Blue Merle Pembrokes

If you care about preserving the corgi breeds, don’t buy a blue merle Pembroke.

TL;DR: Pembrokes have never in their thousand-year history had blue merle in their gene pool. Greedy, ignorant breeders introduced merle because it is currently a favorite fad color, and fetch a higher price. Breeding for color is irresponsible when it comes at the expense of health. Please don’t buy them, and don’t support anyone who produces them.

Have you ever seen a fad you hoped would end quickly, only to see it spiral out of control? Everywhere you turn, that thing that grates your soul is being embraced. Furbies. Toe shoes. Bacon everything. Brunch. Crocs. Baby Shark. I know I sound like a curmudgeon, but this is the hill I will die on:

The popularity of blue merle Pembrokes has harmed both corgi breeds. I hope I can convince you not to purchase a blue merle Pembroke, a so-called “American Corgi,” or support a breeder that produces these puppies.

To understand why, let’s review the history of the corgi breeds. The Cardigan Welsh Corgi and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi have always been two separate breeds. The word corgi means dwarf dog (cor = dwarf, ci = dog). Describing a dog as a corgi did not mean a particular breed - they used the term the same way we would use the term spaniel, hound, retriever, terrier, etc. It is a class of dog, not a specific breed.

The two breeds have two distinct histories and evolutions. Pembrokeshire had more Viking incursions, and they brought their Spitz-type breeds along for their journeys. Familiar Spitz-type breeds include Pomeranians, Schipperkes, Siberian Huskies, Samoyeds, Norwegian Elkhounds, Shiba Inus, etc. The Pembroke's foxy appearance (pointed ears and a tail that curls over the back) reflects that ancestry. On the other hand, Cardigans descended from dogs brought by Celtic immigrants from mainland Europe to Wales. The Teckle type dogs are a common ancestor of the Cardigan and the Dachshund, and Cardigans had a similar development as other herding breeds in the mainland UK.

For many people, seeing a blue merle corgi is a magical moment. I should keep a punch card when people meet Edward and say, "I had no idea they came in that color!". It also is why people tend to guess that they are an Australian Shepherd mix, because that’s the breed they most associate with merle coloring. Most of the breeds that naturally come in merle are herding breeds from the British Isles, including the Collies (Border, Smooth, and Rough), Shetland Sheepdogs, Mudik, Australian Shepherds, Koolies, Beaucerons, Pyrenean Shepherds, Bergamasco Sheepdog, and Old English Sheepdogs. The exceptions to these are German breeds: Great Danes and Dachshunds (remember that the Cardigan has shared ancestry with Dachshunds). The odd-man-out is the Catahoula Leopard Dog. They are believed to have been developed by French immigrants to Louisiana by combining Beaucerons with the mastiff-types and sighthounds brought to the New World by Spanish conquistadors, as well as the breeds created by indigenous Native Americans.

It is much easier to buy a cheap, poorly bred Pembroke and then misrepresent their intentions to get their hands on one other merle dog (generally Cardigan, but sometimes Aussie). Regrettably, there is now a larger population of cheap, poorly bred Cardigans available for irresponsible breeders to use. This isn’t the first time people have abused the breeds; before American corgis, there were cowboy corgis (corgi X Australian Cattle Dogs), auggies (corgi X Australian Shepherd mix), borgis (corgi X Border Collie mix). I can only imagine the abominations other people will soon cook up (I am already pulling out my hair seeing advertisements for corgipoos). Shame on her, even former Queen Elizabeth purchased and bred dorgis (corgi X Dachshund mixes).

These are the top rationalizations I’ve seen regarding the mixing of the corgi breeds. All of them suck.

#1 Corgis were always considered one breed!

These breeders claim that the corgi breeds have been interbred for as long as they’ve existed, and it was only the mean, stodgy old Kennel Club who divided the breeds. In reality, the two breeds had always been separated. They are from two very different parts of Wales and were developed for different purposes. The Kennel Club erred when they listed the two breeds as one, and breeders knew it. The mistake lasted from 1925 to 1934, and during that time, there was almost no mixing of the two breeds. There are almost zero dogs alive today that descend from such a union in either Pembrokes or Cardigans.

You might think, hey, Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire aren’t that far apart (about 100 miles), there must have been travel between these regions. Sure, there probably was, but Welsh geography isn’t accommodating to distant travel. What would take 3 hours to drive would be days for a person to walk with sheep, cattle, or geese in tow. Even with a horse to assist, why would poor Welsh farmers go on such long excursions? It’s not impossible, but rather improbable.

#2 The American Corgi is a breed in development and will be recognized by the AKC soon.

A few individuals have tried to give an air of legitimacy to their irresponsible breeding decisions by making a club and claiming the American corgi is a “breed in development.” This is masterful marketing for mutts. This club is like a fake storefront for money laundering - they have no intention to build that kind of organization in a meaningful way. They want it to appear legitimate to dupe unsuspecting puppy buyers. I have seen people double down on this lie because they want to believe it is true, so they don’t have to admit they paid top dollar for a mutt. There are two steps a breed must go through to be recognized by AKC: first, they must be recorded with AKC’s Foundation Stock Service (FSS). The FSS is for purebred breeds that are not yet eligible for AKC registration. There are 72 breeds in the FSS, but acceptance into the program does not guarantee full AKC registration. Breeders wishing to pursue recording with FSS must request admission and complete the following:

  • Fill out a questionnaire for new breeds.

  • Provide a written breed history documenting the distinct breed for many decades (40 years) with sources for the historical information.

  • Provide an official written breed standard, indicating the origin of that standard. If the standard differs from the breed country's official breed standard, they must specify those differences.

  • Provide photographs of the breed (puppies and adults, as well as both dogs and bitches). If there are different accepted types in the breed, pictures of each variety should be included and labeled.

The next step to be recognized by AKC as a breed is to move from FSS to the Miscellaneous category. The following general criteria must be met:

  1. A demonstrated following and interest (minimum of 100 active household members) in the breed (in the form of a National Breed Club).

  2. There is a sufficient population in the US (minimum of 300-400 dogs) with a three-generation pedigree. Dogs in that pedigree must all be of the same breed.

  3. Geographic distribution of the dogs and people (located in 20 or more states).

  4. AKC must review and approve the club’s breed standard and the club’s constitution and by-laws. AKC Field Staff must complete breed observations. A breed will typically compete in the Miscellaneous Class for one to three years.

Here is the part of the requirements that American corgi breeders are either purposefully hiding from families or genuinely ignorant of: “FSS is not open to ‘rare’ breeds that are a variation of an AKC-registrable breed or the result of a combination of two AKC-recognized breeds. This includes and is not limited to differences such as size (over and under), coat type, coat colors, and coat colors and types that are disqualifications from Conformation Events by AKC breed standards.”

It’s one thing to have a dream, but the possibility of corgi mixes being a recognized AKC purebred is delusional. To qualify, a breed must be recognized by an acceptable foreign or domestic registry. If the breed developed within the United States, there must be a documented history of a minimum of 40 years. The earliest claims I have seen for the creation of American corgis was in 2010, so assuming they have kept accurate records since then, we can talk again in 2050.

Again, no real progress is being made toward making this mix a true breed. They started their group in September 2014. As of this writing, the last post to the American Corgi Club Facebook group was September 3rd, 2019. They have had no meetings, attracted no members, and taken no concrete action toward their professed goal. Real dedication there. Do you know what they have done? Produced hundreds and probably thousands of puppies and laughed all the way to the bank.

#3 All breeds were once mixed! That’s where purebreds came from!

It's true that the foundation of all breeds started with a variety of dogs/breeds. Corgis have existed for thousands of years - before their creators had formalized pedigree documentation, they were still breeding with a goal in mind, which is what our current standards are based on. It’s one thing to recognize that different breeds went into the creation of a purebred. It’s another matter entirely to use that fact to excuse mixing breeds now, especially when the purpose is to make money. There are responsibly bred mixes out there, sometimes called purpose-bred mixes, that are worth regarding positively. Those breeders are going about the process the “right” way, with a specific vision, dedicated breeders working toward that goal, careful pedigree tracking, etc. For example, the Alaskan Klee Kai’s development began in the 1970s, and they are working toward breed recognition. Guide Dogs for the Blind has also utilized mixed breeds. They found that mixing their Labrador Retriever lines with other Labradors significantly reduced the success rate of puppies (graduating training and becoming a full-time guide dog); however, they found that their high success rate was maintained when they crossed their Labrador guide dog lines with their Golden Retriever guide dog lines. You can see in this context the purpose and value of mixing breeds responsibly.

If these breeders don’t care that mixing occurred to create their dogs, why try and convince people they are purebred Pembrokes, and the Cardigan was wayyyy back in the pedigree to the point where they are now purebred again? They are trying to market their product however they need to in order to make a sale.

#4 The American corgi is the best of both worlds, with the best qualities from both Pembrokes and Cardigans!

This is another marketing lie to peddle a product. I would be inclined to believe this if any of these breeders had ever produced a decent representation of either pure breed. In reality, they have no idea what the best of either breed should look or act like when responsibly bred. I’ve seen some breeders claim they want a dog with a shorter back and longer legs - this throws off the entire balance of a dwarf body, making a dog’s body experience injuries and break down with arthritis prematurely. I’ve seen owners believe this lie because they’ve never owned a well-bred representative of either breed. Therefore their logic is anything they like about their dog is because it was a magical mix that made it so. Sadly, the only thing these breeders want from Cardigans is the blue merle coloring. It’s motivated by greed and can hurt all of the dogs and families involved.

#5 I DNA tested my dogs (Embark, Wisdom Panel, etc.), and they are 100% Pembroke!

I support everyone doing DNA health testing, whether they are breeding that dog or not. Using these tests does provide helpful and interesting information. But as a genetic “purity” test, they are not accurate. The tests generally only measure back three generations - and as we know from the purpose of paperwork, mixing in another breed at any point in a dog’s family tree means they are no longer purebred. These breeders will claim that breeding a corgi to a corgi makes it 100% corgi because they're both corgis. Look how silly this belief is using other breeds:

  • Breeding a Golden Retriever to a Chesapeake Bay Retriever does not make their puppies 100% Retriever.

  • Breeding an Irish Setter to a Gordon Setter does not make their puppies 100% Setter.

  • Breeding a Bullmastiff to a Neopolitan Mastiff does not make their puppies 100% Mastiff.

  • Breeding an Afghan Hound to a Basset Hound does not make their puppies 100% Hound.

  • Breeding a Greyhound to an Italian Greyhound does not make their puppies 100% Greyhound.

  • Breeding a German Shepherd to an Australian Shepherd does not make their puppies 100% Shepherd.

  • Breeding a Cocker Spaniel to a Clumber Spaniel does not make their puppies 100% Spaniel (but I bet you can come up with a hilarious name for that mix)!

You get the idea. This is a lie used to sell puppies as purebred when they are a mutt. Mutts can make for wonderful pets, and deserve the same love as any other dog. Just don’t pay top dollar for them.

#6 The American corgi is healthier because mixed breed dogs are healthier!

Oh boy… this is a fun myth I love debunk, but to summarize, a puppy will not automatically receive the healthy/positive genes from both parents. They will get a random combination of both. For conditions that exist in both corgis (such as Degenerative Myelopathy), there is absolutely no benefit - they have the same risk of the condition as a purebred and require testing to prevent the illness. Other conditions occur in one breed and not the other - for example, Von Willebrand Disease exists only in Pembrokes. Interbreeding means that condition is being added to a Cardigan where it was not a risk before.

Mix breeders like to hang their hats on DNA tests alone, but a dog's health is in part determined by having a well-built body. Engineering a solid body is not done through simple inheritance - if you breed a large dog to a small dog, you won’t get a medium dog. You’ll end up with large AND small puppies, with a random combination of parts. Especially with dwarf breeds, having incorrect body measurement ratios means their features may not fit well together and deteriorate more quickly, resulting in pain for the dog.

I have seen some horrific structure on corgi mixes - it’s hard enough to breed a hardy dwarf breed for even the best and most experienced breeders. I constantly see dogs with straight rears, sway backs (dipping down rather than being level), splayed toes, excessive turnout, and more. All to the detriment of the dog. These breeders don’t care about these essential qualities and generally pick their breeding dogs based on their color genetics (merle, dilute, and fluffy being their preference). I’ll eat my hat the day I see a corgi mix that looks like a well-bred Pembroke, and is fully health tested beyond the cheap genetic tests. These breeders don’t care, so long as the puppies sell because of their “rare” colors.

#7 I want all of the qualities of a Pembroke and love the merle color. What’s so wrong with that?

If you love a breed, you should love them just how they are, for better and worse. Let’s pretend we’re talking about a teenager. He/She/They have a crush on someone and want to change something about themselves to impress this other person (dye their hair / get a piercing / wear different clothes / change their hobbies)… I bet you would tell them they are perfect the way they are, and they should not change themselves to make someone else happy. If another person doesn’t like them the way they are, those are the wrong people for them. The same goes for a breed - if a person believes a Pembroke is “worse” because it does not come in merle, they probably don’t deserve one in their life.

#8 I love my American corgi. They are the best dogs I have ever had. This is a great mix!

No one wants to be told their dog is not perfect. There are plenty of people who have corgi mixes that are good family members. But that’s the problem with mixed breeds - even if you like a mix, there’s no way to guarantee one puppy will be like the other. There is no consistency; an American corgi is whatever just so happens to pop out of the dam. These breeders will tell you whatever you want to hear. These puppies will be calm, easy to train, good with kids, other dogs, and pets… when in reality, there are no guarantee dogs with unknown and unresearched family histories will produce those qualities. Are you willing to make that gamble, especially with the premium these breeders charge? You may be saying, I’ll love my dog no matter how they turn out! That’s great! If you don't mind a corgi who doesn't match the breed standard, there are always corgi mixes (and sometimes purebreds) available in shelters. If you don’t mind how your dog will turn out when they mature, or if they are a “fixer-upper” who needs some TLC to be their best, get yourself a Heinz 57 pup. They’re sometimes called “incorgnitos” when they look like a corgi trying to disguise themselves as another breed. They are totally one-of-a-kind, and a lot of them are friggin' adorable. Please go and adopt one instead of supporting irresponsible breeders.

#9 There’s nothing wrong with adding merle to a breed! Color doesn’t affect a dog’s health!

That’s half right… the merle gene does not necessarily cause health issues, so long as a dog only gets one copy from either parent. With one copy, a dog will get merle coloring (and the inheritance is random - a litter of puppies with one merle parent could result in all or no merle puppies). When dogs receive two copies of the merle gene, they are likely to be born blind, deaf, or both. How awful is that? These breeders will risk severe health issues for a vanity color.

These breeders generally don’t keep close records or keep track of their puppies once paid for and leave their care, increasing the odds that double merle breedings will occur. Let’s say someone breeds a red corgi to a merle corgi. All of the corgis can outwardly appear appear red when they are born, but could actually have the merle gene. If they don’t pay close enough attention to the newborn puppies to notice the slightly darkened color spots, they may identify and sell those puppies as red. Then let's say one or more of those owners goes on to breed their dog, and decide they will breed their red puppy to a merle dog to get merle puppies. They are then shocked when their puppies are born stark white. Most of these puppies end up in rescues specializing in deaf and blind dogs, such as Keller’s Cause and Pink Heart Rescue. They have these heartbreaking stories in spades—senseless suffering driven by profit.

#10 Merle can be hidden for generations before it appears - that’s what happened with Pembrokes!

Nah. Merle is a dominant gene, meaning, if a dog has one copy, they (should) appear merle. There are rare instances of a dog having the merle gene but not appearing merle to the naked eye, sometimes referred to as cryptic merle. For a black and white puppy, they may only have a few grey hairs. For red puppies, they may have spots that are slightly darker than the rest of the coat, and the vast majority of the time, those spots will disappear as they age, so they appear identical to a standard red corgi (but good thing the breeder charged double for that “rare” color). The odds of the merle gene being hidden for centuries are absurd, and the kind of incredible leaps of logic required to believe other conspiracy theories. If color genetics is a topic that interests you, this author is an amazing resource.

I hope these are enough reasons to run the other way from corgi mix breeders, but if you’d like to talk more about the joys of purebred Pembrokes and Cardigans, let’s chat. Seeing is believing - once you have met a well-bred representative of the breeds, you’ll want nothing less.