Sexual Maturity and Breeding of Australian Shepherd

Hi all. I'm new to Australian Shepherd. I have several Pitbulls and a Border Collie cross. We got a Border Collie/Aussie (she'll be around 16 weeks now) and shortly after got an Aussie (he's 17 weeks). Got them for herd dogs (great school here). Everything is going great with them.

My question is on what the approximate age the bitches start going into heat? So I can make sure nothing happens. We have several Pitties; none are altered and I've never had accidents so I just want to know when to start paying attention.

Also I know you can't breed two merles so, eventually, when I want them bred I was planning on studding the male purebred Aussie (red merle) and to have to find my girl pup a stud. I wanted to check with more knowledgeable Aussie owners to be sure that I shouldn't breed them together.

Female pups lineage is her mom is a purebred red tri Border Collie and her dad is a red merle. The male I don't know about his parents but he is a red merle. I know it's a long way off before I breed her I just want to know the details.

Also I never studded out a dog before what age is the norm for that?

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