Deaf Rescue Dogs Learn Life-Changing Sign Language

But with every sign, volunteers say these pups are becoming more socialized.

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The Central Nebraska Humane Society is teaching deaf dogs sign language in a program to help better communicate with their owners. Executive Director Laurie Dethloff tells the Daily News the practice began a few months ago when the shelter took in two hearing-impaired animals for the first time.

Volunteer Tracie Pfeifle says she started with an American Sign Language book and a bunch of treats. She has been working as the main teacher for a 4-year-old Boxer-Pit Bull mix, Rosie, to develop a new category of one-handed sign language. “It’s the only way to communicate with her,” Pfeifle says. She designed the system to work with existing American signs, and so she can communicate with the dog while holding onto the leash.

She quickly realized that teaching dogs who can’t hear wouldn’t be much different than teaching dogs who can hear. “It just takes a lot of repetition and positive reinforcement,” Pfeifle explains.

Pfeifle ended up with Rosie by chance. “I asked which dog could use the most affection,” she says. “(Rosie) was pretty scared at first. I don’t think she had a good first four years of her life.”

One big reason traing deaf dogs sign language is because animal advocates say impairment could increase a deaf dogs’ odds of having a tough life.

“They could be set up for abuse or neglect because they don’t know how to interact, and if they do interact, it’s not appropriate,” Dethloff says.

But with every sign, volunteers say Rosie is becoming more socialized.

The very first sign Rosie learned was a thumbs-up, meaning “good girl.” “It’s amazing to watch her come into her own person,” the volunteer says. “She reacts well with others now where before she was reserved.”

Dethloff states that impaired animals can be targets of abuse because they cannot communicate their needs, so learning sign language can dramatically increase their quality of life.

“It’s been exciting to watch,” Dethloff says. “It’s not that complicated (to train deaf dogs.) You just have to be more visual and right in front of their face.”

Rosie is now a new dog; she engages people and everyone working at the shelter, and now follows commands. Soon, Pfeifle be working with Noah, a 9-month-old deaf pitbull. “The dogs are very smart,” she says. “They have to be so they can (survive) in their environment.”

Top Image: Dog obeys command, via Shutterstock.


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