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Citizen Canine: Deaf pitbull the first dog to use sign language to pass gold standard

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Xena the pitbull during a training class.PHOTOs: supplied
Xena the pitbull during a training class.PHOTOs: supplied

As calls mount to have pitbull dogs banned due to several fatal attacks on children across the country, Xena a deaf pitbull in Fish Hoek is making waves for all the right reasons.

The pitbull passed the Canine Good Citizen Gold test, an international award by the Kennel Union of Southern Africa (KUSA).

And according to its trainer Jan Meyer, it is the first time a deaf dog has successfully passed the test at his club in False Bay.

“This is an international award and is proof that both owner and dog were tested by independent evaluators (judges) and both have passed.”

Meyer, explains what makes Xena different and special is that she went through the tests using sign language and not using verbal cues.

“Xena is the first deaf dog at my club to have passed the bronze, silver and now gold test with the other hearing dogs. The same rules applied for the dog and owner as with the others.”

He added that gold was the toughest of all the tests.

“There are a whole lot of tests they have to undergo such as crossing roads, waiting, going to bed, etc.

“For a deaf dog she has to stay stable, if the dog runs off it won’t be able to return if you call.

“We use the American sign language and the dog has to pay attention to you at all times.”


Meyer explains that the owner of the dog also has to pass a test on how to be a responsible pet owner.

“Part of it is to also train the owners.

“The owner has to pass a test and at least 60 % of the test is how to take care and be responsible for your dog. It’s a very good test for your dog.

He added that the canine has attracted the attention of the American Deaf Dogs Rock association and they want to add her to their honours board.

“The judge was amazed at how well she performed using sign language.”

Angela Tiltman, the dog’s owner, says Xena was rescued off the streets of Malmesbury and she was estimated to be just over a year old.

“She was treated at a vet for biliary and a bad ear infection. It was then discovered and confirmed that she was deaf.”

Xena the deaf pitbul with its owner Angela Tiltman (left).

Tiltman added that the pitbull cross was advertised on Facebook as needing a forever home, and she and her husband were so taken with her story that they immediately decided to adopt her.

“Xena and I enrolled in dog obedience training with a local trainer, Jan Meyer.

“She had lots of feisty energy and pulled me off my feet a few times, but I was determined to train her, knowing that this would allow her to have more freedom in a safe environment.”

Armed with a pocket full of treats, Xena soon mastered a few basic signs, and training became fun.

The owner of two pitbulls, Tiltman says she made sure that both dogs received training.

“I have two pitbulls and both have passed their canine Gold Citizen tests.

“It is ridiculous, this burning of pitbulls.

“I trust Xena 100 percent, I have grandchildren and I am introducing them to my grandbabies.

“Pitbulls are dogs who need to be with you all the time and not tied up in the backyard.”


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