Color, pattern, and markings are the first things you notice when you meet a Field Spaniel, but they should be the last things considered when evaluating the dog. Coat color is the paint on the house, the decorations on the wall. If the dog’s color is acceptable, if the color pattern is acceptable, and if the markings are acceptable, then that part of the dog’s assessment is complete. No preference should be made among the acceptable colors, patterns, and markings when evaluating a Field Spaniel.
We are all human and, of course, we have our personal likes and dislikes. But the key is not to be so distracted by color that we fail to see the dog underneath the coat. Follow the breed standard, but respect the breed. If the color, pattern, and markings are acceptable, then focus on what makes the dog a Field Spaniel.
The color section of the breed standard is succinct. There are just two colors, two color patterns, and one marking. Let’s start with color. Field Spaniels may be black or liver. Black may range from black with subtle brown or liver undertones, to a high-gloss, jet black. If you ask a lay person, “What color is that dog?” the person will simply say that the dog is “black.” Liver consists of all shades of liver, from light to dark. Golden liver is a separate color, according to the breed standard, but it is, for practical purposes, just another shade of liver. Liver may have a reddish or golden cast, but it would not be identified as “red,” “gold,” “orange,” or “lemon.” For example, a Field Spaniel is not Irish Setter red, Golden Retriever gold, or Pointer lemon. A lay person will identify any liver Field Spaniel (including golden liver) as being some shade of “brown.”
The color section of the breed standard is succinct. There are just two colors, two color patterns, and one marking.
Now that the dog’s color has been established, let’s look at color patterns. Again, there are only two choices; self-colored and bi-colored. Self-colored dogs are, of course, solid black or solid liver. A white throat, chest, and/or brisket is allowed on self-colored dogs. Bi-colored Field Spaniels are simply black and white or liver and white dogs. Bi-colored dogs have a significant amount of white on the body, with the base color (black or liver) typically found in patches on the head and body. The white areas of bi-colored dogs must be roaned or ticked. If the white areas of the dog are nearly evenly distributed with the base color, then the dog is identified as a roan (blue roan or liver roan). If the base color is distributed into the white in spits and spurts, then it is identified as black (or liver) bi-colored with ticking. According to the breed standard, there is no minimum amount of ticking required. The dog may be highly or lightly ticked and still meet the standard. If ticking is not apparent, then some of the white should be gently ruffled to reveal the colored hairs within the white. It matters not if the dog is a true roan or a bi-colored dog with ticking. Both are equally acceptable.
That leaves us with markings. Regardless of color or pattern, Field Spaniels may have tan markings typical of other tan-marked breeds. Expect to find tan on the sides of the muzzle, eyebrows, all four feet, inside the ears, and under the tail. Chest bars and penciling on the toes may be present. Tan can range from light tan to gold to deep russet. Dogs that inherit the alleles for tan from only one parent do not have tan markings, but some of the tan will present itself. For example, instead of having a tan muzzle, the muzzle will be made up of a blend of black and tan (or liver and tan) hair. These ghost markings are subtle and are best seen in bright sunlight. The dog should never be penalized for
Two colors, two patterns, and one marking might make the Field Spaniel seem a rather plain breed. Quite the contrary. In combination with each other, there are a dozen different ways to describe the color of a Field Spaniel. The twelve combinations of color, pattern, and markings are commonly interbred because breeders wisely recognize that there is more to a Field Spaniel than its color. As a result, some self-colored Fields have more than a little bit of white on their throats. It is not uncommon to see Fields that have a broad white chest or a little white on their noses, a white toe, or even a spot of white on the shoulder. Personally, I don’t have an issue with these “mismarks” if the extra white is ticked. Dogs that have “ghost tan” have a tan-marked ancestor, and the mismarks have a bi-colored ancestor.
There is one breed-specific disqualification, and this is for the color pattern “sable.” The AKC Field Spaniel breed standard describes sable as “… a lighter undercoat with darker shading as tipping or dark overlay, with or without a mask present…” Sable is extremely rare and you are unlikely to encounter it. It is similar to the sable coat pattern seen in English Cocker Spaniels.
The twelve combinations of coat color, pattern, and markings are beautifully illustrated in the Field Spaniel Society of America’s illustrated standard. It is available for download at the club’s website: https://www.fieldspanielsocietyofamerica.org.