Hearing dogs are one of the three types of assistance dogs, along with guide dogs and service dogs. They are trained to help people who are deaf or have significantly impaired hearing. They allow for a much greater degree of confidence and independence for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, mitigating the disability by essentially serving as a person’s ears. Of course, like any dog, they’re also a great source of companionship.
As compared to the other two types of assistance dogs, hearing dogs perform much more of their work in the home than out of the home. Still, they certainly can contribute when their human partner is out and about as well. There is no legally required or official uniform or other way of identifying any assistance dog, but hearing dogs often wear a leash, harness, or vest.
Because they’re one of the three types of legally recognized assistance dogs, people partnered with a hearing dog are entitled to all the access rights afforded by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Information About Hearing Dogs’ Tasks
The most important job of a hearing dog is to alert her human partner to sounds. These assistance dogs are thoroughly trained for anywhere from about three months to a year to identify key sounds and bring them to the attention of their partner. They typically do so by tapping or nudging a person and leading them to the source of the sound.
Sounds that hearing dogs are commonly trained to react to include (but are not limited to):
- Knocking at the door/doorbell ringing
- Phone ringing
- Alarm clocks
- Smoke detectors/fire alarms
- Their partner’s name being called
- Crying baby
- Oven and other timers
- Tea kettle whistling
- Keys or other items dropping
- Honking vehicle
Hearing Dog Breeds
There’s no special breed that makes the perfect hearing dog. An individual dog’s temperament and good health is much more important than breed. Hearing dogs are frequently one of these common breeds trained as assistance dogs, and they’re also often mixed breeds adopted from shelters or acquired from reputable breeders.
Often, people prefer small to medium-sized dogs as hearing dogs. Because they don’t perform the physically demanding work of certain types of service dogs, such as providing balance support or pulling a wheelchair, they don’t need to be a large breed.
Think You or a Loved One Would Benefit from a Hearing Dog?
If you or a loved one is deaf or hearing impaired, a hearing dog can be of great benefit. However, a partnership means comes with a good deal of responsibility, and the time and financial investment can be significant. It’s definitely something to look into, but not a decision to take lightly.
Start by reading our article on deciding whether an assistance dog partnership is right for you. Then, because you have plenty of flexibility regarding breed, take a look at this piece on choosing an assistance dog breed. We also have some advice for finding a reputable assistance dog provider, and cannot stress enough that you should go with a program that’s accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI).