Hearing Dogs: Lending an Ear
In the kitchen, a woman cooks dinner while her golden retriever sleeps on the floor. Suddenly, the doorbell rings. The woman keeps on cooking, but her golden retriever jumps to his feet. He runs to the woman, places a paw on her leg then runs to the front door. The woman stops what she is doing and follows her dog to the door.
Many people are familiar with dogs who guide the blind. But did you know that there are also dogs that hear for people? Hearing dogs are trained to tell their deaf owners about important sounds. The sound may be the phone ringing or someone calling the owner. As soon as the dog hears one of these sounds, he puts a paw on his owner’s arm or leg to get his attention. The dog then leads his owner to the place where the sound came from. If the owner doesn't come right away, the dog will go back and forth until the owner follows. It’s kind of like what your own dog does when he’s trying to tell you he’s hungry.
Did You Know?
Unlike guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs can come from a wide variety of dog breeds. Terriers and poodles are especially popular. Mixed breed dogs are also commonly used.
So how are hearing dogs trained? First, a special school that trains hearing dogs chooses and places a dog in a foster home. Here the dog learns commands like sit and stay and how to get along with different types of people and animals. They’re taken to parks and even stores so they can become comfortable with different places. After a few months, the dog returns to the school to start his special hearing training.
At the school, the dog learns to recognize different sounds. He hears doorbells, fire alarms, and cooking timers. When he gets excited about one of these sounds, he is given a reward like a pat on the head or a tasty treat. After a while, the dog will only get a reward if he responds to certain important sounds and takes his trainer to it.
Dogs that do not make it through the training program are adopted out to good homes.
If the dog does well, he will go on to get even more training—this time, with the person who may become his owner. They train together to make sure they will be a good team. The dog must quickly obey commands, and the person must know how to handle and respond to the dog. If the two don't quite fit one another, both the person and the dog are reassigned to new potential partners. However, If the school thinks the two are a good match, the dog will go off with his new owner to start working as a hearing dog.