Deaf sheepdog forced to retire learns sign language to continue herding animals

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Eight-year-old working collie, Peggy, lost her hearing and could no longer communicate. When she was given up by her owner, she was taken in by the RSPCA in December 2018. As it was just before Christmas, animal welfare manager Chloe Shorten took her home to foster until they could find her a space in the kennels.

Ms Shorten said: “We decided she could stay with us temporarily while we found somewhere more permanent to take her in, but we completely fell in love with her almost immediately and it soon became clear that she wouldn’t be going anywhere!

“She fitted in perfectly at our mad house, came everywhere with us and fitted in with my husband’s job – as a shepherd!

The couple trained Peggy with a sheepdog trainer’s help and their two working sheepdogs, Sid and Nora, helped too. She continues: “We knew Peggy wanted to be working so we started the long process of teaching her how to herd and work with a shepherd without relying on voice commands.

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“We started by teaching her to look at us for hand signals. We used repetitive and positive reinforcement and instead of pairing a verbal command with an action we would use a physical hand gesture.

“She reads our hand signals and body language as a way of telling what we are asking for. For example, thumbs up means ‘good girl’.

“While Peggy is generally retired, she goes out to work with my husband from time-to-time and she absolutely loves it. She is still learning new things and improving all the time.

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“The main thing for us was being able to tell her that she’s a good girl and reassure her she is going to be okay. It took her a while to learn that we loved her and to gain her trust, but it’s been so rewarding knowing that she now understands our praise.

“Now she’s learned to demand fuss by tapping and nudging you on the arm or leg, sometimes she really hits you hard and you feel like you’ve been punched! She absolutely loves running around like a nutter so we have a GPS tracker on her collar just in case we get separated and she couldn’t see us, as she can’t hear us calling her. 

“But it’s amazing to see her with this new lease of life and enjoying her life with us. She’s proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks; and is a wonderful example of the capability of a dog, even if they do lose a sense.”

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