Merle Pomeranians are arguably one of the most interesting color patterns available on the adorable little fluff balls. Merle is signified by a splashed color pattern, often described as speckled, mottled, confetti, dapple or harlequin. No matter how you say it, the pattern is easily recognized and sure to grab a lot of attention.
The merle patterning occurs due to a heteroxygote, a dominant gene that either parent must carry to create the mottled affect known as merle. The gene itself is a dilution gene, meaning it cancels out colors that are normally spotted in the pattern. Common colors of merle are blue, red, white, chocolate and parti. Often, the pattern is seen against a solid base of red or brown/black with lighter patches of blue/grey or red. Merle dogs also often show white or tan pieces on their necks or bellies.
Blue merle appears as gray with black or dark colored spots, appearing to have a blue tint. Red merle actually appears reddish or orange with the darker spots. Chocolate merle shows variations of brown and black throughout the pattern. White merle is sometimes referred to as “cookies and cream” and shows a white base with various mottled colors throughout. The parti merle effect occurs when part of the dog’s “normal” coat color shows through and is not affected by the merle gene, causing just splashes of merle pattern to show through.
The merle gene also commonly affects the eyes, nose and paw pads of merle dogs. Paw pads and noses can show a mottled pink or black. The effect on the eye color is that the gene affects the dark pigments in the eyes, resulting in a blue or blue speckled appearance in one or both eyes.
Merle patterning is commonly seen in Pomeranians, along with other popular breeds including Great Danes, Australian Shepherds, Collies, Corgis, Sheepdogs, Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, and Cocker Spaniels. Some credit the introduction of Australian Shepherds into breeding lines for the patterning. For example, mixing the Australian Shepherd with a Pomeranian would introduce the color effect. The breeder then continues to breed each litter with another Pomeranian until the Australian Shepherd mix is essentially “cancelled” out and the resulting dog is nearly purebred, maintaining the merle patterning.
The introduction of other breeds does lead to some controversy in the introduction of the merle gene to breeding pools. Some say that responsible breeders look to maintain the breed standard, which often does not recognize the merle patterning. They also argue that the pet can never be purebred, even after multiple generations of phasing out the other breed.
A final concern of breeders is that the dilution gene is dangerous. Many studies have been conducted and express great concern over the dangerousness of breeding two merle carriers together. If a merle dog is not bred to a non-merle gene carrying dog, over 50% of the litter has been found to have hearing and eye problems, including complete blindness and deafness. The risk of sterility in the male offspring is also high. It is critical that breeders ensure the lines are “clean” before breeding dogs.