Monday, July 13, 2009

Teaching Lance Signs

Lance1 Lance may have a hearing problem but he makes up for it with his keen eyesight. He seems to know that some thing is from far away unlike his brother and sister who have to be right on top of it. Lance also understands sign language. His vocabulary is about fifteen words. Training him to understand what each word was took some time and a lot of trial and errors on both of our parts.
When I finally realized that Lance was deaf I wasn’t concerned about the problem because I grew up with a deaf brother. I already had the language skills to deal with Lance. Problem was Lance didn’t have any language skills at the time. He didn’t even make the chitter chatter that my other fur kids did.
First on the agenda was to decide what signs I wanted to teach him and how to go about it. I thought about what the first word is we say to our children more than a few times in a day when they start exploring their environment.
Yep the first word he learned was NO! Which at the time was because he would bite and not let go. No is also an easy sign to do. It is like making a wide bird bill and closing and opening it a couple of times. sign4nopt1 sign4nopt2
© Dr. William Vicars
While doing the sign is easy getting Lance to understand it took some time because I didn’t want to reward him for negative behavior. It took some thought and a lot of bitter apple.
Bitter apple is a taste deterrent that discourages negative behavior. It works as long as the ferret doesn’t like bitter tasting things like James. At the time Lance’s biggest problem was biting and to get him use to the sign No and associate it with something yucky tasting was easy.
I’d coat my hands with the bitter apple before I’d handle Lance. He’d grab my hand with his paws so he could get a good grip with his teeth. I’d sign No before he would chomp down on my hand. The taste of the bitter apple made him let go quickly. It only took six times of him repeatedly chomping on my hand. Lance now understands when I sign No he is doing something he isn’t suppose to be doing and like all little kids he hates the word so he usually doesn’t do the behavior to get told no.
The second sign I taught Lance was Play also an easy sign to do. Use both hands and make two Y’s turned sideways that you shake up and down.
playb1 playb2 playb3 playb4 playb5 playb6
© Dr. William Vicars
This was easier to teach Lance because I could use a treat or the fact I let him out of the cage after I signed it. Lance loves his playtime and will greet me at the door of his cage still. I think he also likes the fact I’ll tell him playtime when the other two are asleep. Lance is a lot like my little brother in that he has a lot more energy than the other two and doesn’t sleep as much as they do.
What I have found is that I do the same things I do when I am talking to my little brother, JR, I talk and sign at the same time. So all three of my fuzzies know what I am saying even when I don’t speak.
A really good site that I have found for learning more about American Sign Language is
I just recently found the site and it has helped me remember several signs that I had forgotten and helped correct me on the ones I have been doing wrong.
Lance’s list of signs are:
1. No, which is also used with bite.
2. Play
3. Come
4. Eat
5. Water
6. Little time
7. Later
8. Wait
9. Stop
10. What
11. Funny
12. Kiss
13. Love
14. Where
15. Sleep/nap
And the list is stilling growing. While Lance isn’t a chimp it does go to show that any animal given the time and motivation can learn the basic signs so that it is easier to communicate with them.
Last year showed just how well Lance knew his signs. He had to go to the vet for an injury that was painful for him. Normally he would have bitten the vet or the vet tech but I told him no bite and he didn’t bite either one of them. Both were impressed.

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