Dog on the hog

Deaf dog learns sign language commands

Dogs rely on their hearing to understand multiple commands but what if they are deaf?

Dogs rely on their hearing to understand multiple commands but what if they are deaf?

Meet White Fang, a double merle miniature Australian Shepherd that can understand eight sign language commands from owner Randie-Lynn Schmidt. Merle defines the pattern on White Fang; patches of colour on a solid coat with blue or odd coloured eyes, explained Schmidt.

The problem, though, is when breeders bring two dogs with the merle gene together, they have a one in four chance of being deaf, blind or both. Schmidt first saw White Fang approximately two years ago and knew he was the right dog for her. “He kind of picked me,” Schmidt said.

She heard the dog was going to be put down and wanted to give him a second chance at life. For the past two years, she has been training the dog to understand sign language in the goal of taking him on motorbike rides with her. White Fang seems to have taken to it quite well as he knows exactly when it is time to go for a ride.

She has taught him eight signs and uses cheese as a training incentive.

“I’ll teach him more eventually,” she added.

Schmidt is also a mountaineer and has slowly introduced White Fang to climb rocks, starting small and working their way up to boulders. He seems to be catching on and she feels he’s a natural climber. “I can tell he enjoys learning.”

“He thrives on learning. He thrives on challenges,” stated Schmidt.

She bikes approximately 10,000 to 20,000 kilometres a year on her 1998 Harley Heritage Softail Springer and has shown White Fang how to sit on the gas tank on a seat. Schmidt is saving up for a $750 dog carrier specifically made for motorbikes as she wants to keep him safe while riding. For now though White Fang appears to love being on the bike with goggles Schmidt bought for him.

“It would be so nice to take him. That’s the ultimate goal,” she said.

His training has gone well. On short trips, White Fang sits well on the Harley and can take corners well. Her dog stays close though and Schmidt feels there may be some sight limitations for her dog, which is why he usually stays close to her.

White Fang can understand the command for finding his leash. He will go on scavenger hunts at home to find it and Schmidt has fun hiding cheese around the house. She uses ‘thumbs up” to let the dog know he is doing well. “It’s just constant reward for doing well.”