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   For show purposes, American Cocker Spaniels are divided into 3 color varieties - Black, ASCOB and Parti-Color.  The BLACK variety includes solid black and black & tan Cockers.  ASCOB stands for Any Solid Color Other Than Black and this variety includes all Cockers that are red, buff (blonde, golden), chocolate and chocolate & tan.  The final variety is the PARTI-COLOR classification.  The Cockers in this group all have at least two colors, one of which must be white. 

   M Cocker Color Chart  web-page shows some examples of the most common Cocker colors and includes the AKC breed standard definition for each variety.   Each variety has specific rules that specify acceptable colors and the amount and placement of certain color markings on the dog's body. Incorrect color or incorrect markings (such as sable or merle coloring, lack of specified tan points on a solid color dog or excessive white markings on an otherwise solid-colored dog) are cause for disqualification from the conformation show ring.  A mis-marked dog and dogs with unacceptable color ARE eligible for all other AKC show classes - obedience, agility, field events, junior handling.  

   The unacceptable colors that appear within this breed and some of the less-common colors that are acceptable for showing , would have been rather hard to show on my "models" on the  Cocker Color Chart  page.   Below you will find information and written descriptions on some of these "different" colors.  Although these other colors are not necessarily "rare", it can be hard to find a QUALITY specimen in some of these colors or patterns as they are not always widely bred by show enthusiasts.  All potential buyers should be aware that a large number of unusually colored Cocker puppies are bred strictly for their color.  These puppies may be extremely poor examples of the breed. 

   Colors or bloodlines that have not been bred consistently by show enthusiasts may lack some of the physical attributes (full coat; short, square muzzle; rounded, domed head; correct movement; etc.) associated with a quality Cocker.   Health and temperament of breeding stock may also not have been considered as seriously by a breeder that's only looking to cash in on puppies of a "rare" color.  Anyone interested in purchasing a Cocker in a less common color should be very thorough in their search for the right puppy.  Keep in mind that puppies who come from parents and grandparents that have not had appropriate health testing for genetic defects may be more likely to suffer from illness and disease; and if one or both of the parents have a bad temperament, there are likely to be bad tempered puppies.   A well-known, knowledgeable breeder is vitally important if you intend to purchase an unusually colored Cocker Spaniel.

   Now that we've gotten the dire warnings over and done with, let's move on and explore some of the more unusual colors of Cockers.  First, there are what are known as "roans".   Roans are Parti-Colors.  This is an acceptable show color and these dogs show in the Parti-Color variety.  One parent must be roan to produce roan puppies.   There are blue roans, chocolate roans (either color also with tan points), lemon roans & orange roans.  Roan puppies can be a surprise to breeders as the puppies look like normal Parti-Colors at birth.  As roan pups grow, however, they slowly develop areas of dark hair that grow into the initially white areas of the coat.  This usually begins at around 2-3 weeks of age.   While normal parti-colors usually have well-defined spots of colored hair and spots of snow white hair, roan markings generally make the dog look like it has dark areas of color and areas of mixed dark and light hairs.    The "white" areas on a roan dog will many times look mottled or streaked.  If a roan does have actual dark spots within white areas of coat, the dark spots will usually have a "halo" around the edges.  

   There is another spotting pattern in parti-colors that is often confused with roaning.  This pattern is called "ticking".  Ticking also develops as a puppy ages, but the spots that develop with ticking are not as numerous and are not exactly the same as the markings on a roan.  Ticking spots are generally slower to appear and generally don't appear all over the dog as roan spots do.   Ticking and roan markings can be confusing to breeders and many times dogs will end up being incorrectly registered because breeders don't know the difference between the two patterns.   To assure that all pups are correctly registered, parti-color breeders need to be familiar with the color pedigrees of their litter's sire and dam and the characteristics of these two spotting patterns. 

   Ticking and roan patterns vary on each individual dog, but as long as the dog has the correct amount of white coat (more than 10% of the hair), then these markings are legal in the breed ring.  The next color on our list isn't so lucky.  Sables are a well-known and well-documented color within Cocker Spaniels, but this color has been eliminated from the conformation show ring by the American Spaniel Club.   Even though parti-color sables were allowed to show at one time, and even though there are numerous sable parti-colored Cocker Spaniels that received their AKC championship titles, these dogs are no longer allowed to show in AKC conformation classes.   

   Luckily show enthusiasts have continued to breed sable Cockers and, even though they are illegal for conformation showing in the United States, they can be shown in conformation classes in other countries (such as Canada).  Sables are also eligible for showing in obedience, agility and other companion dog events, so they continue to be a popular color within the breed.  It's actually somewhat easier to find a quality sable Cocker than it is some of the roan colors listed above as they have been more consistently bred by show enthusiasts. 

   Sables come as solids and parti-colors.  The identifying characteristic of this coloring is an "overlay" of colored hairs on a cream to red undercoat.  This "overlay" is actually a layer of guard hairs that are interspersed with the undercoat.  These guard hairs are generally longer than the undercoat (when left to grow out) and this gives the appearance of a darker color "overlay" on portions of the dog.  The undercoat can be from the lightest cream to the deepest red and the overlay (interspersed hairs) may be black, brown or red.  On parti-colors, the overlay and undercoat are only on the parts of the dog that are colored.  The white areas are the same as on a regular parti-color. 

   The color of the overlay is the genetic base-coat color of the dog and is the color used to identify the dog:

  1. Black overlay = black sable
  2. Chocolate overlay = chocolate sable
  3. Red overlay = red (or clear) sable. 

   On a solid dog, the sable coloring is generally most noticeable on the face, ears and back.  Sable parti-colors will only have the overlay on the colored areas of the coat and the sable color will be most noticeable when their dark markings are on the face, ears and back.   Clear sables look just like a red, buff or red/white unless you really get them down and look for the lighter colored undercoat.   Many clear sables are incorrectly registered as breeders that are not familiar with the color may not notice the subtle shading.  

   Puppies from a sable parent should be evaluated and their color identified at birth as this may be when sable coloring is most noticeable.  Sometimes a clear or regular sable puppy can be identified by the fact that they have offset "eyebrows", rather like a black/tan or brown/tan, except that the eyebrows are over the outside corners of the eyes instead of being over the inside corners of the eyes.  It kind of looks like they have on light colored eye-shadow above the outside corners of the eyes.   For those of you that are interested in sable Cockers, you should keep in mind that the coloring of a sable dog can change dramatically with shedding, grooming and age.  Since a regular "Cocker cut" trims a majority of the places where sable markings are at their darkest, an owner may not recognize their own dog after a good grooming!  To see some sable puppies, Click Here .

   A color that is gaining in popularity and that is being touted as "rare" in Cocker Spaniels is the merle pattern.   Unscrupulous breeders claim that Cockers with the merle coat pattern are "rare" (and therefore worth more money) and are breeding this color only for the money that can be made from selling the pups.  There are a few show breeders that have an interest in this color and, if you are resourceful and look carefully, you can find a decent quality specimen in this color.    Like sables, this color is not considered an "acceptable" color for Cocker Spaniels and these dogs cannot be shown.   

    Merle coloring is most commonly recognized as a color for Shelties and Collies, but is seen in many other breeds.  The merle gene dilutes some of the color in a dog's coat, making portions of the coat a lighter color than normal.  The merle gene causes a spotty, somewhat marbled-looking coat pattern with areas of colored (black, brown or red) hair and "diluted" black, brown or red hairs.  Merles can be solid or parti-colored and may have tan points.  Merles can have one or two blue eyes or one or both eyes may be partially blue.   Merle puppies can only be produced from a merle parent.   T0 see some merle pups  CLICK HERE  .

   Some colors (buff and sable) can "mask" the merle pattern on a dog, making the pattern impossible to see.  The dog with "masked" merle coloring is still a genetic merle and can produce this color when bred.  This is a very important fact as merle to merle breeding should NEVER be done.  The merle pattern carries a defect that, when bred to itself, causes the resulting puppies to be at a very high risk to be genetically defective.   For more information on the defect associated with breeding this color, check out my  BREEDING MERLES  page.

   Merles can be bred to any OTHER color dog without a higher than normal risk factor for genetic defects, but can never be bred to each other.  This problem with genetic defects can crop up unexpectedly if a dog is a merle and is accidentally registered as a different color.  An inexperienced person that does not recognize a merle that is incorrectly registered, may accidentally breed a merle to another merle.  This can result in deaf or blind puppies or puppies that are stillborn or die shortly after birth.   

   Due to the risk of defective puppies that can occur in a merle to merle breeding, I believe that it's imperative that the Cocker Spaniel Fancy take an immediate and active position to recognize and correctly register these dogs.   While the debate over the "legality" of this color is bound to rage for decades (just as the fight over sables has done), the fact remains that there are untold numbers of registered merle Cockers (most of which are incorrectly registered as roans, regular parti-colors, buffs and sables) and these incorrectly registered dogs pose a serious health risk within the breed.  

   There is no way to remove all of the merle dogs (and their acceptably colored relatives) from the breeding gene pool, and the fact that they are registered with AKC as pure-bred American Cocker Spaniels (and are continuously being bred and producing more merles), means that the breed fancy MUST find a way to address the issues tied to this color pattern.  I'm afraid that burying our heads in the sand, denying that merles exist as registered Cocker Spaniels and refusing to deal with this issue will not solve the problem.   Additionally, I don't believe that anyone who truly cares for the breed as a whole can justify ignoring or refusing to resolve a situation that can result in puppies being born dead or defective.  For more information on merle Cockers and the controversy surrounding this color, check out my  MERLE  page.

   This article only identifies some of the more uncommon Cocker colors.  There are other unique colors, patterns and/or color/pattern combinations that can be found if you look around.  Again, if you are interested in having a Cocker of a "different" color, please don't be taken in by unscrupulous breeders who claim to breed "rare" colors of Cockers and who want to charge outrageous prices for puppies that come from untested, pet quality breeding stock.   Always keep in mind that quality (good health, soundness & correct structure) should be the first consideration for any breeding.  

   As always, when looking for a Cocker with one of the harder to find coat colors or patterns, your first priority should be finding a knowledgeable, reputable breeder.  This means someone that knows the breed standard and can honestly and accurately evaluate the quality of their dogs.  This person should also do health testing on their breeding stock and be knowledgeable on breed issues.  Please do not support back-yard breeders and puppy-mills that only breed to make money by producing a popular color.  This practice is detrimental to the breed as a whole and will only cause more health and quality problems within the breed.  Finding a Quality Cocker Spaniel in one of the less common Cocker colors can take some time, but these colors are not so difficult to find that you should let someone charge you an exorbitant sum of money for a potentially unhealthy dog that is a poor example of the breed. 


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Copyright Sandcastle Kennels

Last revised: December 27, 2005