“Lethal White” does not refer to lethal genetics, i.e, the pup being born dead, or dying soon after birth. Instead the term has been used to mean the same as “Double Merle” or “Homozygous Merle/White”. The name “Lethal White” in reference to Aussies stems from the fact that these white pups have historically been destroyed at birth because of the likelihood they may be blind, deaf or both. For these pups, being born white is lethal.” ~excerpt from Amazing Aussies~
We are excited to introduce Aussie Rescue alumni ‘Belle’, a deaf double merle Australian Shepherd, and her human adoptive mom Roxanne!
“I picked Belle up in January of 2010 at Chicago Midway Airport in the middle of a snow storm. Belle was coming from New York and is a product of Merle to Merle breeding known as a Double Merle or Lethal White. I was to be her foster mom and train her for her forever home but when I looked into those beautiful eyes I knew she was staying with me.
I had never trained a deaf dog before, so I turned to the internet for information and I found out the training really wasn’t that different from training a hearing dog. All her training is done with positive reinforcement combined with an event marker (a flash light pen). Just like you would use a clicker or a verbal “YES” for a hearing dog followed by a treat. Belle sees the light and immediately she is rewarded with a yummy treat! When she does something that I like, I press the light then follow immediately with yummytreat. This is how Belle and I communicate! This method of training is called Classical Conditioning. What this is doing is stimulating the pleasure seeking part of the brain. If I were to force Belle to do something like push her into a sit, I would be stimulating the fear center of the brain. Classical Conditioning works because all animals respond to what feels good and avoid what doesn’t.
Belle knows about 30 cues; some are ASL and others I made up. A few of her cues are:
little bark, big bark, inside, outside, car, walk, catch, settle, eat, and our favorite PLAY.
Belle and I have also been training in agility and we recently made our debut at a
Canine Performance Events (CPE) agility trial in March. We qualified in 6 out of 8
events entered. Belle is also training in K9 Scent Work and will be competing in her first
trail in May.
The behaviors I feel that are a must train for a deaf dog are:
Auto Check-In. This is basically what it says. The dog comes and checks in. I ALWAYS
reinforce this either with a treat, play or petting. I like when my dogs seek me out, even
more so with my deaf dog.
Hand Target. This is her “COME” cue and I ALWAYS reinforce this with play, treat, or
petting. I want this to be a very reliable behavior. I never call her for something she
When on leash if in front of me I need a cue to get her attention. I jiggle the leash.
When she looks at me I reinforce this with play, treat, or petting.
Teaching a deaf dog not to startle or react when they are awakened or when touched
from behind is also on my list of must teach. They can’t hear our approach, so I want
her comfortable if anyone, person or dog bumps into her. How I taught this was when
Belle was asleep and I needed to wake her I tap the floor or put my hand or bring a treat
to her nose to smell and then she got the treat. I sure wish my alarm clock would give
coffee or chocolate instead of screaming at me.
A vibrating collar is a training option but this too will require the same classic
conditioning as outlined above – positive reinforcement combined with an event marker
(the vibration of the collar) then reinforce with play, treat, or petting. I will caution that
vibrating collars can be very helpful, but they are very expensive will ruin if in rain, also
there is a specific range that they work within.
Belle and I are still learning from each other and it has been a wonderful journey. The
best advice I can give if you have or are considering a deaf dog is to seek out a good
positive reinforcement trainer. The bond that you will build using this method of training
Don’t pity a deaf dog – adopt one. With understanding, communication and positive
reinforcement there is nothing a deaf dog can’t be taught to do.”
Roxanne & Belle Tapaninen.