Signal Dogs and Signal Dog Training Provide Safety and Companionship for the Hearing Impaired
Deafness, hearing impairment, or hearing loss is a partial or total inability to hear and can be the result of different factors, such as age, noise, illness, chemicals or physical trauma. Hearing loss can be ranked from mild to severe or profound. There are a number of measures that can be taken to prevent hearing loss, but in some cases it is impossible to reverse or prevent. Many new technological advancements have been made to improve the hearing of those who are hearing impaired.
Those who lose their hearing later in life, such as in late adolescence or adulthood, face unique challenges. For example, they must adjust to living with the adaptations that make it possible for them to live independently. They may have to use hearing aids or a cochlear implant, develop speech-reading skills, and/or learn sign language. The affected person may need to use a TTY (teletype), interpreter, or relay service to communicate over the telephone. Loneliness and depression can arise as a result of isolation (from the inability to communicate with friends and loved ones) and difficulty in accepting their disability. The challenge is made greater by the need for those around them to adapt to the person’s hearing loss.
Hearing Service Dogs, also known as “signal dogs”, “sound alert dogs” or “hearing assist dogs” are service dogs that are specially selected and trained to help people with this hearing disability. These signal dogs allow their handlers to become aware of important sounds such as doorbells, smoke alarms, passing traffic, a ringing telephone, or an alarm clock. They also can work outside the home as signal dogs alert to sounds such as sirens, fire alarms, fork- lifts, people approaching from behind quickly, name call, and other sounds.
Training signal dogs, as well as other service dogs, can be a challenging but rewarding career. There is great demand for highly trained service dogs and signal dog training and highly skilled service dog trainers are in demand as well. Many service dog trainers have waiting lists that are 3-5 years long, including those who conduct signal dog training.
Signal dog training takes considerable skill since the primary goal of signal dog training is conditioning the dog not to be afraid of noises that are normally frightening. Furthermore, the signal dog is often trained to go toward the loud or frightening noise which is counter-intuitive for most dogs. Teaching signal dogs takes considerable time and patience to ensure that they are well prepared to work alongside their hearing impaired handler.
Signal dogs may be trained professionally in as little as five months to a year. They are trained to recognize, then physically alert or lead their handler to the source of the sound. Signal dog training teaches the dog to paw the owner for some sounds and for others to paw or jump on them to gain their attention for a more urgent response, as in the case of a fire alarm. Signal dogs are tested for proper temperament, sound reactivity, and to verify that they are work-oriented. Once a dog is selected to enter a training program, they are schooled in basic obedience, exposed to things they will face in public such as escalators, shopping carts, different types of people, elevators and so on. Once they complete the first phase, they begin their signal dog specific training.
In the United States, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act allows these dogs access to anywhere the general public is permitted to go. State laws also provide for access. There are fines and also criminal penalties for interfering with a signal dog team or denying access to a hearing dog.
There are several breeds, like the popular Labrador Retriever, that are widely recognized as superior assistance dogs for their friendly personalities and intelligence. However, signal dogs can be almost any type of dog. Medium or small mixed-breed dogs from shelters have been trained very successfully to be outstanding hearing assistance dogs. The added benefit to the trained skills of the special dogs is the companionship and love they provide for their owners.
If you are interested in learning signal dog training or pursuing a career in training assistance dogs for the hearing impaired or for people with other types of disabilities, the School for Dog Trainers at Highland Canine Training, LLC offers you an excellent program to establish and develop your skills for this very rewarding career.
If you are interested in our programs or for more information about our courses, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 866.200.2207