Woman teaches her dog sign language after realising he couldn’t understand her


When Rafa the Spanish water puppy was first taken home by his new owners, they didn’t realise he was deaf. After quickly discovering his hearing loss, however, Jo Le Page and her family were determined not only to help him live his best life but even train him as a therapy dog to help others.

Jo, 41, searched online to find sign language for dogs, and in just eight weeks Rafa learnt hand signals to sit, spin and lie down. Now aged seven months, Rafa has learnt nine different signs including ‘watch me’, ‘spin’, ‘give paw’, ‘lie down’, ‘come’, ‘stay’ and ‘safe’ – where he will walk under Jo’s legs, turn around and stay there.

Jo, a pre-school worker and author, from Guernsey said being deaf won’t limit her dog’s life. “When we got him, Rafa would turn his head when other puppies heard noises and would follow all of them.

“Within a day of having him, we realised he wasn’t responding to any noise and he wouldn’t wake up when we came in. He didn’t notice loud drilling noise or the smoke alarm going off.

“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.”

Jo is now hoping Rafa will become a therapy dog and wants him to be able to cope and navigate different environments.

He has 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 become one of the first deaf therapy dogs.

Jo, who has two children aged five and ten, said she hopes Rafa’s story will inspire others to adopt disabled dogs.

“The 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 and we just take it a day at a time.”

Dogs Trust expert Dr Rachel Casey answers your canine conundrums.

It’s so exciting that you’re getting a dog! I would encourage you, though, to stop and think before taking the plunge.

Take some time to make sure you’re ready for a puppy: they are a massive commitment in terms of time, energy, and money – but also patience.

Are you ready to step in a puddle first thing in the morning, stand out in the cold for what seems like hours when housetraining, or finding your favourite shoes with chew marks?

Cute as they are, pups arrive with no idea of how to live with a family.

They need time and patience to learn what to chew (and what not to), when to sleep and toilet, when to settle and how to play.

A pup will make you laugh, but also drive you to distraction! Make sure you do lots of research and planning ahead.

Will you need someone to come and see the pup if you’re out at work? Have you checked the costs of vet care? Would a rescue dog be an option?

If you’ve thought through all that and you’re sure a pup is right for you then check our information on what to look for when choosing a puppy.