Deaf dog excels after learning sign language

Many shelter dogs have a long, hard road to a happy home, but for a deaf Scottish dog named Horus, that journey proved even more difficult.

Rosie Gibbs taught Horus 50 sign-language commands — everything from “crawl” to “hello.” (Photo credit: HEMEDIA/SWNS Group)

Collie mix Horus was first rescued when he was just 6-weeks-old. He was adopted four weeks later, but was returned to the shelter after less than a year. Sadly, Horus had been mistreated by drug addicts during his time away from the shelter and had become a wild, hyper young dog whose bad behavior made him unadoptable.

Training Horus seemed an insurmountable task — he could barely sit still long enough to pay attention, and how would he learn to obey commands that he couldn’t hear?

Horus spent the next 18 months in a kennel, waiting for the right person to come along and give him a chance. Everyone thought that Horus was a lost cause — that is, until Rosie Gibbs came along. She met Horus and took him home the same day.

Gibbs, an osteopathic medicine practitioner who lives near Lockerbie, Scotland, often uses a form of sign language called Makaton to communicate with children in her care.

Makaton is a special kind of simplified sign language system that is often used to communicate with children who have autism, Down’s syndrome, and other hearing or cognitive impairments that make it difficult to verbally communicate.

Though she’d never owned a dog much less trained one before, Gibbs decided to try teaching Horus Makaton hand signals to train him—and the results were extraordinary. Within two weeks of training with Gibbs, Horus picked up 15 new signs.

“Nobody would take him because of his behavior,” Gibbs said of Horus. “He used to get aggressive around dogs, but once we got past that and began to communicate he turned out to be a brilliant pet.”

Now 5-years-old, happy and healthy Horus knows 50 sign-language signals, including everything from the standard “sit” and “stay” to “pay attention” and “play.” Gibbs even taught Horus to open drawers using a signed command.

“I’ve actually run out of things to attach signs to,” Gibbs told The Daily Mail.

Training a deaf dog seems like a challenging task, but Gibbs says that Horus has adapted well.

“Horus can’t hear but his other senses are stronger to compensate,” Gibbs explained. “He can tell me who is at the other side of my garden fence by their smell and the shape of their shadow. If I walk into a room he notices the light change and turns around to see who it is.”

The dog once thought wild and untrainable has now earned his bronze, silver, and gold level Canine Good Citizen titles. He also competes in canine agility events with Gibbs as his handler.

Inspired by Horus, Gibbs now volunteers with The Deaf Dog Network, which helps place deaf dogs from the United Kingdom into loving homes.

“Deaf dogs make great pets,” Gibbs said. She encourages people to consider adopting a deaf dog in need because, like Horus, they have a lot of love to give.

“People think deaf dogs are different and stupid and can’t be trained, but Horus is proof that they can,” Gibbs said proudly. “I would recommend getting a deaf dog to anyone. He’s a member of the family.”