Everyone has whiled away some time watching online videos of pets and their amusing antics. Credit for this trend probably belongs, at least in part, to David Letterman and his Stupid Pet Tricks segments that became a hallmark of his Late Night show. Today, simply typing ‘dog tricks’ into the YouTube search field will pull up almost 60,000 results. One trick that made its way onto the cyber-waves just recently, though, is a bit more impressive than some mutt fetching his slovenly owner a can of beer.
Music to His Ears
“Shinook” is a six-year old Shepherd mix who does something that many humans can do, and that one gorilla has managed – communicate using American Sign Language. Shinook’s owner, Fred Dixon, demonstrates in his video (which is easily found since it has gone thoroughly viral). Neither the dog nor his owner are hearing-impaired, it should be noted, but Shinook is in fact a registered therapy dog. He also responds to a snap of the finger or to voice commands.
Command of the Language
In the video, Shinook stares raptly at Fred while he explains that his dog understands sign language. The he puts Shinook through a series of tests, with the first one being the retrieval of Shinook’s own bucket of doggy treats. He gives the command, in American Sign Language, and even though Shinook very likely knows what his owner wants as soon as he begins to sign, he still waits until Fred is done before he turns and does what he’s been “told”.
Shinook can also bring Fred his blanket or his slippers, can either “high five” (with one paw) or “high ten” (with both paws). The dog also understands when Fred tells him to kneel down and pray – all without saying a word, but always with a treat for Shinook as a reward. Many dog owners have figured out how to get their dogs to respond to hand signals, an impressive feat in its own right, but Shinook’s ability to comprehend American Sign Language makes him an extra-special dog.