Being able to heed commands is a vital aspect of the work of a sheepdog – so when eight-year-old working collie Peggy lost her hearing, her owner signed her over to the RSPCA Mid Norfolk & North Suffolk branch in December 2018.
As it was just before Christmas, animal welfare manager Chloe Shorten took her home to foster until they could find her a space in kennels. Soon enough, it became clear she was never going to be in kennels at all – she was already home.
Chloe 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!
“She fitted in perfectly at our mad house, came everywhere with us and fitted in with my husband’s job – as a shepherd!”
Peggy was eager to go back to doing her job, and Chloe decided to try teaching her sign language.
“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,” she said.
“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’.”
Peggy took to it like a fish to water, and soon she was once again able to work as a sheepdog along with Chloe’s husband.
“While Peggy is generally retired, she goes out to work with my husband, Jason, from time-to-time and she absolutely loves it. She’s still learning new things and improving all the time,” Chloe added.
“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.”
Images by RSPCA