Deaf puppy learns sign language

Earlier this year, we reported how deaf puppy Snowball, or ‘Snowy’ is learning sign language so that she no longer has to be lonely and can find a new home.

Snowball is a white Jack-Russell cross and was born deaf at an animal shelter.  When staff at the Dogs Trust in Ballymena realised her condition was putting off potential owners, they decided to teach the nine week old puppy a form of sign language.

So far, Snowball has learnt when to walk, sit or go to the toilet and understand gestures to tell her whether she has been good or naughty.

34 year old specialist dog trainer, Maura Cushenan said:

“It’s a real shame that visitors are being put off by Snowball’s deafness. She’s a real bright spark, with stunning blue eyes. Hopefully this training will help people feel more comfortable taking her on.”

Unlike human sign language, there isn’t a set standard for dog sign language, but the basics include rotating fists for ‘walkies’ and moving fingers to the mouth and pouting to say food is on its way.

Maura added:

“Even though it’s easy for a dog suffering from deafness to be withdrawn and easily frightened, Snowball’s none of those things. She’s a brilliant student and it will make her a brilliant pet.”

Snowball’s unwanted and heavily pregnant mother had been handed to the animal shelter and Snowball was one of a litter of seven puppies.  In the last two months, four of her siblings have been rehomed.

According to many vets, deaf animals cope well but are vulnerable to certain risks, such as approaching cars.  There are some doggie hearing aids available but most dogs don’t like the object in their ear.  Cochlear implants can be fitted, but they cost more than £20,000 so are unpopular.

Snowball isn’t the first dog in the UK to benefit from doggie sign language.  Last year, a deaf Dalmation called Zoe was featured in the media when she learned to understand gestures from the RSPCA staff in Exeter.

Snowball is currently looking for a new home and if you think you can offer her a loving home visit the Dogs Trust website or call 028 2565 2977.


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