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Deaf puppy learns sign language in just eight weeks

Metro logo Metro 21/11/2022 Tanyel Mustafa
Good boy (Picture: Jo Le Page / SWNS) © Provided by Metro Good boy (Picture: Jo Le Page / SWNS)

A deaf puppy has picked up sign language – learning how to follow hand signals to sit, spin and lie down.

Rafa – a seven-month-old Spanish Water dog – learned in just eight weeks, after his owner, 41-year-old Jo Le Page, discovered he couldn’t hear.

Now, the pup has mastered nine different signs including ‘sit’, ‘stand’, ‘watch me’, ‘spin’, ‘give paw’, ‘lie down’, ‘come’, ‘stay’ and ‘safe’ – where he will walk under Jo’s legs, turn around and stay there.

He can even pick up a toy from the ground if Jo does a ‘pick up’ hand signal.

Jo is determined to not let the disability limit her dog’s life, so plans to keep teaching him signs.

She also hopes people will stop being quick to put disabled dogs down, or give them up to a shelter.

Little Rafa (Picture: Jo Le Page / SWNS) © Provided by Metro Little Rafa (Picture: Jo Le Page / SWNS) With owner Jo Le Page (Picture: Jo Le Page / SWNS) © Provided by Metro With owner Jo Le Page (Picture: Jo Le Page / SWNS)

Jo, a pre-school worker and author, from Guernsey, 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 loud drilling noise or the smoke alarm going off.’

This made her realise something was off and the training has started since then.

She said: ‘He can feel vibrations. He particularly stood out to us as he wanted loads of cuddles and waited by the gate as we were leaving.

‘The training is all 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.

‘This is only the beginning of his journey and we just take it a day at a time.’

Jo wasn’t aware Rafa was deaf when she first got him from a local breeder, in June 2022.

But when she looked up sign language for dogs, she says ‘it opened up a whole new world’.

Jo’s family also realised their dog was more motivated by toys and socks, rather than by treats, and so used them as a reward during training.

‘He is a typical puppy but with no awareness,’ she said.

Though, he is learning fast. In fact, Rafa won first prize in a junior handler competition at a local inclusive dog show – at just five months old.

‘He is from a good line of show-dogs. This showcases how intelligent the breed are,’ Jo said.

‘He’s better behaved out than at home.’

Jo is hoping Rafa will one day become a therapy dog, so wants him to learn to cope and navigate different environments.

‘This is only the beginning of his journey and we just take it a day at a time,’ she said.

‘Most people wouldn’t have bothered.

‘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 has 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 makes sure we are all present and in his line of sight, especially when road walking, and often won’t move until the children are infront of him so he can keep an eye on them.’

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