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In order for a dog to be sable, there must be some black tipped hairs in the dog's coat. The dogs on this page are not sable, but recessive yellow (in genetic terms "ee") the Golden Retriever color. The gene that causes sable and the gene that causes recessive yellow are different and located on different loci. This color is often called red (a.k.a.,"Oz Red" or "Australian Red") in Australia. But in the USA and UK, it is usually called tan (and sometimes "blond" or "yellow"). The tan we are speaking of can come in every shade from deep, deep, mahogony or reddish-tan, through Golden Retriever yellow to the very pale, almost pinky-tan like Nick, below, and everything in between. Dogs with this color coat have black leather (nose, lips, eyerims), or, if they inherit the gene for red (on a different locus than the gene for recessive yellow), they have red (or liver) leather. This might make it confusing to tell the true color of a dog that is a dark shade of tan but has red leather. We have two dogs on this page that are recessive yellow but red based: Emma Joynson Cobain and Aya Morikawa's Beni, and they both have light tan coats.

Nick1.jpg This very handsome Border Collie is Nick who belongs to Sherry Detrich of Pownal, Maine. Here's what some of the "experts" have to say about his color:

[Nick] looks like he is what the English Shepherd people call a 'clear sable.' Genetically this is the Golden Retriever color. The full range of shades can be from very pale wheaten to rich gold/red, and occurs in black-nosed Golden Retrievers and yellow labs. The variation in shade is due to modifiers. This color isn't uncommon in English Shepherds and we've seen photos of Border Collies that might have been this color. Some 'true sable' dogs can be a color similar to this, but will have a few black hairs usually close to the base of the tail or over the shoulders, whereas the Golden Retriever color will have black pigment restricted solely to the skin. Unless the nose, lips and eyerims are diluated to liver or blue, dilution wouldn't be involved." (Linda Rorem, California.)
Possibly [Nick] is [genetically] 'ee' at the E-locus. I call it ee-yellow following certain geneticists but that is not a popular name and is not any less confusing than the popular names. Breeds have different names for this effect, of course, and far more confusing than that, perhaps, is the fact that the actual shade varies widely depending on [certain] 'modifiers'. The English Shepherd breed is the only breed I'm aware of that calls the effect of 'ee', 'clear sable' or 'milk sable'--usually the name for the effect of this 'ee' in dog breeds in which it occurs does NOT include the term 'sable'. For most breeds, the word 'sable' means almost by definition that there are black hairs in among the tan. But in the ee-yellow, there is no black hair anywhere on the body." (Gina Bisco, New York State.)
[Nick is] definitely not a sable, but a recessive yellow. Genetically that means that he has gene pair 'ee'. It takes all the black-based pigment (black, brown/'red', blue) away from his coat and leaves just tan/yellow. In Nick's case the tan pigment is very pale, and so he looks cream/wheaten/choose-your-own-favourite-color-name. Theoretically ee leaves normal amount of pigment on skin, lips, eyes and nose, and it is very common that although the pups have true black nose when a few weeks old, the nose turns 'dudley' or close to solid pink later. Recessive yellow is responsible for dogs like yellow Labs, Goldens, all red, buff and lemon spaniels, apricot Poodles and many, many more. Clear sables have always at least some dark hairs or hair tips at birth and their nose is black when adult - like red Basenjis or Finnish Spitz. Recessive yellow is rather common in Finnish show type Border Collies, and so I have seen numerous of them." (Liisa Sarakontu, Finnland.)

This is Bud, left, who belongs to Tim Ballard of Aldergrove, British Columbia. Tim works Bud on sheep, and, although he was a rescue dog that had no obvious previous exposure to sheep before Tim adopted him, Tim says "he had good instincts". Bud was rescued by Mary Ann Lindsay of Hayden Lake, Idaho, who is actually an Australian Shepherd rescue person who "sometimes just can't leave" a BC in a shelter. We're grateful to her for not leaving behind this beautiful and talented dog.

Ben.jpg Right, two more examples of "yellow" dogs are Ben (left) and Sissy, who come from Queensland, Australia. (Thanks to Sharon Webley, UK, for these photos.) Sharon quotes Tim as saying that they are "technically Australian reds although some people have called them Champagne." Sissy looks almost white, but a closer look at her ears shows the tan color. Tim says "She is marked fairly 'normally', tho it's hard to see. It was easier when she was very little. She has a big white collar, and a lot of white on her face, but her body is mostly coloured." Tim says the following about the color he calls "Australian red":

As for the colour, in Australia we have the two main red types. We have the 'Chocolate' which is the same as the American red. With the Chocolate you can have a chocolate Tri and the chocolate tends to have a liver coloured nose. We also have the Australian [Oz] red which is quite common and it's controlled by a masking gene (ee) that masks any other colour the dog has. Generally the Oz red (gold) has black nose and lips, unless it's also a chocolate, and then it has liver [leather]. Also you can't get a Oz red Tri colour (or so it seems). The coulours are masked by the Oz red. The Oz red is also very variable and ranges in colour and depth of colour.

TanHoney.jpg This is Honey, who belongs to Kimberly and Marjorie Crocker. She was a rescue dog adopted from the Chattanooga Humane Society in Tennessee. Honey is what Marjorie calls "golden", definitely a recessive yellow. Her "roommate" Teddy, adopted at the same time is sable.

This is "Servo" who belongs to Andrea Martin of California. Andrea got Servo from a shelter and was told she was an "Aussie-Chow mix"! Not even close! This girl is all-Border Collie. Since then, Andrea has done obedience, agility, flyball and herding with Servo, and says she is very smart. In color she is very like Nick, at the top of this page, including the "Dudley nose" (a nose free of pigment so that it looks red).

StvBailysFrodo4.jpg This is Frodo, who belongs to Steve Bailey of the UK. Frodo lives with a tricolored Border Collie named, wait for it, Sam. Steve says: "They both live in an old timber framed cottage which was renovated (yes renovated) in 1606. The cottage backs on to the River Rother, where they spend much of the summer."

Cobain3EmmaJoynson.jpg This is Cobain, left, a liver tan. Cobain's owner, Emma Joynson, was kind enough to contact me when she noticed I had an Australian Shepherd illustrating liver tan because I couldn't find a Border Collie of this color. Cobain is a registered, purebred Border Collie. His nose, lips and eye rims are liver or red, so there is no mistaking his nose for lacking pigment.

BeniAyaMorikawa.jpg Right is Beni who belongs to Aya Morikawa from Japan. "Beni" means red in old Japanese, Aya tells us. She is a smooth-coated dog whose dam was black and white and sire was a red (chocolate) tri, indicating that they were both carrying recessive yellow. Aya believes she is the only recessive yellow smoothcoated Border Collie in Japan.

JakeSueHanson.jpg Jake, left, was found in the National Forest in Northern Wisconsin by Sue Hanson and Steve Owens. When his owner could not be found, they claimed him for their own. They say he has a dudley nose, but it looks black in the photo. Sometimes dogs noses lose pigment from rubbing.

KodySusanLawson.jpg Kody, right, is on the large size for a Border Collie, so his owner, Susan Lawson, was told he was a Golden Retriever mix. This is a common problem for adopters adopting a tan dog. Most shelters don't know that Border Collies come in this color. We don't know for sure if Kody is a Border Collie, but he definitely looks like one of the collie breeds.

MaizieWendyDenomme.jpg Wendy Denomme of the Metro-Detroit area of Michigan also got her dog Maizie, left, from a shelter, and didn't know that Border Collies came in tan. Although we seem to have quite a few "yeller dawgs" on this page, it is one of the less usual colors of the breed. Maizie is also white factored with a large white stripe over her hips.

Molly2BeatrixKohlhaas.jpg Molly, right, is nearly solid tan with just a little white under her chin and on her chest. She belongs to Beatrix Kohlhaas.

MollyCarolynSeyler.jpg Another Molly, left, belongs to Carolyn Seyler from New Jersey. Her nose is dudley but her eyerims are black.

OliverTwistRobinSmith.jpg Oliver Twist, right, has a tan coat and "merle eyes", which often makes him the subject of comment. He belongs to Robin Smith-Lonergan of Washington who thinks he resembles a husky, particularly in the face, but as we have seen (see our page on eye color), blue eyes does not mean husky genes, and merle eyes do not necessarily indicate a merle dog.

RiggsSuzanneRider.jpg This is handsome Riggs, left, belonging to Suzanne Rider. If we learn anything from these pages, it should be that the Border Collie is very diverse, not just in color, but in ear size and carriage, in head shape, in muzzle length, and in body type and size. It's what makes Border Collies interesting. Other breeds have been selected for uniformity. Think about that when you decide to breed to a standard. (That's my soap box oratory for the day.)

TillyLauraEvans.jpg Tilly, right, belongs to Laura Evans from Portsmouth, England. Although it's hard to tell in the photograph, Tilly is a red-based tan. Her owner says she has liver nose, lips, and eyerims, like Nugget, above. We're hoping to see a blue based tan in the near future.

WarfMichael-Hershberg.jpg Warf, left, comes from Australia, but lives with his owner, Michael Hershberg in Kaneohe, Hawaii.

Heidi, left, belongs to Bob and Jen Simpson of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Look at those eyes! They say she is their "blue-eyed blonde".

WileyCalliePittsenbar.jpg This is Wiley, right, who belongs to Callie Pittsenbar. The dudley nose seems almost endemic to this color. If anyone has any insight on this phenomenon, please drop me a line at shepdog@gis.net.

Will2ClaireWarden.jpg Will ("Just William") belongs to Claire Warden of the UK. He's smaller than the average Border Collie, being just over a foot tall, and Claire believes he is not purebred. He looks like he could be a Border Collie X Jack Russell Terrier, a cross that's popular with the flyball crowd because it produces a smart, fast dog that lowers the jump height requirements for a team. Will is all white except for tan markings on his head and ears.


Kerry-AnneBoersJedi-Mango.jpg Kerry-AnneBoersMangos-Mum-Je.jpg Kerry-AnneBoersBrother-and-S.jpg

Kerry-AnneBoersJonah-and-Man.jpg If you were wondering why tan or recessive yellow was called Australian red, these photos should clear that up. Above, far left, is Jedi-Mango, a Border Collie female belonging to Kerry-Anne Boer of Australia. In the middle above is Jessie, Mango's dam, who belongs to Kerry-Anne's sister. And in the other two photos, above right, and at left, are Mango and her brother, Jonah, who also belongs to Kerry-Anne's sister. Their tan is very red (though some might call it orange).

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Last modified: July 21, 2013