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Home > Dogs > Hearing Dogs 101: Service Animals for the Deaf and Impaired

Hearing Dogs 101: Service Animals for the Deaf and Impaired

hearing dog

Hearing dogs are dogs that have been specially trained to assist hearing-impaired people with everyday tasks. They help deaf people get around by being their ears and they also make great companions to help stave off potential loneliness. In most countries, hearing dogs are permitted in public places and are allowed into stores, restaurants, and other places where pet dogs are not typically allowed.

Labradors, Retrievers, and Cocker Spaniels are commonly used as hearing dogs because of their unique combination of skills and trainability, but many breeds have shown aptitude that makes them invaluable assets to people with hearing impairments.

Some deaf people, and those with hearing impairments, can be granted permission to have a hearing dog by their physician. There are grants and subsidies available for some potential owners, too, but the waiting lists can be long, and many owners pay thousands of dollars to get a fully trained dog that is ready for service and with less waiting time.

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What Can Hearing Dogs Do?

Hearing dogs listen for and alert their owners to sounds that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to hear. This can include the sound of doorbells and telephones, as well as alarms and alerts. The dog is trained to nudge the owner and then lead them to the source of the sound, for example to the door. They may also be able to bring the phone when it rings. A hearing dog can also listen for the sound of a baby crying, and alert its owner to the noise, providing invaluable assistance for deaf parents.

Outside the house, hearing dogs are able to ignore external, irrelevant noises, like the noise of passing traffic or the conversations and noises from other people. They can listen for oncoming traffic and other noises, again alerting the owner to any noises they might not have heard.

Hearing dogs also act as companions for their deaf owners, offering company throughout the day.

service guide dog is helping a blind man in the city
Image Credit: SasaStock, Shutterstock

What Are the Best Hearing Dog Breeds?

Service dogs used as hearing dogs need to possess a number of characteristics and skills. They need to be attentive to noise, alert, and they need to be people-oriented. They need to be confident, without being pushy, and they must be able to focus on the job at hand without losing their attention. Hearing dogs need to be intelligent and easy to train, too.

Commonly, the breeds used as hearing dogs are small to medium in size, and while there is no specific breed that is considered the best breed, there are some breeds that have the ideal characteristics and are used more often than others.

  • Labradors – Labradors are highly intelligent, easy to train, and love to please their companions which means that they are happy to work as hearing dogs. They also make good companion dogs, which is an important attribute.
  • Labrador RetrieversLabrador Retrievers are closely related to Golden Labradors and share many of the same traits, although they do tend to be slightly larger than the Golden.
  • Cocker SpanielsCocker Spaniels are smaller than Labradors and Retrievers. They have sharp senses, are always alert, and they are intelligent so are easy to train.

Other popularly used breeds include the Miniature Poodle and the Cockapoo, both of which benefit from the intelligence of the Poodle breed.

labrador service dog waiting patiently
Image By: Belish, Shutterstock

How Much Do They Cost?

Hearing dogs have to undergo intensive training and socialization during the early stages of their lives. It is estimated that it costs up to $40,000 to breed, train, socialize, and support a hearing dog, which includes the ongoing costs once the dog is matched with an owner. Although the owner is responsible for paying for care and maintenance, behavioral and other issues are usually covered by the training program.

There are some programs that place hearing dogs with owners at no charge to the owner. Such programs are usually covered by donations from individuals and companies, and may not receive any government funding, so newly matched owners are encouraged to donate or raise funds once they have a dog. Grants and subsidies might also be available in certain circumstances, and these can help cover the costs of taking on a hearing dog.

Waiting Times

It can take months, or even years, before a deaf or hearing-impaired person is matched with and receives an assistance dog. There are more people requiring dogs than there are dogs to match with them, which means there is a rigorous matching process.

Potential owners are assessed and tested and their requirements are considered. On acceptance of an application, a dog is then chosen and trained to the specific requirements of the owner, before it is placed. All of this takes time, and many people report waiting 2 years or more from the application to the receipt of a hearing assistance dog.

labrador service dogs
Image By: GS S, Pixabay

Advantages of Hearing Dogs

  • Safety – Hearing dogs are trained to listen for noises like fire alarms and other alarms. They can also listen for potential dangers that their owners might not hear while out walking, such as the sound of sirens.
  • Confidence – Hearing dogs give hearing-impaired owners greater confidence both out of the house and while at home because they know that their companion will alert them to possible dangers and assist in listening for important noises.
  • Independence – Having a hearing dog means that the hearing-impaired do not have to rely on family members, friends, or carers, and also enables them to take part in more activities.
  • Companionship – Dogs provide companionship, and as well as being exceptional service dogs, hearing dogs also become close to their human companion, potentially combating loneliness.

Disadvantages of Hearing Dogs

  • Long Waiting Times – Hearing dogs do take a lot of time to train and raise, and it can take years for a person to be matched with a suitable dog even once a person’s application for a service dog is accepted.
  • Cost – While some people do get service dogs for free from charitable organizations and via donations, some potential owners do still have to pay, and even those that are given for free need to be fed and otherwise taken care of, which costs money.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you apply for a hearing dog?

Initially, an individual needs to visit their physician, who will first diagnose deafness and determine its severity. If they believe the individual would benefit from having a hearing dog, they may certify or prescribe one. From there, the potential owner should find a reputable hearing dog organization and start their application process.

Can you get a hearing dog if you have another dog?

Most hearing dog programs will not place a hearing dog in a home that already has another dog, and many will not place it in homes with cats, either.

chocolate Labrador retriever service dog
Image By: Shine Caramia, Shutterstock

Can hearing dogs go anywhere?

Hearing dogs cannot go anywhere, but they are allowed to go to most places that members of the public are permitted to go. They can be taken on public transport and most premises, including restaurants and bars, must allow service dogs, including hearing dogs.

How much does it cost to train a hearing dog?

The cost of training a hearing dog varies from group to group but estimates suggest that it costs around $40,000 to breed, raise, train, socialize, and place a hearing dog with a suitable owner.

What is the best breed for a hearing dog?

Several breeds are known to make good hearing dogs, but the most commonly used breeds are medium-sized breeds that are intelligent, alert, and levelheaded. Labradors, Retrievers, Spaniels, and Poodles are some of the most commonly used breeds.

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Conclusion

Hearing dogs are invaluable to owners that are hearing-impaired or deaf. They can provide security and safety, improve dependence, and can literally change the lives of their owners. They do cost a lot to train, and waiting lists to receive a service dog can be long, but most owners do not need to pay the initial cost of acquiring a hearing dog.


Featured Image Credit: Steve Shoup, Shutterstock

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