A White Sheltie?
They are known by different names: Double merle, double dilute or homozygous merle are all common names for white shelties. They are often born deaf and sometimes visually impaired, but still have the ability to live the life of any other dog that can hear or see. They can still chase balls, bark and be housetrained. Some have even earned Canine Good Citizen standing, are certified therapy dogs and participate in agility.
A White Sheltie? It's Got to be a Mixed Breed!
White shelties are not something that naturally occur. They are typically the result of a blue merle to blue merle breeding, but can appear in bleedings of other colors. They cannot be shown in the confirmation ring. We'll leave the science of sheltie genetics to the experts, but we can fill you in on the interesting lives that these dogs lead. We also do not condone any breeding to intentionally produce double merles.
A White Sheltie Website?
We've developed this site to raise awareness of the fact that double merles are regular dogs that require unique care and training, but not beyond the capabilities of the everyday pet owner. This is in no way meant to be a thorough owner's manual for the double merle.
Training Double Merles: Give Them a Hand
Back in the good old days, Shetland sheepdogs were trained to herd by responding to their owners' hand signals. The story goes that the shepherds' voices could not be heard over the crashing waves of the North Sea against the rocky coast of the Shetland Islands, so the shepherds devised hand signals to give commands to their working dogs. This method of hand signal training is still used today.
For a deaf dog, the same idea applies. Instead of teaching a dog to put their rump on the ground by saying the word "Sit", a deaf dog can be taught to sit by a hand command, which is usually bringing your right hand, palm side up, in one sweeping upward motion from the side of your right leg. Using hand signals for training is no different than training with vocal commands. You give the dog a command, the dog executes the command, you reward the dog.
While there are standard hand commands in use, you can teach any hand signal that works for you. You don't even have to know American Sign Language to work with a deaf dog. We've found that double merles often have more focus than a dog that can hear, since they quickly learn that they have to keep their eyes on you to know what to do. And what dog doesn't want to work for food?
Or Give Them a Touch
There are some double merles that are born with small eyes, resulting in partial or total blindness. Obviously, these dogs cannot be trained with hand commands. Instead, they can be trained by touch by using the same methods you train a hearing dog. Training the blind dog is a bit more challenging, but it is certainly not impossible.
Blind dogs have been taught to sit by getting a gentle tap on the rump. Use the same idea as with any training ... give the command and when the dog executes, reward the dog. Different touches can be used for different commands. Even though they cannot see or hear, they still have the same drive to please their masters, and will do anything for a treat.
Or Give Them a Thump
No, don't thump your dog. Thump the floor. Knock on it. Feel the vibrations? Probably not. But the deaf or blind dog can. Floor knocking or stomping is a regular occurrence in homes with double merles. If trained, one good stomp on the floor can be as effective as a shouted "Hey!" or "Get over here!" Several small knocks or thumps can be a gentle attention-getter. It's all in the training!
Barking at the Doorbell
Volumes have been written about the social aspects of a dog's life and how dogs function within a pack. Deaf or blind dogs are acutely aware of their surroundings, and often have a sixth sense for what is going on around them, just by catching the vibes of other dogs (or people) around them.
For instance, when the doorbell rings, and your hearing dogs run barking to the door, a deaf dog sees this activity and makes a note of it. The next time the doorbell rings and the whole pack runs at the door, you can count on the deaf dog being right there in the action. Even the blind dogs can get vibes from other dogs that "something" is going on and start to react.
Dogs also learn by "monkey see, monkey do." Double merles have been known to bark at vacuum cleaners ... only because the other dogs do it. Many times, we have seen double merles stare intently at another dog, as if it were memorizing, or even calculating what the other dog is doing. This social behavior can be an invaluable training tool.
The Challenges: It's Your Adjustment
Bringing a new dog into your home is always an adjustment. Bringing an impaired dog into your home is a big adjustment. While you may feel pity on a dog that can't hear or see, the truth is that they were born that way, and it is really nothing new to them!
You'll need to do most of normal stuff that you do when you bring a new dog in to your home, like gradually introducing him or her to your other dogs, showing him or her around the house and showing him or her where the door to the backyard is. An impaired dog will adjust just the same as any other dog will.
Blind dogs will crash around your house for a day or two, so anything that is fragile or easily tipped should be moved or secured. The dog will eventually memorize the entire layout of your house and soon will be navigating with ease. If you rearrange your home, or move to a new home, expect a period of adjustment.
The great news is that we have adoptive homes who are ready and willing to share their experiences in the challenges of giving a home to a deaf or visually impaired dog.
National Sheltie Rescue Association