The CAM team is excited to share a portion of our proceeds for the month of December with International Hearing Dog – a non-profit organization established in the 1970’s that rescues dogs and trains them to be service animals for the deaf and hearing impaired. They have helps countless individuals get their independence back at absolutely NO cost to them.
IHDI had its start in Minnesota with Mrs. Elva Janke. Her dog naturally alerted her to sounds in her home without any formal training. When the dog passed away, she made her way to Agnes McGrath, a dog trainer who trained Mrs. Janke’s next companion.
In 1976, Agnes, along with Martha Foss, Emlynn Wood, and Sandi Sterker, began testing dog breeds and different training methods for hearing dogs that would one day be placed all over the country. Something they could all agree on was that was dogs could absolutely be used as ears for the deaf community, and in 1979 Hearing Dog, Inc. was born.
How are dogs chosen?
IHDI has established a standard for choosing the perfect candidate for a hearing dog. Some of the characteristics they look for include a good reaction to noise (known as a high auditory response), a natural tendency for curiosity, confidence, and most importantly a love for people! The selector wants to be sure that the dog will be able to go anywhere with its owner and perform tasks effectively every time.
One of the methods IHDI uses for selecting a dog is the treat test. In this exercise, a treat is placed in a towel and the dog is measured on how hard he/she works at retrieving it. This will determine just how focused and determined the dog is while participating in a task.
Once the dog goes through the selection testing, it is then placed into training with one of IHDI’s resident trainers.
The Training Process
Following a vet visit that includes a health exam and x-ray’s to be sure they do not have any pre-existing conditions; the dog will begin its training. IDHI trainers follow a Positive Reinforcement Training philosophy. This means that they reward a properly completed task in order to reinforce the behavior. It can be one of the most powerful tools for shaping a dog’s behavior.
You might be wondering – how do these dogs learn to become service animals for the hearing impaired? IHDI gave us some insight on their training methods to teach a dog to react and perform a task to certain sounds.
The trainer uses small processes that build to more complex tasks. In this case, the more complicated task would be to alert the owner and then run to the source of the sound.
To begin, the trainer will start with teaching the dog to alert by nudging a piece of tape placed on a person’s leg. The dog is rewarded for touching the tape. Next, they begin to add sounds to the alert so that the dog associates the task with the sound. Then another layer of training is added continuously until the dog can alert and go to the source of the sound.
This process takes place both in private and social settings to be sure the dog’s training is well rounded and they are able to complete a task anywhere, any time. The favorite tool trainers like to use is actually just a simple Bluetooth speaker. They can use the speaker to mimic the sounds of every day life that the dog will need to react to. The 3 basic sounds they learn are the doorbell/knocking, the telephone ringing, and emergency alarms. From there, the dogs are actually custom trained to the future owner that they will be serving. Those sounds can include apartment buzzers, alarm clocks, babies crying, and more.
In addition to sound training, the dog will also undergo extensive obedience and socialization training in order to build their confidence as a service animal.
During the training process, each dog is carefully monitored to make sure they never lose their love for their job. Those who do not make the program are adopted out to loving families.
The fun does not stop after the dog is trained. Once they are deemed ready for placement with the owner, the trainer will travel to their home with their service dog and train them in the home! This consists of a weeks-worth of training with the recipient both within the home and in social settings to ensure a successful match. Each owner will also be given access to all of the tools they need for their companion through a Client Portal. Over the course of 6 months, the owner will submit reports that are carefully monitored by the IHDI team to continue to monitor the transition process.
They can also further assist the owner with questions and guidance with continued bonding.
Upon successfully completing a 6-month period, the dogs can then be certified as a hearing dog pending an application. They must re-certify every year to ensure proper standards are still being met. This is how the team can continue to monitor the dog even if they are across the country. They always want to make sure the animal is happy and healthy! The team is available to the new owner and the service dog for a lifetime.
Today, IHDI staff and volunteers have trained more than 1,350 dogs to assist individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing. These dogs have found homes in all 50 states of the United States and Canada. IHDI has also helped start independent Hearing Dog programs in Japan, Norway, and Australia. This non-profit is truly doing wonderful work for the deaf and hearing-impaired community, and we cannot wait to see more dogs helping them gain their independence again.