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What You Need to Know Before Getting a Hearing Dog

McDonald, Judy

doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000559496.13814.b1
Patient Handout

Ms. McDonald is a certified service dog trainer at Little Angels Service Dogs and a professional comedian. She was a recipient of a service dog, which inspired her to help Little Angels’ program reach more people who could benefit from a service dog.

You've probably seen service dogs for people returning from war or in wheelchairs, and even dogs that can alert their humans to impending seizures. But did you know there are service dogs specially trained for the deaf? Learn more about hearing dogs and how they can help those who are hard of hearing.

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Hearing dogs enable deaf or hard-of-hearing people to be more aware of their surroundings. They give cues to help their handler better navigate public settings. For example, when the dog looks to the left, this tells the handler that an auditory signal is coming from that direction. This prompts the handler to look to the left to see if it is something he/she should respond to.

Hearing dogs are also trained to alert their handler to certain sounds at home. For example, they are trained to paw at their handler's leg when the smoke alarm goes off, the doorbell rings, the microwave dings, or the kettle whistles. Hearing dogs can be trained on a case-by-case basis to react to sounds that are specific to a handler's situation. An average service dog undergoes over 600 hours of training.

Hearing dogs can be of a small or large breed, but size is not a factor. Labradors, golden retrievers, and doodles are generally trained as hearing dogs, but any dog breed that has the right temperament and energy as a service dog would be a great hearing dog.

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Weigh the pros and cons of getting a hearing dog. Will it give you new freedoms, or will it draw extra attention to you that you're not comfortable with? Although service dogs can bring many benefits, getting one requires at least a 10-year commitment. This decision should not be taken lightly. Make sure your friends and family are on board because getting a hearing dog can be a long and difficult process.

Different service dog organizations may have different application requirements and procedures. In general, service dog applicants must:

  • be deaf or hard of hearing, with medical documentation,
  • have good communication skills,
  • have love for dogs and patience to undergo dog trainings and address possible challenges,
  • be able to provide veterinary care and maintenance for the next 10 to 12 years,
  • be able to participate in handler training.
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If you meet these prerequisites, find a service dog organization and apply for a hearing dog with your medical and personal referral documents. If your initial application is accepted, the organization will contact you to schedule a phone or in-person consultation to see how a service dog can assist you and make sure you are a good fit for a hearing dog. Check the financial requirements or if the organizations can help you raise the funds to get a hearing dog. Once the funds are met, you will be in line for dog placement to select a dog that has the natural propensities to assist you; additional training may also be given to the service dog when deemed necessary.

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Handlers must learn how to work with the dog as a team. Handler training generally takes 14 days to reinforce the dog's previous training. This is when the dog learns to respond to the handler's commands in practical, real-life settings to help the handler gain confidence in taking the dog under his or her care. Training is also conducted in public, such as shopping malls, restaurants, and parks, so the handler feels comfortable taking the dog outside of the house.

After completing the training, the handler gets a certification card and the dog is provided with a service vest and identification tag. Service dog organizations may also conduct monthly and bi-yearly consultations to ensure that the hearing dog is healthy, happy, and effectively improving the handler's quality of life.

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