A hearing dog is a service dog which has been trained to assist a handler who is deaf or hard of hearing. Hearing dogs are trained to offer “sound alerts” to their handlers to indicate that a noise of interest or concern is occurring, ranging from a fire alarm to a friend shouting out a greeting. Any dog breed can be used as a hearing dog, and many hearing dog training organizations choose to train rescued strays, when possible, to give these dogs a second chance at life.
Before a dog can begin training as a hearing dog, he or she is first taught to be extremely obedient. Potential assistance dogs must be extremely well mannered, calm, and friendly, and they are typically subjected to a range of stressful situations during training to see how they behave. Obviously, a service animal which bolts at a loud noise or snaps at children could be potentially dangerous, and such animals are dismissed from the training program.
Once the dog has been trained, socialized, and tested, he or she begins to learn the mechanics of sound alerting. At the most basic, a hearing dog will learn to tug on a lead or paw at its handler’s leg to indicate that there is a noise which requires attention. Many hearing dogs also learn several specific alerts, and they may be taught to do things like pull away from the direction of a fire alarm for safety. Once the dog has learned all of his or her obedience commands and been trained to react to sounds, he or she is introduced to potential handlers, who typically test the dog for a short period to ensure that the dog is a good match.
Most organizations which provide hearing dogs also take care of their routine medical care, or have recommendations for veterinarians who handle service animals. These organizations may also offer ongoing training as well as regional meetups, for people who are interested. Typically, a hearing dog becomes a close member of the family, as he or she provides a valuable service in addition to companionship.
Very special hearing dogs are trained to assist deaf/blind owners, acting as guide dogs in addition to performing as hearing dogs. For people who are deaf and blind, this type of service animal can be immensely liberating, as it allows the handler to have much more freedom of movement than he or she would otherwise.
By law, hearing dogs, along with other assistance animals, must be granted admission to any public places where their owners wish to go. In many countries, hearing dogs are expected to wear specific insignia which indicates that they are working animals, and owners may need to carry a card. The exception to this is the United States, where service animals are heavily protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); by law, American service animals do not need to wear special insignia, and people may not ask for an identity card, as this is considered to be discrimination.