Deaf Dogs Learn to Connect Through Sign Language


It's a rare problem for one central Nebraska shelter now trying to communicate with two deaf dogs.

For one of these pit bull mixes, that means learning sign language.

One sign at a time 4-year-old Rosie is beginning to connect.

"It's the only way to communicate with her," said Tracie Pfeifle, a volunteer at the Central Nebraska Humane Society.

Pfeifle decided to try signs when she found out her neighbor was teaching sign language to her deaf dog.

She said it's a lot like training a hearing dog and involves many treats.

Rosie started with a sign for "good girl", then mastered "sit". Now Pfeifle is working on "outside".

Without this training, animal advocates say the impairment could increase a deaf dog's 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," said CNHS Executive Director Laurie Dethloff.

With every sign volunteers say Rosie is becoming more socialized.

"You not only see the volunteer being excited about being able to communicate, but her being able to understand, 'oh this is what you want,' and being able to do it [is exciting]," said Dethloff.

For another deaf dog at the shelter, his help is coming from another canine.

"Noah is a very high energy, nine month old that can't hear, so it's very easy for him to tune you out," said Pfeifle.

"Noah and Saint's relationship is unique," said Dethloff. "They don't get along with anybody but each other."

The two are separated right now as Saint recovers from being neutered, but when it comes to finding them a home, the shelter wants them together.

"It's going to be behaviorally and emotionally a lot more stable for both of them to have each other to learn off of," said Dethloff.

When they learn to interact, Pfeifle says their owners will have something special.

"I think they're more sensitive to how you're feeling," she said. "A lot of people don't know they have a deaf dog and so when they figure it out, all of the sudden you find out you have this really amazing animal."

Rosie, Noah and Saint are all available for adoption at the Central Nebraska Humane Society. If you're interested, the shelter will teach you the signs to interact.