Special Needs Dogs – Adopting Deaf Dog

    Merlin is a 6 yr old Shetland sheepdog who was born deaf. I adopted him 5 years ago from a small dog rescue. He was passed to the rescue as a small puppy by his breeder as he was deaf. He was fortunate enough to be fostered by a lady called Karen lawe who specializes in deaf dogs and now runs the deaf dog network. She trained him all his sign language signals. He was adopted by a lady with a German shepherd but was returned about 7 mths later as he had and still has the annoying habit of running alongside the dogs he lives with and grabbing them by the neck, he did this to the gsd and now does it to my cocker spaniel, but the gsd objected strongly so he was returned for his own safety and I was lucky enough to be his fosterer, I soon realized I couldn’t possibly part with him so I adopted him and he has been with me ever since.
    He is a great little dog, very intelligent and very cheeky; thankfully as he came trained to sign language he was quite easy for me to continue his training. Most dogs learn by body language anyway so the fact he couldn’t hear didn’t present too many problems. Any dog should be taught using kind, gentle positive reinforcement and it certainly works better as a training method with deaf dogs as they would simply look away if they don’t want to do something. Merlin often does this if he wants to ignore me; he is clever enough to know it works. Especially when on a walk, I exercise him of lead in my local woods and when it is time to go back on lead if he isn’t ready to come back he simply looks away from me. I allow him to run of lead as I feel he still needs to explore and sniff the same as any other dog, he does like to wander in my local woods so I have fitted bells to his harness so I can hear him pottering about in the undergrowth. He is very friendly to others and will go up to anyone to say hello, he is much loved by a lot of people around here. He does get on well with other dogs he is not at all aggressive to other dogs, when approaching a strange dogs he always stops about 10 feet away and studies them before going up to them, if he is not welcome he will back off and come away. I do have to watch him near the road if he is off lead because if he sees a friend he will run over to them so I have to make sure he is back on the lead well before we get to the road.
    Back at home he is a great dog, not noisy indoors but he will watch my other dogs and if they start to bark he will join in, he is a great watcher and doesn’t miss anything, he follows me around everywhere I think this is his deafness because my movements cause him great fascination. He is especially keen on the hoover and watches it move around the room and winding the cable up is just the best thing ever. I haven’t had to change too much in my home as he copes very well with his deafness, he was born that way so knows no other way. I do have to be careful when waking him though. I usually do this by either gently stroking him or putting my hand or a biscuit under his nose and letting him smell, this does wake him in a gentle manner. If I need him to come here then I just open and close my hand as I move my arm up and down, at a distance I open my arms out wide. Sit is a flat open hand with the palm pointing downwards. No or naughty is wagging 1 finger in the traditional no manner. Yes or very good boy is thumbs up, I try to do this frequently as it is how I tell him he is a wonderful boy and I love him. He is hugged of course but the thumb up signal really excites him.
    Merlin was born deaf because he is a homozygous merle or a double merle, this means he was born with 2 copies of the merle gene. Both parents of a double merle would also be merle. This is actually not allowed in most kennel clubs as this can cause health issues for the pups. Most but not all are born completely deaf like merlin or partially deaf. Most also have eye issues. This is called merle ocular dysgenesis, and the type of eye problems with this varies. Merlin has what is called starburst pupils, this is irregular shaped pupils, he has ice blue eyes with odd dark blue pupils. He is fortunate enough to be able to see although I think he can only see so far. Other double merle dogs are born with a condition called micropthalmia this means they can have either very small eyes or sometimes no eyes at all. Corectopia is another eye condition in some double merles, this is where the pupil is not centered in the iris. I think merlin may possibly have this also as his pupils are not quite where they should be. Other conditions can be hidden within the eye itself.
    I guess merlin and I are lucky that his problems are quite minor really compared to other double merle dogs that are born. This can happen to any breed of dog with merle or harlequin colouring. So border, rough, smooth and bearded collies. Corgis, Australian shepherds, daschunds and great danes are just some of the breeds who have the merle coat patterning so great care should be taken when breeding these breeds.
    I wouldn’t hesitate to adopt another deaf dog or a deaf double merle dog. Merlin is a wonderful dog who I wouldn’t change for anything it was ce
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