The epitome of a dog whose bark is worse than its bite, the Chihuahua is best known for its tiny size and laughably aggressive attitude. Hardly ever a real danger, they fill the homes and hearts of many people. Some types exist outside the stereotypically tan-bodied Chihuahua seen on T.V. “Merle” is the term for a dappled coat pattern, typically made up of a range of 5 to 6 colors that can appear as small specks or large, heathered markings. Despite their diminutive size, Chihuahuas can be born with a merle coat and look stunningly unique.
1. Merle Chihuahuas are most often gray or white with black dapple, though they can come in red hues as well.
The merle coat coloring is the cause of a genetic mutation and can come in a range of colors: from black to tan and every shade in between. The merle mutation also causes a discoloring of the eyes and skin, often resulting in blue eyes and light brown to pink noses, lips, and toe pads – all of which is contrary to the classic Chihuahua’s usually dark eyes and noses. The merle mutation is one of the rarest coat colorings among Chihuahuas, along with brindle, lavender, and pure white.
Despite this mutation, Merles are still 100% Chihuahua. Aside from their notable coloring, they don’t differ from classic Chihuahuas in any way. Just like the main breed, Merles can have short or long hair, leaving their grooming routine dependent on the length of their coat. They’ll require brushing as often as any other Chi of the same hair-length and shed just as frequently. Obviously, dogs with longer fur will call for more attention. Luckily, there isn’t a lot of them to groom. All Chihuahuas – of any color combination – stand merely 8” tall at most and weigh an average of 6 lbs. These little dogs can live a long time, though. Their lifespan is the same as any other coat color, pushing 14 sometimes even 18 years! Merles also have the same personality as other Chihuahuas, touting a Napoleon complex as big as they are small.
2. Socializing your Merle Chihuahua is no different from socializing a classic Chihuahua.
The distinctive coloring doesn’t affect their well-known, Terrier-like temperament, so don’t think it dampens their confident and outgoing nature. Their feistiness is what make Chihuahuas so lovable, although it’s not compatible with all households. Your Merle will do best in a home without young children or big dogs. Sometimes it works out if they’ve grown up together, but Chis typically exert themselves as the alpha – no matter how big the other dog is.
3. In regards to training, care should be taken from an early age to prevent your Merle Chihuahua from domineering you or other dogs it may live or play with.
Typical supervision, as expected with all breeds, should be given to make sure they don’t become aggressive. Chis may be small, but they could seriously impact other dogs or even provoke an attack on themselves if you’re not careful. Excessive barking may seem like a cute attempt at protecting you, but too much or at the wrong time can negatively impact your Chi. This is all part and parcel to good dog training in general.
There’s no reason why a Merle Chihuahua can’t have a variety of friends at the dog park. Maintaining a well-trained temperament will let you socialize your Chi just like any other breed. They’ve got a lot of energy for a little pup, so exercise is important for the lapdog who’s anything but docile. Regularly tiring them out with a reasonable walk or some quality time playing fetch can help keep their overactive personality at a manageable level. The only time they should be carefully monitored is in breeding.
4. Breeding Merles is a risky business because the seemingly benign coat coloring can cause some very serious health issues.
Breeding a confirmed Merle Chihuahua with another Merle Chihuahua is avoided at all costs. It would result in the production of double-merle offspring which can produce puppies with skin sensitivities, hearing issues, and eye issues. These issues can be as severe as to cause deafness, blurred vision, abnormally small eyes, or coloboma (missing eye tissue which can affect vision). Along with eye abnormalities, defects can occur in the Merle’s cardiac, reproductive, or skeletal systems. These defects are specific to Merles, who are also susceptible to all possible health complications that Chihuahuas in general face. That’s why intentional breeding of double-Merles is highly discouraged.
The merle mutation comes from an incompletely dominant trait. This means that a Chihuahua showing no hints of being merle can carry it and pass it on to their offspring, producing merle babies. Merle babies aren’t guaranteed, however. A parent can carry the gene and not produce merle babies in that litter, but pass the gene through another generation of Chihuahuas before presenting itself as merle.
5. Ghost Merles are Chihuahuas who show no hints of being Merle, often light-colored, but carry the gene.
This means that there is no visible proof of Merle (no discoloration of the skin or fur). The only way to tell is to have your dog genetically tested. This is especially important if you plan to breed them. A licensed veterinarian can do the DNA testing for you through the IDEXX service. The results can take up to a week, but a simple blood sample or cheek swab will get results and can protect future Chi generations.
6. The question of ethics lies solely in the intentional breeding of Merles
Lazy or greedy breeders seeking out a specific color combination put the future litter at risk. The most responsible course of action is to test for Ghost Merles before breeding any Chihuahua with a confirmed Merle.
The full Breed Standard pdf on the AKC’s website has not been updated since 2008 when they listed “Any color – Solid, marked or splashed” as acceptable, presumably including merle coats. The current website (copyrighted for 2020) checks merle markings as standard, ergo acceptable. Their recognition of the Merle subcategory of Chihuahua comes with an understandable caution against irresponsible breeding.
7. The average price for a Merle Chihuahua is around $1,500
Breeders’ experience and the dog’s genealogy can run that price up, especially if there was a champion in the family. Since Merles are rare but controversial dogs, however, they don’t tend to be much more expensive than any other color Chihuahua.
The best place to look for breeders to adopt from is the AKC Marketplace. You can rest easy knowing that they’re breeders who follow careful breeding practices. If there are no Merle Chihuahua puppies (or even adult dogs!) available, you can look elsewhere. To be certain that they’re responsible, it helps to see if the breeder is in some way affiliated with a trustworthy society. In this case, connections with the Chihuahua Club of America are a good sign.
A dog isn’t a click-and-collect purchase, though. Start a dialogue and ask the breeder questions before handing over a deposit or taking the Merle home. No reputable breeder will question providing a health or genealogical history of their dogs. They’ll also be the first people to know about any existing merle genes in their Chis, since they’re actively breeding them.
8. Once you’ve brought a Merle Chihuahua home, you can follow the same care advice as classic Chihuahua owners do.
Stick to food that matches the dog’s age (puppy, adult, senior) that’s of a high quality so that your Merle gets all the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. Watch their intake, though, as it’s common for Chis to overindulge. This is especially important if you’re training with treats. They may learn to be a very good boy, but an overweight one at that!
Like any responsible dog owner, you should make sure you know what you’re signing up for before adopting a Merle Chihuahua. Don’t be fooled by their small size. Just because they can fit in a tote bag doesn’t mean they’ll be content there. As mentioned, Chihuahuas in general require just as much training and exercise as bigger dogs. They’ve got a lot of energy, so keeping them stimulated will help keep easy downtimes and maintain calmer interactions with others.
9. Chihuahuas are known to be a one-person dog, easily becoming over-protective or territorial with their owner.
The AKC describes Chis as having a “saucy expression.” No matter how true or cute this may be, they shouldn’t be indulged. Try to share the load and take turns giving even amounts of praise and reinforcement. Alternate who takes the dog out for walks. You don’t want your Merle turning aggressive towards other members of the household because of one strong attachment. This doesn’t make Chihuahuas bad dogs. If you adopt a Merle it is sure to love you, but everything is better in moderation.
The bottom line is that a Merle Chihuahua should be treated no differently than any other Chihuahua, nor any differently than any other dog. The right amount of care and attention can guarantee you a devoted pet.