Sunday, April 3, 2011

Deaf Dogs Trained and Taught Sign Language: MO Puppies for Parole

Zeus, a deaf Dachshund dog  
If you read my post earlier this morning, you read about Bailey, the deaf Dalmation dog being trained and taught sign language through the Missouri Puppies for Parole program.  Bailey is not the first deaf dog trained by MO offenders and, I suspect, she won't be the last.

In January of this year, offenders at the South Central Correctional Center (SCCC) in Licking, MO raised funds to pay for the adoption fees to donate a deaf dog to the Missouri School for the Deaf.

Offenders at SCCC not only gave Zeus a second chance at life, they also made sure he was going to a good home where he will help others. Zeus, a male,
deaf Dachshund, was donated to the Missouri School for the Deaf in Fulton. The adoption fees were paid for by the offenders.

Zeus was born deaf. The birth defect rendered him useless to the breeder and his future was uncertain,at best. The Dachshund ended up at an animal rescue shelter where his handicap plagued any chance foradoption. The shelter reached out to SCCC, which participates in the Department of Corrections’
(DOC) Puppies for Parole program. The program pairs rescueddogs with offenders at prisons throughout the statefor training in order to make them more adoptable.

When the shelter approached SCCC about taking Zeus in for the eight-week training session, the offender handling team was more than willing to accept the challenge of helping the dogovercome his disability. In preparation, the handlers met with deaf offenders at SCCC to learn sign language. The
offenders devised a plan that would teach the Dachshund how to respond to commands with the use of sign language.

“Surprisingly, within the first week Zeus had the command ‘sit’ picked up,” said Tina Holland, SCCC institutional activitycoordinator. “We couldn’t use a dog whistle as a training tool because he couldn’t hear it. The offenders figured out how to train Zeus by stomping the ground with their feet. He could feel the vibrations from the floor. Once he recognized what the vibrationsmeant, he picked up one command after another.”

Holland said the offenders used treats as positive reinforcement because Zeus also suffered from severe anxiety. After the dog’s training was complete, the offenders got together and decided they wanted Zeus sent to a school for the deaf so he could help others. They made that possible by raising and donating
the adoption fees. “It was really rough on them (the offender handlers) when he left,” Holland said. “This was a huge accomplishment for them. It’s truly an inspirational story.”

Puppies for Parole is funded by donations only and does not receive state funding. The dogs’ training consists of a two-month period in which they learn verbal commands and general obedience. The offenders and the dogs go through the rehabilitative process together. The culmination of the training is the graduation ceremony at theend of the eight weeks, during which time the dogs are administered a K-9 Good Citizenship Test they must pass. Offender trainers gain vocational skills and learn responsibility through the program. It
alsooffers offenders the opportunity to repay the community. 

On February 1, 2010, Jefferson City Correctional Center received the first dog through Puppies for Parole. There are currently 75 dogs in training at 10 of the DOC’s institutions. For many of the dogs that are selected for the program, it allows them asecond chance, if not their only chance, to find a home. Since its inception, approximately 150 dogs have been saved from euthanization and have been adopted out.


  1. It is also extremely important to learn how to communicate with, and train, your dog using hand signals. Whether you use American Sign Language, standard obedience signs, or signals of your own development, it is very important that you and other people who interact with your dog, are consistent with the signs that you use. Additionally, it is wise to use signs that require only one hand and can be easily detected by your dog from a distance away.

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  2. I have recently adopted a deaf 4 year old white female Boxer named Jazzy.She is a precious dog that now has a good home.My only concern is learning sign language and teaching her some of those signs as well.The old owners stated she knows "some" sign language.I have tried to find some sort of a book or anything to better help myself but unable to find anything.Any ideas??

  3. To Jazzy's mom - Congratulations on adopting Jazzy! Though I don't have first hand experience with sign language and a deaf dog, I do know someone who does. Christina can be contacted through her blog: The World According to Lexi.
    She adopted an abandoned 8 month old deaf puppy and had made great strides working with sign language. You can visit the following link to see a video of Christina and Nitro working together

  4. This is truly amazing especially when you know that they still want to enjoy themselves even if they are impaired.

  5. Sign language is a good way to train pups. I first learned all my tricks in sign language . Now they are verbal. I still remember both ways!


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