Deaf dog learns sign language commands

- For months, trainers at the ASPCA on the Upper East Side have worked to teach commands to four-year-old terrier mix Blue. But she won't respond if you tell her to sit or stay, for example, because she can't hear.

"She is hearing impaired -- completely deaf," said Victoria Wells, the senior manager of behavior and training at ASPCA.

Blue is one of 10 to 20 hearing-impaired dogs that wind up at the New York City outpost of the ASPCA every year. In February, police found her tied to a fence in Washington Heights with no food or water and brought her in.

"We first noticed that she could not hear when she didn't respond when we opened her kennel," Wells said.

Since then Wells and her fellow trainers have worked hard to teach Blue a special kind of sign language with different hand motions corresponding to different behaviors.

The trainers use smell to get Blue's attention initially before moving on to hand movements. Over time, the dogs can learn as many as 40 different hand motions, according to Wells, including basic ones like "sit," "stay," "come" and "down."

"Deaf dogs are just as intelligent as hearing dogs and with a little patience you can teach them as many behaviors as you can hearing dogs," she said.

After months of hard work, Blue is finally ready to be adopted. Trainers will work with her adoptive family to teach them everything they need to know about communicating with her.

Blue is available for adoption at the ASPCA's adoption center at 424 East 92nd Street.

More information can be found at ASPCA.org

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