These days, in the Collie world, it’s all about Sable Merles. Whether and how they should or should not be bred is not the prevailing discussion as these dogs now permeate the current overall Collie population. Sable Merles are everywhere, and very few even think twice about the ramifications of producing them. The heated controversy is oddly not about the genetic Sable Merle, but about the phenotype Sable Merle. What color is it? Is it Sable to be classed with Sables, Merle to be classed with Blues, or is it to be in a class by itself? Ask THESE questions, and you will get the Collie fancy engaged in the most active and even heated discussion.
In the Sheltie world, where Sables these days are (oddly) rarely bred to even Tris (!), much less Blues, and certainly not Bi’s, the color discussion is mostly aimed at Whites. White Shelties, while always present in the breed, are not allowed in the AKC show ring, and there is vehement opposition to the attempts of a growing White fancy to change that. The opposition is so strong, in fact, that many have taken to advertising their dogs as “NWF” which we all understand to mean “Non White Factored”. Why it should be important to anyone viewing an ad to know of a certainty that your dog does not carry the white factor would be a total enigma without consideration of the idea of simple and vehement color prejudice. After all, we’re here not even addressing the White Sheltie, but only a dog capable of producing one (and only then if bred to another white factored dog). Considering additionally that white factor is clearly seen with the naked eye (with rare exception), to point it out in an ad is, in the least, redundant (as all ads contain photos these days) and in the most a clear political soapbox.
In Collies, exhibitors of Sable Merles have taken to adding a line to their advertising stating that the dog who finished a championship, earned a performance title, or sired a winning dog is “proudly Sable Merle”. An additional statement; “Quality not color” typically follows. In Shelties, since it is the opposers of the controversial color who have gone on the attack with their NWF notations, we are waiting to see if the White fanciers will bravely step up with a “Proudly White Factored” or PWF response.
While the ad wars are admittedly somewhat amusing, one has to wonder just how much understanding of basic Mendellian genetics is lacking when Sable Merle is regarded as “just a color” and White is regarded as anything but. Hmmm….
So just what is it about color? The Siamese cat fanciers became so incensed about color at one point that the breed itself actually had to be divided. The early advocates of producing blue Parakeets faced heated debate among their contemporaries. Go to a rabbit show this season and you’re very likely to hear the Mini Rex fanciers strongly debating tri colors. That color is the hottest issue among a given fancy has a long and ongoing albeit strange and even bewildering tradition.
Perhaps because we all start out as children with that box of Crayolas and the importance of knowing how to correctly identify each is drilled into us, we set in our brain this disturbingly incorrect priority relating to color. Or perhaps it’s just that too many of us fail to grasp the understanding of the more important points of conformation standards and genetic considerations. But rest assured there is little doubt to the fact that we ALL know our colors — and are overwhelmingly at the ready to state our opinion of them!