Hearing and signal dogs have been specially trained to assist deaf people by responding to specific sounds. They may notify their deaf companion when the doorbell chimes, when the phone rings or when a smoke alarm blares. Service dog training requires lengthy, systematic training. While generally taught by professionals, service dogs can be trained at home if the trainer has strong training skills and remains diligent.
Make sure the dog’s temperament is suited to that of a good service dog. The dog must be well socialized to people and other animals, calm and obedient. The dog also must be attentive and able to tune out distractions. Remember, the dog will need to enter shops and restaurants, and ride public transportation. Test the dog by taking her into various social situations and watching her behavior, noting any that may make her unwelcome. Determine if any concerning behaviors can be trained away or if the dog should remain just a pet.
Teach basic commands such as "sit," "come," "down" and "heel." With a treat in hand and a humane leash if needed for control, show the dog the action you want performed while stating a command word. For example, to teach a dog to lie down, hold a treat in one hand and lower it toward the ground as you say “down.” At the same time, gently pull the dog’s collar down with the other hand until he rests in a lying position.
Once the dog fully performs the task, praise her and offer the treat. Repeat many times each day for several days. The dog will begin performing the action without physical help, but you must still practice with her regularly. She must respond to the command perfectly at the first request 90 percent of the time.
Once the dog performs basic commands consistently, choose tasks that specifically assist the dog’s deaf companion, such as responding to a ringing phone, a chiming doorbell or a fire alarm. Cause the sound to be made; then show the dog the correct response, offering a treat when the response is completed.
You may need to teach the activity in steps. For example, when teaching how to respond to a ringing phone, first train the dog to sit in front of his companion when the phone rings, to get the companion’s attention. Once he masters that, train him to move from there and sit in front of the phone to show that the phone is ringing. This same principle can be used for any sound.
Once the dog masters a command, practice it in distracting situations, such as in a crowded room or a busy store. This distraction-training, or -proofing, is essential, as distracting situations make up so much of a person’s day-to-day life.
The dog’s deaf companion must review the commands with the dog on an ongoing basis.
- Be sure the dog experiences riding escalators and elevators, walking through crowded areas without distraction, and going on public transportation.
- Abide by the standard rules for service dogs: they should never be fed or petted while working without the owner’s permission.
- Seek assistance from a professional trainer if you are unsure how to train for a specific task or if the dog responds inconsistently to training. Remember, someone’s safety and well-being is at stake.
- The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) does not give public access rights to trainers. Ask permission before entering a store, restaurant or other private facility.
- The dog must perform tasks the owner cannot do on his own in order to be legally considered a service dog. The owner must also be legally disabled.
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