I’m sure everyone has an idea of what they think a Hearing Dog does in terms of helping a recipient – but when I spent two days at the Beatrice Wright Centre for my assessment for a hearing dog, I learnt they did even more than I thought.
I knew they alerted you to fire alarms, door bell and telephone (if you use one) and, while at the fun dog show Pup Aid in London in 2014, I’d seen a Hearing Dogs demonstration, starring Sue Perkins from the Great British Bake Off in the role of a deaf person. The crowd oohed and ahhed as the demo dog ‘woke’ Sue from her bed when an alarm clock sounded and when they displayed amazing recall and obedience skills.
On top of this, I’d met a couple of hearing dog recipients who told me having a hearing dog was the best thing that had ever happened to them — and they shared with me the boost in confidence and independence their dogs give them on a daily basis. Both encouraged me to pursue an application and so I did.
However, it was not until I was doing sound work with Cameron, that I learnt that hearing dogs are also trained to be able to bring people to you from elsewhere in the house. This would be very useful if you had a fall and you needed Cameron to ‘call Dad’; or if ‘Dad’ needed you but you couldn’t hear him calling. Then, ‘Dad’ could call Cameron and say, “Call Mum,” and you would get a signal that you were needed elsewhere in the house.
We practised this with Cameron whose signal was quite a forceful nudge with his nose on your leg. He soon picked up that when the cooker timer sounded or the doorbell rang, it was me he needed to nudge and not anyone else in the room. After rehearsing this, he readily progressed with the ‘call Mum’, ‘call Dad’ scenarios even when we were in different rooms.
The dogs each undergo two months of intensive sound work with their trainer and another week at the centre with their partner (the recipient) before going to live in their new home. Once home, the training continues and there is a home visit after six months to see how the partnership is doing.
And it’s not just within the home that these dogs assist their partners; they are trained to alert them if there is a fire or bomb alert when in a public place such as a bank or supermarket.
Cameron was the only Hearing Dog I went off the premises with but I have to say, having a dog in uniform with me did give me an enormous feeling of security. I could imagine being on my own in the London Underground and traversing the city to stay in a hotel overnight with a lot less apprehension than I would on my own. And I could sleep soundly in a hotel knowing that he’d wake me for my meeting the next morning and if the fire alarm went off.
And, at the end of the day, Hearing Dogs are ‘dogs’ after all and they give you the same love and affection as any family pooch. Looking into the eyes of any of the Hearing Dogs we met, you could see how easy it would be to fall in love with them!
Photo credits: Richard Aspinall