Most of us have heard of or seen Seeing Eye dogs that are responsible for assisting in the daily lives of their blind or low-vision human partners. But did you know there are also Hearing Ear dogs specially trained to assist Deaf and hard of hearing individuals?
What Hearing Ear dogs can do
Hearing Ear dogs are trained to alert their human partners to a variety of important acoustic cues in the environment, such as fire alarms, doorbells, a baby’s cry, and someone calling their owner’s name. For example, if the fire alarm goes off in the middle of the night, the Hearing Ear dog is trained to wake up their human partner, and lead them outside to safety.
While a Hearing Ear dog cannot help their human partner hear everything, their presence and assistance provides a sense of security and reassurance when hearing person with hearing loss ventures into the world of sound. Even if the dog has not been trained to respond and alert their owner to a certain sound (e.g., a traffic accident or unusual commotion nearby) the dog’s turning and attending to the sound source alerts their human partner to look in that direction as well.
How Hearing Ear dogs are trained
Hearing Ear dogs are specially trained service dogs. While some hearing dog training organizations acquire dogs from known breeders, most them come from animal shelters. As a result, many are mixed breeds, and most are small to medium sized in order to suit the preferences expressed by the majority of individuals seeking a canine hearing companion. . But regardless of size and breed, a dog must have the right personality and temperament in order to be considered for this career. As service dogs, they need to be energetic, ready to work, and people oriented.
Hearing Ear dogs are trained by dedicated professionals. Each canine candidate must first undergo basic obedience training as well as acclimation to everyday public situations, such as riding on elevators, being in crowded restaurants, and navigating busy city streets. Only afterwards do they receive audio response training, during which they are taught to recognize specific sounds, and then physically alert or lead their handler to the source of a sound.
Training can take a few months up to a year. Once a dog has successfully completed training, they are paired with deaf or hard of hearing individuals. Sometimes, the trainer will continue to work with the dog and its new human partner at their home to teach the dog how to recognize specific sounds in the owner’s life, such as washing machine buzzes or microwave beeps.
How to recognize a Hearing Ear dog
When out and about, Hearing Ear dogs are typically identified by a special brightly-colored leash and collar, and sometimes a cape or jacket. In the United States, they are allowed access to anywhere the general public is permitted under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Protected by the Fair Housing Act, they are also allowed to live in housing developments that otherwise prohibit pets.
While technology advancements in hearing aids and assistive listening devices have arguably diminished the necessity for Hearing Ear dogs, they still provide help in situations where technology cannot. Beyond giving their human partners a sense of security in a world of sound, Hear Ear dogs provide the companionship, love, and loyalty that no electronic gadget can ever replace.