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The Merle Gene

The Merle Gene is a much debated topic among Poodle and Goldendoodle Breeders. In this short article I plan to shed some light on the topic.

To start off here is a little about the Merle Gene. The Merle Gene is an incomplete dominant gene, this means that it only requires one copy to reproduce it, so only one parent has to carry for Merle. And actually, it is highly recommended against to breed Merle to Merle, as if both parents carry one copy of the merle gene, you will end up with 25% of the puppies being Double Merles, which have a chance of being blind and/or deaf. As a breeder, no matter what the percentage I would never risk even one puppy being born blind and/or deaf, so we never breed merle to merle. As well, there are other colour genes that can cover the merle gene, so you will not visibly see it but it is still present genetically and can be passed down to offspring. These colours include White, Cream, Apricot, Red and heavily marked Parti's. As well, many that are not trained to merles, can mistake a brindle with the merle gene as not carrying merle. These dogs are called cryptic merles, as they are genetically merle, but visibly do not look like merles. If you are breeding a merle to any of these colours, you should genetic test them to ensure they do not carry for merle and therefore, you won't have double merles. 

There are many People out there that insist that Merle is not a naturally existing colour is Poodles and therefore not in Goldendoodles as we know for sure merle is not a colour found in Golden Retrievers. Many of these people will claim that it is naturally occurring in many other breeds though, such as Australian Shepherd, Great Danes, and Dachshunds. So, we have a problem as nobody knows for 100% sure where the merle gene comes from in Poodles. We do know with 100% certainty that there are AKC Registered Merle Poodles. There are several AKC Breeders that register them regularly. 

Many people also note that there is not a specific colour called merle when registering an AKC Poodle, so merle must not be an AKC Colour. What I have to note for all of those people is the fact that there is also is no specific colour for Parti, Sable, Brindle, or Phantom. These are noted as Black & White, Black & Tan, Black & Silver, Brown & Tan, etc. Merle is often noted as Black & Silver or Brown and Tan. 

So now the controversy is where did this gene come from and since nobody knows for sure we have to look at our options. The only three options that we can think of are these:

1. The merle Gene was introduced using another breed, many, many generations ago. If for instance we go with this option, we would assume that it was introduced with either Great Danes, Australian Shepherds or Dachshunds. There are some other breeds with Merles, but they are just as different as these breeds in coat type, size, structure and temperament, so we will just work with these breeds for now. If these breeds were used to introduce the merle gene, we can all visibly see the obvious difference in coat type, structure, size, temperament among other things.

Lets discuss coat type first, There are three genes that affect coat type that we know of genetically:  KRT71 (Curly Gene-Cu), RSPO2 (Improper Coat-IC) and FGF5 (Long hair-L). Poodles have two curly genes, do not carry for improper coat and have to long hair genes, for a dog to get curly hair it needs one copy of the curl gene, but with only one copy you will not get as much curl as a dog with two copies, actually it takes many generations to get that amount of curl back as there is natural variation within the gene and if you talk to Poodle breeders that show, they breed only dogs with thick full coats and it takes a long time to get these coats. You need two improper coat genes in order to get not facial furnishings and you need two copies of the long hair gene in order to get long hair. 

​So, if you took any of the three breeds we are using as examples to infuse Merle into the poodle. Two of the breeds have short, straight hair with no furnishings (Great Dane and Dachshund) and one has long hair, but it is straight with no furnishings(Australian Shepherd). So, if you crossed with the Great Dane or Dachshund you would end up with wire haired, short haired dogs with some furnishings, these dogs would look nothing like a poodle at all, even crossed back to the poodle again, you still would have F1 Goldendoodle looking coats on the curlier sided puppies. You would need to cross them back at least 4-5 generations in order to get an even remotely looking Poodle coat. Now, with the Aussie they at least have a long coat, so their first generation puppies coats would be a bit closer in resemblance to a poodle than the other crosses, but would still only be wavy coats and would need to be crossed back to the poodle at least 3-4 generations to get Poodle looking coats. This is assuming that the Breeder that chose to infuse this other breed genetically tested the puppies to ensure the puppies with the right coat genetics were bred back to the poodle. 

​The next thing to asses is structure, we can all agree that the poodle is built very different from the Dachshund, Great Dane and Australian Shepherd. It takes decades to change the entire structure of a dog, but with careful breeding you can do it. But, the dachshund and the Australian Shepherd are completely different in structure body wise to the poodle and likewise the Great dane is also completely different in structure particularly in the head structure. It would take many generations to change this structure when bred back to the poodle. 

Temperament is one of those things that can be more subjective to people and is not as easily assessed, but these infused breeds are completely different temperaments and that should be a consideration.

Okay, so keeping all this in mind, it is possible that some AKC Breeder did infuse one of these breeds and genetically tested each generation, breeding them back to the poodle over 4-5 generations to achieve a dog that looks like a poodle. They during this would of had to not only register each generation, while hiding the offspring that would obviously not pass as a poodle, because if they didn't they would be reported to AKC and not be allowed to breed anymore. They would need to keep careful consideration to the structure of each puppy and genetic tests and temperament, so that these dogs would eventually show no sign of another breed in them, as the AKC registered Poodles that are out there now breed true to type. While, I admit that this is possible, I also think it is highly unlikely and I would go as far as saying that if they did infuse another breed and it was that many generations back that it is unrecognizable in the current Poodles, as the current ones breed true to type in every way.... Does it really matter? Also, before you say that someone just lied on their papers,I know of several breeders that have DNA's done many generations back too. 

2. Second option is that it has always occurred in the breed. There was a phase in which all multicoloured poodles were thought to be flawed, due to a vast lack of knowledge and many misconceptions on people parts. During this time multicoloured poodles were not bred and many were culled almost getting rid of those colours all together. With merle being a gene that can easily be hidden by other genes such as White, Cream, Apricot and Red, it could have stayed hidden by these gene for many generations, especially due to the fact that these colours were often only bred together, so Merle would have never shown up, until people realized that there was nothing wrong genetically with multicoloured poodles and started breeding them again, once these poodles were crossed with other colours the merle gene could have emerged then. 

3. The last option is that the Merle gene was a natural mutation in the Poodle, which is how it is believed to have occurred in other breeds that it is present in. 

Regardless of which option you care to believe, the Merle Poodle is AKC Registered. It is DNA'D as purebred Poodle and it isn't going anywhere. They are beautiful and breed to the breed standard. I really feel when there are so many health and temperament issues in so many breeds, we should be focused on breeding healthier, better temperament, more structurally sound Poodles and ultimately Goldendoodles in my case and not cause so much drama and conflict over a colour that we can not prove one way or another how it came to be in Poodles.