Deaf puppy learns sign language and knows how to follow hand signals to sit, spin and lie down

A deaf puppy has learned sign language in just eight weeks - and knows how to follow hand signals to sit, spin and lie down.

Rafa - a seven-month-old Spanish Water dog - has been learning sign language ever since owner, Jo Le Page, 41, discovered he couldn’t hear.

The pooch has learnt nine different signs including 'sit', 'stand', 'watch me', 'spin', 'give paw', 'lie down', 'come', 'stay' and 'safe' - where he will walk under Jo’s legs, turn around and stay there.

He can now also pick up a toy from the ground if Jo does a 'pick up' hand signal.

Rafa is continuing to learn more hand signals and Jo says his disability won't limit her dog's life.

She hopes people will stop being quick to put disabled dogs down or put them in a shelter.

Jo, a pre-school worker and author, from Guernsey, Channel Island, said: "Rafa would turn his head when other puppies heard noises and would follow all of them.

"He was always good at following cues of other puppies.

"He's very visually aware.

"Within a day of having him he wasn't respoding to any noise and he wouldn't wake up when we came in.

"He didn't respond loud drilling noise or the smoke alarm going off.

"He can feel vibrations.

“He particularly stood out to us as he wanted loads of cuddles and waited by the gate as we were leaving.

“The training is all done with hand signals. Thumbs up are used for praise.

“You can’t use hands in a negative way, so showing something to be unacceptable is difficult.

“This is only the beginning of his journey and we just take it a day at a time.”

Jo wasn’t aware Rafa was deaf when she first acquired him from a local breeder in June 2022.

But after discovering his hearing loss, Jo and her family wanted to continue looking after Rafa.

Jo looked up to learn sign language for dogs and says "it opened up a whole new world".

Within a day of having him, Jo’s family realised the pup was more motivated by toys and socks than by treats and so use them as a reward during training.

“He is a typical puppy but with no awareness,” she said.

Rafa also won first prize in a junior handler competition at a local inclusive dog show just five months old.

“He is from a good line of show-dogs. This showcases how intelligent the breed are," Jo said.

“He’s better behaved out than at home.”

Rafa has just started therapy dog training to see if he can remain calm around things like wheelchairs and walking sticks.

Jo is hoping he will become a therapy dog and wants him to be able to cope and navigate different environments.

“He could potentially become one of the first deaf therapy dogs,” she said.

Jo - who has two children aged five and ten- said Rafa “has been a big education for the whole family".

“This is only the beginning of his journey and we just take it a day at a time," she said.

“Most people wouldn’t have bothered.

"Our initial thoughts were that it would be hard or impossible to train a dog who can't hear.

"We thought it would definitely be impossible to drop his lead on a walk. Education and training has proved that all of our fears were false.

"We have been amazed with how often he watches us, checks in with us and trots along next to or behind us.

"If we are walking as a family he looks to makes sure we are all present and in his line of sight, especially when road walking, and often won't move until the children are infront of him so he can keep an eye on them."