Glen Twiford on the Sable Merle another take on it ~A MUST read!!!!!

Categories:The Sable Merle Collie

Glen Twilford’s article reflects his views on the subject of the Sable Merle and there are people who agree with him.  Many other Collie breeders have also written articles on the sable merle and many of these have a different view point.  Comments are in red.

I wonder how many established breeders have noticed the casual
exhibiting of sable-merle collies in defiance of our standard of
permitted colors.  It might be good to remind those exhibitors that
the collie standard is a standard for breeders. It is a standard of
perfection. It is not a standard of how to accumulate ribbons and
wins with our collies. =It is a guide for breeding as near as possible
the ideal collie in conformation and temperament.=It is a standard of
perfection like you will find in other breeds of dogs, cattle,
horses, cats, poultry and in most domesticated animals whose physical
characteristics are controlled by human selection.

In The Complete Collie, by Milo G. Denlinger, 3rd edition, dated 1952,, Chapter XII, A Look at the Collie, Mr. Denlinger says:

    “There was no selective breeding applies to ‘Old Shep’s’ progenitors, although every line in his pedigree (if he had had a written pedigree) may have traced to a dog recognized in his day as a pure-bred Collie.

    “The Collie breed has grown, improved, refined, developed, and evolved.  The judges of even a generation ago would hail as marvels Collies that we now dismiss with comparative indifference.

    “The Collie is bred to the so-called Standard or Standard of Perfection, which was formulated and adopted by The Collie Club of America and made official by its acceptance by the American Kennel Club, under the rules of which all significant dog shows in the United States are held.

    “This Standard is but a brief document.  It essays to describe the perfect Collie and all judges licensed to pass upon the breed officially are pledged to use the Standard as their guide in making their awards.  They could hardly fail to do so, since the latitude of the Standard is so great as to embrace in its description not only Collies of the greatest excellence but also Collies of such indifferent worth that no breeder of fine collies would tolerate them in his kennel.

    “The Standard …. has served the breed and its breeders well for a great many years.  The very latitude of the terms in which it is couched has enabled the Collie breed to grow and develop.  With a cast-iron standard the breed must have remained static.”

In the last version the the Collie Standard (last changed and approved May 10. 1977), color is described as:

    “The four recognized colors are ‘Sable and White,’ ‘Tri-color,’ ‘Blue Merle’ and ‘White.’ There is no preference among them. The ‘Sable and White’ is pre¬dominantly sable (a fawn sable color of varying shades from light gold to dark mahogany) with white markings usually on the chest, neck, legs, feet and the tip of the tail. A blaze may appear on the foreface or backskull or both. The ‘Tri¬color’ is predominantly black, carrying white markings as in a ‘Sable and White’ and has tan shadings on and about the head and legs. The ‘Blue Merle’ is a mottled or ‘marbled’ color predomi¬nantly blue-grey and black with white markings as in the ‘Sable and White’ and usually has tan shadings as in the ‘Tri-color.’ The ‘White’ is predomi¬nantly white, preferably with sable, tri¬color or blue merle markings.”

There are no color disqualifications.

For the benefit of newcomers the sable-merle is a collie with both
sable and blue-merle on the same individual. It is not a single
color, as in our sable, tri and blue-merle colors. And, it varies
according to the degree of tri-factor involved in the individual dog

In Trudy Mangels’ book Evolution of the Collie (second edition, dated 1971, originally written in 1962), she addresses the color issue:

    “Coat color is not important in the selection of top breeding specimens.  However, the esthetic value should not be overlooked.  There are many gorgeous shades of sable: brilliant oranges and reds which are usually genetically pure for sable; chestnut and black mahogany; clear yellows.  In tricolors, there are two shades to be found: the true, blue black, and the rusty black.  Each is a pure color, which breeds true.  Black to Black produces Black.  Rust to Rust produces Rust.

    “The blue merle is simply a ‘diluted’ tricolor.  We are here dealing with a factor (merling) which reduces or dilutes color, but in itself, is not a color at all.  The most desirable blue merle is one which is a silvery blue with little black mottling, and is best obtained by breeding from the black tricolors, or a sable with the black tricolor factor.  The rust tricolors tend to produce darker blue color and often lend a rust tinge to the blue and mottled black areas.  This has given rise to the misconception that sable and blue coloring blend, and thus the two should never be bred together.  Since the blue merle is not a color at all, but a dilution of tricolor, this idea has no foundation and should be discarded.  Even the sable merle – a sable carrying the merle factor – has value in breeding.  They should be registered as sable merles and they can be used with tricolors to produce sables, tricolors, and blue merles. 

    “As in all other phases of breeding, a person should not attempt color combinations if he is not aware of what the results may be, or if he is not able to recognize a Collie which is a sable merle.”

    Trudy Mangels’ original printing was done several years after Clarence C. Little, Sc.D., published The Inheritance of Coat Color in Dogs.  This book was based on research done by Cornell University, identifying the ten gene pairs that control color in a dog.  In the 1973 fifth printing, he describes the base gene pair that creates the Collies light (sable) or dark (tri) coloring, in addition to separate gene pairs that create the depth of color, tan points, white body, and Merle (or non-merle) pattern.  As time passes, we are learning more and more about this genetic information.

In the past, in articles and discussions, I have tried, when asked,
to consider ways to exhibit sable-merles. Knowing all along it should
not be done. Now, after seeing all the confusion and disagreement
showing sable-merles has caused it is obvious that the collie club
should follow the lead of many other clubs with disqualifications, if< br />necessary.  Sable-merle collies are not, have never been, and should
not be included in the standard. And, since they cannot be in the
standard they cannot compete in the show ring

Personally, I have had collies since 1930. I have never been without
them in all that time. During those many years of combining colors in
collies I occasionally would get sable-merles. Regarding conformation,
some of them were quite nice, but I never considered showing
one. The thought never entered my mind. They cannot be in the
standard. They offer nothing positive to our breed, so why would you
wish to show them? Years ago when I bred them I was not trying to
create a new color. I was simply trying to understand how our colors
really worked

Bobbie Roos in Collie Concept addressed the issue of the sable merle.

"It is important that we should be aware and understand that there is a variation in the genetic color inheritance factor in many breeds and other species. When it is understood how the color pattern produces, then our tolerance level increases.

“A rare commodity is an open mind and the willingness to try the unfamiliar and take a calculated risk, if necessary, to produce quality if the virtues are present in the prospective pair, regardless of color. Dedicated breeders who are interested in the welfare and progress of a breed do not want to see a radical, convulsive revolution; but I have never understood the stigma attached to sable/blue merle breeding or a blue to blue. We are bridled and restrained by heresay, but years of experience and exposure encourages some fanciers to delve into the more mysterious unions that require depth of thought and planning. A sable merle can unfold a prismatic combination, all in one package."

"If several daring breeders had not tried the unconventional unions decades ago, we would not have had some of the outstanding specimens.  It might have been many more years before we learned that a sable to blue merle breeding can produce an attractive silvery blue. The gamble in the sable to blue merle breeding is that a sable merle can have blue eyes. If you are an adventurous sort, there is nothing in the Standard to prevent exhibition of a blue-eyed sable merle. Your dog may be penalized and thusly top awards may be elusive, but there is no disqualification. The only disqualifications are the American Kennel Club rules for all breeds for the presence of monorchidism or cryptorchidism.

"Many Fanciers have questioned whether the Standard could be changed to accept sable merles as an additional color rather than reading as four colors, and to possibly allow blue eyes, eliminating any discrimination. This could possibly come to pass within a few years.

"A few daring breeders have gambled and kept "defective whites" from a  blue merle to blue merle union and learned, to the amazement of many,  that they are NOT impaired in sight or hearing. This courageous experiment by a few breeders had been a progressive step in several ways. We have learned that not all white merles are ‘defective,’ having passed an ophthalmic examination, with sometimes, better visual  acuity ratings than other colored members of the breed and the bonus  is, blue merles have increased in popularity with exhibitors and the  pet buying public. For those wanting to increase the probable percentage of blue merles in a litter there are white merles of quality to incorporate into a color/breeding program. An interesting side light to this color situation is that in some instances the sable/merles and white/merles are the select/ quality/ individuals in a litter. Is nature conveying a subtle message to breeders?

"The Standard explicitly allows four colors but prejudice prevails. It is a wise exhibitor who knows which judges to avoid and where to invest the entry fee when a particular color is the judge's favorite."

Several of our most reputable all-breed judges have asked when are
the collie people going to make some decisions about showing sable-
merles? It is not fair to ask all-breed judges to consider placing
collies whose presence in the ring may be questionable.

One of the country's most respected all-breed judges recently
requested that the collie club do something about this issue for the
sake of judges, new and old. All-breed judges are more concerned
about the sable-merle issue than our members realize. AKC judge Anne
Rogers Clark wrote in Dogs in Review April 2003, "This problem (sable-
merle) in these two beautiful breeds (Collies and Shelties) must be
solved by the parent club, which will then give us, the judges, firm
footing to do our job, which is to evaluate breeding stock."

I feel our club has lost a lot of respect over the sable-merle

Tom Coen has told us that over 200 sable merles have received their championships.  Within that known 200 sable merle champions, there have been a number of dogs and bitches who now have ROM status plus winners of the CCA National Specialty.

Prior to 1969 color was written in by the person who was registering the puppy.  It is possible that many sable merles may have been registered as sable because their merling was no longer visible.   

Not too long ago I heard several all-breed judges discussing sable-
merle in collies, and disqualifying colors in other breeds. One judge
said that she had a very beautiful bright orange colored sable collie
that had no competition in the group. She said she thought it might
be a sable-merle. When asked, she said she passed up the collie.

Mr. Twiford speaks of a judge who had a beautiful bright orange colored sable collie that she “thought” MIGHT be a sable-merle but had no competition in the group.  She did not place the dog because of her personal suspicion – not because of its lack of quality.  There is no mention of whether she discovered later that the dog was a sable merle.

How many sables (not sable merle) have been discriminated against because they MIGHT be a sable merle?   Had she been able to look in the catalog and discovered that the dog was “just a sable”, would she have given the dog a group placement?  Since there is no color disqualification, this judge and others who act in a similar manner are making a subjective decision not based on the standard.  Our standard does NOT have a disqualification for color. 

In reading about the first American imports I am not aware of any
mention of sable-merles. The British have a reputation for very
intelligent breeding of livestock. At a show I attended while in
England I asked an exhibitor if they ever showed sable-merles? She
looked at me like I was a little demented.  That was the only occasion
that I had to discuss the subject.

In Margaret Osborne’s book, The Collie, revised and reprinted in 1969, she discusses the sable merle.  Based on the English standard, she recommends aga
inst breeding them to produce blue merles because of her belief that the colors will not come out clear and concerns of double dilutes.  But in describing the history of the blue merle she writes:

    “The beginnings of the blue merle as a show dog are fairly clear-cut, except that, in the early days, the colour of the dogs used to produce the true blue colour were frequently differently described in different places, though the same dog was being referred to!

    “ For example, the first sire of any note in the production of the blue merles was a dog named Scott, the property of Mr. F. B. Brackenburg, of Downham, Norfolk.  Scott is officially recognized in the K.C.S.B. as being grey, tan and white in colour, with china eyes, yet Mr. Arkwright’s description of him is that of the perfect blue merle, ‘Silvery blue, beautifully clouded with black, white collar, chest, feet and tail-tip, with one blue eye.’  Scott was a very typical Collie of his day and did his share of winning.  Mr. Arkwright tried to buy him and when he failed he mated his bitch Russet to him.  Now ‘Russet’ is described by Mr. Packwood as a ‘red sable’ but in the K.C.S.B. as ‘red grizzle’ and for myself I am inclined to think that this latter description is probably the tru one and that, in reality, she was a sable merle.  Be that as it may, the progeny of ‘Scott’ and ‘Russet’ virtually laid the foundation of the early blue merles.”

Mr. Arkwright’s kennel was dispersed in 1890, so it would appear that any sable merles that were shown or used in a breeding program of that era were described by their base color, sable.  Pictures of Collies from this time and into the 20th century were in black and white, making it even more difficult to tell if any of the dogs were sable merles. 

We have two colors in collies, brown and black (sable and tri). Sable
is dominant; tri is the only recessive and we have a gene for merle.
When we breed our merle gene to tri-color we also can get the single
color, blue. We like it and it will breed true like sable and tri
color. This gives us our third single color that is in our standard.
These three colors are usually the result of breeding a dominant to a
recessive such as a sable to tri-color, or tri-color to a blue merle.

But, when we breed our merle gene to a sable we get what you might
call a "color battle field". This is because the color sable, and the
color blue, are both dominant.

Breeding two dominant colors together, sable and blue, you can get
sable-merle that is not a satisfactory single color. This certainly
would not be included in a standard of perfection.

In Bobbie Roos Collie Concepts, starting on page 129 of the 1982 edition and in Patricia Roberts Starkweather’s The Magnificent Collie, 1997 edition, following page 84, there are copies of the Color Genetics Chart that was originally prepared by Dot Gerth for “The ABC’s of Collie Coat Color Inheritance” for the 1969 Collie Club of America Yearbook.

This chart identifies the Merle gene as “A dominant dilution gene which in combination with sable or tri genes produces merled collies.”  For the Sable Merle, it states the “Color results from the interaction of the dominant dilution gene (M) on the sable color.”

The Merle gene is a dominant MODIFIER.  It is not a color gene.

The proceeding article refers our standard as it appears in the
Collie Club of American and the AKC listing sable, tri-color and blue-
merle as the allowable colors in collies. If at some future time a
gene pool appears that might allow breeders to develop some other
desirable and controllable color then of course the standard would
have to be amended. Such a happening is extremely unlikely. I think
you can dismiss the possibility.

In 1952, Milo G. Denlinger published a 3rd Edition of The Complete Collie.  In that volume under the heading COLOR “IMMATERIAL?” he says

    “The Standard says of color that it is ‘immaterial,’ and then proceeds to declare that color and markings bear a ‘considerable amount of weight with judges.’  It fails to say whether that ‘weight with judges’ is justifiable.  If color is immaterial, why should we pay any attention to it whatever?”

Our original American Collie Standard has been modified a number of times since it was first written.  For many years, the standard declared color to be “immaterial”.  As late as 1920, no colors were identified, except to say “COLOR.-Immaterial, though a richly-colored or nicely-marked dog has undoubtedly a considerable amount of weight with judges. The black-and-tan with white frill and collar, or the still more showy sable with perfect white markings will generally win, other things being equal.
Changes were made to add the sable-headed and tri-headed white in 194___ and later the blue-headed white in 1950.  A change was also made in 1950 to add the blue eye that appears in the blue merle.  The blue-headed white was included in the colors when it was revised in 1977.

Several of our most reputable all-breed judges have asked when are
the collie people going to make some decisions about showing sable-
merles? It is not fair to ask all-breed judges to consider placing
collies whose presence in the ring may be questionable.

One of the country's most respected all-breed judges recently
requested that the collie club do something about this issue for the
sake of judges, new and old. All-breed judges are more concerned
about the sable-merle issue than our members realize. AKC judge Anne Rogers
Clark wrote in Dogs in Review April 2003, "This problem (sable-
merle) in these two beautiful breeds (Collies and Shelties) must be
solved by the parent club, which will then give us, the judges, firm
footing to do our job, which is to evaluate breeding stock."

Mr. Twilford is correct that we need to resolve the issue regarding the sable merle.  Since the color pattern has existed for over 100 years and there have been champions of the “color” over that entire time, it is surprising that something even Bobbie Roos believed would happen 20 years ago has still not happened.

These color changes were made to assure that the standard recognized the naturally appearing colors that have historically been in the breed.  The sable merle is also a naturally appearing color that has been present in the breed for over 100 years.  Did the writers of our standard who added the color sable intend to include the sable merle under the heading sable?

In The Complete Collie, 1952 edition, there is an article written by Oren Kem.  It is written in his section titled “More Notes on Breeding Whites”:

    "If you
will study the history of the breed, I think you will find at one time or another that both the tri and the blue were held in low regard and almost threatened with extinction by the dominating sables.  In those instances, an informal or, in one case, a formal organized group gathered to preserve them and with their efforts

obtained an end to discrimination against them by the judges."

Some people have voiced a concern that inferior sable-merle’s may complete their championships.  Their concern may be based on the fact that lesser quality dogs currently can achieve their championships with the recognized colors.  This may happen where the quality of the dogs at a show is not as high and the judge makes his/her decision based on the dogs that are presented.  By including the sable merle as an identified color, one or two additional choices may be available providing another possible alternative.

Does that mean that the sable merle will be given any type of preference?  That is unlikely.  But it does mean that a good sound dog won’t be ignored and is less likely to be placed lower in the order because of color.  And that a dog who is considered of quality to be given variety will not automatically be discounted by a judge who “thinks” it is a sable merle.

2 Responses to Glen Twiford on the Sable Merle another take on it ~A MUST read!!!!!

  1. Reply Nancy Greenwood says:

    It doesn’t make any difference to me whether the standard is adjusted to address the sable merle. This issue was hashed and rehashed in the late 1980’s just before Ch. Candray Constellation (a pure for sable merle) won the national. We went through this whole mess then. Now it’s raised it’s ugly head once again. In the meanwhile, more serious problems in the breed are shoved to the background. If adding language to the standard to address the sable merle will allow us to focus on these problems, then it should be done. As you have clearly pointed out, the merle gene is a modifier, not a color gene. It modifies the color that is the result of the interaction of the color genes (tri or sable). Let’s put this issue to rest once and for all.

  2. Reply ETSjules says:

    This should have already been dealt with…. and just because this has come up again does not take away from the facts that there are many other important things to be dealt with in the collie.

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