I may be hard of hearing, but I’m definitely not deaf. With my new hearing aid, I can hear more than I ever have before. I can speak and therefore can give Don spoken commands, so why would I need him to respond to commands in sign language?
As I said in my last column, I’m not the loudest person in the room. But I do find myself in busy situations. A crowded market, a busy birthday party, or some music in the village. I can’t compete with that kind of noise. It costs me too much energy.
A few months after Don came to live with us, we were in the village when we came across a stage where singers were performing. Since it was outside and not too loud, we stopped to listen for a while. Good training for Don. I thought.... But he wasn’t listening to my commands. I wasn’t able to speak loud enough, so he couldn’t hear me. The training was therefore very short. We went further.
This is something that had to be solved. So I started to wonder if he would respond to signs. I learned some British Sign Language at the age of 5. Later I learned some American Sign Language, so it was easy for me to look online and find some useful Dutch signs.
Sit, Down, Wait, Here, Move, Bed, Finished and Speak. Those are commands I would use the most outside as well as in the house.
Since I had just successfully taught him to bark on command, I taught this command in sign language first.
The first step was to do spoken command training. If I said ‘speak’, he would bark and get a cookie. I then added the sign. Signing the command while combining it with the spoken command would teach him to associate both things with the same action. Barking. Every time he responded correctly to the combination of signing and speaking, he got a cookie. To finish the training, I needed him to respond to the sign without the spoken command. So I signed first, and followed it with the spoken command. The correct response was rewarded. I gradually increased the time between signing the command and physically saying it, until he eventually responded to the sign alone.
I followed the same process with all 8 commands. It took some time and patience, but he’s eager to learn and that makes training fun.
He became better at sign language than I initially expected. I have a very good friend who I refer to as my sister. We have the same illness, but the symptoms differ. Meaning she has more hearing loss than I do. Since we both struggle in busy places, we decided to take an online sign language class together. We faceTime every Monday and Friday afternoon and use a lot of signs during the conversation. When it’s time to hang up, we always sign the same thing to each other; ‘Bye Sis’. Don knows that once we hang up, he gets dinner. However, since those last two signs are used at the end of every conversation with my sister, they have become his sign for dinner. If he sees me sign it, he’s wiggling his tail and doing the dinner dance before I can push the end call button.
He’s a smart dog. He was trained at school in French and later learned Dutch and English. With sign language included, he speaks 4 languages.
In which language do you train your dog?