Breeding Merle Cockers
Breeding Merles
Breeding Merle Cockers


About Breeding Merle Cockers
Merle Cocker Coat Colors

About Breeding Merle Cockers Safely

First, Some general read more indepth on the merle gene, click on the About Merles Button

There is no such thing as a sable merle gene or a red, brown or blue merle gene. 
There is only a merle gene. Merle is an INCOMPLETE DOMINATE gene, which means this gene will show up in it's offspring. Merle is also a dilution gene, that is, it lightens whatever the coat color would otherwise have been. 
The lightening is not spread evenly over the coat, but leaves patches of undiluted color scattered over the dog's body. Also, the lightening seems to work primarily on the dark pigment in the coat, so any tan on the face stays even. 

One dose of the merle gene on an otherwise black dog produces a blue merle - a more or less bluish gray dog dappled with black spots
On a brown cocker, you would have a light grayish tan with normal colored brown spots or marking in it.
The same with a RED cocker, only this could be harder to see.You would see a light buff color with plotches of the darker red in it.
Tan points - the tan spots over the eyes, on the sides of the muzzle, on the legs and under the tail of a tricolor dog - will still be there in the merled cocker that has tan points.. 

One dose of the merle gene on an otherwise sable dog produces a sable merle. 
Sable merles are less predictable in color than blue merles, and may range anywhere from an apparent sable, often with a pinkish or orange cast to its coat, to something 
that looks like a very rusty blue merle. White markings remain on the merled dog, and may even be slightly more prominant. 

There is also a form of merling that is a combination of different patches of color spread thoughout the coat. 
Looking much like a calico cat appearance.

Merle also can act on the dark pigment in the iris of the eye just as it does on the coat, so merle dogs often have part or all of the eye blue. (This does not affect their vision, though since it happens to some extent in the retina as well it may make it harder to diagnose certain eye problems.)

Breeding Merle to other colors
There are many different colors and patterns the merle gene can produce and this is why people like them.
The main idea when breeding for merle is to produce the merle pattern, and not to hide it.
In order to produce a merle that will look merle and not be hidden or disappear as the dog ages, it is best to follow the guidelines listed below.
,See our page on cocker merle colors..

Ok to breed merle to:
DO NOT breed merle to:
Reasoning Not to breed to these colors:
Blacks Buffs and Silvers Buff and silver HIDES the merle pattern
Black & Tans Sables Sable often HIDES the merle pattern, often eventually the sable blends over the merle as the dog ages and the merling fades out or disappears
Browns & Brown & Tans Merle Breeding merle to merle can produce a lethal gene and you can end up with dead, deformed or pups with tiny or missing eyes, or possibly other problems
Black or Brown Partis  Roans Roans often mix with the merling and it will hide the merle
Black Tricolors Very open marked (mostly white) Partis White hides all merling. The excess white can also possibly lead to deafness
Brown Tricolors Red & White or Buff & White Partis Buff and red hide the merling as does white

Registering Merles With AKC

Because the parent club, American Spaniel Club is responsible for what colors and patterns are allowed to be listed with AKC, merle owners have been told in the past by AKC to register their merles as roans. THIS IS INCORRECT!
DO NOT register a merle as a roan. They are not roans. And this is becoming a very upsetting situation for roan breeders as well as most all breeders and fanciers.
This website has attempted to educate merle owners to the differences between roan and merle.
It would be like somebody registering a buff cocker as a black.
A lot of breeders have realized this, but there are still many, many merle breeders and owners who still insist on registering their merles as roans. 
PLEASE stop this!
Until merle can be listed as a pattern for American Cocker Spaniels, it is best to register your merle as the color it would have been if it did not have the merling pattern.
For example:
A brown merle is simply a brown cocker with the merling pattern. it should be registered as a brown cocker
A "blue merle" is a black cocker with the merling pattern-Register it as a black cocker
A Black, White and Tan Cocker (also known as a Tri or a black tri) with the merling pattern should be registered as a tri 
A black & tan cocker with the merling pattern should be registered as a black & tan cocker

Many breeders and owners are wanting to add something to designate their cocker as a merle, and they can do this by adding the word, "merle" as part of the registered name or some are spelling it backwards as Elrem, or just adding "M" to the name.
This alerts other breeders that there is a merle cocker in the pedigree.


FAQ on breeding merles

Q: I just bought a cocker that the breeder said was a roan. How do I know if it really IS a roan or a merle?
A:Please look at this website and compare your cocker with the merle and roan cockers on the Differences Pages.
Look at the pedigree or get one if you don't have one and see if you can trace it to known merle cockers on this website. If still confused, please send a photo and/or the pedigree to the websmaster at this site. You can also join the Merle Cocker Discussion list. There are many on there who can help you. Instructions to join is on the home page of this website.

Q: Are merle cockers purebred?
2. No
The jury is still out on this one.
1. Yes because IF the merle gene was introduced, it was AT LEAST back in May of 1988 or before.Genetic experts say that a dog is considered purebred after 4 or 5 generations. Most merles now are at 12 generations or more from this breeding.
Yes, the merle gene is an ancient gene and is present in all dogs although not activated in all breeds, unless it mutated, which could be a possibility in the merle cocker.
2.No-Others say a dog of another breed was introduced to the cocker gene pool in 1988 and they feel the merle cocker is not purebred even after  22+ years.
3. Maybe-Again, it could be a genetic mutation that happened

Q:How did merle cockers come about?
A:No one knows for sure, and no one will probably ever know for sure. It could have been a mutation from 1988, actually the dog in question was born in 1979, 31 years ago. Whether this was a mutation, or something jumped the fence, no one will ever know for 100% certainty.All merles go back to this breeding. If it does not, then it is a fudged pedigree.There has been a case of somebody attempting to say that their merle does not go back to this breeding. This breeding was done with fake papers from another female, and not the female that was actually the dam and who did go back to Rusty Butch.

Q:I have a pedigree on my merle. How do I find out if it goes back to Rusty Butch?
A:You can check the pedigrees on this website and many should be able to help you trace your dog back to Rusty Butch. If not, contact the webmaster and we'll see if we can trace it for you.

Q:If I have a cocker that is a normal color, but after looking at the pedigree, I see that there is a merle in there a few generations back. Can it be safe to breed my cocker even though it isn't merle? What are my chances a merle will pop up?
A:If your dog is not a merle nor are it's parents, your dog is as safe as any dog without merle in the pedigree. The lethal gene is only carried on the merle gene,if your dog is not merle, then there is no lethal gene nor will your dog ever produce merle, unless it is bred to a merle.

Q:My dog isn't a merle but it's mother was. Can I breed/show this dog?
A: If your dog is not a merle cocker, and it is an allowed color and quality for conformation, then yes, it is perfectly fine to show your dog or breed it. If your dog is not merle, then it does not carry for merle and is as normal as any cocker whose parents are any other color.

Q:I have a cocker but it's a normal color but it has 2 blue eyes. Is this normal? Is this a merle?
A:It is not the norm for a cocker to have blue eyes. Chances are it is probably a merle cocker. Sometimes the only place merle will show up much is the eye color.
There is also a dilute gene in cockers than can also turn a cocker's eyes blue or lighten them significantly. The best thing to do to know for sure is to look at the pedigree or ask the breeder of your dog if one of it's parents were merle.If still uncertain, you can have your dog tested to see if it is a merle at Genmark

Q:I have a cocker that has double merles behind it. I thought all double merles would die when born?
A:No, this is not true. Some double merle pups can die soon after they are born or be born dead. But we are finding that double merle cockers seem to be fairly healthy and have not really presented with  any unusual problems when bred together. It is still not a good idea to breed 2 merle cockers together because of the lethal gene when 2 are bred, there is still a chance problems could happen. 

Q:If I breed 2 merles together, would I have all merles in the litter?
A:No, from research, you can have as many merles from a merle to non merle breeding as you can from merle to merle and without the potential health problems.

Q:Are there any health problems associated with merle cockers?
A: There have been occasions of some merle cockers having iris coloboma, which is a basicly a misshapen pupil, which generally cause no eye problems. This has also been found in non merle dogs too.
Other than that, there could be a possibilty of deafness when breeding merle to merle or merle to very white open marked cockers. Any other genetic problem is a problem that could be considered normal to any color cocker.

Q:How do I know if my dog is a hidden merle? I want to breed it.
A: You can get a genetic test now to see if your dog is a merle.Genmark
Another thing to do, is test breed your merle to a non merle dog. If no merles appear in the litter, your dog is not merle.

Q:How many merles are in a normal merle to non-merle cocker litter?
A:It varies. Some have had only 1 or 2 merles in a normal (5-6 pup) litter, some have had 70-80% merles.

Q: If the non-merle cockers in a merle litter are bred, will they produce merles?
A: NO. Only merles can produce merles. The only way a non merle can produce merle is to breed it to a merle.

Q: Because merles can carry a lethal gene, I am terrified that I may get or breed to a dog that has a merle in it's pedigree.How can I feel safe?
A: The only way merle can carry and produce the lethal gene is to breed it to another merle. If there is no merle to merle breeding, there IS NO LETHAL GENE. If the dogs coming from that merle back in your pedigree are not merle, then you have lost the merle gene.

It takes 2 to tango, so to say. If your dog is not merle, you do not have the lethal gene nor do you have to worry about it. The gene stops with the merle.
If you have a dog who has a merle 3 generations back, but the offspring of that merle in your pedigree is not merle, then there is no lethal gene. That gene stopped 3 generations back. It is NOT recessive and cannot be carried and then produced. Even if this was a double merle breeding, if your dog is not merle, there is NO LETHAL GENE and you are safe.

Word of advice to merle breeders

Merle is a very hot topic right now, not only in Cockers , but it's showing up in many other breeds as well.
There has been a lot of controversy about the lethal gene associated with the merle pattern.
Merle is and can be very striking, unusual and often very pretty.
But it should be bred by responsible breeders who understand the merling pattern, are ready to accept any consequenses both health wise and from the public.
Merle breeders need to learn to understand color genetics, even the basics, to be able to breed healthy and correct cockers.
They should also be able to read and understand pedigrees and what is involved to breed safely.
Merle breeding shouldn't be undertaken just for the money aspect. These are warm loving caring dogs that depend on us to make the right decisions for them, and this also includes breeding healthy and correctly.
No one should be breeding strictly for color or just the money. Health, temperament, and conformation/quality should be the top priorities.
Color is just the icing on the cake, but with merles, there is a lethal gene associated with it, so breeders need to be careful and knowledgable about what they are doing.
It's just as easy to breed a quality merle cocker that is both lovely in appearance as well as temperament and function, than it is to just throw 2 dogs together.
People who breed merles love the unusual colors and markings, so they need to strive to produce the best quality they can. Especially if we want to be able to register these dogs correctly.
Having a bad attitude towards the parent club and not caring about health and quality will never get your dogs registered and they will always be considered outcasts. Showing the fancy that merles can be as nice or nicer than other colors will be a huge plus in the merle breeders and owners favor.
Lets breed these merles as something we all can be proud of.:-)