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Goals for the Future of Merles in Am. Cocker Spaniels

Here Kat will discuss what her goals are and how she sees the future of merles in the cocker spaniel.

This page is in progress of being written, NONE of the topics here are complete until this red notice has been removed.

To be as honest as I possibly can, with EVERYONE who appreciates merle as a pattern in American Cocker Spaniels, if we wish to ever see the ASC or AKC legitimize the pattern we need to start making some changes to be considered worthwhile of the effort.  I will outline my suggestions (and goals with my Merles) for how to forge ahead.  I am always willing to consider other's ideas so if you have them please do contact me so we can discuss it.

Education about the pattern

I always try to inform others what the merle gene does and why it's controversial.  Many merle breeders still aren't telling their new puppy homes about this, this includes breeders who are selling merles to other breeders.  I often shake my head when I encounter some breeders who are new to breeding (or breeding cocker spaniels) and yet are producing merles and still do not know the controversy, genetics and history of them.  Without judging why they began breeding (because there are a) far too many reasons why people do b) I don't believe anyone has the right to judge anyone else) I try to educate them about what they have and hope that they will be willing to learn and understand.  What upsets me more about that situation than anything else is that some breeder sold them a merle without passing along VITAL information.  Whether that breeder had the same happen to them or not I will not likely ever know but it would compound the dislike of the situation that much more for me.

  • IF you have a merle Am. Cocker Spaniel please
    • talk to your source (who you got the dog from) and ask them to visit this webpage.
    • educate yourself about the pattern (often called incorrectly a color) and the controversy.
    • share the information about merle with anyone and everyone, but most especially other cocker spaniel people!
  • IF you are breeding or looking to purchase a merle please look into the "Ethical Breeding" of them as I outline below.

Ethical Breeding

Please keep in mind these are MY opinions about ethical breeding.  I know not everyone shares these values (and some say I am unethical myself for breeding merle at all) and I do not believe everyone right now today is going to embrace or practice these values of mine.  I would like to see it happen though and I think it would do a LOT towards giving merle credibility as a pattern to be accepted in Am. Cocker Spaniels.  I also live by the philosophy of not dwelling on past mistakes but striving for improvements as we learn from them or about the world around us.  If I weren't to outline these goals than no one would know what they were.  Without knowledge there is no way to make something happen.  I believe it is unethical to NOT do these things once you are aware about the need for them. 

Learn about your pedigrees.

  • Research the parents and grandparents and ask for pictures of them.  Not only is this fun to see whether your dog(s) resemble their ancestors and in what ways but this will begin to give you a knowledge about them.  
  • Ask questions about whether there are any health concerns in the lineage.  Ask about littermates of each ancestor as well.  Most quality breeders take a great deal of pride in their lines and keep information about them.
  • Look at the AKC pedigree and pay attention to things like OFA #s and so forth (see below under "Health Testing").  While the merle gene doesn't cause every problem in cocker spaniels we need to gain ground by setting ourselves apart from unhealthy (poorly bred) cockers that are being unethically produced.

Health Testing

  • Because it is argued that merle has health issues associated with it we need to do our BEST to have healthy dogs otherwise.  All cocker spaniels have health concerns (any form of life does) and perpetuating a problem is not a good way to breed.
    • CERF (canine eye research foundation) testing annually before breeding to have the eyes checked for eye problems that are hereditary and NOT breed if any problem is found. (cataracts etc.)  Disclose the results of any problems to the breeder/owner of the dog and any litter mate's owners that you are in contact with.  If an outside stud was used contact that dog's breeder/owner.  This isn't about blaming someone it is about avoiding continuing it.
    • PRA (progressive retinal atrophy *eyes*) with a cheek swab and the DNA tested to carry for the gene that causes it.
    • OFA (orthopedic foundation of america) hips and knees at 2 years of age for dysplasia or 'slips'~ luxating patellas.  an alternative that detects problems earlier for hips is Penn Testing.

This next part should be obvious but I don't want to be neglectful in saying it just in case there is still someone who does not know this.  NEVER Breed Merle to Merle!  The merle gene lessens the amount of pigment (melanin) in the fetus as it is developing and without enough of it the eyes and ears will not develop properly.  This leads to blind and or deaf dogs.

Quality MERLE Cocker Spaniels

This part is going to sound a bit 'elitist or snooty' but it is not meant to be taken that way.  I totally understand that right now merles are simply 'pets' in the eyes of most of the cocker spaniel world and 'poor quality' simply based on their pattern.  If we ever hope to gain legitimacy with the ASC (American Spaniel Club, parent club of our breed to the world, not just the AKC) we are going to need to try to improve the quality of the merles being bred today.

  • To do that we need to admit that primarily merles come from 'pet lines' (altho to me that is not an insult, as I want happy healthy companions for families) and along the way (every dog that doesn't complete their championship in the eyes of some breeders is only 'pet quality' and should never be bred) we have strayed away from the Breed Standard.
    • YES by having merles period we are violating the Breed Standard as they aren't part of it!
    • However very few merles (this number does improve as time goes by) if they were the standard color would adhere to the Breed Standard.  We need to start improving ourselves and breeding as close to the Breed Standard as we can.
  • Just having a healthier cocker spaniel isn't going to be enough.  We need to have merles 'conforming' closer and closer to the Breed Standard (follow link to the ASC website page on the Breed Standard, while there read the study being touted by the ASC AGAINST MERLES, I will forewarn you tho, they didn't even use a study that has cocker spaniels in it~ to me that just seems so 'not legitimate' but then I was a Biology MAJOR).  
    • We need our merle cocker spaniels to be of correct appearance and movement aside from the color/pattern that they are.
    • That means structure, performance and coat.  Please purchase the Breed Standard for $12 from the ASC and study it.

How we achieve this improvement of quality is a bit of a more difficult task.  We are going to need to purchase closer to Standard partners to breed our merles with.  Hopefully (this is an acquired with experience skill) the offspring will be at least that much closer to the Breed Standard and from there another quality partner that is closer to the standard and so forth.

  • I won't argue that this will be difficult to get Standard Quality cocker spaniels to be breeding our merles to as MANY in the Show World of the Cocker Spaniels are so against merle that they write contracts that any puppies/adults from their lineages are not allowed to be bred to merles.  
    • While this isn't enforceable by the law I also don't condone breaking those agreements (we need to have above all else ETHICAL BREEDERS who respect each other breeder).  
    • However I when I first began years ago with a different kennel name improved my merles without using a "Champion LIneage" to do so.  It happened by knowing the pedigrees of the dogs I was breeding and selecting partners who would improve their weak areas in reference to adhering to the Breed Standard.
  • I also won't argue that this is going to take time.  Improving your quality can start to happen right away but getting the results is another matter.  Every show breeder willing to tell the truth will admit they have had to correct this or that in their lines.  I've had to STOP breeding a lineage altogether because problems arose in other's related lineages.  I simply Won't perpetuate a known problem and unlike what many are accused of merles aren't all that unhealthy.
  • I want to direct you to a page that shares an actual conversation I shared with a ShowBreeder regarding adding Merles to her lines.  This is an edited conversation, as in sections have been removed to conceal the identity, nothing has been added.

Selling merles for more money than non merles in a litter.

While I do not agree that anyone should tell you the value of your puppies I am mentioning this because I have encountered this argument many times from other breeders.  The claim is that by asking for more money for a merle puppy vs a non merle puppy in the litter the breeder is breeding for profit ONLY!  

  • Mind you many breeders have a different price for the male pups vs the female pups but they overlook this as it's acceptable to them.  
  • Also show breeders who keep breed for conformation select pups that have show potential (where the term show quality originates from) and only sell to select individuals and I would imagine that implies they have a different 'price' for those select pups. (often it is not money but an extensive contract or agreement about the future of that puppy. 

It is my opinion only that each puppy in a litter is of the same approximate value.

Promote

Bring about Awareness by Participating in AKC events that do not 'restrict' Merles.  The only AKC event that does not allow merles to fairly compete is conformation.  This is because currently the Breed Standard does not allow for them.  We will never be able to influence changes if people aren't aware about Merles and having them earn other titles with the AKC gives us a way of showing them off and also shows the AKC that merle cocker spaniel owners exist with pride and want to participate!

  • As of me restarting my breeding program I am making a few requirements of any family that owns one of my dogs and wants FULL AKC Registration (breeding rights) Limited AKC Registration does not keep them from competing in any AKC events it only keeps them from being bred.
    • They MUST complete the CGC title (Canine Good Citizen).  There will be exceptions to this if the family can show me a valid reason why they can not.  (If the owner does not wish the dog's AKC Registration papers they will still be required to agree to complete a basic puppy training class.)  If a new family of my dog/pups achieves a more advanced title on their merle cocker spaniel (from CGCA (Canine Good Citizen Advanced) and so on) then I will give them a 'rebate' of sorts in the form of a financial compensation (to be discussed at the time of purchase or before the title is achieved, each situation will require an individual scenario). 
    • I will register the AKC papers first in my name with the name I have chosen for the dog (this is an option that costs additional for the breeder but to me is worth the investment) usually based upon a litter theme.  I will also be able to ensure that the dog is registered it's proper color (pattern).  
      • Properly registering the color/pattern avoids not knowing the dog is a merle and also let's the ASC & AKC compile data on how many merle cocker spaniels exist.  This will one day become VERY important as 'popularity' equals influence and also when you are talking about organizations that exist to make a profit that breaks down to money.
    • This allows me to ensure my name clause of my purchase agreement is kept. 
      • If the future owner has chosen a different name for the dog before I have registered the litter (one we agree upon) I will use that name.  
      • When the owner pays the purchase price in full and brings the puppy home I will sign a name change authorization ***Look up specific form for this*** that is filled out as agreed upon to the 'new' name.
  • I strongly urge other breeders & owners of merle cocker spaniels to participate in AKC events.
    • The more we are showing off our merles the more people will see them, the more we earn titles the more the clubs will see them, the more the clubs see them the more people become aware and it is hoped the more people will become educated and I hope inspired by them.  They are to me, quite beautiful as each one is entirely unique since the merle gene randomly lightens the coat.
    • There is more than just the Canine Good Citizen title to be achieved, this is just a beginning suggestion.  To name a few there is Agility, Rally, Obedience and even field work such as Tracking and so forth.
    • SPORTING with our SPORTING Breed merle American Cocker Spaniels will gain us respect from the rest of the sporting group breeds, many of whom snicker at the pretty coated long coats of the Conformation Champions in today's show rings.

Register

Registering them properly at this point is VERY important.  I too am not fond of the current Z registry with the AKC as it doesn't recognize that there are NON merle puppies in a merle litter.  It is my hopes that by registering with the AKC properly we can start to be 'counted' as existing vs just not being considered.  To persuade the AKC we need to be of influence to them.  They are a registry that exists to make a profit.  The more of us there are the more money they will see the potential of receiving.

  • I know some breeders use other registries and to each their own, however I have been told they do this primarily because these registries allow for the color of merle to be listed.  Now that the Z list is in effect for Merles this is a less valid excuse.  While you can not go back and re-register correctly the ancestors of your merle or your merle if it is already registered you can from this point on correctly register any future generations.
  • We need to from this point forward STOP incorrectly registering merles as roans.  Doing so is giving credibility to the argument that those breeding merles do so unethically.  Misleading is lying and lying is unethical.
    • Also Roans have their own bias in the breed and we aren't helping it by having merles assumed as roans and roans assumed as merles.  If we can not work together with other breeders, who have dealt with at least some of the same type of prejudice as is against merles, we cut considerably down the number of people who might see reason and join our efforts.