Australian Shepherds, or ’Aussies’ to most people, is reportedly the 13th most popular dog breed of 2020.
Interestingly, it’s also one of the most unique canine companions as per the American Kennel Club (AKC) which officially recognizes four coat colors for the breed. They are black, red, blue merle, and red merle.
Out of the 14 Australian Shepherd color combinations derived from the four main shades acknowledged by various kennel clubs, the tri-color Aussie is simply the most stunning variation.
They may either be black tri Australian Shepherd, red tri Australian Shepherd, blue merle tri Australian Shepherd, and red merle tri Australian Shepherd.
If you’re interested in discovering more about this unique Aussie color combination, just keeping on reading this comprehensive guide.
What Is a Tri-Color Australian Shepherd?
A tri color Australian Shepherd is a uniquely stunning color variation of this well-loved working dog. There are two types of color combinations for tri Australian Shepherds and they are the red/white/copper and the black/white/copper.
Tri color Australian Shepherds are slightly longer and of a medium-sized build. Also, their two-layer coat is of medium length and could either be straight or wavy.
Typically, tri color Aussies have naturally bobbed or docked tails, triangular ears, multi-colored eyes, and a ‘ruff’—which is the collar of fluff surrounding their neck, shoulders, and chest.
Tri color Aussies don’t really have much of a physical difference to your typical Australian Shepherd except for their unique variation of colors and markings on their coats.
Usually, the black or red color of their fur would predominate all other coat colors leaving only small to medium amounts of white and copper markings. These white and copper markings are commonly found around their face, legs, and tail.
If you’re wondering whether tri color variations are also available for mini Aussies, the answer is yes! This shouldn’t come as surprising since their genes develop just like the standard-sized Aussies.
All Color Combinations of Tri-Color Australian Shepherd
As mentioned above, there are a total of 14 Aussie standard color combinations from the four main color groups recognized by various kennel clubs. Four of these exhibit the tri-color variety and here are they:
Black Tri Color Australian Shepherd
Black tri Australian Shepherds are the most common color combination among tri color Aussies. Their primary features include white and tan highlights with black color usually dominating their coat.
Copper markings are commonly seen on both legs, eyes, and cheeks, while white markings are typically found on their legs, belly, chest, and muzzles. Also, their eye color can range from light to dark brown.
Red Tri Color Australian Shepherd
Red tri Australian Shepherds possess a red base coat with small to medium amounts of white markings and copper highlights.
The white markings are commonly spotted on their front, face, legs, and belly, while the copper highlights are usually located on their faces, legs, and chests for a selected few.
Note that their ‘red’ base coat color can range from light cinnamon to a dark liver color. Meanwhile, their eye color can range between amber or blue, while some even develop heterochromia wherein their one eye can be amber while the other blue.
Blue Merle Tri Color Australian Shepherd
Simply put, their blue merle coat is essentially a gray color with black spots surrounding it. Blue merle tri Aussies are an extremely popular tri color Aussie variation because of their very refreshing look.
The black spots on their gray coat vary in both shape and size, while the white and copper markings are seen on top of their base coat around their chests, bellies, faces, and legs.
To be more specific, it’s most common to have white markings on their ruffs and tan highlights on their ears, cheeks, and legs. Their eye color can range between blue or brown, and similar to red tri Aussies, their eyes can also develop heterochromia.
Interestingly, some blue merle Aussies tend to have marbled eyes that are flecked with other colors that are usually similar to their fur.
Red Merle Tri Color Australian Shepherd
Just as exotic-looking as their blue merle tri Color Aussies counterpart, red merle tri color Australian Shepherds are breathtaking.
This beautiful variation of a tri color Aussie is made up of a red merle base coat, which is essentially composed of a light orange-brown to a silver base with red spots on top.
White markings on the red merle tri Aussie are most common around their faces, fronts, and legs, while copper highlights are more likely to occur above their eyes and their legs.
The color of their eyes can either be blue or brown. Their eyes are usually marbled-looking and they can also develop heterochromia.
Tri-Color Australian Shepherd Coat Color Genetics: How Do They Develop a Tri-Colored Coat?
To understand exactly how Australian Shepherds develop a tri-colored coat, let us first cover the basics of coat color genetics.
As mentioned, the black/white/copper and red/white/copper variations are the most common Australian Shepherd tri color combinations, while black or red is the usual base coat color of tri color Aussies.
Keep in mind that when an Aussie pup is born, it essentially receives a single coat color gene from each parent. Here is a simple explanation of how actual Aussie coat colors are formed by gene interaction:
- Black Base Coat Color (Dominant): To get a black base coat color, an Aussie pup should have a black color gene present since it will always be dominant. Note that the dominant gene will always be expressed over a recessive gene.
- Red Base Coat Color (Recessive): An Aussie pup can only have a red base coat color if it receives 2 copies of a red recessive gene, with no dominant black gene preventing the red coat color from being formed. A black-coated Aussie may pass on to their offspring an existing red color recessive gene, resulting in an Aussie with a red base coat color.
What makes an Australian Shepherd a tri color Aussie is the presence of copper patches on top of their base coat colors.
The gene called agouti is what may cause the copper patches to appear on the Australian Shepherd’s coat, thus allowing them to possibly develop a tri-colored coat.
Simply put, if the agouti present is in its dominant version, the copper patches would appear, and if it’s the recessive version, then there will be no copper markings present on an Australian Shepherd’s body.
However, if dominant K-gene is present, this will void any chance of copper markings appearing on their coat regardless of which agouti version may have been initially present in their genetic makeup.
Please note that good breeders will never mate two merles together since this might increase the risk of having white offspring.
Aussies are likely to develop poor hearing, bad eyesight, and other forms of pain if they grow with almost no color and pigments around their ears and eyes.
Are Tri-Color Australian Shepherds Recognized by Kennel Clubs?
This is so long as the surrounding color around the whole body is dominated by any color other than white.
The eyes and their surrounding area must be fully surrounded by color and pigment, while white should not predominate the coat color and shall only be accepted in the following areas:
- Neck (either as a full or a minimal part of the ruff).
- Muzzle underparts.
- Blaze on the head.
- White extension from underpart (up to 4 inches) measuring a horizontal line the elbow.
White body splashes, either on sides between elbows and back of hindquarters or on body between withers and tail, shall merit a disqualification.
Are Tri-Color Australian Shepherds Rare?
To answer this, it is necessary to mention that the rareness of a tri-color Australian Shepherd will depend on which variation of tri color combination an Aussie has.
While black tri and blue merle tri color Australian Shepherds are the two most common and popular coat colors among the four tri color combinations.
And to the whole Aussie breed, the red tri Australian Shepherd and red merle tri color Aussies can be considered as the rarest kind.
Although popular among breeders, both blue merle and red merle tri color Australian Shepherds are more exotic-looking and more difficult to breed.
Do Tri-Color Aussie Puppies Change Color as They Grow?
Tri-color Aussie puppies are considered canine chameleons because their color can change remarkably over time unlike other dog breeds.
Before reaching their adult coloration, blue merle and red merle tri color variation would go through the progressive darkening, wherein their merle coats would become darker as they grow.
Furthermore, when a red or red merle tri color Aussie spends more time out in the sun, their red hair may change to a lighter yellowish tone if they go through bleaching. However, this can be easily avoided by limiting the amount of time spent by your Aussies out in the daylight.
Tri-Color Australian Shepherds Temperament: Do They Make Good Family Pets?
Australian Shepherds are notable for their limitless energy and are very hard-working, loyal, and affectionate. If you have any dog-related job in mind, you can rely on Aussies to handle it for you, be it for therapy, guide, shepherding, or search-and-rescue.
There is no significant difference between the temperament of tri color Australian Shepherds and Aussies of other coat colors. Their most common temperament issue is their strong herding instinct, which can easily be managed through obedience training.
Remember that any dog’s temperament will always depend on their upbringing, so whether your tri-color Aussie would behave well or not is not something that any breeder could be completely sure of.
However, Aussies that are raised well are likely to be cheerful, loving, and loyal.
So, do tri-color Aussies make good family pets? Watch this video to see how sweet-natured, highly-intelligent, and trainable, tri-color Australian Shepherds are:
Tri-Color Australian Shepherd Lifespan and Health Issues
With a lifespan of 12 to 15 years, the Australian Shepherds can be considered as a holistically healthy breed.
Tri-colored Australian Shepherds are commonly advertised as the ‘healthiest’ variation of the whole Aussie breed since most of these Aussies are with mottled coats, with predominant colors and pigments across their bodies.
As with all Australian Shepherds, tri-color Aussies are still prone to the following health conditions:
- Elbow and Hip Dysplasia: This is a malformation that can occur on your dog’s front leg or hip socket and can develop into arthritis.
- Epilepsy: Although a rare condition, epileptic seizures in Aussies can be serious if triggered.
- Eye Problems: These debilitating ocular disorders may include cataracts, collie eye anomaly, colobomas, and progressive retinal atrophy.
- Genetic Conditions: These are typically inherited from their parents, including autoimmune disorders like hypothyroidism, hereditary cancers like lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma, and drug sensitivities due to an MDR-1 mutation.
Watch this video to better understand the commonly inherited drug sensitivity condition, the MDR-1 mutation:
Problems With Double Merle Coats
As mentioned earlier, no good breeder will breed two merle Aussies together.
Although a rare health condition, tri-colored Australian Shepherds with double merle characteristics would be at more risk for congenital hearing and sight impairments like microphthalmia or anophthalmia.
The most common indicator for double merle characteristics would be Aussies developing an excessive white coat color.
These few health conditions might have scared you a little bit, but they can all be prevented if you choose to purchase your puppy from a reputable breeder.
Are Tri-Color Australian Shepherds More Expensive Than Other Varieties?
Since tri color Aussies are highly sought after by many Australian Shepherd breed fans, you can expect that it could be more expensive to own than Aussies of other coat colors.
The cost of this beautiful variation of Aussies can go over $1,800 depending on factors like the rareness of the tri-color variation and the breeder’s reputation.
You can also visit local rescue centers in your area to check whether there are tri-color Aussies who need a new home. Adopting would help you save a big chunk of your hard-earned money because it only costs around $120 to $670.
Commonly Asked Questions
What Are the Other Australian Shepherd Colors?
There are 14 different color combinations for Aussies under the four officially recognized color categories of Australian Shepherds. Both black-coated and red-coated Aussies have four versions: solid coat color, black & tan, red & tan, bicolor, and tri colors.
On the other hand, there are three versions for the blue merle-coated and red merle-coated Aussies: solid merle coat color, bicolor, and tri colors.
Note that there are still more color combinations of Aussies out there that are disqualified as purebreds by the AKC. These non-standard colors include:
- White (or excessive white): Results of double merle breeding.
- Dilute: A mix of any standard coat colors but to a lighter degree.
- Yellow: An E-locus recessive gene may cause such characteristics to develop. Shades of yellow Aussies can range from light yellow Labrador-like coat color to a deeper golden yellow Golden Retriever-like coat color. Although rare, a mahogany red shade of yellow is also possible.
What Is the Rarest Australian Shepherd Color?
The rarest Australian Shepherd color is any red-coated Aussie because it requires red recessive genes to override black dominant genes to develop.
Can Two Tri Aussies Have a Merle Offspring?
It’s possible to have a merle offspring when breeding two tri Aussies, as long as one of the parents can pass off a merle gene to its offspring.
Breeding two tri color merle Aussies may also produce merle offspring. This is highly discouraged because offspring may develop internal health defects.
Final Thoughts: Is the Tri-Color Australian Shepherd Right for You?
As one of the most popular dog breeds, choosing an Australian Shepherd should be fairly easy for you. No matter what color variation they may be, Aussies will surely not disappoint you regarding the loyalty, love, and hard work they can offer you.
Also, be sure that you’re totally ready when deciding to welcome a new Aussie to your home!
Consider all factors including their family and pedigree history to identify potential hereditary issues and overall estimated costs, such as food, shelter, and healthcare expenditures.
If you’re hoping to own a unique-looking and healthier variation of the Australian Shepherd breed, then tri color Aussies are probably the best choice for you!
My name is John Carter and I absolutely love pets, especially cats and dogs. I’ve got a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Behaviour and Welfare and have several years’ experience working in animal shelters and rescues. My passion for animals started at a very young age as I grow up on a farm with several horses, cows, cats, chickens, and dogs on our property.