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Double Merle Dogs: A Lethal Genetic Combo That’s Totally Preventable!

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Copyright 2015 Shelley Castle Photography

Scrolling through my Facebook feed I saw a photo of a little white puppy that needed a home. The post said she was an Australian Shepherd (they aren’t normally white).

Already having one Aussie, a blue merle named Kai, I quickly fell in love with this little puppy, just from a single photo it had stolen my heart. I immediately contacted the people that had her, and they told me that the puppy was deaf and maybe blind.

This little dog had such a rough start to life. She couldn’t hear, couldn’t see, and then I found out that the breeder she came from was going to kill her because of this. My heart sunk. I had fallen so hard for this puppy, but I couldn’t imagine having a dog with “issues.”

I started doing a bunch of research and learned that Aussies shouldn’t be white. It’s usually a bad sign. White Aussies are generally homozygous (double) merles. This is a problem in a lot of breeds, not just the one I loved.

After doing more research, I decided that I didn’t care if the puppy was deaf, blind, or both. I had somehow fallen for this little white fluff that I had never even met and I needed her in my life. We set up a meeting to make sure that Kai would like the puppy and in the car we went. We drove almost 2 hours to Lancaster, PA.

When I pulled up to the place we had agreed to meet, I saw this white little fluff ball running around in the grass, and my heart may have exploded at the sight. She was perfect. More perfect than I ever could have imagined. The photos I had seen did her no justice.

To say I was completely smitten would be an understatement. After a very long meet and greet, the women told me that she was mine, so we headed home to start our life together.

Copyright 2015 Shelley Castle Photography
Copyright 2015 Shelley Castle Photography

Nearly two years later, and here we are. I named the little white fluff ball Keller, after the great Helen Keller. My little girl is completely deaf and somewhat vision impaired.

Keller is a very special girl and steals the heart of anyone she meets. She is beyond loved and even more beyond spoiled. She lives a perfectly normal life. She knows her commands through hand and touch signals (about 15 of them), she swims, she hikes, and she does agility and obedience. She is truly amazing.

However, so many of these dogs are not this lucky. They are thrown away and even killed for being born with disabilities.

A double merle is created when two merle dogs are bred together. It doesn’t matter what color merle or what breed they are. If two merle dogs are bred together, each puppy in the litter has a 25% chance of being born a double merle.

A double merle inherits the merle gene twice.  One copy of the merle gene causes a marbling effect on the coat and creates lighter spots throughout the solid color coat. In a double merle, the marbling/lightening effect is doubled and the coat becomes predominantly white.

Double merles also have a very high chance of being deaf, blind, or both because they lack pigment where it would normally be.

The pups that do not inherit the gene twice are “normal” dogs. Their coats are normally marked and they are not plagued with hearing or vision problems. These are the pups that a breeder wants, because they can profit from these pups.

The double merles are often killed at birth just for being white, when it is still too early to tell if the dog will have any hearing or vision problems. They just assume, and kill them because they know that no one is going to pay big bucks for a “defective” dog, and it also reflects poorly on their breeding program. If they aren’t killed, they are often sold as rare white to unknowing people.

These pups generally end up in a shelter or used as bait dogs in dog fighting rings when the buyer finds out they can’t see, hear or both. Once in a shelter, they still face death because no one wants a “defective” dog.

The following breeds carry merle and are recognized by the AKC as an acceptable color:

  • Australian Shepherd
  • Border Collie
  • Cardigan Welsh Corgi
  • Catahoula Leopard Dog
  • Chihuahua
  • Cocker Spaniel, Collie (rough or smooth)
  • Dachshund (called dapple)
  • Great Dane (harlequin acts the same)
  • Mudi
  • Old English Sheepdog
  • Pomeranian
  • Pyrenean Shepherd
  • Shetland Sheepdog

The merle gene is being introduced into more breeds everyday. The following do not recognize merle as a color or they are not AKC recognized breeds:

  • Poodles
  • Bulldogs
  • American Staffordshire Terriers/”Pitbulls”
  • Australian Koolies

Furthermore, the merle color is also being seen in the “designer breeds.”

Again, I will emphasize that merle is merle, the breed does not matter. You can breed a merle Pomeranian (yes they exist) with a merle Dane and get double merle puppies.

There is an overabundance of these precious babies and it’s truly heartbreaking. There are rescues all over the country that are committed to rescuing strictly these dogs, that should speak volumes in itself. These special dogs are 100% preventable. Don’t breed two merle dogs, and you won’t have double merles. It seems like a simple fix.

We have started a petition against the AKC to take action and ban merle to merle breeding, in hopes that it will discourage breeders from intentionally creating dogs with special needs.

You can view the petition here: www.change.org/p/american-kennel-club-ban-the-registration-of-a-dog-from-merle-to-merle-breeding.

Currently in the UK, merle to merle breeding is banned by their kennel club. This means that any puppies, merle, solid, or double merle, born from two merle parents cannot be registered.

If the breeder cannot register it’s puppies, it is thought to discourage the actions because purebred “papered” puppies always sell for more.

The mission statement of the AKC is as follows: The American Kennel Club is dedicated to upholding the integrity of its Registry, promoting  the sport of purebred dogs and breeding for type and function.

Founded in 1884, the AKC and its affiliated organizations advocate for the purebred dog as a family companion, advance canine health and well-being, work to protect the rights of all dog owners and promote responsible dog ownership.

How does the AKC live up to this statement when it promotes breeding that creates disabled puppies? How is that advocating for health and well-being?

Please help us make a difference for the thousands of dogs like Keller. Let’s prevent more puppies from being brought into the world with disadvantages that put their lives at risk.

For more info on double merles visit: www.doublemerles.info

To see more of Keller’s “normal” life visit: Facebook.com/kellerthedm.

– Amanda Fuller & Keller the Double Merle

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  1. Avatar Of Karen Glatz

    Karen Glatz


    I too have just adopted a 70% white merle intact shepherd dog, friendly, but NO training. He was a stray and never claimed. He’s being tested to see if he’s double. They said he is deaf, but he does hear the clicker and local trains and NO when I’m frustrated with his training, so surely not completely deaf. I’m hoping he was just completely untrained and can hear but just doesn’t know what you’re asking for, so doesn’t listen. He seems to be sighted as well.

    There is another reason they breed double merles. If you cross a double merle with a non merle, you get 100% single merle pups. Much better for revenue when merles sell for better profit. Your non merle bitch suddenly is producing pricey litters and all you need your double merle dog for is the occasional mating so you can keep it penned up and out of the way – little in the way of training.

  2. Avatar Of Stacy



    Just a note, a dog can also be a cryptic merle – genetically heterozygous merle, but not merle in appearance. This happens because the distribution of the merle pattern in a dog’s coat is random, and invisible on white parts of the coat. If the merle patches are small, they can be easily missed or covered up by white, making the dog look non-merle. Cryptic merles can still pass on the gene to their puppies, and produce double-merle puppies if bred with another merle dog. Because of this, responsible breeders should also DNA-test any solid-colored puppies with merle parents, to make sure they are not genetically merle. If they are, their purchasers should be made aware of this fact so they can make responsible decisions about the puppy’s reproductive future.

  3. Avatar Of Cressida Bedolla

    Cressida Bedolla


    How did you go about training Keller? Looking at adopting a little Aussie who is in the same boat :/ her sister has sight and is super cut so she’ll go more quickly but I have Aussie experience and work from home so I figured we could take the leap. Any training resources would be greatly appreciated!

  4. Avatar Of Louie



    So to make sure I’m understanding, it’s only the double merrel that is not good to breed for? Is it wrong to get a merrel from a breeder or it’s jist the double that causes health concerns? I love the look of the red and blue merrel aussies but I don’t want to support a bad cause.
    Thank you for the clarification!

  5. Avatar Of Karen



    I have a blind 6 years old short legged, wire haired jack Russel about 12 lbs. She was a foster and I fell in love and adopted her and went through the eye removal pain with her. They wanted to put her down but I saw she had so much love and life left in her and could not even think of it. She is the best and smartest little dog. She had her left eye removed and the retina in the right eye is detached making her blind. Bad breeding and neglect (when eye problems started at a very early age) did not help in the fact she became blind…but she is beautiful and the sweetest little girl dog I have ever owned. Breeders should go through a testing process so these issues do not happen to innocent animals but luckily, there are a few of us out there willing to love a dog with disabilities like a child of our own.

  6. Avatar Of Karen



    Check out “Piglet, the deaf blind pink puppy” on Facebook.

  7. Avatar Of Sarah M Tormey

    Sarah M Tormey


    I think I just adopted one. He’s two. Found living on his own in rural NC County.. wonderful dog. 2 years old or so. Underweight despight all attempts to help him gain weight. Otherwise completed healthy. No probs with vision.
    Very pink skin. Fur sparkles in the sun. One blue eye, one blue light brown eye. Pink paws that sweat. Funny odor. Lots of flatulence (smelly farts)
    Vet is starting work up for malabsorption…

  8. Avatar Of Amy



    I adopted a double Merle Aussie from a puppy mill in Lancaster also. She is just the sweetest pup ever! She is deaf and has blue eyes with starburst pupils, although she isn’t blind. She and her brother were going to be put down since she’s deaf and he’s blind. They came into rescue and I had to have her! After fostering her,I ended up adopting her. We definitely need to stop Merle to Merle breeding and put a stop to puppy mills altogether. I’ve fostered a lab who spent her entire7 years breeding.it’s truly heartbreaking to see these innocent creatures being used and abused and then killed because they are of no use to the mill once they aren’t able to breed anymore. Or as in my Aussie’s case killed because she was “defective”. These are animals with feelings and only want to love and be loved. Thank you for sharing Keller’s story

  9. Avatar Of Alexandra Robedeaux

    Alexandra Robedeaux


    I had been in rescue for many years – older or abandoned goldens mostly – when I got a call from a shelter that had a blind Siberian husky puppy that "probably will be put down." I rushed over and adopted him. Mighty Max recently passed away after 16 yrs of being the smartest, funniest, most loving friend one could have. He may not have seen with his eyes but he certainly saw with his heart.

  10. Avatar Of Susan Leonard

    Susan Leonard


    Bless all of you who look beyond the obvious and love them anyways which is how it should be !!! The smartest dog I know is a double Merle Aussie and she uses her sense of smell to love a normal life and the cutest thing she does is when Natalie puts her bed comforter over herself at night at bedtime and Anastasia pulls the comforter down so she can "smell" her owner, Natalie! She has a video of it and it is so amazing! I've met them both and so amazed! Life is Precious, human or God's Creatures! ❤️

  11. Avatar Of Carissa Carissa says:

    Someone I know was breeding teacup aussies like this. One baby was born with NO eyes at all. She was going to take her to be put down. But my husband and I took her in immediately. We named her Helen!! After Helen Keller. Oh how amazing it would be to get our two precious babies together. She is my most loved dog that I've ever owned. Sweetest thing. Thank you for posting this!'

  12. Avatar Of Terri



    Just by trying to force the AKC to take action, it will not stop people from breeding two Merle dogs together. The breeder should know better to begin with which tells me they don't care about the chances that the litter could produce these pups. They will avoid AKC all together, register the pups with some other bs club like CKC or APRI, etc. This is very sad and the practice needs to stop but just going after the AKC like it's all their responsibility is not the solution.
    Once the breeder registers pups with another club, AKC won't be inspecting their dogs, kennels or paperwork anymore.

    • Avatar Of Evel



      That’s a wonderfully defeatist attitude. Perhaps we should be petitioning ALL breed registries worldwide to ban the practice?

  13. Avatar Of Ramona



    In Shetland sheepdogs it was once very common to reed two merles together. The benefit of this is that these dogs produce 100% merled dogs. lack dogs in almost any breed are the hardest to sell. Behind most sheltie lines are dogs like Ch Shamont Ghost of a Chance, Snow Flurry and many others. I have a bitch who makes sure she breeds to my blue merle male by going over or under three kennels to get to him. Accidents do happen. I have seen many a sable merle at dog shows that the owners only thought were sables, missing the tell tale signs of the merle gene. The breeder didn’t even tell them it was a sable merle in many cases. so if they bred to a merle they could have defective puppies. I have done a lot of research on double merles, did you know that it can take a few years before the dog can see or hear? The bones do not grow at the same rate as dogs without the double merle gene. Did you know that they usually open their eyes much later than non-double merle dogs? Did you know that even with only a couple of spots of color, especially in the tri double merles they can usually both see and hear? Did you know that in the original stud books there were many double merles registered? Most simply as, white and whatever colors they were, some of these, of course, were color headed whites. AKC used to let these beautiful dogs be shown and many of them became champions. Later due to lack of knowledge about genetics they were disqualified because some defective puppies were produced. However, AKC does not use genetics or knowledge of genetics when allowing dogs to be shown as for example dogs with chocolate genes, if they have a pink nose due to this gene they cannot be shown such as in Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Pinchers just to name two breeds affected by the chocolate gene and many of these dogs are top notch dogs, so they are sometimes still shown when the owner colors the nose or has it tattooed black. So campaigning against this “color” which can crop out from cryptic dogs, or to penalize breeders who don’t know the gene exists, or who want to produce a dog that will produce all blues is absurd. Its like saying well, blue eyed people are more prone to eye problems so we should prevent blue eyed people from having children. What about carriers? If you produced a top-notch double merle that would enhance the breed why would you have it spayed. I would much rather see dogs who do not fit the standard be spayed or neutered. Dogs who are designer breeds should be spayed as they are no benefit to the breed clubs or anywhere else and most do not breed true such as any cross with poodles, will never be register able by AKC as they never breed true, that is the offspring can look like either parent or neither parent. I think in your viewpoint you should go after the “I just have to have one litter out of Pookie to get my money back” breeders who have no idea of a good specimen or not. I would love the Brazilian method of registering dogs to be put into place, each dog there must have a minimum three generation pedigree, then they are judged by six members of a panel to see it they meet or exceed the breed standard, then they are put into the provisional book until they have produced three litters that also are all eligible for registration based on this policy. Dogs not meeting the criteria must be spayed or neutered. If we did that here we would see most poor quality dogs gone in a few generations.

    • Avatar Of Tracey



      I had a accidental breeding male chewed threw the fence both beautiful dogs but both merles they are catahoula all puppies came out fine after worried about blind and deaf dogs would not want it to happen agin but what are you supposed to do i would never put them down but you cant keep them all either it’s not the dog’s fault nature finds away some times wether you want it to or not no matter how careful you are being

      • Avatar Of Ruby



        Just for clarification, God did NOT make dog breeds. Humans did. As a human, it is absolutely your responsibility if you choose, ignorantly, to BUY a dog (when millions die in shelters) and then you don’t neuter/spay you’re dog? Shame on you. You’re right, it’s not the dog’s fault. It’s YOUR fault.

  14. Avatar Of Cat Cee

    Cat Cee


    It’s not the AKC that writes the standards to the breed, it’s the breed clubs who do. But heck, what ignorant breeder bothers to research the genetics of the breed? Backyard or accidental breeders do not do any sort of research or genetic testing, that would cut into their profits. Reputable breeders do research pedigrees and many breed clubs do not allow their members the full registration of dogs with these genetics. For years, great Dane breeders did not allow merle puppies to live, boxer breeders did not allow white puppies to live because of the link to deafness. However, there’s no reason for for immediate death to these dogs now. The canine genome is better understood, we know why these things happen. Reputable breeders can simply require that these dogs be spayed and neutered and removed from the gene pool. Better yet they need to get to know the owners of their pups and simply not allow people who will not spay and neuter to have their those puppies.
    In the old days stupid people removed themselves from the gene pool, but in the US, insurance companies have removed that option by suing someone else for their clients stupidity and gaining monetary rewards for that stupid person.

  15. Avatar Of Kathi Kathi says:

    This is a interesting article, however it misses one important point because of an error of fact. There are such things as “cryptic merles”… dogs that carry the merle gene but have nearly every outward appearance of being non-merle… they lack that marbled look despite having the merle causing dilution gene.

    When an unrecognized cryptic merle is bred to another merle, there will likely be a double merle puppy in that litter. So, producing a double merle is not always “100% preventable”.

    The reason I bring this up is so that people do not jump to conclusions about the breeder who produced the dog. It’s what they do AFTER they produce the double merle puppy that qualifies their character as a breeder.

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