Hearing Dogs

Hearing dogs are specialized service dogs trained to assist individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing by alerting them to various environmental sounds. These sounds include doorbells, door knocks, timers, smoke alarms, horns, emergency vehicles, a baby crying, and someone calling out to the handler. Some people opt to use hearing dogs for indoor sound alerts only, while others extend their use to both indoor and outdoor environments.

The selection of hearing dog candidates focuses on excellent temperament, eagerness to work, and sensitivity to sound. Unlike other service dog programs where breeding is often tailored to desired traits, a specific gene that enhances a dog’s sound response ability has not been identified. Consequently, many hearing dogs are sourced from shelters or rescue organizations, offering these dogs a second lease on life through their training and work. These programs not only rescue homeless dogs but also provide them with a purposeful existence. The training process involves initial obedience training, followed by 3-6 months of specialized training in sound response. Dogs intended to work with their handlers in public also undergo additional training to develop their public access skills.

The concept of hearing dogs gained federal recognition in 1968 with the first dog being trained by Sally Terroux of Denver, CO. The initial institutional training for such dogs began with International Hearing Dog, Inc., which evolved from the Minnesota SPCA’s hearing dog program in 1975. This program, initially continued by the Humane Society in 1976, was eventually discontinued in the early 1980s. During its operation, the SPCA conducted temperament testing and trained shelter dogs as hearing dogs using funds donated by the Lions Foundation.

Hearing dogs can be of any breed or size, and many organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, train shelter dogs for this role. Typically, to qualify for a hearing dog, an applicant must have a hearing loss of at least 65 dB.

The use of hearing dogs, particularly in public, is a subject of debate within the Deaf Community. Some culturally Deaf individuals believe that hearing dogs are not necessary outside the home. However, it’s important to recognize the varying degrees of hearing loss and deafness, and that the decision to use a hearing dog is a deeply personal one, ultimately up to the discretion of the individual with the disability. This decision reflects the diverse needs and preferences within the Deaf and hard of hearing community, acknowledging that each person’s experience with hearing loss is unique and their choice of assistance should be respected.

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