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Hearing Dogs & Equipment

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To view the service providers that can help train your Hearing Dog, click the button to the left.

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IntroductionHearing dogs

A hearing dog is a type of Service dog specifically selected and trained to assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing by alerting their handler to important sounds, such as doorbells, smoke alarms, ringing telephones, or alarm clocks. They may also work outside the home, alerting to such sounds such as sirens, forklifts and a person calling the handler's name.

Service Dogs

"Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Service dogs are also trained to help people who have other disabilities, such as:

  • visual impairment - Guide Dogs
  • Mobility Impairment - Service Dogs
  • Intellectual Impairments, such as Autism
  • mental illnesses (such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • seizure disorder
  • diabetes.

Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."

The Breed of Service Dog differs, depending on the type of service dog that you need. Most Guide Dogs for the Blind, or Service Dog for someone with a Mobility Impairment are bigger breeds of dogs, while the great majority of Hearing Dog applicants request small to medium sized dogs, so most Hearing Dogs are Sheltie size or smaller.

Historically, many hearing dog programs have acquired their dogs from shelters, as well as from known breeders. As a result, many of the dogs used are mixed breeds, so they can come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors. In addition to size, personality and temperament are important for a Hearing Dog. They must be energetic, ready to work in an instant when a sound occurs. They must be friendly and people oriented. Because of these requirements, a lot of Terrier mixes are used along with various combinations of:Hearing dogs

  • Poodles
  • Cockers
  • Llasa Apsos
  • Shih Tzus
  • Chihuahuas.

Hearing Dogs at home

Hearing Dogs are trained to alert people to household sounds that are necessary for everyday safety and independence. They are trained to make physical contact and lead their person to the source of the sound. Through sound awareness and companionship, these dogs provide greatly increased freedom.

Hearing Dogs in public

A Hearing Dog provides a person in public an increased awareness of his or her environment. A Hearing Dog isn't specifically trained to alert to sounds, such as a siren or honking horn, in public. But, when a person who is deaf or hard of hearing takes a 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 hears something and looks, the person will notice and turn to see what's happening as well.

Training

Dogs that may become hearing dogs are tested for proper temperament, sound reactivity, and willingness to work. After passing initial screenings, they are trained in basic obedience and exposed to things they will face in public such as elevators, shopping carts, and different types of people. Only after that period of socializing are they trained in sound alerting.

Hearing dogs may be trained professionally in as little as three months, though training generally takes four to six months of temperament evaluation, obedience training, socialization, and sound training. The dogs are taught using positive reinforcement. Hearing Dogs are trained to respond to several sounds: fire and smoke alarms, telephone, oven timer, alarm clock, doorbell/door knock, a name call and baby cry, if requested.

Once placed with their deaf or hard of hearing partner, 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.
Generally, training involves getting the dog to recognize a particular sound and then physically alert or lead their handler to the source. They may also be taught to physically alert to and/or lead away from a sound, such as in the case of a fire alarm.

Hearing dogs often wear a bright orange leash and collar to identify them. Some also wear a cape or jacket, which may or may not be orange. It is not legally required to have or wear any badge, leash, collar, or any other identifying item.

Training is as important for the prospective owner as it is for the dog, as the training of the dog will quickly break down if it is not handled and managed properly.  Training for the owner usually consists of a stay at the Training Centre for 2-3 weeks.

While many hearing dogs are professionally trained, as described and stated above, it is important to note that this is not a legal requirement and there are deaf or hearing-impaired individuals who successfully, and legally, undertake the challenge of training their own hearing dogs.

Over the years, much will depend on the Service Dog Owner ensuring that the dog’s work remains at a high standard.  Every well-trained animal looks to its master for a lead, and unless a Service Dog receives clear instructions, firm control and lots of praise when it is working well, the quality of it’s work will soon deteriorate.

Benefits of owning a service dog

Studies show owning a pet or therapy animal offer positive effects psychologically, socially, and physiologically. Service animals especially come with a variety of benefits and help in many ways. They give a person more confidence, friendship, and security. Companionship offered by a pet helps reduce anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Because animals offer support, security, and companionship, stress is reduced, which in turn improves cardiovascular health. “A number of studies identify pet ownership as a factor in improved recovery from illness and in improved health in general”.

Service animals make it easier to get around, resulting in the person getting more exercise or walking more. People are more willing to go places and feel a sense of independence. Meeting people and socializing is easier, and people are more likely to offer a person help when there is a service animal present. The animals may also lead to increased interaction with other people. Animals are seen as “ice breakers” to a conversation with something to talk about. In many cases, service animals offer a life changing experience.

Owners of service animals share a special bond with their animal. Many report that the animal is a member of the family, and go to their animal for comfort and support. The animal isn’t seen as a working animal, but more as a loyal friend. However it is important to remember that service animals are working animals and should not be distracted or treated as a normal animal while they are working.

Acquiring a Hearing Dog

The Guide Dog Association of South Africa supplies a variety of Service Dogs to help people who have disabilities, such as: Visual Impairments (Guide Dogs), Mobility Impairments (Service Dogs) and Intellectual Impairments, such as Autism, but they no longer train Hearing Dogs, due to lack of financial resources.  

There are however a variety of organisations in countries around the world such as Australia, UK, New Zealand & USA, which do supply and train Hearing Dogs, for the Deaf or Hearing Impaired. This includes organisations such as:

Some people have brought in dogs from places like these, or they are able to train the dog privately.

References

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