Deaf puppy learns sign language in 8 weeks and can follow hand signals to sit, spin and lie down

Little Rafa is now undertaking training to see if he could become the first deaf therapy

A deaf puppy has learned sign language in just eight weeks - and now knows how to follow hand signals to sit, spin and lie down.

Rafa, a seven-month-old Spanish Water dog, has been learning sign language ever since his owner, Jo Le Page, aged 41, discovered that he couldn’t hear.

Now, just two months later, the pet pooch has learned nine different signs including ‘sit’, ‘stand’, ‘watch me’, ‘spin’, ‘give paw’, ‘lie down’, ‘come’, ‘stay’. He also responds to the sign for ‘safe’ where he will walk under Jo’s legs, turn around and stay there. He can now also pick up a toy from the ground if Jo does a ‘pick up’ hand signal.

“This is only the beginning of his journey”

Clever little Rafa is continuing to learn more hand signals and Jo says her dog’s disability won’t limit his life. She hopes people will stop being quick to put disabled dogs in a shelter or even put them down.

Jo, a pre-school worker and author, from Guernsey, Channel Islands, said: "Rafa would turn his head when other puppies heard noises and would follow all of them. He was always good at following the cues of other puppies. He’s very visually aware and he can feel vibrations.”

“He particularly stood out to us as he wanted loads of cuddles but within a day of having him we knew he wasn’t responding to any noise, and he wouldn’t wake up when we came in. He didn’t respond to a loud drilling noise or the smoke alarm going off. He is a typical puppy but with no awareness.

“His training is all done with hand signals. Thumbs up are used for praise. You can’t use hands in a negative way, so showing something to be unacceptable is difficult. This is only the beginning of his journey though and we just take it a day at a time.”

“Sign language opened up a whole new world”

Jo wasn’t aware Rafa was deaf when she first bought him from a local breeder in June 2022. After quickly discovering his hearing loss, however, Jo and her family wanted to continue looking after Rafa.

Jo looked up how to learn sign language for dogs and now says "it opened up a whole new world". Jo has also realised the pup was more motivated by toys and socks than by treats and so uses these things as a reward during training.

Rafa, a seven-month-old Spanish Water dog, has been learning sign language ever since his owner, Jo Le Page, aged 41, discovered that he couldn’t hear.

Hopes of being a therapy dog

Jo is now hoping Rafa will become a therapy dog and wants him to be able to cope and navigate different environments. With that in mind, the puppy has just started therapy dog training to see if he can remain calm around things like wheelchairs and walking sticks. If he successfully completes his training, Rafa could potentially become one of the first deaf therapy dogs.

Jo, who has two children aged five and ten, said Rafa “has been a big education for the whole family" - and the pup now looks after them all.

Rafa the seven-month-old deaf Spanish Water dog.

She added: “Our initial thoughts were that it would be hard or impossible to train a dog who can’t hear. We thought it would definitely be impossible to drop his lead on a walk. Education and training has proved that all of our fears were false.

"We have been amazed with how often he watches us, checks in with us and trots along next to or behind us. If we are walking as a family he looks to makes sure we are all present and in his line of sight, especially when road walking, and he often won’t move until the children are in front of him so he can keep an eye on them.”