Merle Color In Cocker Spaniels
from Charles Born, President, American Spaniel Club
As our members know the validity of the merle pattern and associated health issues in the Cocker Spaniel have concerned breeders for some time now. After some progress, in 2009 the ASC Board began a concerted effort to identify and understand the depth of the issue and what to do. In addition to our request to the AKC for Z registration status on merle Cockers which has been approved, at the direction of the ASC Board of Directors I asked the ASC Foundation to conduct a three-part study that included:
- Researching the evidence showing whether merle is or is not a Cocker Spaniel color.
- Researching the scientific evidence that the merle color can produce significant health issues.
- Developing an approach for educating breeders, owners and the general puppy buying population on the results of their investigations
The Scientific Research Committee assisted by the Grants Committee was tasked with conducting this study by ASCF President Dee Torgerson-Rismyhr. This combined task force was led by Doug McFarlane, a long-time Cocker fancier and English Cocker breeder and judge and a former member of ASC Board and many other Spaniel Boards and joined by Karen Yager, a PhD geneticists and Clumber breeder. You can read about their approach and methodology in the full study report.
My layman’s summary of their report is as follows:
- Is merle a Cocker Spaniel color? A peer-reviewed and validated scientific study of six different breeds with a merle mutation found the gene to be exactly the same in all the six breeds. The study concluded that the merle mutation predates all dogs and is behind all breeds—quite possibly going back to their wolf ancestors.
- Is the merle mutation a health risk? Yes. While not every single merle Cocker has health issues, the preponderance of health issues directly and specifically associated with the merle genetic mutation has been identified in the peer-reviewed scientific studies highlighted in the study by the task force.
- Lastly, education. We are starting this education with our members by providing the results of the study conducted by the task force and providing an open forum for questions and dialogue. I wanted a study that was absent of opinion or bias and strong on scientific fact; my deepest gratitude goes to the committee and the ASCF for delivering on this. American Spaniel Club members will have opportunities for Q&A with the task force through their Zone Representatives and other forums. The details of this will be in the Bulletin coming out in March.
It is the opinion of the American Spaniel club Board of Directors that the breeding of this mutation should be stopped for the obvious health reasons identified in the study. Our standard is already clear that this pattern is a confirmation disqualification. We hope that through a combination of education and the tracking made possible with the Z registration we are providing information and knowledge to current breeders and to future generations of breeders to make informed choices.
Charles Born, President, American Spaniel Club, Feb. 2011
American Spaniel Club Foundation
Merle Color In Cocker Spaniels
Prepared by ASCF Scientific Research Committee
Douglas P. McFarlane, BS Mathematics, MS Computer Science
Karen L. Yager, BS Microbiology, Ph.D. Developmental Biology (Genetics)
- The Board of the ASC asked the ASCF to take on the task of researching the hereditary aspects and related issues of Merle Cocker Spaniels. The specific hypothesis presented to the ASCF was that the Merle color was not a Cocker Spaniel color but was instead introduced into the gene pool by a specific breeding that occurred in the 1980s.
- The ASCF tasked the Scientific Research Committee, assisted by the Grants Committee, with conducting this study with the goal of confirming this hypothesis
- The Study objective was defined and approved by the ASCF Board and work began early in 2010
The study was separated into 3 specific goals
- Goal #1: Determine if scientific evidence can be provided to prove Merle is not a Cocker Spaniel color. If yes, provide such scientific evidence.
- Goal #2: Provide scientific evidence the Merle color can produce significant health issues
- Goal #3: Develop recommended approach to educating breeders, owners and general puppy buying population the results of the investigations and facts determined from goals 1 and 2
The Committee reviewed:
- Prior work done by ASC members
- Numerous published scientific studies
- Articles discussing Merle color issues
Findings and conclusions were based on scientific evidence presented in peer reviewed published reports
- Each goal is presented and the findings are summarized in this report. Based on the findings, conclusions are drawn and provided in this report
- Specific details of the findings and research reference material is provided as an appendix
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