Deaf puppy learns sign language in only eight weeks
"He's very visually aware."
By Ben Rolfe via SWNS
This deaf puppy has learned sign language in just eight weeks - and knows how to follow hand signals to sit, spin and lie down.
Rafa, a seven-month-old Spanish Water dog, has been learning sign language ever since his owner, Jo Le Page, 41, discovered that he couldn’t hear.
The pooch has learned nine different signs including 'sit', 'stand', 'watch me,' 'spin', 'give paw', 'lie down,' 'come', 'stay.'
He also knows the sign 'safe' after which he will walk under Jo’s legs, turn around and stay there.
He can also pick up an object from the ground if Jo makes a 'pick up' hand signal.
Rafa is continuing to learn more signs and Jo says his disability won't limit her dog's life.
She hopes people will stop being quick to put disabled dogs down or put them in a shelter.
Jo, a preschool worker and author, from Guernsey, Channel Island, said: "Rafa would turn his head when other puppies heard noises and would follow all of them.
"He was always good at following cues of other puppies.
"He's very visually aware.
"Within a day of having him he wasn't responding to any noise and he wouldn't wake up when we came in.
"He didn't respond to loud drilling noise or the smoke alarm going off.
"But he can feel vibrations.
“He stood out to us as he wanted loads of cuddles and waited by the gate as we were leaving.
All Rafa's training has been done with hand signals. Thumbs up are used for praise.
“You can’t use hands in a negative way, so showing something to be unacceptable is difficult," said Jo.
Jo wasn’t aware Rafa was deaf when she first acquired him from a local breeder in June 2022.
But after discovering his hearing loss, Jo and her family wanted to continue looking after him.
She researched and learned sign language for dogs and says "it opened up a whole new world."
Within a day of having him, Jo’s family realized the pup was more motivated by toys and socks than by treats. So use them as rewards during training.
Rafa won first prize in a junior handler competition at a local inclusive dog show just five months old.
“He is from a good line of show-dogs. This showcases how intelligent the breed are," Jo said.
Rafa has just started therapy dog training to see if he can remain calm around things like wheelchairs and walking sticks.
Jo is hoping he will become a therapy dog and wants him to be able to cope with and navigate different environments.
“He could potentially become one of the first deaf therapy dogs,” she said.
Jo - who has two children aged five and ten- said Rafa “has been a big education for the whole family."
“This is only the beginning of his journey and we just take it a day at a time," she said.
"Our initial thoughts were that it would be hard or impossible to train a dog who can't hear."
"We thought it would definitely be impossible to drop his lead on a walk.
"Education and training have proved that all of our fears were false."
"We have been amazed with how often he watches us, checks in with us and trots along next to or behind us.
"If we are walking as a family he looks to make sure we are all present and in his line of sight, especially when road walking, and he often won't move until the children are in front of him so he can keep an eye on them."
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