Sable pattern explained Sable pedigrees Photos of sable cockers Sable Cocker Research Titled Sable Cockers

This article was originally published in the January 2001 issue of the The Cocker Spaniel Leader
Many thanks to Cara Holland Burgess for writing and preserving this article

In an effort to provide information to the MANY who have contacted me privately, I have created a sable timeline from 1979 to the present.

From the AKC Dog Book (1943, 1951 & 1964):

Outer coat shaded with black over a lighter under coat as in the sable collie

1981 ASC Board: President-Charles Cobb, Jean Peterson, Lois Hicks-Beach, Lloyd Alton, Jeanne Meister, Louis Milner, Hugh Spacht (appointed to fill vacancy due to resignation of Dr Duncan), Ed Piner, Frank Wood, Kenneth Keach, Ruth Baumgartner, Alice Swiderski, Dr. Marilyn Wood, Muriel Barber. Standard Committee Chairman-Tom O'Neal.

1981 Ballot

This ballot* had five (5) items:
  1. Move B/T to the Black variety
  2. Add Brn/Tan to the ASCOB variety
  3. Add sable to the ASCOB variety
  4. Change the wording in the Parti variety
  5. Change the wording on the Tan Points section

All of these revisions passed with the exception of including sable in the ASCOB variety. The ballot received 420 FOR, 289 AGAINST, and 46 ABSTENTIONS

1983 Ballot*

1983 ASC Board: President-Ed Piner, Jean Peterson, Hugh Spacht, Al Davies, Jeanne Meister, Louise Milner, Muriel Barber, William Burson, Richard Duding, Edna Pierce, Ruth Baumgartner, William Brice, Billie Ballantine (now Hayes), Jo Friesen. Standard Committee Chairman-Tom O'Neal.

*Ballot to add sable to the ASCOB variety. Please look carefully at the wording on this ballot :

"The Board of Directors of the American Spaniel Club has received a recommendation from the Standard Committee of the American Spaniel Club strongly recommending that the Sable color cocker spaniel be included within the ASCOB variety. By the term "Sable" we are referring to some shade of buff or red with black tipping."

The sable color is allowed in the black and particolor varieties and in order to have a consistent Standard the sable color should be included in all varieties.

The AKC definition of sable is a lacing of black hairs over a lighter ground color

In the past few years much research has been done on the sable color in cocker spaniels. It has been proven the sable color has been with us as long as the Cocker itself.

We feel it is extremely important that we eliminate the confusion that presently exists in judging this color."

This ballot then went on to offer YES to add sable to the ASCOB variety or NO to make sable a disqualification in the ASCOB variety.

    1572 ballots mailed

    932 returned

    592- Yes

    340- No
Neither option (to include sable in the ASCOB variety or to DISQUALIFY sable) received the necessary 2/3 to pass. At the March 5, 1983 Board meeting that was held after this vote Dick Duding made the following motion*:

"In view of the inconclusive vote on the Sable as well as the confusion which seemingly exists, I recommend we, the board, review all letters, member comments and other related information now available for the purpose of determining how a genetic study if feasible should be pursued."

This motion was unanimously passed by the Board. "As there were not a two-thirds majority vote the ballots were inconclusive in accordance with our by-laws, Article VII-Section 2."

I have been unable to find evidence that any genetic study was
commissioned by the Board at this time


ASC Board: President-Jeanne Meister, Hugh Spacht, Louise Milner, Al Davies, Muriel Barber, William Burson, Dick Duding, Elizabeth Durland, Al Grossman, Jean Peterson, Carroll Stewart, Ruth Baumgartner, William Brice, Billie Ballantine Hayes, Jo Friesen. Standard Chair-Ron Fabis.

In August 1984, the Board of Directors issued a Standard "Clarification" that read:

"Due to numerous letters and inquiries, your Board of Directors has been attempting to resolve the question of the Sable colored Cocker Spaniel. It has been a tangled issue being more procedural in nature than Genetic

The Board, after weighing all of the information available to it, has come to the conclusion that the Sable and Sable/White Dogs have never been included in our Standard.
The Parti-color revisions were designed to clarify the markings for Tri-colors and not to allow Sable/Whites to be shown.
Since the Standard is designed to be a logical description of our Breed to Judges and the Fancy, it is illogical to prohibit the Sable from being shown in the ASCOB Variety and look the other way while they are shown as Particolors. Most of all, this issue has caused major confusion in the ranks of our Breed Judges.

The membership on two occasions rejected the inclusion of the sable color in the ASCOB Variety of the Standard. Therefore, since the intent of the standard revision was to clarify the Tri-color description and since the only opportunity the membership had to vote on the Sable was in the ASCOB Variety and it was rejected, then we do not have a Standard change which would allow a Sable to be shown in any Variety."

It appeared to many members of the ASC that the Board had over stepped its bounds by effectively revising our Standard without a vote of the membership
Many ASC members (myself included) wrote to AKC to question how this happened. In a letter* to Mr. & Mrs. Peter Morrow the AKC (Mark T Mooty, Secretary) responded thus:

"Thank you for bringing our attention to the American Spaniels Club's letter dated August 8, 1984.

For your information, if asked, The American Kennel Club would not approve any club sending out interpretations or clarifications of the standard for its breed. If a standard needs such clarification, then it should be revised. As I am sure you know, the By-Laws of The American Kennel Club explicitly place the responsibility to initiate any revision which "shall not be changed in any respect until the wording of any proposed change or changes first has been submitted to the Board of Directors of The American Kennel Club and its approval of the same has been obtained."

Also, in 1984, in the "Report of the ASC Bulletin Editor"* (then Bill Gorodner) in the Annual Report read in part:

"This past year has seen three Bulletins issued. There should have been four but I received no Club input of information for a fourth edition. I believe the work I had done to open up the Bulletin pages to my fellow members was nearly subverted this year when I submitted the third Bulletin to the Club Secretary for publication and mailing to the membership. A letter to the Editor from Frank Summerside on sables was included in "Letters to the Editor". A few weeks later I received a phone call from Club President Jeanne Meister who told me that Margaret Ciezkowski sent the rough draft of the Bulletin to her (never done before) and Miss Meister felt with all the letters she had received on the sable issue that the matter should be handled at a later date and that Mr Summerside's letter should be deleted from the Bulletin. I agreed at the time. However...

After our phone conversation, I thought things through and wrote Miss Meister offering to do a fourth Bulletin devoted entirely to the sable question. Because I had already written an editorial on how I felt about sables I stated that the fourth 1984 Bulletin would have no editorial comment from me. Miss Meister replied that the matter would be covered at the meeting in January 1985.

I feel very strongly that I made a grievous error permitting the Club Secretary to "edit" and censor the ASC Bulletin for me."

I have not been able to find any mention of those letters being discussed at the January 1985 Annual Meeting. What did those letters say? Where have they gone? Why were they not discussed at the meeting? Or were they discussed in Executive Session where minutes are not taken?

And from the 1984 *Report of the Standard Committee (in part):

"This committee will research the genetic background of the sable and sable/white cocker spaniel and then issue an information bulletin to all members subject to Board approval."

I have not been able to find any reference to the Standard Committee's research of the sable color in cocker spaniels and have found no evidence that any research was disseminated to the membership. In personal conversations I had with Dr Frances Greer during this period of time, she spoke of having sent her findings to the Board. To my knowledge her report was never made available to the membership.

From the AKC Dog Book 1985:

A lacing of black hairs over a lighter ground color. In Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs, a brown color ranging from golden to mahogany

ASC Board: President-Al Grossman, Hugh Spacht, Betty Schachner, Muriel Barber, William Burson, Richard Duding, William Brice, Elizabeth Durland, Billie Hayes, Carroll Stewart, Ruth Baumgartner, Tom O'Neal, Henry Jones, Monty Barber. Standard Chair-Ron Fabis.

For the first time, a ballot was provided to vote for sable AND sable/whites. Once again, the membership was asked to vote YES-to allow sable in the ASCOB variety and sable/white in the Particolor variety or NO to provide for a disqualification of the sable and sable/white cocker spaniel.

1612 ballots were mailed

1051 returned and counted


Once again, neither option passed with a 2/3 majority of the returned ballots


ASC Board: President-Marilyn Pryor, Tom O'Neal, Betty Schachner, Carl Anderson, Mildred Cates, Carroll Stewart, Monty Barber, Louise Milner, Cyndi Sykora, Charles Born, Marilyn Spacht, Robert Moneysmith, Rosemary Smalley, Muriel Barber. Standard Chairman-Ron Fabis.

In 1987, the AKC sent information to all parent clubs requiring that ALL breed clubs reword their Standards to fit their (AKC) format. The reason for this massive undertaking was to "eliminate major omissions, errors and inconsistencies in the breed standards." According to the Board, this involved voting on ALL sections of the Standard. Changes HAD to be affected in order to meet AKC's requirements. The old Standards wording was NOT acceptable as AKC (among other requests) wanted a list of acceptable colors to appear in the Standards of the breeds.

From the AKC Booklet about Standard Revisions:

"Disqualifications: Disqualifications should be used with extreme care. They should refer to a specific problem in the breed that cannot be handled in any other way." And under Color: "Include under this heading the color and markings of the coat. In breeds where multiple colors or color combinations are acceptable, but not all colors are permitted, the complete list of all acceptable colors and color combinations must be included in the standard. In such cases, any color combinations not mentioned are unacceptable, and judges are to pass judgment on this basis."

In my opinion, the disqualification clause was redundant. If you had an animal whose color wasn't among the list of acceptable colors why would you exhibit it? The judge would just say that your dog wasn't an acceptable color and excuse it.

Polly Swanson presented a petition to the Board asking that a vote on the sable colors be included. She was requested by members of the Board* to withdraw her petition. She did so with the assurances of those Board members that a vote on the sable colors would be included and the membership would be allowed to vote YES or NO. Those members of the Board DID NOT live up to their agreement with the author of this petition because once again the ballot was not constructed to give a YES or NO vote to include the sable colors.

The cover letter for this ballot from ASC reads in part: "This new format is required by AKC." And "Understand that we have a current Standard. A "No' vote on any section is, in effect a vote to have the current Standard remain unchanged."The ballot then went on to offer in the Color and Markings section THREE choices.

Alternative A listed the allowed colors including sable in the ASCOB variety and sable/white in the particolor variety

Alternative B listed all colors with the exception of sable in the ASCOB variety and sable/white in the Particolor variety.

Or "If you want NO CHANGE in the current Standard's Color and Markings Section, (which did not list allowed colors ) leave both boxes blank." This ballot also added under disqualifications "The aforementioned colors are the only acceptable colors or combination of colors. Any other colors or combination of colors to disqualify."

This time 1827 ballots were mailed out and 927 were returned. 926 were deemed valid.
ALL Sections PASSED with the exception of the Color and Markings Section.
The multiple choice ballot had resulted in
590 votes for Alternative A to include sables in the list of acceptable colors,
238 votes for Alternative B for the list of colors that did not include sables
98 ballots with NEITHER box marked thus indicating a vote for NO CHANGE in the current wording of the Standard which was not acceptable to AKC's new requirements for Standards!
So once again, NONE of the options received the required 2/3 majority to pass!
But there was now a disqualification clause for the Color and Markings Section of our Standard!

This method of balloting was not logical to many members and when Dr. Clyde Shaw (among others) contacted AKC regarding this ballot they replied to him in a letter* dated February 27, 1991, from John Mandeville (Director, Judging Research & Development):

"As to your point about how the percentages should be calculated: We had advised the American Spaniel Club that offering multiple choices was likely to result in no choice getting the required percentage. However, as the ballot was presented members knew not voting for either choice was selecting the existing standard's text. This cannot be construed as an abstention in the usual sense, and we have been so advised by counsel."

So AKC had warned ASC that wording the ballot in this way was likely to result in no change to the standard and yet they sent it out anyway. Whose idea was it to have three choices on an amendment that according to our By Laws should have been either a Yes or No vote? Kristi Tukua (Legal Chair) says that John Mandeville suggested the three choices and yet we have seen his reply to questions regarding that issue.

Then ASC President Marilyn Pryor when questioned said that the "legal chair" had suggested the three choices and the legal chair when asked again said that "the Board" had "done it" as they felt that some members might not want Alternative A or Alternative B, so they needed a third choice! So WHO really made what amounted to (at least in my opinion) this very questionable decision?

ASC Board: President-Marilyn Pryor, Tom O 'Neal, Al Davies, Monty Barber, Louise Milner, Cynthia Sykora, Carl Anderson, Richard Duding, Jean Peterson, Charles Born, Marilyn Spacht, Olga Mahlstede, Jeanne Meister, Muriel Barber. Standard Chair-Ron Fabis.

The cover letter for this ballot reads in part, "As most of you are aware, the Board of Directors has been working with AKC to bring our recently voted Standard changes into conformity with the current requirements for clarity and logic required by AKC guidelines. The facts we have been asked to work with are:

  1. This vote on the Standard resulted in the same text for describing color as now exists.
  2. The vote on the Standard resulted in a disqualification relating to color being added to the Standard.

This interaction of these two sections may cause some ambiguity. We have been asked to resolve the ambiguity.

Therefore, we are submitting for a membership vote proposed changes in the Color and Markings section of the Standard."

This ballot offered the choice of the current Standard or the previous ballot's Alternative B, which did not include the sable colors. This was done despite the fact that Alternative A had received FAR more votes than Alternative B in the previous balloting.
This was also done
despite the recommendations of the Standard Committee!
At this time we did not have a Standard that conformed to AKC's requirements. And there was supposedly a deadline to come into compliance drawing near! With no other choices available and the feeling of urgency to have a Standard that was in compliance,
this ballot was approved with 786 ballots returned and 573 in favor of the proposed revision which did not include sables in the list of colors.

So it took 12 years and six ballots to finally get the sable colors disqualified despite the fact that every vote contained a majority of members returning ballots in favor of including the sable colors. Some of those votes missed the 2/3 majority by less than 30 while the ballots that attempted to disqualify the color never even came close to the 2/3 majority that was needed until the 1990 ballot


ASC Board: President-Louise Milner, Deborah Bowman, Marilyn Pryor, Linda Moore, Lillian Roy, Lois Wilson, Kelly Ferris, Harriet Kamps, T. Alan Kloss, Bettie Campbell, Jane Williams, Nancy Gallant, John Zolezzi, Betty McClendon. Standard Chair-Betty Duding.

From the AKC Dog Book 18th Edition (1997): A coat color produced by black-tipped hairs upon a background of silver, gold, grey, fawn, or brown and determined by the Agouti or A series of multiple alleles.

According to AKC they took this new definition of SABLE from the book "Canine Terminology" by Harold Spira. The definition in that out of print book (text copyright 1982) is as follows: "A colour coat pattern produced by black-tipped hairs overlaid upon a background of silver, gold, grey, fawn, buff, tan or brown basic coat colour in a definite pattern, ranging from the very dark grey sables (syn. Wolfe sable) to the gold or silver sables, with an infinite variety of shades in between, depending on the amount of black-shaded areas involved or depth of colour. The undercoat is usually light and in some breeds and/or individuals there is a black mask. Sable colouring of varying density occurs in many breeds. Typical examples include German Shepard Dog, Belgian Tervuren, Keeshond and Norweigan Elkhound."

The type of sable gene expressed in all of these examples is the aw gene also commonly referred to as "wolf-sable". This is the fourth allele of the A gene which will produce the agouti or "wild type" of coat color with banded hairs seen in Norwegian Elkhounds, gray German Shepards, Schnauzers and certain wild Canidae

This is NOT the same gene that is expressed by Shetland Sheepdogs, Collies, Pomeranians, and American Cocker Spaniels among others. That gene is the ay gene that produces animals that do not have black-tipped hairs

So if (according to AKC's NEW definition of sable ) only those dogs with black-tipped hairs are "sable", then what color should those with overlays be called?
In books on canine genetics both aw and ay are called SABLE. In most cases the aw gene is called "wolf-sable".

Why the sudden change? I personally contacted AKC and asked why the definition had been changed from what it had been for at least 25 years. I was told that they did not know, that the person who had made those changes was now dead and that it was going to be changed back to the previous definition as they had received MANY complaints from the breeders of various sable colored breeds

The 1997 ballot was the ONLY ballot that was actually voted on as a result of a petition from the membership.
An open forum on the Standard was held during the National in July. There was discussion of many aspects of the Standard including the sable colors. The membership was invited to write their thoughts down and send them to the Board
In October of 1997, the Board sent out a compendium* of those letters along with the recommendation from the Standard Committee that the petition should not be voted on at that time

Their reasons included
1) The committee's opinion that the petition didn't clearly define sable in the ASCOB or parti varieties. The committee also agreed that sable was not a solid color per AKC's definition* (which had recently been changed) in the AKC Dog Book
2) So few sables registered not sufficient to justify a change to the Standard
3) Six previous votes to include sable or sable/white had never received the required 2/3 majority of ballots returned
 (I can only find four previous ballots on sables that didn't receive the required 2/3 majority of ballots returned-1981, 1983, 1986, and 1990)

This compendium was sent out to the membership by virtue of the ASC By Laws Article VII, Section1:
"Amendments to the Articles of Inc. and the By Laws, the Code of Ethics and to the Standard for the breed may be proposed by the Board of Directors or by written petition addressed to the Secretary signed by any member in good standing, and co-signed by 20% of the members in good standing.
Amendments proposed by such petition shall be promptly considered by the Board of Directors and must be submitted to the entire membership for written comment within 60 days of receipt by publishing in the official ASC newsletter/bulletin or by mail notification."

This compendium was composed of letters received FOR (31) and AGAINST (30) the inclusion of the sable colors. Of those letters received AGAINST Carl or Rosalie Anderson wrote 5 of them, Dick or Betty Duding wrote 3 of them and Beth Speich wrote 2 of them.

Of those letters received AGAINST, seven (including letters written by Beth Speich and Richard Duding) suggested further study of the gene and its effect on the gene pool.
Sounds familiar doesn't it?
This same recommendation was made in 1983 (despite the Standard Committee's assertion that sufficient evidence had been presented to prove the color had existed in the American Cocker Spaniel) and again in 1984 but had apparently never acted upon.

In the same sort of theatrics employed by scandal sheets like the National Enquirer, this compendium also included a rather unflattering picture of a sable.
According to the ASC Secretary, this picture was provided by Carl Anderson and the use of this picture was unauthorized by the dog's owner.
No pictures of the 30 or so sable/white American Cockers that had completed their championships (despite all the controversy) were printed in the compendium.
Another fact worth mentioning here concerns the cost of this petitioned ballot to the ASC:
In the 1998 Annual Report Standard Committee Chairman Betty Duding thanks Annette Davies for underwriting part of the cost of the compendium

The membership has also been "warned" over and over again that IF we allow the sable colors to be added to our Standard that AKC will put all Cocker Spaniels into ONE variety with one set of points and one cocker in the Group.

When AKC was contacted regarding this "threat", written conformation was as follows: from Mr. David Merriam, (at that time AKC Executive Vice President/CEO) in a letter* "I am not aware of any instance where a change in the breed standard triggered a change in the Group status for that breed."

Dr. Al Grossman would seem to verify AKC's position further when he posted the following to the Champions listserve Oct 30, 2000, "The three varieties of the breed. The reason we have three varieties is cloaked in the mists of the past. As some of you may know, the American Spaniel Club was organized and chartered before the American Kennel Club. In order to have the American Spaniel Club join AKC and to merge it's stud book, AKC promised (in writing) to allow the ASC to have three varieties. We have, on occasion, sounded out AKC about a fourth variety. The most recent was about the B/T variety. Let me say the response was a deafening NO!"

Although I have only been a member of the ASC for about 20 years(at the time of this original article)
I had been breeding and showing cockers for about 10 years before I joined and I was paying attention to the activities of the ASC. I do not EVER remember a time when the membership voted to ask AKC for a fourth variety and I assume that would be something that a majority of the membership would have to agree on! So why on earth anyone representing the ASC would ask AKC to allow us a fourth variety for the B/T's is beyond me! Perhaps this happened back in the late '70's or early '80's when there was so much controversy over WHERE to put the B/Ts? It is my belief that most Cocker Spaniel breeders are well aware of the luxury we enjoy with our three varieties and three sets of points. All we would be doing by allowing the sable colors is recognizing these colors and allowing them to be exhibited in already established varieties.


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