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Merle Cocker Spaniel: Your Complete Guide - PawSafe

Merle Cocker Spaniel: Your Complete Guide

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

merle Cocker Spaniel

The Merle Cocker Spaniel is known for its unique mottled coat pattern of dark coat mixed with dilute colors. This coat pattern is one of the American Cocker Spaniel color variations, is extremely rare and is commonly confused with the more common blue and red roan Cocker Spaniels.

The Merle Cocker Spaniel is known for its friendly and outgoing personality. These alert dogs need quality conditioning shampoo and occasional dog cologne spritzes to maintain their beautiful coats. On the whole, these pups don’t need too much to stay happy and cared for.

The Merle Cocker Spaniel is a great companion for both outdoor activities such as hiking or running and indoor snuggles. We have dug into Cocker Spaniel Handbooks and expert sources to answer every Merle Cocker Spaniel question, such as if they are purebred, how much the merle Cocker Spaniel puppies cost, and what is the difference between merle and roan?

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The Merle gene is not exclusive to Cocker Spaniels and can be found in other breeds as well. These include Merle English Bulldogs, Pomeranians, Dachshunds, and even mixes like Goldendoodles.

Merle Cocker Spaniels are recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as a standard breed marking (code 035) in American Cocker Spaniels. This makes it easier to find reputable breeders that are AKC registered to get your Merle American Cocker Spaniel from. However, merle is not recognized as an official color in the English Cocker Spaniel. 

It’s crucial to note that breeding Merle to Merle can lead to health issues, including deafness and blindness, so responsible breeders will avoid this practice.

Despite its popularity, the Merle Cocker Spaniel is not without its health concerns, such as blindness and deafness. It is important for potential owners to be aware of these issues and to work with a reputable breeder to ensure that their new pet is healthy and happy.

The video below does a great job explaining the controversy of breeding merle Cocker Spaniels.

History & Origins of the Merle Cocker Spaniel

Originally bred for hunting woodcock, the Cocker Spaniel’s name “Cocker” is derived from their proficiency in hunting woodcock birds. Over time, selective breeding refined the breed’s skills, and Cocker Spaniels became renowned for their bird-hunting abilities. 

In the early 20th century, American breeders developed a distinct American Cocker Spaniel, which differed slightly from the English variety. Today, Cocker Spaniels are cherished as loving family pets and continue to excel in various dog sports and competitions.

Can American Cocker Spaniels come in Merle?

Merle is a coat color pattern commonly seen in several breeds of dogs, including Australian Shepherds and Border Collies. So, is it natural to American Cocker Spaniels?

It has been long debated whether merle has always been naturally existing or if it was bred into the breed through cross-breeding as a fashionable color. The American Spaniel Club, established in 1881, affirms that Merle predates our understanding of the breed, so the variation is natural to Cocker Spaniel.

Additionally, the registration of Merle by the AKC further proves that it has always existed. However, Merle is a dominant gene, and breeding two Merle dogs can increase the likelihood of deafness, blindness, and other health problems in their offspring.

Can English Cocker Spaniels be Merle?

Many English Cocker Spaniels argue that no, and English Cocker Spaniel cannot be merle. However, this is up for debate.The American Spaniel Club mentions a study that finds that the merle mutation is the same in all six breeds and they infer that it may be a natural but rare mutation but extremely rare mutation  in English Cocker Spaniels. However, they do not recognize it as part of the breed standard for health reasons.

So, the merle gene may or may not be naturally present in the English Cocker Spaniel breed. If it does, it is extremely rare and the dog’s markings are disqualifiable. Therefore, any English Cocker Spaniel that displays a Merle coat pattern is usually not a purebred English Cocker Spaniel.

It is important to note that some breeders may try to pass off a merle-coated dog as a purebred or registered English Cocker Spaniel, but this is likely not accurate and can be a red flag. It is crucial to research and purchase from reputable breeders who can provide proof of the dog’s pedigree and ensure that it is a purebred English Cocker Spaniel.

Physical Characteristics of the Merle Cocker Spaniel

The Merle Cocker Spaniel is a medium-sized dog breed with a sturdy, compact build, well-proportioned body, and a slightly rounded head. A mottled or marbled appearance with patches of darker shades on a lighter background of the same color characterizes their merle coat pattern.

The Merle Cocker Spaniel has distinctly long, floppy ears that hang down to their shoulders and large, expressive eyes that are usually dark in color. They also have a well-defined muzzle and a black nose. Their combination of features gives Merle Cocker Spaniels a friendly and alert expression. 

It’s worth noting that there are some differences in appearance between American and English Merle Cocker Spaniels. American Merle Cocker Spaniels tend to have a shorter, stockier build and a shorter coat, while English Merle Cocker Spaniels have a longer, leaner build and a longer coat. 

How Big Do Merle Cocker Spaniels Get?

Adult American Cocker Spaniels typically stand between 13.5 to 15.5 inches (34 to 39 cm) at the shoulders and weigh between 20 to 30 pounds (9 to 13 kg).

The Genetics Of Merle Spaniels

Merle is a coat pattern caused by a dominant gene called the Merle gene (M). This means that a dog only needs to inherit one gene copy from one parent to express the merle pattern.

When two Merle Cocker Spaniels are bred together, there is a chance that some of their offspring will inherit two copies of the Merle gene. This is known as “double merle,” which can lead to health problems such as deafness, blindness, and eye abnormalities. For this reason, responsible breeders avoid breeding two merle dogs together.

What is the difference between Roan & Merle in Cocker Spaniels?

Visually, Roan is a more even mixture or blend of colored and white hairs, while Merle appears as distinct patches of a darker color on a lighter background. A merle Cocker Spaniel puppy will be visible from birth, but a roan puppy will only show the roan coat as they age. Both coat patterns result from dominant genes, but roan is epistatic to other coat colors (meaning it combines with basic colors to produce roan. A genetic test can identify and differentiate the roan coat gene from the merle coat gene.

Like merle, you can get a variety of roans, including liver roan, red, orange, or lemon roans, and blue roan Cocker Spaniels.

Check out Olive the blue roan Cocker Spaniel.

Kinds of Merle Cocker Spaniel Colors

Merle Cocker Spaniels come in various colors, each with unique markings and characteristics. Here are some of the most common Merle Cocker Spaniel colors:

Red Merle Cocker Spaniel

Red Merle Cocker Spaniels have a base coat of red with a marbled pattern of lighter and darker shades of red. 

Blue Merle Cocker Spaniel

Blue Merle Cocker Spaniels have a base coat of black with a marbled pattern of lighter and darker shades of gray. 

Chocolate Merle Cocker Spaniel

Chocolate Merle Cocker Spaniels have a base coat of chocolate brown with a marbled pattern of lighter and darker shades of brown. 

Double Merle Cocker Spaniel

Double Merle Cocker Spaniels have a white coat with patches of merle color. This coat color is caused by breeding two Merle Cocker Spaniels together, which research shows can result in health issues such as blindness, deafness, and other genetic defects. 

It is important to note that responsible breeding practices should be followed to prevent the occurrence of double-merle puppies.

A cryptic or phantom merle Cocker Spaniel is a dog that carries the gene for merle, but you can’t see it visibly  on their coat.

Merle Cocker Spaniel Temperament

Merle Cocker Spaniels are known to be smart, happy, gentle, and affectionate. They are loyal and loving companions that enjoy spending time with their owners. These dogs have a high prey drive and love chasing smaller animals, so keeping them on a leash or in a fenced area outside is essential.

Merle Cocker Spaniels are very easy to train and are quick learners. They are also extremely sensitive and do not do well with being alone for a long time. They may become anxious and bark a lot if left alone for too long. They need space to run around and play, so providing enough exercise and mental stimulation is crucial.

Merle Cocker Spaniels are quite active hunting dogs and may be prone to separation anxiety and rage syndrome. It is essential to socialize them early on and provide them with plenty of opportunities to interact with other dogs and people.

Health Concerns of the Merle Cocker Spaniel

Common Health Issues

The Merle Cocker Spaniel is prone to certain health issues, including those caused by the Merle gene, like deafness and blindness.

Research shows some of the common health concerns that affect this breed include:

  • Ear Infections: Merle Cocker Spaniels are prone to ear infections like otitis externa due to their long ears. Regular cleaning and grooming can help prevent this issue.
  • Obesity: These dogs love to eat and can easily become overweight. Owners should monitor their diet and exercise to prevent obesity.
  • Hip Dysplasia: This is common in many breeds, including the Merle Cocker Spaniel. It occurs when the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, causing pain and discomfort.
  • Autoimmune Diseases: Cocker Spaniels may develop autoimmune diseases such as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) or autoimmune thyroiditis.
  • Heart Disease: Valvular or mitral valve disease is common in older Cocker Spaniels. Regular veterinary check-ups can help monitor heart health.
  • Kidney issues like Familial Nephropathy (FN), which is hereditary in Cocker Spaniels
  • Chronic pancreatitis.
  • Moderate issues like obesity, allergies, and dental issues.

Merle-Specific Health Issues

In addition to the common health issues, Merle Cocker Spaniels are prone to some health concerns specific to their merle coat pattern. These include:

  • Deafness: Merle Cocker Spaniels with two copies of the Merle gene are more likely to be born deaf or have hearing problems. Even single merles have a 3.5% likelihood of deafness.
  • Eye Problems: Merle Cocker Spaniels can be prone to various eye problems, including cataracts and glaucoma. Regular eye exams can help detect and treat these issues early.
  • Skin Sensitivity: Some Merle Cocker Spaniels may have sensitive skin, leading to irritations and allergies. Owners should use gentle grooming products and monitor their dog’s skin for any signs of irritation.

Care and Maintenance of the Merle Cocker Spaniel

Feeding Requirements

The Merle Cocker Spaniel is an active breed that requires a balanced diet to maintain their health and energy levels. It is recommended to feed them high-quality food specifically formulated for their size, age, and activity level. Avoid fatty foods since this dog is more susceptible to pancreatitis.

It is essential to avoid overfeeding as the Merle Cocker Spaniel can quickly become overweight, leading to health problems such as joint pain and diabetes. It is recommended to feed them twice a day and to monitor their weight regularly.

Grooming Needs

The Merle Cocker Spaniel has a thick, wavy coat that requires regular grooming to prevent matting and tangling. Brushing their coat at least three times a week is recommended to keep it healthy and shiny.

In addition to brushing, the Merle Cocker Spaniel also requires monthly bathing with gentle canine shampoos to keep their coat clean and free of dirt and debris. 

The Merle Cocker Spaniel also requires:

  • Monthly or bi-weekly nail trimming with sharp canine clippers.
  • Ear cleaning twice a month with vet-formulated ear wipes.
  • Teeth brushing twice weekly and using canine mouthwashes to maintain overall health and hygiene. 
  • Some owners opt to take their Merle Cocker Spaniel to a professional groomer for classic Cocker hair trims. 

Merle Cocker Spaniel Suitability with Children and Other Animals

Merle Cocker Spaniels can make great family pets and are generally good with children. However, as with any dog breed, it is important to supervise interactions between children and dogs to prevent accidents.

Merle Cocker Spaniels are also generally good with other animals, including cats and dogs. However, it’s important to note that these dogs were made for hunting and may chase smaller animals.

Training the Merle Cocker Spaniel

Merle Cocker Spaniels are intelligent dogs that can be trained easily. They are eager to please their owners and respond well to positive reinforcement training methods. Here are some tips for training your Merle Cocker Spaniel:

Start Early

It is vital to start training your Merle Cocker Spaniel as early as possible. Puppies are like sponges and can learn quickly. Begin with basic obedience training, such as sit, stay, and come. Use treats and positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior.

Consistency is Key

Consistency is essential when training your Merle Cocker Spaniel. Use the same commands and rewards every time you train. This will help your dog understand what is expected of him and what behavior is acceptable.

Socialization

Socialization is crucial for Merle Cocker Spaniels. Expose your dog to different people, animals, and environments. This will help him become more confident and well-adjusted. Socialization can also prevent behavior problems such as aggression and anxiety.

Crate Training

Crate training is an effective way to house-train your Merle Cocker Spaniel. Dogs naturally avoid soiling their sleeping area, so a crate can help prevent accidents. Ensure the crate is the right size for your dog and comfortable with bedding and toys.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the most effective training method for Merle Cocker Spaniels. Reward good behavior with treats, praise, and affection. Avoid punishment or negative reinforcement, as this can damage the bond between you and your dog.1

Adopting a Merle Cocker Spaniel

Where to Adopt

There are various places where one can adopt a Merle Cocker Spaniel. Animal shelters and rescue organizations are the most common places to adopt a dog. 

Animal shelters are an excellent option for those wanting to adopt a dog while helping out a good cause. Rescue organizations are also a great option, as they often specialize in specific breeds and can provide valuable information about the dog’s background and temperament. 

Considerations for Adoption

Before adopting a Merle Cocker Spaniel, there are a few considerations to consider.

 Firstly, it is vital to ensure that the dog is a good fit for the adopter’s lifestyle. Merle Cocker Spaniels are active dogs that require regular exercise and mental stimulation. 

They also require regular grooming to maintain their coat. Additionally, it is crucial to consider any existing pets or children in the household, as Merle Cocker Spaniels may not get along with other animals or may not be suitable for homes with young children.

It is also essential to consider any potential health issues with the breed and ensure that they are prepared to provide proper care and treatment for any potential health issues.

Best Merle Cocker Spaniel Names

If you are lucky enough to have one of these gorgeous dogs as your new furry friend, you will want to give them a name that suits their personality and appearance. Here are some of the best Merle Cocker Spaniel names to consider:

  • Blue: This name is perfect for a Merle Cocker Spaniel with a blue coat. It’s a simple but strong name that will suit a confident and loyal dog.
  • Marley: A play on the word “merle,” this name is a popular choice for Merle Cocker Spaniels. It’s a fun and energetic name that will suit a playful and active dog.
  • Splash: This name is perfect for a Merle Cocker Spaniel with a coat that looks like it has been splashed with paint. It’s a fun and unique name that will suit a dog with a bubbly and outgoing personality.
  • Pixel: This name is inspired by the pixelated pattern of a Merle coat. It’s a modern and trendy name that will suit a dog with a quirky and playful personality.
  • Comet: This name is inspired by the streaks of color in a merle coat resembling a comet’s tail. It’s a strong and dynamic name that will suit a dog with lots of energy and enthusiasm.
  • Willow: This name is inspired by a Merle coat’s graceful and flowing pattern. It’s a gentle and elegant name that will suit a dog with a calm and affectionate personality.

These are just a few of the best Merle Cocker Spaniel names to consider. Remember to choose a name that suits your dog’s personality and appearance and that you will be happy calling out for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a Merle Cocker Spaniel cost?

The cost of a Merle Cocker Spaniel can vary depending on the breeder, location, and availability. On average, a Merle Cocker Spaniel can cost between $800 to $2,500.

What are the different coat colors for Cocker Spaniels?

Cocker Spaniels come in various coat colors, including black, chocolate, buff, red, and parti-color. Merle is also a possible coat color for Cocker Spaniels.

Are merle Cocker Spaniels purebred?

Yes, merle Cocker Spaniels are purebred. The merle gene is a naturally occurring gene in the Cocker Spaniel breed.

What health issues are common in Merle Cocker Spaniels?

Merle Cocker Spaniels can be prone to specific health issues, such as deafness, blindness, and skin problems. It is vital to thoroughly research the breeder and the dog’s lineage to ensure the puppy’s health.

Can Merle Cocker Spaniels have blue eyes?

Yes, Merle Cocker Spaniels can have blue eyes. However, blue eyes in Merle Cocker Spaniels can be a sign of deafness.

What is a double Merle Cocker Spaniel?

A double merle Cocker Spaniel is a dog that has inherited the merle gene from both parents. This can increase the risk of health issues, such as blindness and deafness.

How rare are Merle Cocker Spaniels?

Merle Cocker Spaniels are not considered rare but are not as common as other coat colors.

Do merle Cocker Spaniels shed?

Yes, Cocker Spaniels, including Merle Cocker Spaniels, are known to shed. Regular grooming can help manage shedding.

Are merle Cocker Spaniels hypoallergenic?

No, Cocker Spaniels, including Merle Cocker Spaniels, are not considered hypoallergenic. They can still cause allergies in some people.

Final Thoughts

The Merle Cocker Spaniel is a unique and beautiful dog that makes an excellent companion for the right owner. While their distinctive coat pattern and striking eyes are certainly eye-catching, it’s important to remember that they are more than just a pretty face with health and emotional requirements.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.