merle cockers
merle cockers

  This is very interesting to me because I have a "hidden" merle--a sable and white boy with beautiful blue eyes. That should have been a hint that he was also a merle, but I have seen lots of sables with blue eyes in Shelties and Aussies and didn't think anything about it when I bought him. 
But he has thrown about one half merles, or sable-merles, in two litters, so far. 

So I have been studying this gene for awhile now, and I've come to the opposite conclusion, that the merle gene must be a multiple gene complex, and like the sables, parts of it can travel underground and then "meet up" again in an individual dog. And the blue eyes aren't necessarily a sign of merle, as merle's can have all colors of eyes, and sometimes two different colors. 
 In fact so far I have only gotten two merle, or sable-merle, pups with blue eyes, and one with beautiful clear grey eyes, one with one brown and one tan eye, and one solid blue "tweed" merle girl with both eyes dark brown, just like a "regular" Cocker. 

I also know of a breeder who has been trying unsuccessfully to breed merles for about 15 years, but is lacking something, so I'm thinking that there is a complex of genes that all have to come together in one dog to get the true merle, or a dog capable of throwing merles, and that perhaps the blue roans have just part of the "merle" package--that they are related genes, but not the full complement of merle genes. 

So I think that perhaps a lot of the blue roans listed in merle pedigrees are just that--blue roans--carrying only parts of the merle complex of genes--and that like sables, a dog needs two, or even three different genes to be a complete merle, possibly from both parents, if one parent doesn't have all of the genes necessary. 
I also think that the sable and the merle genes are intertwined in some sort of way, and I say this as a person who has had sable Shelties in the past, so I am intimately familiar with the breed.  I also collect books on all of the sable and merle breeds, such as Collies, Aussies, etc., and these genes in these breeds are very complex, and I see no reason why Cocker sables and merles should have less complex genes than those breeds. 
My Aussie book for instance says that to get blue eyes the dog needs as many as three alleles or variants of the eye genes. 

Still, it would be interesting if everyone who had merle Cockers would try to trace their dogs back.  I've been doing some research past my three generation pedigree for my sable-merle male dog and so far have found some 33 BeGay dogs, and no one would suspect them of slipping in merles into their famous line. And of course Ch. Artistry's Soot and Cinders, but he is in just about every sable and white line. 

I know that a lot of people in Cockers hate change, and especially profess to "hate" the merles--I hear it all of the time from other breeders.  But change comes, whether we like it or not.  For instance, my mother bred Cockers from the 1930's to the late 1950's, when she left the breed due to all of the changes she thought were turning her beloved old fashioned Cockers into "hairy little bulldogs," as she used to call the new type of Cockers. Today I have an even more modern version of a sweet "hairy little bulldog" lying at my feet as I type this, and my Mother's getting out of Cockers didn't do a thing to stop the tides of change in the ring. 

I have found that both the Cocker buying public and many breeders alike love the merles, and especially the sable-merles (which in Shelties are now winning in the show ring) for these dogs' beautiful, unusual coloring, which can be spectacular looking in such a long haired dog as a Cocker. 

. Breeds change--breeders come and go, judges come and go, types come into favor and go out again, and everyone rushes to breed to the new winners, and "type" slowly evolves. I have been intimately involved with dogs for over 60 years and I know all about this--I have seen it with my own eyes.  Even the public latches onto new breeds --look at the Cavaliers, "invented" at Crufts in the early 1930's to match toy dogs found in old court paintings--and now an accepted AKC breed. 

So I don't think that ultimately it really matters how the merles "got into" Cockers, except as an exercise in pedigree tracing, as they are certainly here to stay. 

...I bought him last January as a proven three year old who had had four litters with only one girl, a black tri roan.  At the time I bought him 
he had just been shaved down for the heat of XXXXX, and you can see from the two pictures how fast he coat has grown out.  But he spends most of his days wallowing in sand holes out in the shade of the dog yard, so he will never have a show coat.  But I love his coat--both the color and the texture, and he has just a beautiful bite.  His ears look grey, but actually they are a mixture of black, red, and cream hairs that appear grey or blue from a distance, so I do not believe that there is really a merle hair on his body.  He has recessive plating-- the pink area on his lower lip--and he has pink spotted pads on his feet. 

I've had a sable Sheltie, and have seen lots of sable Shelties with blue eyes--don't think they can win in the ring, but there are lots of them--and I loved the combination. I only got suspiscious when the previous owners e-mailed me some pictures of some of his "roan" pups--they had four litters with him with their black tri roan girl--and I was pretty sure that I was looking at merle and not roan. I was planning on buying a merle dog also, so I got two in one. 
I do believe that it was "meant to be" that this dog came to me, as I was so interested in coat color and markings genetics--plus the almost two year search--I never gave up and looked at hundreds of pictures of stud dogs for sale.  But I bought him as a sable and white, and notice on his pedigree that he is listed as a "Black white and tan." 

But XXX illustrates the necessity of getting the breed club to at least give the merles a number to register the color and warn people that they are dealing with merles! 

Wake up out there. Let's do the best we can to help this. The MERLE color is here and undoubtely here to stay whether it is with us show fanicers or BYB.... 
I for one have a litter of 3 merle babies now. JUST STUNNING .. This is my first litter from my male. I have shown sable/whites and finished 
7 when they were ALLOWED and had great luck with them. I hope and pray that someday they will be allowed again to show them  along with the merles.  I will be right there at the ring waiting with others I am sure. Most people are affraid to step up now and say I have a MERLE .. 
I like them and will have them. I as a show breeder am trying to incorporate better lines into the merle lines. That is why we have to get these dogs reg. correctly so we can monitor the pedigrees. Watch the lines and hope not produce genetic problems with them. 
They are 9 wks now, happy and healthy as can be. Great temperments and 100% cockers 
How many times do we have to go over this? The color is ALREADY here! No one is "introducing" the gene at this late date. One way 
or another, that was done generations ago  I'm sure there have been innumerable complaints to AKC and ASC about cross-breeding producing 
this color and I'm equally certain that if AKC felt there was any grounds for suspending or revoking these dogs registrations, it would have been done by now.  Does anyone out there honestly believe that AKC would suddenly revoke the registrations of several thousand dogs that are 6, 8, 10 or more generations removed from this supposed cross-breeding? I don't think so! 
AKC accepts these dogs as being purebred, so we must get past this tendency to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that they don't exist.  No one can prove that a cross-breeding occurred and all of the current dogs can be shown to consistently reproduce breed type. Due to this, the length of time involved, the fact that the dogs are recognized by AKC and the ability of merle breeders to show multiple generations of registered ancestors, these dogs must be considered pure-bred.  We're not going backwards by working with these dogs. This is the only way to move forward! The breed Fancy MUST deal with the inclusion of this color because AKC has chosen to recognize them and they are now a part of this breed. 

Everyone seems to be afraid of this gene due to the expectation of litters of defective puppies, but in reality, there is only a 25% chance of getting double dilute merle puppies if someone does a merle to merle breeding.  These double dilutes would be the only puppies in the litter that MIGHT be defective. That's right, MIGHT be defective.  Some double dilute merles are NOT defective and are completely normal!  So, even if 25% of a litter were double dilute merle puppies, they would not necessarily be defective.  I haven't seen a percentage listed for how many double dilute merles are defective. 
While any defective puppies are a bad thing, and I'm not trying to minimize this fact, you must remember that this means that, statistically, at least 75% of the puppies in a merle to merle breeding would be PERFECTLY NORMAL! 
  They would not "carry" any defects (outside of normal breed issues) that could be passed on, nor would their health be compromised in any way due to their color heritage. 

If you compare the risk of breeding merles to the risk of breeding dogs that might be carriers for cataracts or PRA or hip dysplasia or any other defect within the breed, then I'd say the risks of breeding merles are acceptable.  We all know of breeders that refuse to acknowledge these other defects within their bloodlines and sell "time bomb" puppies to unsuspecting buyers - show breeders and the general public alike.   Try showing and finishing a dog only to have it break with PRA at 4 to 5 years of age, cataracts at 3 or hip dysplasia at 2.   What if this happens after the dog has already been bred multiple times?   If this was a top winning dog, how many litters do you suppose it could have sired by the age of 4?  How 
many defective puppies are you looking at in this scenario?  Then you find out the breeder/sire owner knew the dog's parent/parents were defective, but kept on breeding the dog and didn't tell anyone.  Dealing with these unseen defects, which strike without warning, can skip generations and which can strike entire litters, is much more disastrous than any merle breeding could ever be!!  At least with merles, if I choose to breed them,I know how to control the issue and can COMPLETELY avoid the known defect with careful breeding practices.  And as a responsible breeder, I can make sure that none of my puppies are placed where they might accidentally be bred to another merle. 

Personally, I like the multitude of colors and color combinations (legal or not) within our breed.   I find the genetics of the different combinations intriguing and it's my belief that the more we know about every color and color combination, the easier it will be to limit any danger presented by these colors.  If we turn our backs on merles, the puppy mills and BYB's will continue to turn them out in droves.  Most from poor quality, untested breeding stock and bred by people that leave us to clean up the messes they make by incorrectly registering the dogs and by not selling pups with limited registration. 

We, the long-term breed lovers, will be the ones left to pick up the pieces of the breed after the public turns it's back on Cockers (again!) because they're "all unhealthy and have temperament problems".  (I can't tell you how many times I've heard that one over the years!)  We're asking for trouble if we ignore the presence of these dogs within the breed. There won't be 2 separate Cockers - merle and non-merle.  We'll all get lumped together, no matter if our dogs are health tested for generations, are conformation Champions, therapy dogs, titled obedience dogs or just plain pets. Problems in any one portion of the breed will affect us all. 

As for not being able to show the dogs, we've already had that discussion!!  A conformation championship title does not "make" the dog.  Showing is a valuable tool in evaluating our dogs, but it is only one tool in the tool chest! A good breeder knows the quality of their dogs and evaluates them accordingly. These dogs can show in other forums - obedience, agility, field trials, tracking AND the acceptably colored littermates CAN be shown in conformation!!!! 

There are any number of quality sables around. Some are shown and finished in Canada.  While these dogs can't be shown here either, 
they're bred by a large number of show enthusiasts and many have top- notch pedigrees.  I think they are an important part of the breed and I think they improve the breed. Nobody wanted sables 20 years ago and nobody wanted browns 20 years before that.  Are the sable dogs really inferior because they can't show? No.  Had the browns and sables been culled, ignored and allowed to stagnate by show breeders at certain times in the history of the bred?  Yes.  Have they improved the breed now that they have been incorporated into the mainstream?  YES!!!!  I personally used browns to improve temperaments in my other colors and will swear to the fact that, for years now, I've had more consistent temperaments in my dogs because I incorporated dogs of this COLOR. Will merles have a unique quality to contribute?  I don't know.  But I think we should find out! 

Merle is dominant. One parent must be merle to get merle puppies.It is quite possible that there is a mutation which is responsible
for the merle gene in Cockers. This is EXACTLY why it would traceto only one animal. Gene mutation happens all the time in living beings. Any number of factors (chemicals, radiation, nutritional deficiency, etc., etc.) can influence gene development. Or sometimes cells just go haywire and no one knows why. It's beennoted that black puppies are occasionally produced from a double merle to black breeding and it's suspected that this is aspontaneous MUTATION of the merle gene from "Mm" back to "mm". The explanation for this is that the merle gene may be a "fragile" gene. I found this information on the following site:

The defect associated with the merle gene does not affect any othercolor of Cocker and is not carried by any other color. It can only be carried by a merle AND is only an issue when merles are bred to merles. The possibility of defective dogs can be COMPLETELY eliminated if the color is recognized and if breeders and the public are educated. Clearly defined color choices on registration papers and a note on merle registration papers and/or pedigrees that merles should never be bred to merles could help prevent the possibility of someone making a mistake. This is not a defect that will affect the entire breed nor is it something that will hide within the dog and suddenly pop up after several years. No one has to test the dogs for this problem nor can people hide the defect to sell sick dogs to unsuspecting buyers. While it's unfortunate that the defect exists, and while we'd all like to have perfectly healthy dogs, the color AND its defect are ALREADY within the breed. We MUST recognize and deal with the color to minimize mistakes in registration and to eliminate the chance that someone would accidentally breed a merle to a merle. These dogs can be incorporate into the breed and the threat of defective dogs from this color can be eliminated with aggressive education of the Fancy and the public. Not recognizing and dealing with the color is where the problems will begin!

We also have to realize that people that would dump a litter of pups at a shelter are probably already doing this with dogs that break with cataracts or PRA, or dogs that have hip dysplasia, epilepsy, or any congenital defect. There will always be people that will not deal with the bad that invariably crops up in the breeding of live animals. Whether we have the merle gene or not, these people are always going to be present. The point to realize in dealing with this issue is that these "throw away" people are the ones looking to make a quick buck by selling dogs. If they know they will get defective pups, they will not breed merle to merle as this will decrease the number of pups available to sell. Voila! Education and correct identification of the color will again resolve the issue!

No one has addressed the fact that buff and sable "mask" the merle coloring. There could be any number of merles within the breed (now and through the past) that have never been identified. Everyone keeps screaming about merles being registered as roans, but I bet there are a lot of merles registered as buffs, sables and even regular parti-colors since a sable merle can look just like a red/white. I think it's also quite possible that any number of merles could have been culled by early breeders. This practice was wide-spread for differences that were considered faults.

As to the breeder of Rusty Butch, how have the descendants of this dog retained their registered status if AKC was never allowed to review the records and resolve what ever the issue was? Is there any record of the final resolution? What other breeds did she have at the time? Was this situation when the dog in question was a puppy? An adult? Before or after he produced merle puppies? Can you give us a more complete picture of the situation?

Pedigree colors are notoriously incorrect in all varieties...  Another one is that AKC could include a printed page with color descriptions and pictures of various colors and markings with all litter kits.   Quick, simple, efficient and the information is immediately in the hands of the people who need it at that very moment! .....  These options are simple and easy to implement and could alleviate any confusion in pedigrees.  I have no problem with correctly identifying these dogs, I only have a problem with segregating them or doing anything that negatively affects their image. 

Why shouldn't we worry about ASC trying to get rid of the color?  They'd cut sables and roans in a heartbeat if they could figure out a way to do it!  I think it's a realistic concern and something merle owners/breeders/supporters need to keep in mind.  Allowing this color to be segregated would set a precedent that could lead anywhere.  They didn't do this with sables, so allowing them to do this with merles would be equivalent to admitting they weren't as worthy to be included in the mainstream with everyone else. 

Education and correct color registration will eliminate ANY possibility of defective puppies.  If I involve myself with the color and learn all I can, then hopefully I'll be able to help prevent accidental merle to merle breedings.  Hopefully I'll be able to make a difference in getting these dogs registered correctly.  Hopefully I'll be able to help clarify pedigree issues.  Hopefully I'll be able to help improve the quality and health of dogs with this color.  Hopefully this will benefit the breed.

Ignoring these dogs, segregating them and/or refusing to acknowledge that this situation is a legitimate breed issue, will not eliminate or resolve any of the issues tied to the merle color.   Even those that don't like this color must insist that AKC and ASC take steps to recognize and properly register this color and educate breeders and owners about breeding practices.  Why is the date this color appeared important?  Isn't the fact that it is in your chosen breed reason enough for everyone to become involved?   The problems with this color are exactly WHY more show people should become involved.  We have a better chance of convincing ASC and AKC to make sure these dogs are properly identified and bred.  We can help make sure the health and quality of these dogs is consistent with that of other colors.  Whether you like the color or not, these dogs exist and are being bred.  Refusing to be involved and then labeling them as "inferior" examples of the breed is ludicrous.  The whole breed will be tainted by any problems associated with this color.  By becoming involved with the color we can minimize and/or prevent problems.

These dogs can and are contributing to the breed already.  They increase interest in the breed and they attract attention to the breed.  These dogs increase the gene pool and allow for further diversity within the breed.  Some of these dogs are being shown in obedience and agility and being used in other ways that benefit humans (therapy dogs, companions, etc.).  While these may be the same contributions that other colors make to the breed, this does not make them any less significant....  While we don't all agree, we do all want to help our chosen breed and are willing to learn and become involved to accomplish this.  This is certainly a positive aspect of the issue.  There are any number of people.. that I would not have corresponded with without coming together over this issue.  I think the increased interaction of breed enthusiasts is a positive step for the breed and can be directly attributed to the merle color.  I can't possibly list all that this color has, can or will contribute to the breed as I am not heavily involved in breeding, working or showing this color.  But I do believe they can and do contribute to the breed. 

What I find odd, is why do people automatically think that in dogs that a color is breed specific? All dogs came from one source to begin wouldn't that more than likely mean, under the right breeding conditions any breed can produce any rainbow of color that you see in any breed of dog? I know in rabbits for one, theres STILL new colors/patterns popping up, they aren't recognized however, but if someone gets fascinated in them enough they fight to get them recognized and breed to keep the gene popping.. Sure some are dominant and some are recessive colors/patterns (in any living thing) but odd things happen with genes and colors "just pop up"...could have been what happened in cocker spaniels and for someone to automatically assume another breed was incorporated without thinking that maybe JUST MAYBE genetics decided to throw in a fluke themselves....a beautiful fluke i might add. :) Either incorporated into cockers, or just showed up in cockers, either way before there was American cockers, there was mixes in the English to produce the English and so on and so forth back through the breeding decades they were mixed and mixed and mixed to produce purebreds, that's why I said I'd like to slap them for saying merles are mutts basically.