Deaf sheepdog Peggy learns sign language so she can return to work

Seen but not HERD! Deaf sheepdog Peggy learns sign language so she can return to work rounding up flock

  • Peggy, eight-year-old Border Collie was given up when she lost her hearing  
  • She was taken in by the RSPCA’s mid Norfolk and North Suffolk branch in 2018 
  • Animal welfare manager Chloe Shorten and her shepherd husband took Peggy in

A deaf sheepdog has been allowed to return to work after learning how to read hand signals. 

Peggy the eight-year-old Border Collie was given up by her previous owners after she lost her hearing and could no longer follow voice commands.  

She was taken in by the RSPCA’s Mid Norfolk and North Suffolk branch in 2018.

Animal welfare manager Chloe Shorten, whose husband Jason is a shepherd, initially fostered Peggy as a stopgap, then ‘completely fell in love with her’.

The couple trained Peggy to follow hand signals, with Mrs Shorten describing her as living proof that you can ‘teach an old dog new tricks’.

Mrs Shorten, from Norfolk, said: ‘We decided she could stay with us temporarily while we found somewhere more permanent to take her in, but we completely fell in love with her almost immediately and it soon became clear that she wouldn’t be going anywhere.

Peggy the eight-year-old Border Collie (pictured) was given up by her previous owners after she lost her hearing and could no longer follow voice commands. She was taken in by the RSPCA’s Mid Norfolk and North Suffolk branch in 2018

‘She fitted in perfectly at our mad house, came everywhere with us and fitted in with my husband’s job – as a shepherd.

How was Peggy trained?  

Eight-year-old Border Collie Peggy was trained by her new owners Chloe Shorten and her husband Jason.

Mr Shorten is a shepherd and the couple said it was clear that Peggy wanted to get back out to work as a sheepdog herding flocks. 

Mrs Shorten said: ‘We knew Peggy wanted to be working so we started the long process of teaching her how to herd and work with a shepherd without relying on voice commands.

‘We started by teaching her to look at us for hand signals. 

‘She reads our hand signals and body language as a way of telling what we’re asking for. For example, thumbs up means ‘good girl’.’

The couple were helped by a sheepdog trainer and Peggy practised alongside the couple’s two other working sheepdogs, Sid and Nora.

Peggy was also fitted with a GPS tracker on her collar in case she gets separated from her owners and can’t see them.  

‘We knew Peggy wanted to be working so we started the long process of teaching her how to herd and work with a shepherd without relying on voice commands.

‘We started by teaching her to look at us for hand signals.

‘We used repetitive and positive reinforcement and instead of pairing a verbal command with an action we’d use a physical hand gesture.

‘She reads our hand signals and body language as a way of telling what we’re asking for. For example, thumbs up means ‘good girl’.’

The couple were helped by a sheepdog trainer and Peggy practised alongside the couple’s two other working sheepdogs, Sid and Nora.

‘While Peggy is generally retired, she goes out to work with my husband Jason from time to time and she absolutely loves it,’ said Mrs Shorten.

‘She’s still learning new things and improving all the time.

‘The main thing for us was being able to tell her that she’s a good girl and reassure her she is going to be OK.

‘It took her a while to learn that we loved her and to gain her trust but it’s been so rewarding knowing that she now understands our praise.

‘Now she’s learned to demand fuss by tapping and nudging you on the arm or leg, sometimes she really hits you hard and you feel like you’ve been punched.

‘She absolutely loves running around like a nutter so we have a GPS tracker on her collar just in case we get separated and she couldn’t see us, as she can’t hear us calling her.

‘But it’s amazing to see her with this new lease of life and enjoying her life with us.

‘She’s proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks, and is a wonderful example of the capability of a dog, even if they do lose a sense.’ 

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