A DEAF dog has amazed trainers by beating of thousands of non-disabled dogs to pass the toughest obedience award in the UK – after learning sign language.
Top dog Zippy, a two-year-old black and white Boston Terrier, was born profoundly deaf and for the first months of his life he was trapped in a world of his own.
But owner Vicky Tate, 65, trained him using her own arm and leg signals and incredibly he has just passed the Kennel Club’s HIGHEST award for obedience with flying colours.
Zippy had to learn seven difficult commands for The Good Citizen Dog Scheme (GCDS) Gold award, which even dogs without a disability find hard.
“A lot of dogs which can hear were struggling with the exam so I was really surprised that he did so well,” said Vicky.
“It was the first time the training school had given the award to a deaf dog and everyone was stunned when he passed.
“He is very clever and he cottoned on to my sign language very quickly. It has transformed his life.”
Vicky bought Zippy, who was one of a litter of five when he was just seven weeks old. She had no idea he was deaf until she took him home and noticed he was behaving strangely compared to her previous pups.
“I got him home and he didn’t react to things in the normal way. I tried to put him in his bed and he just growled,” said Vicky, who already had three boxer dogs.
“I tried whistling and he didn’t seem to respond, so I knew something was wrong.
“When dogs are in a litter they all do everything together so it wasn’t until he was separated from his siblings that the problem became clear.”
Vicky took Zippy to an animal hospital in Newmarket, Suffolk, where he was given a hearing test and diagnosed as being deaf.
“He has white tips on the ends of his ears and apparently that can be a sign that a dog is deaf,” she said.
“I was really worried about how he would cope as all my previous dogs had been totally healthy.
“When he was 13 weeks old I decided to take him to a puppy training school as I thought it would be good for him to mix with other dogs.
“After a few lessons we began to develop a sign language between us and it worked really well.”
Zippy soon learnt a vocabulary of an incredible 20 different commands, including sit, stand and send away. He wears a special vibrating collar which Vicky can set off so he knows to look to her for commands. Now if Vicky wants Zippy to sit down she points her finger to the floor and puts her leg out. If she wants him to stand, she puts her fist out then turns around with her back to him and if he needs to stay she puts her hand up towards him.
“I just did whatever sign seemed natural and made it more dramatic,” she said.
“A lot of the signs are very similar so Zippy does well to distinguish between them.
“I talk to him all the time too, because even though he can’t hear he can see my expression when I say certain things.
“He knows when he isn’t doing the right command.”
Zippy soon passed his Kennel Club bronze and silver awards at the Billericay Dog Training School in Basildon, Essex and he has just been given his gold.
“We spent weeks practising the different commands and he did really well,” said Vicky, from Essex.
“He even had to learn things such as going away and getting into bed without me in sight which was very hard.
“Another command involved staying in a position for three minutes and he also had to walk off the lead with another dog nearby.
“In the past people used to put dogs down if they were deaf, but they can have a really fulfilling life.
“Zippy’s my best pal. I wouldn’t be without him for the world. I enjoy him so much – everybody does.”
“The sign language has opened up a whole new world for him and now I wonder if my other dogs even know he is deaf.”