We love dogs; they’re amazing companions – fun, loving, and they bring us lots of joy. But for some people their dog is more than just a pet – they’re a lifeline. Most of us are familiar with Guide Dogs, who are bred and trained to help people with visual impairments navigate their way around outdoors. But did you know that Hearing Dogs also exist, to support people with hearing loss?
As it’s Deaf Awareness Week, we found out more about the essential role dogs play in the lives of deaf people.
Through many years of experience, the teams behind breeding hearing dogs in the UK have settled on four perfect breeds who are best suited to carrying out the role and help change the lives of deaf people. Those breeds are labradors, cocker spaniels, miniature poodles and mixed breed cockapoos. This is due to their personality and traits, which include being gentle but active and alert.
Similarly to Guide Dogs, hearing dogs are bred specifically into the programme, with the intention of them becoming working dogs and being matched with a person in need. Their training includes learning to respond to common, and not so common sounds like alarm clocks, doorbells, fire alarms and even text messages on mobile phones – all noises that a deaf person wouldn’t hear, and that could be potentially dangerous or even life threatening if they were missed.
Hearing dogs learn through reward-based training. When dogs display behaviour in line with what’s expected of them in their ‘job’ they get lots of fuss, treats and cuddles. When they don’t display the correct behaviour they’re simply ignored. Hearing dogs in training are never punished for the ‘wrong’ behaviour. This results in calmer, happier dogs, who go on to be dedicated and relaxed companions. Once matched up with an owner, the dog’s training will be further tailored to meet that person’s needs.
Hearing loss can occur from birth, or later in life, and can be very isolating and lonely. As well as providing essential listening skills for their owners, hearing dogs can bring companionship, confidence and independence. Hearing dogs can be matched with people of all ages; from children and teenagers, through to older people. Parents can also benefit from being alerted to cries from their children if they fall or have a bad dream.
To find out more about hearing dogs, how they are trained, and to read real life stories from people of all ages, visit their website: www.hearingdogs.org.uk.