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Merle Markings

For those of you that have sables or that may eventually have a sable, it's important to mark the coat colors of newborn sable puppies.  As older puppies or adults, their coat may not exhibit the sable patterning or clearly visible sable overlay, but they are still genetic sables.  Identifying sables is important because sable coloring can "hide" merle markings.  If a sable and merle were bred to each other, there could be  sable/merle pups that don't exhibit merle markings.  This can pose a serious health risk to unborn puppies.  

There is a defect associated with the merle color that occurs when 2 merles are bred to each other.  If two merles should accidentally be bred to each other, there could be blind, deaf or dead puppies.  So, because sable can mask the merle coloring, it's very important that all sables are properly identified and registered with the correct AKC color code.   For the proper codes to register these dogs, check out my AKC REGISTRATION COLORS & CODES   page.


The puppy pictured below is a black sable & white.   His base coat color is black & white, but because he's a sable his dark spots have a reddish colored undercoat with an overlay of black.  


Bogie's reddish undercoat is the result of a tan point gene that is not restricted to the normal tan "points" of a black/tan or tri-color.  The color of the undercoat of a sable can be from the lightest cream to the darkest red.

In the second picture to the right you can see Bogie's lighter colored "eyebrows" (the lighter colored spots over the outside corners of the eyes).  Sable's can many times be identified by this type of marking.


The puppy pictured below is a red sable merle & white.   Her base coat color is red & white, but because she's a sable, she has a cream colored undercoat with an overlay of red. 


Ilsa is what is known as a "clear sable".  This is because she basically looks like a normal red/white unless you know to look for her sable characteristics. 

In the picture to the right, you can see Ilsa's lighter colored sable "eyebrows" (the lighter colored spots over the outside corners of the eyes). 

Ilsa is also a "phantom" merle.  This is because she is a merle but doesn't exhibit her merle markings.  Her merle markings are hidden by her sable coloring.  The reason we know she's a merle is because her eyes are blue and when she was born there were visible merle spots on one ear.  (pictures below)  Ilsa's blue eyes are a result of the eye being lightened by the merle gene.  (picture below right)

Did you notice the other color gene characteristic that Ilsa exhibits?  Look carefully at her nose and see if you can figure it out.

That's right, Ilsa is also brown (chocolate) factored.  She has liver pigment on her nose and eye-rims.   The fact that she's brown factored isn't a surprise as her dam is a brown/tri.  We would, of course, prefer that she had black pigment, but she's such a pretty girl that we consider this a minor fault.

When you look at Ilsa, it's easy to see that if I hadn't learned what to look for and hadn't checked her color closely at birth and as she grew, it would have been easy to overlook her subtle sable and merle coat characteristics.  If I hadn't correctly identified her color and markings and had sold her, I might have accidentally mis-represented her color to a new owner.  This could cause serious health consequences for future puppies if she was accidentally bred to another merle.
Tiger (pictured below) is a brown sable merle.   Unlike many sable merles, Tiger's merle markings were clearly visible when he was little.    As you can see by looking at the most recent pictures of Tiger, his merle markings are no longer visible and he now looks like a regular sable. 
It's vitally important that everyone that breeds a litter of Cocker Spaniels knows how to identify sable and merle coloring.  Since these markings can be hidden and are not always apparent when looking at a grown dog, all breeders should learn how to correctly identify these colors in their puppies.  Even if you don't think your dog has these colors in it's pedigree, you should always inspect your new litters closely and be absolutely sure about their color before filling out registration papers.

If you have any questions or would like more information about sable Cocker Spaniels,
E-MAIL ME.    Thanks,


Copyright Sandcastle Kennels 2002-2004

Last revised: December 27, 2005