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How can dogs help with hearing loss?

When you think about an assistance dog, do you instantly picture a seeing eye dog for the visually impaired or blind? Or maybe it's a service dog helping a physically disabled person? While that might be the case, you might be pleased to learn that there are hearing dogs for the hard of hearing or deaf. When talking about an assistance dog, there are three main categories they can fall under; service, guide, and hearing.

Arguably, the most well known assistance dogs are service dogs. These are dogs that work for individuals who have disabilities other than blindness or deafness. Service dogs are trained to perform a wide variety of tasks including but not limited to pulling a wheelchair, retrieving items, and alerting to and providing assistance during a medical crisis. Guide dogs primarily guide individuals who are visually impaired or blind. They help the individual travel around independently and safely. Lastly are the hearing dogs, which are the main focus of this article. These dogs alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to specific sounds such as a door knock, alarm clock, or baby cry to name a few.

Living with limited hearing can play a negative factor in the quality of life one may experience. Thankfully, there are programs to train dogs to help with hearing loss to ultimately improve quality of life and independence. Resources found in places such as Assistance Dogs International are able to train a dog to fit your needs. Hearing dogs not only improve safety and independence, but they are also able to alert individuals to dangers or threats and provide an invaluable source of emotional connection.

Okay, so you know a hearing aid dog is right for you (or a loved one). What now? Time to get this puppy trained!

The process of training a hearing dog is pretty straightforward. While temperament and instinct are prominent features of successful hearing dogs, they must be expertly trained for their specific duties. It starts with obedience training and works towards recognizing sounds and ultimately how to alert their master, you. During this time they learn how to ignore distractions and work on building impulse control. Next, your hearing aid dog will receive audio-response training. They will be taught to respond to specific sounds in the home such as a smoke alarm, doorbell, or knock at the door. Once they pass initial training, they are matched with you and together, you will begin training together to work as a team.

There are numerous organizations across the country that train and provide hearing dogs for members of the deaf community and other hearing impaired candidates. Assistancedogsinternational.org is an excellent resource for locating a hearing dog provider near you. To qualify for a hearing dog, the process includes preliminary screening followed by an in-depth application and interview. The average cost of a program is about $20,000 or more, so you have to be prepared financially and be ready to invest an abundance of time, as the process can take several months.

Although hearing dogs cannot replace the use of properly fitting hearing devices, they offer what a hearing aid can't; adding to their masters’ sense of wellbeing, independence, and security. Some people with hearing loss can feel some type of isolation when home. Having a hearing dog is a wonderful opportunity to foster a partnership and emotional connection.