You know about Guide Dogs for people with vision loss, but what about canine helpers for people with hearing loss? They exist and they’re called Hearing Dogs. Dogs obviously have a very keen sense of hearing and can be highly trained, so this makes them the perfect companion for people requiring hearing assistance.
A Hearing Dog is a type of assistance dog specifically selected and trained to assist people who are hard of hearing by alerting their handler to important sounds, such as doorbells, smoke alarms, ringing telephones, or alarm clocks.
Hearing Dogs at home
In the home, this means the dogs are trained to alert people to household sounds that are necessary for everyday safety and independence. Hearing Dogs are trained to make physical contact and lead their person to the source of the sound, alerting their owners to sounds in the home by touching the owner with a paw. Through sound awareness and companionship, these dogs help to greatly increase the freedom of their human companions.
Hearing Dogs outdoors
When out in public, the dogs provide their humans with an increased awareness of their ever-changing surrounds. A Hearing Dog is not specifically trained to alert to sounds, such as a siren or honking horn, in public. But, when a person with hearing loss takes a Hearing Dog out into public, they will be able to pay attention to whatever their Hearing Dog reacts to. When the dog hears something and looks, the owner will turn to see what’s happening.
Training Hearing Dogs
Training up Hearing Dogs can take between four and eight months of positive reinforcement methods to ensure they possess the right temperament for obedience training, socialisation and sound training.
Typically, hearing Dogs are training to respond to sounds such as fire and smoke alarms, telephones, oven timers, alarm clocks, doorbells & knocks, the call of a name and occasionally the cries of a baby when necessary. Once placed, the dogs can easily learn to respond to common household sounds such as the microwave, kettle, washing machine, dryer and so on.
How to recognise a Hearing Dog
Hearing Dogs often have identifying jackets to bring attention to them, and their owners must also carry an identification card proving that their dog is a genuine Hearing Dog. By law, Hearing Dogs and the owners must be given access to every public place that people without dogs can go, with only a few exceptions. Penalties apply to anyone who denies access to a Hearing Dog, and it’s an offence to attempt to pass a pet dog off as a Hearing Dog.