Hearing dogs

UMES

Hearing disabilities too can be a cause of social isolation, so it is perhaps no surprise that more and more dogs are being trained to assist people with impaired hearing.

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Hearing dogs are trained in various countries including Britain, the United States and Australia. The purpose of training is to teach the dog to be the ears of its owner, who is obviously unable to hear important signals such as doorbells, car horns, fire alarms and sirens. The hearing dog will, for instance, jump on its owner’s bed when the morning alarm goes off and tug at a trouser leg or gently nibble at a hand when the doorbell sounds. Over and above this essential work, hearing dogs help the hearing-impaired to break out of their social isolation.

Many hearing dogs are Golden Retrievers, although Welsh Corgis, Bearded Collies, Poodles and a range of other breeds including cross-breeds are also used. Unfortunately, hearing dog training schools are not as widespread as they perhaps should be and some people are left with no option but to train their own animal.

Future hearing dogs are placed with families – preferably families with children – between eight weeks and one year of age for basic obedience and housetraining. This host family also introduces the dog to different types of situation, from busy city roads and supermarkets to country lanes. After this socialisation has been completed the dog is ready to train as a hearing dog. Its learning abilities are put to the test as it is expected to learn over 70 spoken commands and 20 gestures. People with impaired hearing commonly speak differently to hearing people in terms of intonation and enunciation, so the dog needs to get used to this too.

Dogs can also be trained for people with combined hearing and sight difficulties, although in this case training will take two years rather than one.

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Hearing dogs
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