Have you heard about hearing assistance dogs?

There are many different types of service dogs. Guide dogs assist the blind and the visually impaired. Service dogs assist people with balance issues, autism, those who need seizure alerts and more. Did you know there are also hearing assistance dogs? They assist those who are deaf and hard of hearing with activities of daily living, keep them safe, and aware of their surroundings.

There are about 1,000,000 people in the US, over the age of 5 years, who are functionally deaf. According to Assistance Dogs International, hearing assistance dogs alert deaf or hard of hearing individuals to a wide variety of sounds including “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 deaf partners to the source of the sound.”

Not only are they smart and well-trained, hearing assistance dogs love their work; they are raised to be great service dogs from their puppy days. The ADI says the dogs are usually mixed breed, rescued from shelters, and raised by volunteers until they are old enough to enter hearing assistance training. The training lasts four to six months and includes environments commonly visited by the future owner, like retail stores, restaurants, and when hobbies dictate, places like bowling alleys.

The benefits of hearing assistance dogs
As you would expect, hearing assistance dogs are very sensitive to all noises and are trained to react to them to protect their owner, called “partners” or “handlers”, in any environment. Service dogs are specifically trained on how to give cues to their owners. Small dogs may jump on their partner’s leg, while larger dogs will touch their partner’s hand with their nose. Once the dog gets their handler’s attention, night or day, the dog will then lead the individual to the sound to point out what needs attention or action.

This includes making sure their partner is not caught by surprise. According to World Class Service Dogs, “A dog may notice when someone approaches from behind and will try to get the attention of his or her partner.” Many times, a hearing dog will pave the way for better communication between a deaf or hard of hearing individual and other people. The dog’s “hearing dog” vest will alert others that they need to pay special attention to speaking clearly, and directly to the person with the dog.

Other benefits of hearing assistance dogs do not involve detecting sounds, but the animal-human connection of companionship. Deaf or hard of hearing individuals may be isolated, and as a result may experience anxiety, depression, loneliness or other emotional issues. The companionship of a dog can go a long way toward combating these issues and provide emotional support and happiness for the partner. Knowing that a dog can alert him or her to noises may make the partner more willing to participate in social activities and avoid social isolation.

Hearing assistance dogs are very specifically trained. Not all breeds are well adapted to this training and a personal pet may not be a good match.

Type of breeds that are good candidates for hearing assistance dogs
Most hearing assistance dogs are mixed breed and small-to-medium in size.
There are purebreds, however, that also make for good hearing assistance dogs. They include:

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Poodles
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Terriers

 

In the end, though, pedigree of dog is not as important as the traits the dog needs to have. Hearing assistance dog candidates must:

  • Be trainable
  • Have the right temperament
  • Be naturally attentive to sound
  • Be alert and ready to hear/act/perceive in an instant
  • Have friendly demeanors
  • Show confidence but not in a domineering way

 

If you or a loved one are interested in getting a hearing assistance dog, check with a certified training program in your area. Chances are there is a puppy waiting to be trained to assist you for many years to come.

 

 

References
Hearing Dogs: https://assistancedogsinternational.org/about-us/types-of-assistance-dogs/hearing-dog/
Service Dogs for People Who Are Deaf or Have Hearing Loss: https://neads.org/service-dog-programs/hearing-dogs-deaf-and-hearing-loss/
83 Programs in North America – ADINA: https://assistancedogsinternational.org/location/north-america-adina/