Pictured here is Swayze, a double merle Australian Shepherd that I adopted a year and half ago. He’s athletic, endearing, and goofy, and he’s a fabulous demo dog in my training classes. We love him to pieces. But there’s just one thing wrong.
Swayze shouldn’t exist. He’s the direct result of irresponsible breeding, and dogs like him are 100% preventable. And it doesn’t take much to understand why.
Instead somebody decided to breed two merle-patterned dogs to each other. There’s no way of knowing what their motives might have been, or if they even knew the trouble they were brewing. Merles are flashy and sought-after, leading many greedy backyard breeders to pair them together in hopes of throwing a litter of all merle.
Mating merle to merle gives each puppy produced a ¼ chance of being solid colored, a ½ chance of being merle, and a ¼ chance of being what we call a double merle.
This Saturday, May 19th, is Double Merle Awareness day.
“Double merle” refers to a dog that inherited two copies of the merle gene, a gene that can be present in many breeds from aussies and collies to danes and catahoulas to dachshunds and chihuahuas. Any breed that carries the gene will likely have double merle specimens as well, and any double merle is subject to a handful of problems as a result of their poor genetics.
Swayze, for instance, is deaf and vision-impaired. He has almost no pigment throughout his coat and his eyes are smaller than normal with starburst pupils. And yet I’d consider him lucky because so many other double merles are completely blind, some born without eyes at all. Other specimens are luckier yet and have both their vision and hearing, but it’s a complete toss up and very few walk away without problems.
So I ask, does this bother you? Are you moved to help bring an end to this senseless practice? While it’s not practical to think we can immediately stop these irresponsible breeders in their tracks, there are steps to take to help bring awareness to the issue. First, don’t support this type of “breeder,” regardless of how cute the little white fluffball puppies may be. Do not buy these dogs, even if it’s in an effort to save them. Remember that unethical breeders are driven by economics, not ethics. By purchasing the double merles, you create demand that breeders will continue to meet with greater supply.
Next, educate yourself and others about the dangers of the merle x merle cross. Finally, be an advocate. A variety of different events happen each year that shed light on double merles and irresponsible breeding practices. Attend these, invite friends, and share your experiences.
No matter how phenomenal Swayze is, I don’t want to see any more dogs like him out and about in the world. For more great information on Double Merle Awareness, check out www.kellerscause.com and www.dmawarenessday.com.
Taylor Herr, IACP-CDT
Director of Training