Updated article as of 12/20
I was thinking, if you had to put a written description for a true silver in the cocker spaniel breed, what would it be? A puppy born from two buff parents that is almost white? Oh, how about a light buff coat with dark skin? You have to have black skin, right? How about the lightest coated puppy in the litter? Maybe …. or maybe not. There are many things to look for when describing a true silver cocker spaniel.
Shades of buff can range from red, to a non-intense ivory/cream but with a yellow/red tone. When buffs are born they are lighter than they will be at maturity. Buff puppies always darken as they grow – they do not lighten. It is common to have many shades of buff in one litter.
Silver is a cocker whose coat has been lightened to a uniform ivory/cream shade with no yellow/red tone. The ivory shade in silver is evenly disbursed all over the body. Many times the back and ears are a shade darker but not so much that it keeps it from blending in with the rest of the body. Silver is a more ash toned ivory color – all over the dog. There are no yellow nor red tones, even on the ears. Nice black nose and eye rim pigment and dark eyes. The ACS standard calls for the pigment to be “the darker, the better”.
Silvers in our breed are born almost white, just as a light buff would be. The difference is the silver puppy stays light in color into maturity, whereas buffs and reds will get darker as they mature. This color change in buff can happen all the way through the juvenile stage and into adulthood. A silver puppy will still be ivory/cream throughout all stages.
Pigment on the nose and pads fill in after birth, on all shades of buff, some quicker than others. True silvers are said to have grey/black skin, as well. But don’t forget that ANY color of cocker can have dark or black skin. Many buff, red, black and even sable cockers have dark skin also. Just because silvers have darker skin, it cannot be the deciding factor on silver either. Btw, another gene likely helps regulate depth of pigment on the eyes, nose, pads and skins.
Breeders who breed towards the light coat and dark/heavy pigmented dogs will get the darker skin and impressive black eye rims that make a true silver so stunning. It is the whole process, that stands the test of time, that decides whether a cocker is true silver. Uniform, ash toned ivory coat as an adult and the nice black pigment.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT SILVER COCKERS:
Silver does not have a buff back coat/ears with a cream skirt and legs. That is just a buff cocker with a light skirt that is sometimes seen in cockers and a few say are silvers. In any solid colored cocker, a uniform shade throughout is preferred.
Brown nosed buffs can have a light coat. Per the standard, only brown dogs should have a brown nose. It is undesirable in our breed for a buff to have a brown nose.
Silver would not include pups born buff and said to get lighter as they age. If a breeder tells you this will happen, well… just RUN! A buff puppy will not turn silver later – period.
The graying gene has been seen to lighten/gray the faces/muzzles of some brown or black cockers as they get older. This is not silver either.
A good place to note here that there is no DNA testing available, at this time, to show a dog is silver versus silver/buff, buff, or even red! The best thing to do – really the only way to know – is to go look at the parents and puppies IN PERSON. Pictures can be very misleading due to lighting and easily editing photos/videos to make pups/dogs look lighter or even white. We hear from many disappointed buyers who were sold a puppy that was said to be “silver” or “white” … and it was actually buff. (There are no solid white cockers!).
COAT GENETICS OF WHY:
In 1957, Clarence Little hypothesized that dilution or partial albinism genotypes of the C locus (chinchilla) caused the ivory/cream to a white coat color variants in domestic dogs. C locus is responsible for albino mutations in many species of mammal, and generally lightens or removes all (melanin based) pigment. So often the nose and eye rims are affected as well.
A DNA research study in 2007 at the University of Saskatchewan has shown dogs (several breeds tested) with the ivory/cream coats to almost white coats, all had an (ee) genotype (red, buff, silver) at the E locus (MC1R).
The C locus mutations responsible for ivory/white coat color in other species were also looked at and found to have no correlation with intensity of coat color in a dog.
Since C locus alleles of the albino are likely not relevant to determine the ivory/cream to white coat colors in the dog, researchers therefore believe that an “as yet undiscovered” allele or alleles of one or more genes must regulate the phaeomelanin (red pigment) in the hair follicle, making phaeomelanin more or less intense. A new locus has been hypothesized for phaeomelanin dilution for our buffs.
I locus (intensity)
Currently, it is not known how this locus works or interacts with other loci. The general idea is that intensity causes the phaeomelanin in the coat to lighten or darken. The I locus does not affect eumelanin in any way, so will not affect the eye/nose/skin pigment.
Intensity will also affect the phaeomelanin of tan points and sables. Same idea – intensity locus would be more rich red (phaeomelanin) points or sable, and non-intense would be the very light shade of points or sable. Almost a window into the intensity or what shade of phaeomelanin the cocker may produce. Hopefully mapping intensity will give us more answers in the future. Stay tuned for more on intensity…..
Update 12/20 on Intensity:
This test is now available from several DNA testing sources. It is still in the beginning phases and does not yet accurately show the full range of intensity. It does divide the buff (ee) dogs into three color shades – which are light buff, medium buff and dark buff.