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Deaf Woman Adopts Deaf Dog That Knows Sign Language

White Boxer Dog Loki Puppy
Photo credit: MythicSeabass / Flickr

Rosie is a four year old boxer and pit bull mix that has spent the last three months in a shelter in central Nebraska. When she’s at play or sitting quietly, Rosie looks like other dogs; but there’s an important difference. Rosie is deaf.

Workers at the Central Nebraska Humane Society were baffled by Rosie’s non-responsiveness when she came to them three months ago. It wasn’t until one worker at the humane society determined what was at issue: Rosie couldn’t hear them.

Dog Deafness

Deafness in dogs is a rare condition that may be caused by any number of factors, according to the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). This condition may be caused by any number of factors, including a blockage of the ear canal, injury and untreated ear infections.

Some types of deafness in dogs is temporary and can be treated through ear cleanings and prescription drugs. However, some deafness in dogs cannot be treated. In cases like this, the dogs must be taught alternative means of communication.

Teaching Rosie

According to the Daily News, volunteer Tracie Pfeifle set about the task of teaching Rosie to learn simple signs. To aid in the process, she used an American Sign Language book and a lot of treats.

Through repetition and with positive reinforcement, Rosie began to learn how to communicate with her trainer – much like other dogs who learn verbal commands like “sit,” “stay” and “heel.”

The Central Nebraska Humane Society now has an established program for teaching deaf dogs sign language, opening the doors of communication between the pet and the owner.

This sign language, utilizing only one hand, involves movements like “thumbs up” to indicate when a dog has done a good job. The system uses only one hand to allow the trainer or owner to communicate with a dog while holding onto a leash.

According to an article in the Huffington Post, Pfeifle reports that Rosie’s training transformed her from a scared animal into a happy dog.

Although there is no way to know what life was like for Rosie before coming to the shelter, Pfeifle conjectures that the first four years were probably difficult for Rosie.

Deafness in dogs is a vulnerability that can lead to abuse and other mistreatment. It can also lead to behavior problems, because communication is central to teaching dogs appropriate behaviors and interactions.

A Perfect Match

This remarkable story doesn’t stop here. Rosie was at the shelter for three months before she found a new home with a new owner – an owner who also happens to be deaf.

Rosie’s new owner, Cindy Koch, reports that she had always wanted a deaf dog. Koch explained to KCTV5, “Because I’m deaf and we want to relate to her, and understand how she feels – want to communicate with her through signing, teach her through signing.”

Rosie now engages with humans by watching their faces and hands closely. Koch reports that she hopes to teach Rosie more signs, standard signs that she uses every day. To see them together, Koch and Rosie have clearly bonded and are a good match for one another.

Meanwhile, according to the Daily News, Tracie Pfeifle has a new project: teaching 9-month-old Noah, another deaf dog, how to understand sign language. We wish them both best of luck!

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