Hearing dogs are especially bred dogs. Mostly preferred are Labrador and Golden Retrievers. Their job is to alert partners to key sounds by making physical contact such as nudging the leg or arm. Among the many sounds hearing dogs are trained to recognize and respond to are the sound of a doorbell, alarm clock, someone calling a name or a smoke alarm. Dogs are trained to make physical contact and lead their deaf partners to the source of the sound.
Training a hearing dog in basic obedience, public behavior, and sound work can take from 6 months to 1 year. Most programs do not start formal training until the dog is at least 6 months old.
Dogs that may become hearing dogs are tested for proper temperament, sound reactivity, and willingness to work. After those tests, 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 all that are they trained in sound alerting.
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.
While many hearing dogs are professionally trained, it is important to note that this is not a legal requirement and there are hearing-impaired individuals who successfully, and legally, train their own hearing dogs. In fact, there are many websites available that provide tips on how to go about the training.
In the United States, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 allows hearing dogs, along with guide and service dogs, access to anywhere the general public is permitted. Hearing dogs often wear a bright orange leash and collar to identify them. Some also wear a cape or jacket, which may be of a different color. Usually the breeds of Labradors, golden retrievers, German shepherds, Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers and collies are selected as hearing dogs.
How to Obtain a Hearing Dog:
• Be at least 18 years old and deaf or hard of hearing.
• Find a local company and request an application.
• Find a friend or family member to be a training assistant.
• Apply. This process involves several steps designed to ensure success.
• Once the application is accepted, attend a training class for however long is required
• After the training session and a graduation ceremony, attend ongoing training and follow-up support services at a regional training center.
If you don’t want to spend the money, you can train your own dog. However, if you are not up to the task I wouldn’t advise it. If there isn’t a local company in your area, try contacting a local obedience school. Some of them offer advanced packages that cover training a dog to assist people with various disabilities.
Dogs are really amazing animals. They provide us with love and can help us do so many things. I only wish their lifespans were much longer.