I was told when Buddy was only 3 to teach him sign language in case he went deaf in old age. Every command and communication became associated with a sign, so when Buddy did lose his hearing we could still communicate with him.
The most important sign we taught him was "good dog", which was simply a thumbs up. It meant so much to me that I could always tell Buddy he was good, and see his tail wag in response.
Dog's are very visual communicators, so they understand signs more readily than spoken words, so even for hearing dogs it's well worth teaching them hand signals.
Here's the story of lovely Rocco, who is learning sign language at the RSPCA.
Look after yourself,
Dedicated staff at an RSPCA animal centre near Swansea are showing a deaf rescue dog that - even without his hearing - the world can still be a wonderful place.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier Rocco, who is nearly eight, first arrived at the charity’s Llys Nini Animal Centre in Penllergaer in February 2020 after he was brought in by an RSPCA inspector following concerns for his welfare.
Underweight and thought to be partially deaf at the time, the friendly food-loving Staffie was soon in much better health and was the first dog to be rehomed by the centre following the introduction of Covid restrictions three months later.
He adored his new owners but found himself back at Llys Nini in July last year after one of them sadly died and the other had serious health issues.
Sally Humphries, kennel team leader at Llys Nini said: “His new owners were really lovely and Rocco took to them straight away. I remember laughing at the fact he didn’t want to come and say goodbye to me when I dropped him off; he stayed by their side like he’d known them all his life.
“We were incredibly sad when we found out what had happened and poor Rocco then came back into our care. As a result of an ear infection, he’s now completely deaf, so we’ve spent the last few months teaching him special sign language which he’s really taken to.
“He reads our hand signals and body language as a way of telling what we’re asking for. For example, thumbs up means ‘good boy’.
“Most dogs are more in tune with our body language than our constant chitter chatter so it’s not that tricky for a deaf dog to learn; it’s all about consistency and making sure you choose a simple sign for each behaviour that you are trying to teach, so it’s as clear as possible for them to understand.
“Rocco is a wonderful example of just how resilient animals can be and proof that you can definitely teach an old dog new tricks.”
Rocco also understands basic commands like ‘sit,’ ‘down’ and ‘stay’ and is learning new things all the time. Staff ensure his training is done in a calm environment with no distractions and sessions are kept short and fun, with lots of tasty treats as rewards.
Rocco's deafness doesn’t affect his demeanor in any way and he’s described as an extremely friendly, lovable dog who will make an excellent companion.
Despite being an older boy, he loves his walks and enjoys new adventures where he can sniff around to his heart's content! Staff say he is always on the go and loves company and food.
He would ideally suit someone who is either retired or works from home as he may initially show signs of separation anxiety. He could possibly live with children aged seven and above, and a secure garden is a must.
Sally added: “It’s the first time I’ve trained a deaf dog and I still speak to Rocco as I sign - even though he can’t hear a word! We all think the world of him and want nothing more than to find him a lovely home with people who are willing to carry on his training and where he’ll feel safe and secure for the rest of his life.”
To find out more about Rocco visit the centre’s website.