FAQ page

Questions (and Answers)

You can go through this page two ways, either just read it through (it's kind of long), or pick the questions that you are interested in.

How are their eyes?

Some double merle dogs do have very serious eye problems. Some are very severely affected and their eyes never open because they don't develop at all. Some have no problems at all. Visible eye problems are not progressive, meaning that they don't change (whatever eyesight the puppy has will be the same as an adult). Gwydion's eyes If there is any doubt, it may be best to get the opinion of a canine eye doctor (sometimes there are problems inside their eye, that cannot be diagnosed except by an opthalmologist). That said, there are three problems that come up the most often. The first is an "eccentric" (or "dropped") pupil. The pupil is round, but is lower in the eye instead of being centered. Gwydion has this in his right eye (which, oddly enough, is the eye with the dark patch around it). Another problem is an "irregular" (or "starburst") pupil. Gwen's eyes The pupil is centered, but very oddly shaped. Gwen has this in both eyes. (It's easier to see in her left eye.) Sometimes their eyes are smaller than they should be (called microphthalmia, Gwen has a bit of this problem). It is also possible for a dog to have all three conditions at once. Gwydion has no (obvious) vision difficulties. Gwen seems to have a bit of tunnel vision (she doesn't like heights, and things coming up on her side sometimes surprise her), but it is minor enough that it took me a long time to realize it. Both can catch treat and/or toys in midair with no problem. ASHGI has an article on Aussie eye conditions called Can You See?: Inherited Eye Disease in Aussie that talks about other eye problems, and pictures of some eye conditions can be found at Inheritance of Color in the Australian Shepherd, Eye Defects.

Return to the list

Are blue eyes related to deafness?

Gwydion chasing snowflakes
Gwydion chasing snowflakes

Sorta, kinda, but not really. Not much of an answer is it? There are basically two ways for a dog to get blue eyes. Some breeds just produce a lot of blue-eyed dogs (Aussies - eye pictures - or northern husky-type breeds are examples). Blue eyes are a recessive gene, so the dog must inherit blue as both eye-color genes. There is no relationship between this type of blue eyes and deafness. Some dogs have what I would call "lack of color" blue eyes (if you look at the pictures above, you will see that Gwen has very pale, almost white, blue eyes). This happens when the eye color genes are overridden by another factor (there are a lot of genetic factors that can cause this). Whatever eye color the dog was supposed to have is washed out, and the lack of pigment causes blue eyes. Since deafness is also caused by a lack of pigment, the cause of the deafness and the blue eyes is the same, but one does not necessarily go with the other. It's kind of one of those coincidental things, some dogs will have lack of pigment that causes deafness, but not blue eyes. Some will get the blue eyes, but not the deafness. Others will get both. So while the two are related, blue eyes does not necessarily indicate deafness.

Return to the list

Why do two merle genes make them white?

What was that about letting sleeping dogs lie ...?
sleeping dogs

I couldn't figure this out either! As I understand it, the merle gene washes out areas of a solid colored dog. So if a dog is black, the merle gene turns parts of the coat into gray. When you have two merle genes, they overlay each other (so to speak). So instead of a part being gray, it turns white. For example, if you paint something black, and then take a stencil and paint over it with white, you will still have some places that are black, but some will be gray. If you take the same stencil and flip it upside down and backward and then paint again, some more of the black will turn gray and some of the gray will turn white.

Return to the list

I've heard double merle dogs referred to as "lethal whites," why is that?

I hate this term. It's very inaccurate and misleading. First of all, if an organism is "lethal," it is either stillborn, or dies shortly after birth, and there is no way to keep it alive. There are some genes like this present in horses (certain types of paint coloring). So, since most double merle dogs survive into old age in as good of health as any other dog, that's wrong. There is no documentation (simply anecdotal evidence, and that won't prove things either way) that double merle dogs suffer any more health problems (other than deafness and vision challenges) than other dogs of the same breed.

Secondly, they aren't "white." While some double merle dogs are almost pure white, they can go the complete range all the way up to a dog that you would think is a just a normal merle (most fall somewhere in the middle). So the second part is not correct either. There are some people who like this term for its "shock value." Frankly, it makes me cringe every time I see it. I feel it does the dogs no favors to call them by the same name used by the breeders who kill them (the real reason so many are "lethal"). I've also heard that calling them "lethal whites" is a way to get people to stop doing merle-to-merle breedings. I don't see how, since to me "lethal white" has no obvious connection to "merle." If people don't know what a merle is, they won't figure it out to by be told not to breed "lethal whites" ("Well, my dog isn't white, and neither is the neighbor's dog, so we must be OK") I much prefer the term "double merle" since it describes what the dog really is. I can explain why my dog is mostly white and deaf to anyone who asks just as easily as anyone using the other term (and will probably do it in much the same way).

For more on this topic, visit The White Aussies Project website.

Return to the list

Do they bark?

Oh do they!!!! I'd say just to hear themselves if they could. As a good friend of mine likes to say "Their ears are not connected to their vocal chords." Barking (and making other sounds) is very instinctive. While hearing dogs certainly learn to put more meaning into the sounds, deaf dogs still make much the same noises. Some deaf dogs tend to have odd barks, either too loud or very sharp or unusual in some other way. They do learn that barking gets your attention too (even if they don't know why). Gwydion especially likes to bark in the bathroom (probably because he can feel the vibrations better). Gwen's barks are sharp and go right through you. She likes to bark in Gwydion's ear to wake him up when we get home. They are also somehow always able to "know" when the other one is barking, no matter where each is in the house (I call it "dog barking" telepathy).

Return to the list

Have you ever had their hearing tested?

Aren't they cute?
Faces of both dogs

I never have. Since they were older when they came to me, and their foster moms knew that they were deaf, it didn't seem necessary. The test is called a BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response). It measures brain activity in response to sound. It isn't painful (it's the same test used for human babies), but some dogs get upset about having to hold still and need to be sedated. I have thought about having Gwydion tested (he seems to be able to hear the squeals of a 13 year old girl who is puppy-kissed unexpectedly!). But when I tried an adjustable dog whistle, he didn't respond, so even if there are some sounds that he can hear, I don't know how I could reproduce them reliably. Gwen doesn't seem to respond to anything. She is not as vibration sensitive either (Gwydion can "feel" handclaps). Many deaf dogs fool people because they are so vibration and motion sensitive.

Return to the list

How do you use Hand Signs to train a dog?

Miss Gwen

Dogs do not understand English (or any other language for that matter). There is no difference between teaching a dog that "sit" means put your behind on the floor or teaching them that hand sign for sit means the same thing. Even hearing dogs are taught hand signs. High level obedience dogs must respond to Heel, Stand, Stay, Down, Sit, Come, and Finish. Actually, many people think that their dogs know words when they are really responding to body language. When you think your hearing dog has learned a new command, try telling them while not moving. We did this recently in a class, and found that most of the dogs were responding to body movement clues. Without them, they didn't know what to do. Some people use straight ASL, because ASL is a real language and they feel it should be treated as such (although someone once pointed out that we don't usually speak "proper" English to our dogs anyway - would snoockums like a num-num?). ASL also allows more people to "talk" to your dog. Some people make up everything. Most tend to fall somewhere in between. For myself, I find inventing a sign out of the blue very difficult, so I usually look up a word (and sometimes it's variations), and then simplify it to one hand (since it's hard to use both hands while holding a leash). Using hand signs tends to become a habit, and you use them with every dog that you meet (hearing or not). Probably every dog I own from here on out will learn hand signs just because of that fact.

Return to the list

I've heard that deaf dogs snap when startled and are aggressive.

White Dogs in Snow
white dogs in snow

This has got to be the most problematic story on deaf dogs out there. A properly socialized dog does not bite, whether it can hear or not. Does a hearing dog bite when awakened abruptly? Generally, no, so why would a deaf one be different? Both of my dogs will startle. Gwydion jumps slightly, sometimes, then relaxes. Gwen leaps to her feet, then realizes there's nothing going on and goes looking for a toy. I see no reason for a happy , well cared for, well loved puppy to become an aggressive, fearful, snappy adult just because it can't hear. And I ask you, are deaf people aggressive? If you read some of what was written about deaf people in the past, you will find that a lot of it sounds like what is being said about deaf dogs in the present. I think this myth actually began because older dogs (who used to be able to hear), and are more inclined to be snappy with being surprised because of general old age grumpiness. Dogs that are born deaf don't have the same expectations, and startling is just a part of their life.

Return to the list

I have a deaf dog that I need to find a home for, what should I do?

The best way to find a home for a deaf dog is to spread the word as far as possible. You could contact your breed's rescue group about referrals (some will help, some won't). There are a lot of internet sites that list dogs available (purebred or not, some specializing in deaf dogs).

Return to the list

Where did you get the names for your dogs?

Gwydion's name came from two places. I basically picked it because I liked the way it sounded and it was "different." Gwydion is a prince/magician (maybe a god) from The Mabinogi, a collection of Welsh sagas. Gwydion is also a character in the books about King Arthur by Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. I love the modern "King Arthur" story retellings (and other similar types of stories), so just for fun, I put a list of some of my favorite non-dog books on a page of their own.

Gwen's name was easier. I wanted something that would sound good with Gwydion, and Jessica wanted to pick it. She put a lot of thought into it, and really like Guenivere. I wasn't that crazy about it because the names sound a lot alike and Jennifer is derived from Guenivere (so we almost have the same name). But Jessica really liked it, so we changed it to the Welsh spelling (Gwenhwyfar) and kept it.

Return to the list

Home Page Back, Cats' Corner top of page Next Page, Clicker Training Mail me!