts?

 

Thank you!

 

Is it a repeat breeding? If it is not I would beware regardless of who was breeding or for what purpose or what the color of the dogs are. If it is a repeat breeding see if you can find siblings that are competing in the venue that you wish to participate in, verify their temperments, see if those owners know of any littermates and what have become of them. Do they like their dog enough that they suggest that you purchase a full sibling to theirs. You may find that the siblings to the pup you are consider do not appeal to you, they may be difficult to train or handle, may be aggressive, over excitable, kinda gives you an idea as to what the pups will be.

 

I've been thinking alot about purchasing pups, I don't think I would buy one from a breeder where I have not seen at minimum one of the parents working in the same venue that I want the pup for. Pictures, titles, personal opinions don't cut it, I want to see it unless I know that the dog has competed at a level that I know is going to test the dog to a standard that I feel is acceptable. Which also means that I need to know about the competition, a win here in Iowa may not the same as a win someplace else, one place may be a win with the best of the best at the show, while another might be that the winner is the best of the worst.

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There's a tremendous variation in appearance in working lines but you will find that black and white, and tricolor black and white vastly predominate. Why? Probably because for many generations while the breed was developing, "off color" pups were often culled at birth for whatever reason ("the sheep won't respect ____ color", "must have been caught by another male and isn't purebred", or whatever reason there might have been, valid or not).

 

Where did merle originate? I have no idea. However, in any breed, mutations can occur (there is, for instance, a line of "paint" non-registered GSDs that descend from one dog that had a genetic mutation for that pattern). Maybe that's where it originally came from, I don't know. Maybe there was a cross-breeding generations back?

 

I think it's a long history of "tradition" combined with whatever the root stock of the breed was, that has left the working dog primarily b/w and b/w tri. But in many, many different patterns and variations.

 

And there is, apparently, a liking for "flashy" and "rare" colors among sport and pet folks - which makes breeding for those colors a no-brainer for folks who want to sell to the first person with money in their hand. Some websites will list pricing based on things like color, white patterns, even whether the dog has one or two blue eyes. Definitely not breeding (or selling) for the right reasons.

 

That really answered my question, thanks :) That is really interesting!

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Sixx,

If you do a search on the word merle or "merle and breeding" in the general forum and perhaps the health and genetics forum you will find some past discussions about breeding, including speculation about merles and why they don't appear in great numbers in working-bred dogs. Since it's a dominant gene, breeders were clearly choosing against it (as opposed to red, which being recessive, can pop up "unexpectedly").

 

To the OP, there's no real reason merles should have any greater risk of genetic problems than any other color (excluding double merles), although as some have already pointed out, the breeders choosing to breed for the color may not have the best interests of the breed at heart.

 

J.

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The thing about the merle coloring, though, is that to get merle in a border collie, one has to breed for that color. It's not a coloration that occurs without deliberate and rather narrow selection, and from what I've seen, that is almost always indicative that the dog is *not* from strict working lines. The working lines just aren't bred for color.

 

Merle, like smooth coat, is dominant, so you don't have to breed for it. You just have to not cull it for the pattern to remain in the breed.

 

I've seen pictures dating back to the earliest Border Collies (and ancestors of the breed) that were merle. It is a very old pattern and research seems to indicate that all merles share a common ancestor. The same research shows that the reverse mutation, merle to non merle, occurs quite frequently.

 

There was, and still is, a very real bias against merle Border Collies. Because of that bias working breeders have mostly culled it out of their lines. Again, because it is dominant this is very easy to do. Get rid of all the merle pups in a litter and in a single generation you can be rid of it. The sport/show breeders liked the pattern, so they bought the pups with funny markings and the farmers were happy to be rid of them!

 

Why was there a bias? There are 2 theories.

1) Farmers noticed that merles have more health problems.

2) The pattern is associated with a certain working style and/or temperament that they didn't like for work. (This is something I've heard directly from hill shepherds.)

 

So because of a bias, most if not all merles were lost to the working population. There are a very few working breeders who produce good dogs that are merles. More than half of those trace the pattern back to sport/show lines 6+ generations back (though before they were sport/show lines they were working lines). The rest I have not looked far enough back to see if their pedigrees do contain 100% working lines without a single sport or show dog to be found.

 

To put things in perspective, I know of fewer than 10 breeders of merles in the world I would even consider buying a dog from.

 

As far as their health problems, the number one defect in heterozygous (Mm) merles is hearing loss. The merle pattern is associated with an increased rate of deaf pups found in litters. The Irish spotting gene, which causes the white pattern we see on most Border Collies, is also associated with an increased risk of deaf pups. Put the two together and the risk for deaf pups in a litter is much higher than if either pattern is present without the other. (Merle pups in breeds without white, like Daschunds, are much less likely to be deaf even if MM.)

 

Homozygous merle (MM) is called lethal white because two copies of the gene causes some pups to die and some to be born with deformed/missing eyes and hearing loss. No breeder should EVER have a merle x merle litter unless it was an accident.

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I thought merle was co-dominant? And there are also chance of a hidden Merle?

 

My boy was from a blue merle and chocolate/white breeding. All the pups were black and white(thank doG). If merle was dominate shouldn't all the pups be merles then?

 

The blue merle is the grandchild to Dell ISDS 187939 (Dell was another blue merle). Who in my limited understanding did produce at least 9 dogs who compete on the Irish national herding team(hope that is the correct term). Her father was Pip ISDS 124578 Int & Irish Driving Ch 1988 and Irish Driving CH 1989. Not sure what color Dell's mom was?

 

I do know of a breeder(not sure how to classified him. His dogs help him daily with the cattle on his farm?) Who has merles. Merle pups are always the hardest for him to place since the other farmers don't like the merles.

 

ETA: I don't think merles are anymore unhealthy as the black and white's. I think there is just more bias. This is not talking about merles to merle breeding.

Edited by SS Cressa
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My boy was from a blue merle and chocolate/white breeding. All the pups were black and white(thank doG). If merle was dominate shouldn't all the pups be merles then?

 

 

SS Cressa,

Unless a merle dog is a double merle, then what it can give to a cross is either M (merle) or m (not merle). So in the case of your dog, apparently the male was not homozygous and happened not to "donate" any M genes to the cross, hence no merle puppies. The whole reason people take the risk of creating homozygous merles (in any breed of dog) is because then such a dog will always contribute the merle (M) gene in a cross and thus always produce merle puppies. The stud did contribute the gene for black however, which being dominant to red is the reason all the pups were black and white. Had the stud been a red merle, then the pups might all have been red and white, if the stud did not contribute the M gene to the cross.

 

One theory proposed for why shepherds don't like merle (and red, for that matter) is that it's a difficult color to see at a distance. When one considers that the dappling and breaking up of the pattern is a evolutionary trait developed as a result for the need for concealment, one could see how a merle dog might be frowned upon for work at a distance. Compare that to a high-contrast black and white dog that stands out against a background of greys, greens, and browns. So the prejudice may have been as simple as not easily being able to see merles at a distance. But we'll never know for sure because those old time shepherds aren't here to tell us. But the fact is that such prejudices remain speaks and there may well be some underlying logic to it.

 

J.

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The hill shepherds sometimes make comments such as "works like a merle," which makes me think it is more than just blending in with the heather. The bias could be caused by a combination of factors.

 

Merle is dominant to solid, but co dominant with saddle back sable. Only one copy of the merle gene is needed to show the pattern.

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Sixx,

If you do a search on the word merle or "merle and breeding" in the general forum and perhaps the health and genetics forum you will find some past discussions about breeding, including speculation about merles and why they don't appear in great numbers in working-bred dogs. Since it's a dominant gene, breeders were clearly choosing against it (as opposed to red, which being recessive, can pop up "unexpectedly").

 

 

Will do, thanks!

 

My friend wants a merle and I was trying to convince her otherwise.

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I have a friend in the UK who told me this:

“The very elderly shepherding community here in Cumbria (England) swears that blue-eyed merles are the cleverest of collies. They're supposed to be hard to train but the best of dogs if you can handle them...

 

So I guess who you talk to and what the dog was breed for come into play as to how well they work and if they are used for breeding.

 

Most people these days seem to avoid a Hard to handle dog and want more bidable easy to traina nd handle.

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Merle, like smooth coat, is dominant, so you don't have to breed for it. You just have to not cull it for the pattern to remain in the breed.

 

I've seen pictures dating back to the earliest Border Collies (and ancestors of the breed) that were merle. It is a very old pattern and research seems to indicate that all merles share a common ancestor. The same research shows that the reverse mutation, merle to non merle, occurs quite frequently.

 

There was, and still is, a very real bias against merle Border Collies. Because of that bias working breeders have mostly culled it out of their lines. Again, because it is dominant this is very easy to do. Get rid of all the merle pups in a litter and in a single generation you can be rid of it. The sport/show breeders liked the pattern, so they bought the pups with funny markings and the farmers were happy to be rid of them!

 

Why was there a bias? There are 2 theories.

1) Farmers noticed that merles have more health problems.

2) The pattern is associated with a certain working style and/or temperament that they didn't like for work. (This is something I've heard directly from hill shepherds.)

 

So because of a bias, most if not all merles were lost to the working population. There are a very few working breeders who produce good dogs that are merles. More than half of those trace the pattern back to sport/show lines 6+ generations back (though before they were sport/show lines they were working lines). The rest I have not looked far enough back to see if their pedigrees do contain 100% working lines without a single sport or show dog to be found.

 

To put things in perspective, I know of fewer than 10 breeders of merles in the world I would even consider buying a dog from.

 

As far as their health problems, the number one defect in heterozygous (Mm) merles is hearing loss. The merle pattern is associated with an increased rate of deaf pups found in litters. The Irish spotting gene, which causes the white pattern we see on most Border Collies, is also associated with an increased risk of deaf pups. Put the two together and the risk for deaf pups in a litter is much higher than if either pattern is present without the other. (Merle pups in breeds without white, like Daschunds, are much less likely to be deaf even if MM.)

 

Homozygous merle (MM) is called lethal white because two copies of the gene causes some pups to die and some to be born with deformed/missing eyes and hearing loss. No breeder should EVER have a merle x merle litter unless it was an accident.

 

Very insightful!

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This article contains some interesting information on various aspects of pigment and deafness, including the Merle gene.

 

http://www.steynmere.com/DALM_DEAFNESS.html

http://www.steynmere.com/DALM_DEAFNESS2.html

http://www.steynmere.com/DALM_DEAFNESS3.html

 

I wonder if this means that merle dogs are also at increased risk of deafness!

 

Kerry

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I have a friend in the UK who told me this:

“The very elderly shepherding community here in Cumbria (England) swears that blue-eyed merles are the cleverest of collies. They're supposed to be hard to train but the best of dogs if you can handle them...

 

If that were the case you'd probably expect to see more of them, but you don't. (I live 6 miles from the Cumbrian border.) Or maybe it is the invisibility factor that puts people off too.

 

That's the sort of thing you hear sports people say though. You also hear a lot say that they'd never have another merle because they have the reputation of being weird and crazy.

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The hill shepherds sometimes make comments such as "works like a merle," which makes me think it is more than just blending in with the heather.

This could simply be due to having a different appearance. For example at trials where the majority of the flock is white, any "bad" groups of sheep are often associated with the presence of non-white sheep.

 

When there are so few working merles it is highly likely they will have similar working traits because they are likely related.

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This could simply be due to having a different appearance. For example at trials where the majority of the flock is white, any "bad" groups of sheep are often associated with the presence of non-white sheep.

 

I am not quite understanding this statement. Why would non white sheep cause a group to be "bad?"

 

Are you talking about the bias against light colored dogs because the sheep are said to react to them differently?

 

These days all the merles with pedigrees I have traced are related through a common bloodline. BUT, do you think that an ancestor 8+ generations back has that big of an influence on the way a dog works (unless a dog is line bred on that ancestor)? I've read that every Border Collie alive today has Wiston Cap in the pediree, but from what I can see there is still quite a bit of variation in working style found within the breed.

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I am not quite understanding this statement. Why would non white sheep cause a group to be "bad?"

They don't; however, when there are a few sheep that look different than the others people often blame these minority sheep for difficulties because the visibly different sheep are the easiest to identify.

 

 

"There's a brown/black sheep in the group; this will be a tough group".

"The group is all white sheep; this will be an easy group".

 

When people only see a few working merles and they happen to work like one another, people tend to jump to the incorrect association that all dogs that look like these will work like them. "That dog works like a merle".

 

These days all the merles with pedigrees I have traced are related through a common bloodline. BUT, do you think that an ancestor 8+ generations back has that big of an influence on the way a dog works (unless a dog is line bred on that ancestor)? I've read that every Border Collie alive today has Wiston Cap in the pediree, but from what I can see there is still quite a bit of variation in working style found within the breed.

When the flock is all one color or the dogs are not segregated into clearly distinct color groups, people are not likely to make incorrect associations of behavior with looks.
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Hi,

 

So I have read a lot about merle BCs having problems. I know that when two merles are put together that the pups can have some serious

issues. I have finally found a breeder who I like who has been breeding for over 18 years. The puppy's mother will be regular black and white and

the Dad will be a merle...is this something I should be concerned about? The breeder says that they are healthy with no defects or problems...

Just curious. A lot of folks have told me to beware. What are your thoughts?

 

Thank you!

 

Just curious as to what your sources are where you were reading that merles have problems?

When you cross two merles together, yes, you end up with serious health problems in the puppies (they are called lethal whites) ... puppies are typically blind and deaf.

 

Merles are no more at risk for health problems than a black and white:) I think its WAY more difficult to find a responsible breeder of merles though.

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