Without prejudice: deaf dog Elsa finally finds perfect home

Staffordshire bull terrier crosses are tough enough to find homes for at the best of times – but the task becomes all but impossible when the dog is deaf.

Animal Behaviour Coordinator Pamela gives Elsa the thumbs up good dog sign
Animal Behaviour Coordinator Pamela teaches Elsa a thumbs up sign as a marker signal

Eleven-month-old Elsa found herself in need of our help to find a new home after being discovered straying, and we believe she may have been left to fend for herself because she is deaf.

Jay Cruikshanks, Rehoming Centre Manager at our Tiverton rehoming centre in Devon, said: “We don’t know much about Elsa’s background or how she ended up as a stray – it’s possible she was unwanted because she is deaf.”

It’s obvious the young Staffordshire bull terrier cross had received very little training in her young life, so our team got stuck in and began teaching her some sign language commands.

Pamela Barlow, Blue Cross Animal Behaviour Coordinator, explained: “Because she can’t hear us if we call her, we have to use our hands to get Elsa’s attention and ask her to do cues or behaviours.

“The signs that Elsa knows are ‘sit’, which is a sign moving your fist from out by your side to your chin, ‘touch’, which is holding your flat hand out to your side, and she’ll touch it.

“The most important signal that she knows though is a ‘thumbs up’, which is our marker signal for her – much like you would use a clicker for a dog that can hear.”

Four senses to work with

Although people may worry that deaf dogs could be difficult to train, they only have one of five senses missing and are able to learn all the behaviours that hearing dogs can.

Dog Elsa licks her lips while looking at bowls of food

Pamela said: “Deaf dogs make wonderful pets and they learn just like any other dog does.

“What’s really nice about them is they’re usually not bothered by noises that other hearing dogs might. Just like any other pet, they make wonderful companions.”

Jay added: “It’s amazing what a difference our training has already made to Elsa’s behaviour, just being able to make sense of the world with the help of some hand signals has made her a lot calmer.”

We transferred Elsa from our Tiverton centre in Devon to our Burford centre in Oxfordshire to increase her chances of finding her perfect home.

When I was growing up, the first dog I had was a white staffie rescue, and we wanted to rehome a dog rather than get one from a breeder as there are so many in rescue Lewis, Elsa's new owner
Elsa's owner Lewis shows her the thumbs up sign to say 'good girl'
Lewis gives Elsa the thumbs up marker sign, signalling to Elsa that she's performed a task well

After 129 days in our care – 100 days longer than the average pooch takes to find a new home – Elsa went off to live with her loving new owners Bryony Stone and Lewis Bishop, who had been searching for their perfect pet for a while.

“We knew we wanted a staffie because we’ve always had them in our families,” explained Bryony. “We were going to get a dog from a friend of Lewis’s dad, and when that fell through I went straight on the Blue Cross website, saw Elsa and thought ‘she’s gorgeous’. Lewis agreed, and the fact that she was deaf didn’t put us off at all.”

Lewis added: “When I was growing up, the first dog I had was a white staffie rescue, and we wanted to rehome a dog rather than get one from a breeder as there are so many in rescue.”

Personality shines through

It was Elsa’s personality and ability to make the couple smile that confirmed to Bryony and Lewis that she was the dog for them as soon as they met her.

Bryony said: “Her spottiness and her ears make her such an individual. She’s a real character with so many quirks, like her extra toe, and her overshot jaw gives her a really cute smile and her lips get stuck on her teeth. We love it!

“Lewis always says the dog gets treated better than he does, which is probably true!”

Nicknamed ‘Dingo’ by the family because of her tendency to bounce around with excitement and joy for life, Elsa is in fact focussed when out on walks. Because she is without the sense of hearing, our team worked hard to make sure she could remain safely under control when out on walks, and Bryony and Lewis have been kept up her training so well that she is able to be walked off lead.

Elsa with Bryony and Lewis
Elsa found the perfect home with loving new owners Bryony and Lewis

“We’ve not had any problems with her recall,” said Lewis. “We followed what Rachel at Burford Blue Cross said to do, which was to encourage her to look back while walking her on a lead, and rewarding her when she did. Once we were comfortable with this, we transitioned into letting her off the lead and continued to reward her for looking back at us. It’s worked really well.”

When Elsa is out walking and she sees a car, other dog or horse approach, she lies down automatically and gets back up once they have passed. Teaching a dog who cannot hear you to do this is a great way to keep them, you, and others safe.

Elsa does stay close to Bryony and Lewis on walks but she does get the chance to run about and expend her energy, too. She loves water, and enjoys paddling and splashing around in a local lake, as well as trying to eat water streaming out of the hose pipe when the couple are gardening!

No hurdles

Owning a deaf dog hasn’t caused the couple any hurdles; they have just learned to train her in a slightly different way to how they might a hearing dog, and our team is always on hand in case tips and advice are needed. There are even some advantages to her lack of hearing. Elsa isn’t bothered by the vacuum cleaner, for example; something that can really upset or worry some dogs.


Four white puppies clamber over each other in play
Glacier, Goldie, Gumdrop and Greta were passed by because they are deaf

All quiet on the rehoming front

Although they are completely adorable and full of fun, no one wanted to take Glacier, Goldie, Gumdrop or Greta home because they are missing one of their senses. We
usually have waiting lists for puppies, but these six-week-old girls were still facing lonely lives, without anyone to love them, because they are deaf. 

Maria Steel, Blue Cross Rehoming Centre Manager, said: “Some people are worried that they might be too difficult to train and can’t be called back but a deaf dog only has one of the five senses missing and can make up for this much better than you might imagine.” Finally, four families who could see beyond their lack of hearing gave each of the girls a happy home.


Elsa lying down with a rug toy
Elsa sits on owner Bryony's lap
Despite her size, Elsa believes she is a lap dog. Her favourite thing to do is snuggle up with Bryony and Lewis.

One thing owners are usually taught is to let sleeping dogs lie; but with a dog who cannot hear you telling them the day has begun, Bryony wondered what would be the best way to wake her pet up.

“We didn’t want to startle her or make her jump, so we asked the best way to wake her up,” she explained. “They said to stamp our feet on the floor, which didn’t work, or just to touch around her bed, but she wouldn’t wake up at all so we had to think hard. We eventually started to just gently brush the bottom of her tail to let her know we are there. Her face when she wakes up is the happiest thing!”

Take a chance on a deaf pet

Though deafness might not be an issue for some owners, many are put off by long-stay pets who have spent weeks or months in kennels, believing that there must be something wrong with a dog if they have been passed by so many times. This isn’t a view that Bryony or Lewis holds, and they were surprised to learn Elsa had been at two of our rehoming centres and been almost rehomed a few times before the potential homes fell through.

Lewis said: “We can’t understand why. The only reason we could think of is that she was very bouncy and quite mad; I guess that might have put some people off. She does have her crazy moments and that’s why we love her, but at home she is so calm.”

“Her nature is second to none,” Bryony added. “She’s just so happy. She thinks she’s a lap dog and she’s the funniest thing; she sleeps in all sorts of positions. She does so many things that make us laugh, and we just love her.”

With time, patience, and understanding, a deaf dog makes a wonderful pet, just like any other. If you could take a chance on a homeless pet, please visit our rehoming pages today to meet your new best friend.

Elsa lying down with Bryony and Lewis

— Page last updated 4/10/2016