It's not unheard of for a dog to turn a deaf ear to his owner – usually when the pet in question is chewing up a fascinating new item of furniture.
Zippy the Boston terrier, on the other hand, really does have a hearing problem. But thanks to his owner, who came up with her own form of sign language, he is still top dog in his obedience class.
Despite being completely deaf, two-year-old Zippy has now received the Kennel Club’s highest award for obedience.
Perfectly-behaved pooch: Zippy follows owner Vicky's commands through a unique form of sign language
To pass the gold award test, tasks included going to bed and staying there; walking by his owner’s side while ignoring another dog nearby; and walking at heel along a road.
AMONG THE COMMANDS THAT ZIPPY HAS LEARNED
1 Lie down – point with right hand index finger to ground
2 Sit down – right fist in air
3 Stand – half turn with left hand clenched in fist at side of body
4 Emergency stop – flat right hand in air
5 Come slowly – hands together pointing slowly down to the ground
6 Come quickly – hands together pointing upwards quickly
7 Pick up toy – point to object to be picked up
8 Look at me – put left hand finger to him then touch nose
9 Don't move – left hand flat to nose
10 Walk towards me – left hand by side and fingers wriggling
11 Come to me, ignoring distractions (eg toy) – flap left hand on my thigh
12 Send away – right hand pointing to where he should go.
His proud owner, Vicky Tate, 65, who lives near Grays, Essex, said: 'A lot of dogs which can hear were were struggling with the exam. It was the first time the training school had given the award to a deaf dog and everyone was stunned when he passed.
Retired hairdresser Mrs Tate, who also owns three boxer dogs, bought Zippy from a litter of five when he was seven weeks old but didn’t notice there was anything wrong until she brought him home.
He didn’t react to her calls, growled when she tried to put him to bed, and failed to respond when she whistled at him.
A hearing test at an animal hospital confirmed he was deaf.
Since then, though, Zippy has mastered 20 commands including sit, stand, lie down, stay down (see panel) and stop, which are communicated to him through hand and leg movements.
When he has to sit down, Mrs Tate points her finger to the floor and puts her leg out.
The instruction to stand involves extending her fist and turning away from him.
The sign for ‘Don’t move’ is left hand flat to nose, while ‘Walk towards me’ is left hand by side and fingers wriggling.
Zipping along: Zippy tails owner Vicky around an obstacle course obeying her sign language commands
Watch and learn: Vicky Tate puts Zippy through his paces, using her specially-developed form of sign language
‘Come slowly’ is hands together pointing slowly down to the ground and ‘Come quickly’ is hands together pointing upwards quickly.
Zippy wears a special vibrating collar which Mrs Tate can set off to attract his attention when she wants to give a new instruction.
‘I talk to him all the time too because even though he can’t hear he can see my expression when I say certain things,’ she said. ‘He knows when he isn’t doing the right command.
‘In the past people used to put dogs down if they were deaf but they can have a really fulfilling life. Zippy is my best pal. I wouldn’t be without him for the world.'
A spokeswoman for The Kennel Club said: 'Passing the highest level of the GCDS is a great achievement for any dog and even more so for a dog that has a disability such as deafness.'
Heidi Lawrence, GCDS education manager at The Kennel Club, added: 'Zippy is obviously a special dog and as he was born deaf, passing the Gold GCDS is a major achievement. It just goes to show that good dog training is accessible to all dogs.'
Read more: Deaf dog passes tough obedience test with flying colours - after learning sign language | Mail Online