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!

     Training double merles
     Barking at the doorbell
     The Challenges
     Personal Experiences
     Success Stories
     Questions? Comments?

     Triangle Sheltie Rescue

©2004 Triangle Sheltie Rescue of North Carolina, Inc.