Service dogs have been specially trained to aid an individual with a specific impairment. Just as there are seeing eye dogs for blind people, the deaf have hearing dogs. Deaf people who receive a hearing dog usually need to have a certain level of hearing loss and have the physical and financial capabilities to care for the dog.
Breeds used as hearing dogs vary greatly; there is no set breed that is most successful at the job. Breeds that have been used as hearing dogs include labradors, Chihuahuas, Jack Russell terriers, and cocker spaniels. However, many charities choose not to use dogs from the guarding breeds or border collies.
Dogs trained to become hearing dogs come from a number of different places. Most are rescue dogs from shelters, though some charities opt to have special breeding programs. Once a dog has been selected or bred for the program, it will spend anywhere from three months to six months in extensive training. After this training, the recipient of the dog also receives training about how to work with the dog. This gives the two time to bond. Throughout the course of a hearing dog’s career, it will receive annual training and evaluation from the charity providing the dog.
Hearing dogs are responsible for alerting the deaf individual to many household sounds that are part of everyday life. If the doorbell rings, for instance, the hearing dog informs the deaf person so that the person can answer the door. The dog performs similar functions with things like the telephone ringing, smoke or fire alarms sounding, oven timers, or a baby crying. Many hearing dogs aren’t trained for outdoor sounds such as car horns or sirens wailing, but they may alert the deaf person by turning in the direction of the sound.
Hearing dogs come from charitable organizations that work to train and place service dogs with any and all people who have a need. Companies such as Dogs for the Deaf in the United States and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People in the United Kingdom train and place dogs with individuals in need free of charge, in most cases. There may be an application fee for some charities, usually around $50. To find and train hearing dogs, charities spend around $6,000 to $7,000 per dog. To cover these expenses, charities accept donations, both from individuals seeking dogs and the general public. Many of the charities will arrange for dogs to be shipped across state lines, if a charity offering service dogs is not near the individual in need. Many charities have a lengthy wait list for recipients, which can be anywhere from six months to two years.
Eventually, many dogs trained to be service dogs become less responsive to their duties, usually because of old age. At this point, owners and trainers commonly opt to let the dog retire from service duties. The age of retirement depends upon the breed and the individual dog itself. Many slow down at around 11 years old, while some keep working up until their 13th or 14th year. Once retired, the dog is placed with a qualified family to enjoy retirement, and the deaf individual can either receive a new dog as soon as possible, wait, or choose not to get another hearing dog.
Ticara Gailliard is a college graduate with a degree in communications/film and video production from the University of Memphis. She has been a writer for over 15 years and has been published in local writing magazines such as "Grandmother Earth." She also edited two books for her high school.