Imagine being on duty 24/7 at your job and enjoying it. Well – if you were – chances are you would be one of the 50 registered hearing dogs currently working in New Zealand.
Hearing dogs are the ‘other’ assistance dogs, less well known than their guide dog for the blind counterparts, but no less important to the lives of their human recipients.
These dogs are trained to alert their deaf or severely hearing impaired owner to important sounds such as the door bell, kitchen timer, fire alarm, baby monitor, or telephone. A hearing dog wears a distinctive yellow coat.
Tyra in her yellow Hearing Dogs coat
Hearing Dogs is an incorporated charitable trust established in 1998 that provides training for these special dogs at its National Training Centre in New Plymouth. At any given time, there will be six dogs in training at the facility. These dogs go to socialisers on the weekends as part of their initial training. If you are in the New Plymouth area, this is one way of supporting the organisation.
A hearing dog may be any shape or size and most breeds are acceptable. Training typically starts between the age of one year to 18 months. Clare McLaughlin, General Manager, says “We look for excellent health followed by an even temperament. The dog needs to be calm and confident and not react to sudden movements or sounds. A well socialised dog is an advantage and one that is motivated by food makes it easier because our training is reward based.”
Another quality is willingness to learn. Any breeder who has a dog with these qualities may want to consider offering the dog to Hearing Dogs for training.
Caroline Boyce can testify to the value that a hearing dog brings to its recipient. Caroline grew up in a hearing world, without support, and in her own words “I always felt that I wasn’t normal because there was so much going on around me.” Despite this, she managed to travel overseas for work experience, find a loving husband, raise two children, and work. Eight years ago she summoned the courage to go to a talk about Hearing Dogs and then put her name down to receive one. Tyra, her second dog, has been with her for four years. Tyra demonstrated her skills for me by alerting Caroline when the kitchen timer sounded.
Tyra alerts Caroline to the timer on the kitchen oven
Hearing Dogs doesn’t have the wide corporate support or profile of some other charities, but there are many ways to help. Dr Terryne Loney of Pet Doctors Harewood (Christchurch) has pledged two free examinations per year for all hearing dogs in Christchurch, saying “I think hearing dogs are vital for safety, wellbeing and assistance to hearing impaired people. Hearing dogs do not get high levels of support and recognition so we wanted to help.”
To learn more about Hearing Dogs, visit their website.