Service Animals for the Hard of Hearing

service dogs
Photo by Martha Soukup

When people think of service animals, they often picture a service dog helping its blind owner or helping a paraplegic person function inside their home. What they may not realize is that service dogs can be trained to assist those who are hard of hearing or legally deaf as well.

What Are Service Animals?

According to the Department of Justice and its interpretation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, known simply as the ADA, service animals are defined as dogs that perform specific work or functions for an individual with a disability. The law goes on to state that examples of such work include guiding someone who is blind, alerting a deaf or hard of hearing person when they hear a sound such as the doorbell or telephone, or pulling someone in a wheelchair. In order to be considered a service dog, the dog’s function must be directly related to the person’s disability. Animals that are solely a source of comfort or emotional support do not qualify service dogs.

What Specifically Are Hearing Service Dogs?

Hearing service dogs help their owners overcome their hearing loss. In particular, and according to the ADA, service animals such as these must help their owners become more functional in everyday environments. Most often, service dogs for hearing-impaired people alert their owners when they hear particular sounds. For instance,these animals might alert their owners when they hear the person’s name being called and help them face toward where the sound came from, or they might let their owners know when they have dropped their keys. Other common sounds that a hearing dog is typically trained to alert their owner about are a teakettle whistling, a baby crying, the doorbell or someone knocking on the door, the smoke detector going off, and the sound of approaching traffic.

Where to Find a Hearing Service Dog

Typically, any organization that provides service dogs knows how to train a service dog for someone who is hard of hearing or legally deaf. If you are not aware of any organizations like this in your local area, Dogs for the Deaf may be a good place to start. Founded in 1977 by Roy G.Kabat in association with the American Humane Society, this is one of the first organizations to recognize the benefits of training dogs to help those who are hard of hearing or legally deaf. Dogs for the Deaf specializes in training dogs rescued from shelters to help those who have a hard time hearing or cannot hear to function better in today’s world. They are located in Oregon but have done work across the United States to help those who need a service animal.

Good Things to Know

It is important to note that it is not only the animal who is trained during the initial process but the owner as well. It is definitely a working relationship, and the better that the animal and owner can communicate, the happier everyone is. Just like with people, service animals have their own personalities, and also just like people, some service animals get along better with certain people than others. Part of the initial training process is to ensure that a good match is made between the animal and the owner.

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