The Mara Mystery

What color is Mara? Having had the pleasure of studding out both Mercury and Dublin to Mara, the 8 resulting puppies have created more questions than have been answered.

Mara’s breeder concluded that she was a Cryptic Merle Lilac Tricolor. This is a fair assessment given that she had one chocolate-ish spot, but was otherwise much lighter, much like two of the puppies in her current litter.  I suspect that you can also add Sable. Here are some early photos of Mara which show how her coat has progressed from blonde to lilac at birth, 2 weeks and 6 weeks old:

That 6 weeks photo is pretty standard for Lilac, and you’ll notice that Mara’s nose is not black, not chocolate, but a purple color.  I believe this suggests that the Chocolate to Lilac dilution gene is present.

Also notice how Mara’s tri brown markings are blended on her face instead of solid with more clear borders. This effect appears in both her father and her father’s mother, and I believe this suggests that her tri markings are actually Sable.

Mara’s sire is “Chip” and her dam is “Flynn.” Flynn is a smooth coat chocolate dog with white piebald markings on her back and ear. You’ll notice that the white completely obliterates both the chocolate and brown tri color around her mouth:

Given the extensive knock-0ut effect of Flynn’s white piebald markings, it’s hard to judge if her tri color brown has sable elements or not.

Mara’s sire, Chip, is a blue merle tricolor, although I contend that there’s evidence of sable blending in his cheeks and on his legs:

Chip’s sire appears to be an unremarkable black and white dog, but his mother, Roxie, has quite the palette of tan points, variegated red and chocolate and stray white spots. Although this picture isn’t the best, I think you can see the same blending in the tan markings in the cheeks:

Although I’m unsure if the cheek blending is a definitive indication of sable being present, Mara’s coat is very similar to the following unrelated dog that has been identified as a sable merle; if we replace the dominant Black with Brown and add the Dilution to Lilac, I’d say the patterning is strikingly similar:

The accompanying description of the coloring fits our situation well:

In some breeds, such as Shetland Sheepdogs and Rough Collies, a slightly different version of sable exists. This type consists of brownish hairs on the back and head (even though these dogs have black pigment), and is often called “shaded sable”. On this type of sable coat, merling can be quite visible (if there is a lot of dark brown shading) or very hard to see (if the shading is lighter and not so extensive). However, the merling is usually visible at birth, so breeders will generally know if their dogs are sable merles or just sables. A sable merle will have some faint, darker brown/tan patches on a lighter base, and the merling will usually be confined to the back and head. It is often most visible on the ears, where the fur is shorter.

As expected, Mara has the darkest hairs on her ears, head, and shoulder blades; the hairs along her trunk do show the sable effect with darker tips and lighter shafts, and her puppy photos show the darker brown/tan patches on a lighter base.

All in all, the original classification appears correct if we add in sable: Cryptic Sable Merle Lilac with tan points. Genetically this is Chocolate + Dilute + Sable + Merle.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.