New tricks are a sign of the times

FELIXSTOWE: It’s a dog’s life for little Princess, who has been rehoused by the Blue Cross despite being deaf and having to communicate with her owners through sign language.

Princess, a one-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier, first came to the Blue Cross adoption centre in High Street, Walton, in February.

Staff at the centre taught her to communicate using sign language instead of spoken commands, which she picked up very quickly.

And while she was there, she caught the eye of Maxine Frost and her partner, 49-year-old Derek Wyatt, who also has hearing difficulties, when they were looking for a new pet.

Ms Frost, 44, of Eyre Close, Bury St Edmunds, said: “Both of us saw her and said ‘that’s the one!’

“There was nothing that we didn’t like about her really. She is wonderful. She comes in and plays with her toys and everything.

“She’s missing my partner at the moment because he works during the day and she’s a real daddy’s girl.

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“But she has really been just the same as any other dog.”

Ms Frost added: “We have taught her the sign for walkies. Shush is just a finger on the mouth, and to get her to sit down, you just raise your hand up.

“We are getting a vibrating dog collar soon so when she’s in the kitchen, we can press the buzzer and she will come to us, or if we are outside on a walk, she will come back to us.

“We are just doing what they told us to do at the Blue Cross. They were just wonderful about it all as well.”

It is difficult to assess a dog’s true level of hearing, so trainers use hand signals alongside voice commands to make sure the dog understands what is required.

Blue Cross staff taught her to sit, lie down, wait and look up on command.

Animal welfare assistant Rebecca Godfrey, who led Princess’s training, said: “I was mainly doing hand signals to basic commands we would do with any dog, but rather than putting a word to it, we would use a hand signal instead.

“We put treats in front of their noses to teach them the actions but by the end of it, she didn’t have to have a treat each time because she knew that was the right thing to do.

“She was quite quick with learning to sit because she’s always been a sociable dog and she likes the interaction in that.

“It is a bit harder to train her in that you have to remember to exaggerate your facial expressions, but it is best just to keep talking to her.

“And what surprised me was she was very good with other dogs. She was one of the best communicators even though she was deaf, and was good at being relaxed around other dogs but not letting them take advantage of her.”

Princess was given daily training sessions at the centre, which sees only one or two dogs with hearing difficulties per year. Anyone wishing to find out more about adopting a dog or cat can visit or call 01394 283254.

n Have you got an amazing pet? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-meil