A Dog of a Different Colour
Let's set the scene. You've decided on a breed. You've found a breeder who sounds great, they love their dogs, they look healthy, they're registered and they have a litter of puppies right now! Sounds perfect, right? There's just one thing. Some puppies, from the same litter, cost more than their siblings. Why? Because they're a different colour. All the puppies are perfectly healthy & raised the same. So WHY are they priced differently? Well, they shouldn't be.
In my breed (Australian Shepherds) there are four common colours - black tri-colour, blue merle, red tri-colour and red merle, usually with tan points and varying amounts of white. They can also come without tan points (“black bi-colour” or “red bi-colour” - not very common here in Australia!) and sometimes “dilute” colours but not many breeders have these colours in their dogs (dilute is also an undesirable colour as per the breed standard).
I get countless requests for merle puppies, far more than I can breed for! It's understandable as their colouring definitely gives them a unique, striking look. But that is where the difference between them and a solid colour ends; under the coat, they're all Australian Shepherds with the same qualities that make the breed so lovable.
From a breeder’s point of view, they cost the same to raise and it's the same dog, aside from the normal variations in temperament you'll get in a litter (just the same as you don't have the exact same personality as your siblings). Colour does not affect temperament, health or intelligence in any way.
It's not any more difficult to create a merle than it is to breed a solid (tri-colour) and both are equally likely in a litter (with a parent of each colour). Some breeders get greedy when they want to produce more merle (to keep up with demand) and can risk 25% of the litter being born with two copies of the merle gene “Double Merle” which causes the puppy to be predominantly white and can have deafness issues and/or eye problems. In reality, breeding two merles together doesn't really mean you'll end up with more merles as there's also a 25% chance of having tri-colour in the litter.
So it then also becomes a question of ethics: is the breeder thinking of the best match that's going to bring them closest to the breed standard when considering a breeding or is their choice based on what colours are possible in a litter and as such, what colours will earn them the most money?
Reputable breeders want to place their puppies in the home that is best suited to them, not whoever is willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money. Remember that Australian National Kennel Club Registered breeders must abide by their Code of Ethics, which includes, “A member shall breed primarily for the purpose of improving the quality and/or working ability of the breed in accordance with the breed standard, and not specifically for the pet or commercial market.”. If your chosen breeder is putting a higher price tag on more “desirable” or “popular” colours, perhaps reconsider whether they're just in it for the money or whether they are truly committed to the future of the breed.
Diana is an Exhibitor & Registered Breeder of Australian Shepherds in the Eastern Wheatbelt of Western Australia. She is married to a farmer and owned by 2 loving Aussies.