Can Deaf Dogs Learn Sign Language?

Dog Deaf 1

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Teaching your dog new tricks and obedience takes time and patience. But what if your dog has a disability like being deaf? Are they still able to learn tricks or even respond to you? The quick answer is yes!

However, it takes a bit more patience and understanding when it comes to training dogs who are deaf or hearing impaired. One of the best ways to teach deaf dogs is through sign language.

When it comes to training a hearing dog, you’re able to use verbal commands and visual cues. When it comes to deaf or hearing-impaired dogs, you can use hand signs to replace the verbal aspects of communication.

Here’s what you should know about deaf dogs and sign language.

The History Of Sign Language And Dogs

American Sign Language has been around since 1817 and has usually been the most common form of sign language to be used when communicating and teaching deaf dogs to respond.

Sean Senechal, an accomplished applied behavioral analyst and animal language researcher, founded AnimalSign Center to research, practice, and enhance language development and visible communication between animals and people.

Senechal states that dogs can communicate with human in many ways, and she worked to develop a better “language” to do that. This specific language is also easily learned by both humans and dogs and is called K9Sign.

This form of sign language can teach your pup to ask for food and water among other things through signals they can learn. In fact, this form of sign language was so effective, a dog was able to communicate when it was in pain.

Senechal said she taught Chal, a German Shepherd, K9Sign since she was one year old. Sean noticed Chal limping on her right hind leg. Unable to find the root source of Chal’s pain, Senechal decided to sign her, “Where’s your ouch?”

Incredibly, Chal was able to reply in sign, “here,” and pointed to her right lower nipple area. Chal tapped the area and looked back up at Sean who checked the area. Sean then noticed a small red bump by her nipple, which turned out to be cancer.

Without the ability to communicate through K9Sign, Sean would not have been able to pinpoint the location of Chal’s pain.

The Research Behind Sign Language and Dogs

Dog Deaf 2

(Picture Credit: Robert Daly/Getty Images)

Findings show that deaf dogs have responded quite well to hand signals and physical cues. This is due not only to dogs being naturally smart creatures, but also because they are excellent at reading human body language.

Whether you have a deaf dog or a hearing one, many now believe that body language and hand signals are better forms of communication than verbal commands.

In an Italian study headed by Biagio D’Aniello of the Department of Biology at the University of Naples, researchers tried to address whether hand signals were more effective than verbal commands.

The study, which involved 25 dogs, used verbal commands versus hand signals, and even a combination of both to see which form of communication was more effective. The results showed that dogs responded 99 percent correctly to sign language from their respective owners.

With this information, we are able to assert that not only can deaf dogs learn sign language, but hearing dogs, as well. And hopefully this can serve as a reminder that no matter what disability a dog might have, with love and support, they overcome their issues, and they can flourish, too.

Do you think deaf dogs can learn sign language? Do you think even dogs who can hear would be better off knowing how to communicate this way? Let us know in the comments below!

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