If you are new to this breed, the first thing you should know is that using the word “Red” to describe a red merle Australian shepherd dog can be misleading and confusing.
It is totally normal to think of the color “red” and automatically picture a “fire engine red” in your mind. However, when it comes to dogs, red could mean a few things.
When describing dogs, red refers to anything from a very light cinnamon or champagne color to a strawberry blonde color shade. It could even refer to colors that appear close to copper, rust, sienna, and other shades of brown-black or brown-red.
The Australian Shepherd is an intelligent, medium-sized dog of strong herding and guardian instincts.
This is why dog breeders will sometimes refer to the red color in Aussies as the “red spectrum” rather than saying “red.”
That said, the red merle Australian shepherd is not a pretty red face! The red merle is well-known for its all-around versatility, including their speed, strength, agility, and intelligence. Initially bred as working ranch dogs, these dogs are quick learners and, albeit their high maintenance personality, make excellent pets. Here are 15 things you should know about the red merle Australian shepherd:
1. Despite their Name, They Weren’t Developed in Australian
Contrary to their name, these dogs didn’t originate in Australia but in the Western United States instead. The red merle Australian shepherd dogs were bred in California during the Gold Rush back in the 1840s.
Their possible ancestors include the bobtailed, long-haired, Collie-type dogs from Australia, herding dogs brought by the Basque shepherds who ended up working in the Stated before as well as after World War II, and German sheepdogs that were exported to Australia and were referred to as German Koolies.
These dogs were found at many ranches, farms, horse shows, and rodeos. They were mainly used to round up cattle, herding geese, ducks, goats, and sheep, loading horses into trailers and chutes, and fetching, pulling, and carrying.
They were initially bred to herd livestock for farmers and ranchers in the Western United States; some Aussies still hold that job to date. Breeders wanted to enhance their herding ability and breed dogs that were hard-working, versatile, and intelligent.
2. They are Strikingly Beautiful Dogs
Medium-sized, long-haired breeds, Aussies are really strikingly beautiful dogs. They are quite similar to other herding breeds, like the English Shepherd and Border Collie. Their double coats can be straight or curly and come in a variety of colors.
Red Merle Aussies have varied markings on their chest, face, and tail. Most Australian Shepherds will also have more colors flecked through their coats, which makes them bicolor or tricolor. Luckily, their breed standard allows for both.
They have striking eyes that are either blue or of different colors. Accepted under their breed standards, some Aussies are born with naturally short tails. As per the breed standard of the AKC, however, many of these dogs in the US have docked tails. However, such docking is illegal in Europe.
Australian Shepherds come in lots of beautiful colors, including the red merle. Similar in their markings to the blue merles, red merles have mottled patches of liver and cream. They may also have patches of white or copper.
They have a merle gene that can change their eye color to either pale blue or odd-colored eyes. The most famous of the Australian Shepherd color combination is the blue merle. Other Australian shepherd colors accepted under the AKC breed standard include; black Australian shepherd, red Australian shepherd, and white Australian shepherd.
3. They Can Inherit Two Possible Coat Patterns
Australian shepherds can either inherit the merle or solid (self) coat patterns. The merle color pattern can show up varying from puppy to puppy, even with a single litter. Solid or self-color pattern, on the other hand, will show up as one single coat color throughout the pup’s life.
Eye color, on the other hand, is where dog genetics gets interesting because there are three solid eye colors as well as two possible patterns. The eyes of red merle Australian shepherds will often take on either a marbled or flecked color pattern.
Some merle Aussies could even have eyes with two completely different colors or color patterns. This is known as Heterochromia. Red merle Aussies can inherit either two solid blue eyes, two solid brown eyes, two solid brown eyes marbled with blue, one solid brown and one solid blue eye, two solid blue eyes marbled with brown, or two eyes with different blue/brown marbled pattern.
Aussies prefer to be with their owners all the time which makes them susceptible to separation anxiety
4. They Are Loyal Canine Companions
By nature, red merle Australian shepherd dogs are loyal to their owners and family. They enjoy the company of their family and prefer to stick close to their owners and the human pack. However, they can be very standoffish with strangers.
These dogs love to part of everything going on around them and are very big on consistency. Red merle owners should make sure that everything happens for them at specific times every day, including walks, bedtime, and walks.
They have an inborn protective streak that makes them very wary of strangers. On the plus side, this makes them excellent watchdogs because they will most likely alert you to anyone or anything out of the ordinary.
Hence, an excellent red merle Australian shepherd could end up being your best friend ever. However, this is only possible if you keep your red merle busy with specific duties.
5. They Thrive in Dog Sports
Red merle Australian shepherds are likely to thrive in dog sports such as flying disc games, flyball herding trials, agility, tracking, or obedience sports.
In fact, one Aussie was once a Frisbee Champion. He was known as Hyper Hank, very popular for his Frisbee skills back in the 1970s. Hank with Eldon Mclntire, his owner, dominated the canine Frisbee competitions. They even had the privilege to play with the Carter family in the White House and perform at the Super Bowl.
6. They Had a Popularity Boom Post World-War II
The post World War II years went hand-in-hand with the renewed interest in the Western-style horseback riding. Around this time, red merle Australian dogs enjoyed a popularity boom.
These athletic dogs wowed crowds at horse shows and rodeos, in TV shows and Western movies, and they were seen working alongside cowboys. They became tied up in the mythology of cowboys, Gold Rush, and al in the Wild West.
They have since appeared in several movies, from Disney to Western flicks. Some of the movies with Australian Shepherds include; Run, Flight of the Navigator, Appaloosa, and Famous Five.
Red merle Australian shepherds the gained popularity from Rodeos. American ranchers loved these dogs because they were great livestock herders, as well as their frequent appearances in rodeos. Not only could Aussies perform tricks, but they also helped herd the bulls.
Red Aussies usually have amber colored eyes, although they may occasionally have one or both eyes that are blue
7. They Need Early Socialization
These dogs need early socialization. They should be exposed to new surroundings and people from a tender age. This will ensure that your red merle puppy grows into a well-rounded, friendly dog.
We recommend red merle Aussie owners to consider enrolling their dogs to puppy kindergarten classes or devote their time to their dogs by taking them for regular strolls around the neighborhood and introducing them to people in the neighborhood.
These dogs can retain their easy-going, friendly demeanor even into adulthood if socialized early. Hence, they need to be exposed to many different sights, people, experiences, and sounds from when they are very young.
8. They Need 30-60 Minutes of Exercise Daily
Red merle Australian shepherds are dogs bursting with excitement and energy. These dogs are best for active dog lovers because they are active and hyperactive, and always ready for a game of fetch or a walk.
Because they are herders by nature, they have the ability to keep up with the most energetic humans looking for a fun but challenging pet. Known to be tireless dogs, red merle Australian shepherds can be very exhausting for unsuspecting new dog owners or lovers.
These dogs need about 30-60 minutes of exercise daily, preferably a game of catch with a ball or Frisbee or a high energy walk. They can wear out their owners or any other dog they play with. They are one of the smartest breeds out here, and if left idle for too long can become destructive and rambunctious.
An excellent daily exercise routine for Aussies should include walks and activities like trick or obedience training. Hence, these dogs are not meant for people who tend to get intimidated real first. However, to ensure a happy pup every day, make sure to give them their daily dose of exercise.
When you’re not playing with your Aussie, puzzle toys like Buster Cubes are also an excellent way to keep his active mind occupied.
Red Merle Australian Shepherds can be highly territorial and protective of their owners and families.
9. For Red Merle Australian Shepherds, Training is Life!
These dogs were bred over many generations as working dogs. Hence, their instinct remains strong, even in red merles that live as house pets. Training will help keep their minds busy and occupied.
This working breed dog can be comfortable over different terrains, as well as in harsh conditions and temperatures. Thanks to their innate ability to adapt and think for themselves, they were used to herd a wide variety of animals such as cattle, sheep, poultry, and rabbit. Due to their stamina, they make popular trail dogs.
In short, red merle Australian shepherds have many great qualities; however, these qualities won’t just magically develop. No matter how beautiful your Aussie is, he or she can still develop obnoxious levels of digging, barking, counter surfing, as well as other undesirable traits when untrained, bored, or unsupervised.
Start training your red merle Australian shepherd the day you bring one home. An Aussie is capable of soaking everything you teach him even at eight weeks old. If you wait until they are older, you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with.
One of the most common reasons Aussies end up dumped in rescue centers is because the owners wouldn’t constructively channel the dog’s boundless energy through early training. Red merle Australian shepherds respond well to training methods accompanied by positive reinforcement rewards like play, praise, and food.
Aussies love to take commands from their train, and they will be obedient as long as they know who is in charge. They love to learn new tricks, and they do very well in obstacle courses and agility training. They have, in fact, won agility classes at various dog shows, including the Master Agility Championship and Westminster.
10. They Have a Big Appetite
Red merle Australian shepherds have big appetites, and if not fed correctly can easily and quickly put on weight. Their healthy and ideal weight should be between 40-45 lbs.
To keep Aussies active and happy throughout their lives, you need to pick the right food and also make sure to serve the right amount. When choosing dog food for red merle Aussies consider their age. Dogs need less food as they grow older and slow down.
These dogs should be on a nutritious diet because they are prone to obesity and weight-related health issues. Aussies need to eat 1 ½ – 2 cups of high-quality dry dog food every day divided into two meals.
Instead of leaving out food for your Aussie to eat whenever he wants, we recommend that you encourage good eating habits in him instead. Measure his food and make sure he is getting all the essential nutrients.
11. Their Merle Color Gene can Cause Various Health Problems
For Australian Shepherds, the merle color gene can be problematic, especially when both parents have contributed the gene to the puppy. When both parents have contributed to the gene, we call this “double-merle.”
Double-merle is associated with a variety of potential health problems like eye defects. Aussies with double-merle can have eye defects like missing eyes, abnormal eye development, or eyesight loss/blindness in one or both eyes.
Another health issue arising from the double-merle is deafness, and this is more likely of your Aussie’s head color is predominantly white. Red Merle Australian shepherd with a mostly white spectrum color coat or who inherit blue eyes can be more sensitive to sunlight, putting them at risk of skin and eye damage, sun exposure-related cancer, or sunburns.
Red Merle Australian Shepherd dogs are very active dogs that need a great deal of exercise on a daily basis
12. They Need Regular Brushing
Red merle Australian shepherds are one of the “double-coated” breeds, with short undercoats that insulate their bodies and longer outer coats. Aussies are more likely to shed their undercoat. Hence it is crucial to brush them regularly.
Brushing their coats regularly will help you get rid of their extra hairs and keep both their layers from matting up. They have an inner insulating layer and a water-resistant outer layer, which protects them against environmental elements.
Aussies need their coat to be protective all-year-round. Hence, when the seasons change, Aussie owners should expect their canine companion to start shedding. Even though these shed cycles replenish their coat layers to help them keep up, they will need regular grooming to keep their coat in good shape.
Frequent brushing in the spring and fall, as well as thorough blow-drying and warm baths, will help keep their hair under control. When your Aussie is not shedding, bathe him only when he gets dirty.
13. They Are Incredible With Children
Red merle Australian shepherds are incredible with kids and will become affectionate with children they are exposed to from an early age. However, you should teach your children or kid in your vicinity how to handle an Aussie because some still retain their herding heritage.
Teach your red merle Aussie how not to bother or chase kids, and once they learn this, they will make incredible companions for tiny tots in your family. You should also teach your children how to approach these dogs gently and always supervise any interaction between children and dogs.
14. They Were Considered Sacred by Native Americans
Legend has it that Australian Shepherds were referred to as “ghost eye” by the Native Americans. They thought of these dogs as sacred because dogs don’t always have blue eyes. But among this breed, pale blue “ghostly” eyes are common.
15. They Have Had Many Names
These dogs have also been called Pastor Dogs, Blue Heelers, Bob-Tails, California Shepherds, Mexican Shepherds, and Spanish Shepherds.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.