Dogs are great companions. In addition to providing unconditional love, some are actual lifesavers. Service dogs help people with a wide range of disabilities, including hearing loss, stay safe.
Categories of Assistant Dogs
Assistant dogs fall in three categories: hearing, guide and service.
Hearing dogs help those with a hearing impairment live independently. Guide dogs provide the same level of service to people who are blind. Service dogs are for those with physical or psychiatric disabilities.
The first hearing assistant dogs were trained in the 1960s to help alert their owners to household sounds. In the case of an alarm clock ringing or a fire alarm going off, the dog is trained to make physical contact by nudging an arm or leg. The dog then directs their owner to the source of the sound.
Some organizations train their hearing assistant dogs to accompany their owners outside in public places. They will get their owner’s attention so they can react appropriately to sounds such as oncoming vehicles and sirens.
The former development director of a program who specializes in training hearing assistant dogs, Kelly Gonzales, confirms, “We try to match [the dogs] with an owner as best we can.”
“If there’s someone on our waiting list who goes bowling, then we take the dog into the bowling alley. If we have a very active dog, we’re not going to place them with someone who sits at home all the time. We want to make sure upfront we won’t have to take the dog back.”
While assistant dogs can be any breed, the trainers tend to favor small to medium breeds such as terriers, poodles, chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, cocker spaniels and Lhasa Apsos. Dogs chosen for the program must be energetic, friendly and people oriented.
Who Hearing Dogs Can Benefit?
“One of the biggest things a hearing dog can give someone is confidence and a sense of security that they don’t have otherwise,” said Gonzalez. This is important as those with hearing loss are more likely to experience depression, isolation, frustration and loneliness.
Unfortunately, not everyone with hearing loss qualifies for an assistant dog. Only those who are severely or profoundly deaf or hard of hearing qualify.
If you or someone you know could benefit from a hearing assistant dog, the first step is searching for organizations in your community. Each has its own application process and qualifications.
To learn more about available services to help you navigate the world with hearing loss, contact the experts at Houston Hearing Center.