Deaf sheepdog returns to work - after learning sign language
- Credit: RSPCA
A deaf and discarded sheepdog has proved that an old dog can be taught new tricks - after learning sign language to continue the job she loves.
Eight-year-old working collie Peggy ended up in the care of a Norfolk animal rescue centre after she lost her hearing.
Despite being an intelligent and efficient sheepdog, she was no longer able to round up livestock after losing her communication skills with her previous handlers.
She was taken in by the RSPCA Mid Norfolk and North Suffolk branch at Ashwellthorpe, near Wymondham, and was fostered by the centre's animal welfare manager Chloe Shorten - whose husband Jason is a shepherd.
Mrs Shorten said they "fell in love" with the dog, who soon became a permanent addition to their home.
The couple decided to begin the long process of retraining Peggy - using hand signals rather than voice commands - to get her back to doing the job she loves, with the help of a specialist sheepdog trainer and their other two working sheepdogs, Sid and Nora.
"We started by teaching her to look at us for hand signals," said Mrs Shorten. "We used repetitive and positive reinforcement and instead of pairing a verbal command with an action we’d use a physical hand gesture.
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"She reads our hand signals and body language as a way of telling what we’re asking for. For example, thumbs up means ‘good girl’."
"While Peggy is generally retired, she goes out to work with my husband, Jason, from time to time and she absolutely loves it. She’s still learning new things and improving all the time.
"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."
Mrs Shorten said Peggy loves running around in the fields, and has been fitted with a GPS tracker on her collar in case she gets separated from her new owners and is unable to hear them calling her.
“It’s amazing to see her with this new lease of life and enjoying her life with us," she added.
"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.”