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Deaf Dog Who Learned Sign Language is Adopted by Deaf Woman

Deaf Dog Who Learned Sign Language is Adopted by Deaf Woman

For any dog in a shelter, finding a home can be a sad, exhausting waiting game. For dogs with disabilities, finding the right family can prove almost impossible. However, at the Nebraska Humane Society, a heartwarming tale has played out.

It all started when a 3-year-old deaf pit bull named Rosie came to the shelter. Unable to communicate using verbal commands, a volunteer there named Tracie Pfeifle began to teach the dog sign language.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, this method has actually been around for years and has been shown as a viable means of communication with deaf animals. Tracie started with basics, giving Rosie treats while giving a thumbs up, to denote a positive reinforcement.

Soon Rosie learned sit, stay, walk, outside and down all through hand signals. It was this training that, according to Pfeifle, really brought out her personality.”It was just amazing to watch her just blossom into a dog, I don’t think she knew how to be a dog.”

However, despite being trained, pets with disabilities are so often overlooked with adopters that odds weren’t high for Rosie. At least not until Cindy Koch came in looking for a family pet. Cindy Koch is also deaf and communicates with her family through sign language; it was then they discovered the perfect match.

Koch feels a sense of solidarity with the dog, “Because I am deaf, I can understand how she feels.” The Koch family has since learned Rosie’s sign language and has taken her home. Although Pfeifle, the volunteer who took her time to rehabilitate and teach the dog will miss her, “It’s what I hoped would eventually happen” she said, tears in her eyes, “she couldn’t have gone to a nicer family.”

While Rosie’s story has a happy ending, there are many enduring myths and issue surrounding deaf dogs. Never the first pick at the shelter, some people feel they are more easily startled, aggressive, dangerous for kids, likely to be hit by a car and difficult to train. A website dedicated to ensuring even deaf dogs get homes too, DeafDog.Org, has done a thorough job of debunking these myths.

As most dog owners already know, hand signals are an integral part of teaching. In fact, since dogs use posture, not language to communicate, hand signals are seen as more effective. Because of this, teaching commands to a deaf dog isn’t that much different. Also as the website points out:  “Our dogs are always ‘reading’ us, and place a higher value on our body language than the words we speak.”

The other idea, that deaf dogs are easily startled or dangerous around children is turned on its head just as easily as the last. It’s common knowledge that any kid around any breed of dog must first learn to be gentle and accommodating. Sneaking up and jumping on any pup, deaf or not, is an obvious no-go. However, deaf dogs can not only teach children a fantastic lesson about how to accommodate others who do not share the same abilities, but because children are intuitive, they also make some of the best teachers.

Furthermore, an array of tools for families that choose a deaf dog are available from pet stores. Vibrating collars, which are not the same thing as shock collars, help alert deaf pets when you’d normally call for them. Special training manuals are also available.

A deaf dog may not be for everyone. As stated on DeafDog.Org, “When supervising and correcting a deaf dog, you will not have the luxury of yelling commands across a yard or room. If your dog is digging in the trash, you will have to get up and walk to the dog to stop his behavior. Granted on some occasions you may be able to get his attention and sign a command. But there will be just as many times when you have no choice but to get up and go to the dog.”

However, when adopting dogs, one must remember that every animal deserves a home full of love. In the words of Charlotte Schwartz, “For perhaps, if the truth were known, we’re all a little blind, a little deaf, a little handicapped, a little lonely, a little less than perfect. And if we can learn to appreciate and utilize the dog’s full potentials, we will, together, make it in this life on earth.”


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11:32AM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

Sorry, I meant: Even THOUGH the dog is deaf, he has qualities that make up for that one small part of him.

11:31AM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

Even thought the dog is deaf, he has qualities that make up for that one small part of him.

10:14PM PDT on Jun 2, 2014

Deaf dogs are special. They may not be able to hear but they make up for it in heart.

11:00AM PDT on May 29, 2014

I love happy endings. Well done!

1:10PM PDT on May 25, 2014

o glad they found each other & may they both live long, happy lives....

2:06PM PDT on May 21, 2014

A marvellous and heart warming story, so glad to see that Rosie was adopted. Some people think that disabled pets should be put to sleep which is the furthest thing from the truth as pets adapt very well.

Rosie brings joy to all of those that are lucky enough to be with her.

12:54PM PDT on May 21, 2014

That is so awesome!!!

12:17PM PDT on May 21, 2014

Awesome story!

5:05AM PDT on May 21, 2014

Great article. Thanks.

11:51PM PDT on May 20, 2014

Such a beautiful story and some good tips about how to accommodate a special needs fur baby. I have a history of adopting special needs guinea pigs, Nellie (who sadly passed away last year) was skiddish, easily startled and didn't really like being handled and on top of all of that she had so much energy which made her pretty crazy. Most people were too nervous about her behavior to adopt her and the woman at the shelter has close to 150 guinea pigs at any one time so she couldn't give Nellie the extensive 1-on-1 treatment she needed. However I loved Nellie, she was a beautiful girl (and black so that didn't help) and most importantly she loved Aphrodite her cage mate. Three years after living with me Nellie was bold, cheeky, loved cuddles and still a little crazy (just part of her charm). At the time of her death she was happy to cuddle for 40mins at a time and in her last month she was in one eye and simple behavior modification on my part (such as telling her I was approaching) was enough to give her a normal live. I've since made it a mission to foster guinea pigs over my summer holidays who need some special care, seeing them blossom is one of the best experiences ever. Adopting a special needs animal is the most humane and kind thing you can do, if you're able to put in the extra time.

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