SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but students at the New Mexico School for the Deaf are working with some pretty special dogs that are learning something new.
These dogs are getting a lot of puppy love, even though they’re hard at work. They’re training to become service dogs, and their handlers are teaching them new tricks: sign language.
“The hardest part?” asked NMSD student Bria Vigil in sign language. “I would say the dogs can sometimes get a little stubborn and overcoming that is tough, but it can be done. You just gotta keep trying, but that’s definitely a challenge.”
Students at NMSD have teamed up with the Assistance Dogs of the West and the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps to teach these service dogs signed cues for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
These dogs are working doggone hard—learning everything from the basics like sit, lie down, and up, and even more advanced skills.
“I’m teaching them how to push on a button,” said NMSD student Monica Chavez in sign language. “For example, if a person works with Stubbs (the dog) in the future and they can’t push this type of button, they can ask their dog to do it for them.”
Skills like getting them to flip a light switch. “He’s not paying attention,” NMSD student Andrea Layba said in sign language, referring to the light switch.
While it’s not always a success on the first try, eventually they figure it out. “Sit,” NMSD student Kieran Ercolino signed to the dog.
“Push,” signed Chavez to the dog to push a door open. It’s a chance to help someone out, who needs a little extra help.
“It’s really important,” signed Chavez. “I think we need representation. Deaf people need to show that we can do things. It’s not that deaf people need to remain in their deaf environment or deaf world. We have to be able to interact and live alongside hearing people, too.”
This is the first time NMSD is working with the assistance dogs program. It’s a paid job for the students, giving them experience in the workforce.