Deaf pit bull aces obedience test with sign language

Angela Tiltman is very proud of her deaf pit bull, Xena, who has passed one of the toughest obedience tests using sign language.

As calls grow to ban pit bulls as pets following a spate of fatal attacks involving the breed, Xena, a deaf pit bull cross from Fish Hoek, has passed one of the toughest obedience tests using only hand signals.

Xena, owned by Angela and Kevin Tiltman, passed the Kennel Union of Southern Africa (KUSA) Canine Good Citizen Gold Test, which uses sign language as opposed to verbal cues.

The Tiltmans adopted Xena after she was rescued from the streets of Malmesbury in January 2018. The dog was treated at the vet for biliary and a bad ear infection and it was later confirmed that Xena was deaf

“We already had a very old pit bull and were very hesitant. He possibly wouldn’t accept a newcomer. Both were introduced on neutral territory in Malmesbury and instantly appeared compatible,” said Ms Tiltman.

“When our older dog passed away, I felt she needed a new friend, so off I went looking for a companion and ended up adopting another pit bull cross from Tears (The Emma Animal Rescue Society), who we named Zorro.”

Xena and Ms Tiltman enrolled in dog-obedience training with trainer, Jan Meyer, author of A Trained Dog Is A Good Dog and a former chairman of Tears.

According to Mr Meyer, the gold test is one of the most demanding and the toughest of all.

“Most dog owners have difficulty maintaining their dogs’ attention. Deaf dogs like Xena require more concentration because they follow sign language or visual queues, so they need a special bond with their owners,” he said.

According to Ms Tiltman, Xena had lots of feisty energy and pulled her off her feet a few times, but she 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, something she looked forward to, and she was eager to please and learn.

Thereafter Xena made swift progress, passing her bronze test, then silver and finally her gold last month.

Ms Tiltman has made sure that both her pit bulls received training and passed their gold tests, and she is very proud of how far Xena has come.

She believes that pit bulls should be owned by people who are prepared to spend a lot of time with them and understand power breeds, and says that strict criteria and training requirements should be laid down for the ownership of pit bulls and other “dangerous” breeds, but banning is not an option.

“If banning is deemed necessary, then all ‘dangerous’ breeds should be banned as well. My pit bulls are loving family dogs that get on well with all people and children. I have no fear with both dogs around my grandchildren. Both the dogs and grandchildren stimulate each other, with no signs of any threat whatsoever,” she said.

Kusa president Doreen Powell said watching Xena pass from the bronze to gold tests had been a wonderful experience.

“Xena now has the qualification of ‘Canine Good Citizen Gold’ added to her name and is now ready to proceed further in her training. We wish Xena and her family congratulations and look forward to her many achievements still to come.”