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The Acorn Project


A toolkit of resources designed to help staff members and volunteers working with deaf dogs in shelters and rescues prepare them for successful adoption into loving homes

If you find yourself saying “This dog just doesn’t listen,” it’s a good idea to ask why.

–Mary L Motley

Imagine yourself thrust into a situation where no-one speaks your language. All around you, people are trying to tell you what to do, but each one speaks a different language — one person speaks French, another Yugoslavian, another Mandarin Chinese. To you, it’s all gibberish. You want to please — to do the right thing, but you don’t know how and you can’t even explain that you don’t understand. Soon you get frustrated. You act out. Or maybe you just shut down. In any event, you get labeled as someone who doesn’t listen, doesn’t pay attention, or maybe even someone who just can’t learn. You get defined by your negative behavior. That’s what can happen when a deaf dog comes into a shelter or rescue, isn’t identified as deaf and doesn’t receive the help he needs to thrive in the world around him.

Based on the real experience of a deaf shelter dog named Acorn and his adopter Mary L. Motley, the Acorn Project is built on the premise that deaf dogs and their caregivers require an easy-to-learn and easy-to-teach lexicon of signs that can be used while simultaneously holding a leash or offering a treat – and that these signs should become universal so that a deaf dog in a shelter or rescue, foster or adoptive home, veterinarian’s office, groomer, boarding kennel, or daycare anywhere in the country will know what’s expected of him and be able to exhibit the good behavior we all expect.

Project Goals

  • Staff and volunteers in shelters and rescues will be quick to suspect deafness whenever they find themselves saying, “That dog just won’t listen.”

  • Acorn’s signs will become the accepted sign language for dogs just as ASL and BSL are the accepted languages for deaf humans.

  • The poster of Acorn’s signs will hang in shelters and rescues all across the country and everyone working with deaf dogs will be encouraged to use these signs consistently.

  • Foster parents and adopters will be sent home with copies of the dictionary or links to the accompanying videos and encouraged to continue using these signs as they move on with their dog’s training.

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