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Hearing Dogs

Hearing dogs are a type of service dog individually trained to alert their deaf or hard of hearing handler to a variety of environmental sounds such as: the doorbell, door knock, timers, smoke alarms, horns, emergency vehicles, a baby crying, a person calling to the handler, etc. Some people choose to have their dog work sounds for them inside the home only, while others choose to have their dog work sounds for them both inside and outside of the home.

Hearing dog candidates are selected for their outstanding temperament, desire to work, and reactivity to sound. Unlike other service dog programs that typically breed for desired traits, trainers have been unable to isolate a specific gene that makes a dog better at sound response. For this reason, the use of shelter and rescue dogs as hearing dogs has been incredibly popular. Some programs specialize in rescuing homeless dogs and giving them a second chance at a working life. The dogs are first obedience trained and then go on to spend between 3-6 months learning sound response work. A hearing dog that will be working with its handler outside of the home must also spend additional time learning public access skills.

The first federally recognized hearing dog was trained in 1968 by Sally Terroux of Denver, CO. The first institution to train dogs to assist the deaf and hard of hearing was International Hearing Dog, Inc. which grew out of the Minnesota SPCA’s hearing dog program in 1975. This program was continued by the Humane Society in 1976, but was ultimately discontinued in the early ‘80s. The SPCA began temperament testing and training hearing dogs from the shelter using funds donated from the Lions Foundation.

A hearing dog may be any breed or size and many organizations that work for profit or non-profit train shelter dogs as hearing dogs. Typically, the applicant must have a hearing loss of at least 65db in order to qualify for a hearing dog.

There is much debate among the Deaf Community over the practicality and use of these trained service dogs in the public. Many culturally Deaf individuals feel that a hearing dog is not necessary outside of the home. It is important to remember that there are degrees of hearing loss and deafness and the decision to obtain a hearing dog is a personal one and the right of the disabled individual.

Article submitted by community member State_of_Nowhere