Can Deaf Dogs Learn Sign Language? This Dog Had Five Homes But Look At Him Now!

Ivor had been passed around five homes before he arrived at the RSPCA – but now he’s thriving in his forever home with dedicated new owners who are teaching him that, even without his hearing, the world can be a wonderful place.

The Staffordshire bull terrier, who is just 10-months-old, was taken in by the RSPCA’s Halifax, Huddersfield & Bradford branch in November last year, when his previous owners couldn’t cope with him.

Natalie Heaton, from the branch, said: “Ivor is a very clever little pooch who has had to overcome a lot in his short life.

“The poor boy was only a few months old and had already been through five homes by the time he was signed over into our care.

“We suspect people couldn’t cope with him or understand why he wasn’t learning like a normal puppy without realising that he was in fact deaf.

“We all completely fell in love with him. When he arrived he was curled up fast asleep in the back of the van with a giant pink unicorn toy which went everywhere with him.”

Thankfully, the RSPCA’s dedicated staff and volunteers were on hand to help and started the long, challenging process of training him to respond to hand signals instead of voice commands.

He spent time in the branch office and helping at reception while he got used to using his other senses to understand what was going on around him. And when Ellie Bromilow, from Colne in Lancashire, first met him, it was love at first sight and, despite his deafness, knew he was the one for her.

She said: “When we first got him home he wasn’t used to going out on walks and it took a while to get his confidence up. Even now if something spooks him we have to come home.

“But, generally, he now loves his walkies. He loves going to the local park and meeting other people and dogs.

“He’d already learned the sign command for ‘sit’ and ‘come’ from staff at the RSPCA centre but now he knows lots more like ‘lie down’, ‘stay’, ‘all gone’ and he’s learning ‘roll over’!

“When he gets the sign for ‘walkies’ he gets so excited!

“We keep him on a long lead and, if he’s looking, he’ll come to you when you raise one hand in the air.”

The pup weighed just 10kg when he arrived at the RSPCA but is now over 16kg and is still growing.

Having a deaf dog is just like having a hearing dog,” Ellie added. “We still speak to him as we sign and I chat to hear a lot – even though he can’t hear a word!

“He picks up the vibrations of the dog slamming and has an amazing sense of smell so we use that for games to keep him occupied. We hide lots of treats around the house for him to find.

“We love him so much and will do all we can to ensure he feels safe and happy for the rest of his life.”

Natalie said: “Deaf dogs can cope extremely well and rely on their other senses to help them navigate and understand everything.

“However, there can be challenges with deaf dogs because of their hearing problems. They often bark a lot and can get quite frustrated, but Ellie seems to be managing this well by keeping Ivor mentally and physically stimulated and satisfied.”

Although adapting to a world without hearing can be tricky, sight, smell and touch are also important to dogs so we can use them to help them adapt and to continue to enjoy life.

Having a deaf dog like Ivor can be very rewarding and in many ways is no different to any other dog, but to ensure they are happy we need to continually remember to use their other senses when we are playing with them or training them.

Enrolling in training classes with a good trainer is a great way of getting to know your dog and learning the best way to adapt to their individual needs, and some trainers also specialise in training deaf dogs. Knowing what motivates our dogs is really important too – some dogs will behave their best for treats, some dogs just want fuss and attention, and others will do anything for their favourite toy.

The main difference between training deaf dogs and hearing dogs is that deaf dogs can’t hear what we are saying so hand signals become hugely important. For example, being asked to ‘lie-down’ by pointing towards the floor. Telling them that they’ve done well could be a simple sign like a thumbs up followed by a tasty treat or their favourite toy.

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