Breeding Blue Merles

by the late Sandra (Tonkyn) Applegate, Beckrow Cardigan Welsh Corgis, England

Blue Merle is a colour you either love at first sight or loathe to the point where you never accept the colour.

I have personally loved the colour since I was six years old and saw my first blue merle at Crufts. I had wanted one since that time and when I was 14 years old I managed to get my first blue Cardi.

It was Mrs. Thelma Gray who resurrected the blue colour in England after the second world war. At that time the colour had all but died out and it is thanks to her hard work that we now have the colour at all. Without exception, every blue merle Cardigan Welsh Corgi in England has some of her breeding in its’ pedigree.

Until Mrs. Gray showed interest in the colour, the only person who had any was the late Miss Wylie of the Geler prefix who never sold any of her dogs or let anyone use them at stud and after the war it was thought that the blue merle gene had become extinct.

However, Mrs. Gray saw a red Cardigan dog at a show and noted that he had a blue eye. She mentioned to the owner of the dog that if he was mated to a tricolour bitch he could produce blue merles. The dog’s owner did such a mating and the resulting litter produced a well marked blue merle dog which was called Samson Bach.

Mrs. Gray now saw that she had a chance of getting a blue merle herself but realised that she needed a good tricolour bitch to breed to the dog, and as there were none around at that time she chose to get the colour the slow way by starting off with a quality bitch of the wrong colour — red. From the mating she got what she termed “marmalade merles” but she retained a litter brother and sister and in due course mated them together and was able to get two really good blue merles, one of which became ROZAVEL BLUE AT LAST.

With one exception, a blue merle imported from U.S.A., all the other five post war blue merle Champions have descended from him. Hence the fact that breeders in England owe so much to Mrs. Gray’s perseverance.

When I started to breed Cardis I was lucky enough to have a lot of help and guidance from Mrs. Gray and learned the following on breeding blue merles:

1. Blue merle to tricolour always produces blue and tri in fairly equal numbers, i.e. if a bitch produces 30 puppies over a number of litters, they will roughly divide into 15 blues and 15 tris. There may be one or two puppies either side of this number, but not too far from equal numbers. (A)

2. Blue merle to brindle point tri will always weaken the red pointed tris, but will produce blues with less tan on points. Again they will divide almost equally if the bitch is mated to the same dog on a number of occasions. You have to take the average out of 30 whelps every time.

3. Blue merle to black and white holds a certain fascination for me, producing variations according to skin colour of the black/white. For instance as long as the black/white has a blue skin (not pink or white skin colour) it does not matter if the black/white has no blue breeding behind it at all it will produce only blue and black/white puppies. However, if the black/white has a blue or tri parent you can get blue, black/white and tricolours both brindle pointed and red pointed.

By using black/white you can diminish the red pointing on blues which does have a tendency to become too much when using red pointed tricolours for too many generations. Also black/whites do tend to bring the clear silver blue to the fore and “clean up” the blue colouring. All too often we see the “muddy blue” coat where a lot of red in the undercoat has been influenced by the brindle behind a tricolour. Using black/white will usually clear this problem up in one generation although it can take up to two generations in some cases.

When doing the blue to black/white mating, you should always try to get back to tricolour for the next generation mate if possible, otherwise you will find no tricolours around in a few years, as has almost happened in England. (B)

4. Blue merle to blue merle. This mating has to be thought about very carefully beforehand. If the two blues have a lot of black on the body you can be lucky and not produce whites. If either parent has little black on the body you will almost certainly get one or two whites in the litter. White puppies you will find always to be deaf and possibly blind as well so they should be put down at birth to save them suffering later in life. When doing this mating you will get blues and tris only as well as the possibility of all white.

5. Blue merle to red/white. For this mating you need to look to long term plans with space, time and money as more than often the first generation colour is not good. But by putting a puppy from this mating back to black/ white can take 2—3 generations to get the desired effect and few people these days can afford to have a kennel large enough to carry out this type of experimental breeding program. From this mating you can get blues with red undercoat, tricolours and red/whites with sometimes blue eyes. However as this mating has not to my knowledge been done in any concentration I can give no exact proportions. (C)

6. Blue merle to brindle. This mating should never be done as both are recessive genes and will work against each other producing off colour blue merles. This can cause havoc for many generations of breeding plans and can also cause liver pigment which can be dangerous with organ defects. (D)

Do not be taken in with the oft quoted myth that a dog with a blue merle parent will produce “funny colours”. You can only get blue if one or both parents are blue. Black/white and tricolour are just that colour and cannot by means of it’s genes produce a blue puppy unless put to a blue.

I have done all the matings listed here except the red to blue, so I can confirm that in all cases the colours do come out the way they are supposed to. Unfortunately when Mrs. Gray immigrated to Australia we lost in England a lot of our pool of blue and tri breeding which has meant that the colour to lose out has been the tricolour. We have very few good red point tris here but due to thoughtful breeders banding together to try to get the colour back into our lines the colour is slowly re-emerging. Of course I would like to see blue and tricolour become more popular as it is the variety of colour which makes the Cardigan so unique. The breed has one of the largest colour ranges of any breed and I would like to see it stay that way.

In conclusion I would like to say “good luck” to those who are breeding blue merles in Australia. It can certainly be hard work and sometimes you will come across prejudice against the colour, but it can also be fascinating and very rewarding when a true to type, lovely coloured blue is produced which can win well in the showring.

As an example, a few years ago a fellow breeder and judge told me he would never give a blue merle a first prize. I naturally took offence and next time he judged the breed I took a young blue under him. I won four first prizes and think it was one of the most satisfying days I have experienced in the showring with my blues.

Published in The Cardigan Welsh Corgi Association of N.S.W., 1986 Year Book

———

Notes by Patrick Ormos, Phi-Vestavia Cardigans, USA

(A) This is true whether the tricolor is a brindle-pointed tri or a tan-pointed tri. Since merle is a dominant gene, a normal blue merle will pass that gene on 50% of the time.

(B) Black and white bi-colours do NOT exist in this breed. Rather they are brindle-pointed tricolors with very little extension to the points. Ms. Tonkyn’s comments re: skin color are very useful for those interested in this color. A dark skin color, and/or dark undercoat, will give a cleaner blue, while a reddish undercoat will give a “muddy” blue coat. Please note that this is NOT a red merle, simply a blue merle with a reddish undercoat. Also please note that since this breed does have red-headed tris, just as in Pembrokes, that occasionally you will get a red-headed blue merle – again an acceptable color.

(C) Again, note that the blue eye may be the result of the merling gene, in which case the dog is a merle, or it may be the result of the china blue gene, in which case the dog is not a merle. See Genetics of the Blue Eye

(D) This is, unfortunately, incorrect. Ms. Tonkyn realized this later on but did not correct this article. The liver pigment (sometimes called Dudley) is actually a dilute gene which the breed carries, along with a dilution to grey, and a dilution to very pale red.

The late Sandra Tonkyn with her famous “Beckrow Blue Cedar”

beckrowbluecedar860

 

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