Assistance Dogs for Hearing Loss

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Assistance dogs are available for people who are deaf and hard of hearing..

Most people are familiar with “seeing eye dogs” for the blind, and recent years have seen increased awareness of canine assistance dogs for autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and epilepsy. There is also a very special category of assistance dogs that are trained to help people with hearing loss and deafness.

Home Hearing Dogs are trained to assist deaf and hard of hearing individuals by alerting them to a variety of household sounds such as a door knock or doorbell, alarm clock, oven buzzer, telephone, baby cry, name call or smoke alarm.

The dogs are trained to make physical contact and lead their person to the source of the sound.

In public, a Hearing Dog isn't specifically trained to alert to sounds, such as a siren or honking horn, but, when a person who is deaf or hard of hearing takes his or her Hearing Dog into public, he or she will gain an awareness of the environment by paying attention to whatever the Hearing Dog is reacting to. When the dog turns to look at something it hears, the person will notice and turn to see what's happening as well. A dog may notice when someone approaches from behind and tries to get the attention of his or her handler. Deafness is invisible and many people feel more secure and confident in public with their dog beside them. A hearing dog, along with his or her "hearing dog" vest, is often the first indicator to the public that the deaf individual may need to be spoken to face to face or in another manner.

By providing sound awareness and companionship these dogs increase employability and provide greatly increased freedom and independence. A Hearing Dog certified for public access is allowed to accompany the handler to public places where pets are not allowed and will require more work to keep up its training than a Home Hearing Dog.

Training:

Hearing Dogs are generally mixed breeds acquired from animal shelters and are small to medium in size. They are chosen based on age and temperament. Prior to formal audio response training, the younger adoptees are raised and socialized by volunteer puppy raisers. Hearing Dogs are identified by the leash and/or vest.

Training generally takes temperament evaluation, obedience training, socialization, and sound training. The dogs are taught to work for toys and affection. There is a minimum of a full year committed to training.

Once placed with their handler, the dogs easily learn to respond to additional sounds such as the microwave, tea kettle, and washer/dryer. Hearing Dogs can be taught to alert people to any repetitive sound that can be set up and practiced regularly. If a sound is inconsistent or too difficult to set up and practice, it is hard for the dog to learn to work it.

In addition to the dogs being trained, the individual must be trained in how to work with and care for their dog.

Placement training is generally three to five days in length and may be done at the handler’s home or may take place at the dog training facility depending on the organization providing the dog.

Other Points to Consider:

Owning a dog is a big responsibility and should be carefully considered prior to applying for a hearing dog.

 Most organizations require a fenced area attached to the home, that the Hearing Dog be the only dog in the home (an exception to this may be a retired Hearing Dog, Autism Assistance Dog or Program Assistance Dog), and that children in the home must be over a certain age and able to take on the tasks required to care for and consistently work with the dog.

Other requirements may include:

1. Total commitment and willingness to working with your dog daily

2. Willingness to put practice sessions ahead of other pressing demands

3. Willingness to stop whatever you are doing to work with your dog when it is confusing or does not work properly. Plus the willingness to do this again and again throughout your first training year, and beyond

4. Willingness to be frustrated but always deal patiently and positively with your dog

5. Time to play with and reward your dog for a job well done each and every time they work for you

6. Exercise for your active dog. They need lots of physical exercise and mental stimulation on a daily basis.

7. Commitment to the full-time job of working with your dog

8. Taking sole responsibility for the care and exercise of the dog so that the dog will bond with you

9. Family members to refrain from giving the dog attention until the dog has completely bonded with the client.

If you are deaf or hard of hearing and can commit to the time, financial needs, and discipline required for a Hearing Dog, they will be an excellent companion and partner for life. For more information about dogs in your area, look here. 

Sources:

Hearing Dogs. (n.d.) Assistance Dogs International. Retrieved September 10, 2014, from http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/about-us/types-of-assistance-dogs/hearing-dog/

For People who are Deaf or have Hearing Loss. (n.d.) Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans. Retrieved September 10, 2014, from http://www.neads.org/assistance-dogs/people-who-are-deaf-or-have-hearing-loss

Rescuing and Professionally Training Dogs (n.d.) Dogs for the Deaf. Retrieved September 10, 2014, from http://www.dogsforthedeaf.org/

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