Posted by Matt Sadler
Every person with hearing loss has different needs and lifestyles, so a great deal of our dogs’ training is bespoke to the needs of individuals. This helps us to create long-lasting partnerships that transform lives.
No matter how happy our hearing dogs are around humans and other dogs, they also need to feel comfortable around other animals. A refreshing walk in the countryside could be ruined if a dog gets worried when they see a sheep or a horse. Or, imagine if we partnered a hearing dog with someone who owns a cat, or keeps rabbits, and they really just do not get along.
This is why it’s incredibly important for puppies to learn, through gentle and positive experiences (and lots of rewards), that other animals are not threatening, nor are they toys. Just leave them be, and all will be well.
For example, Honey – who was a sponsor puppy, with training paid for by very kind supporters – was partnered with Katharine, who has six cats! As Katharine explains: “One cat, called Barah, befriended Honey with lots of kisses and now they groom each other. The fact that Honey’s tongue covers Barah's whole face hasn't dampened their friendship.” Honey’s comfort around cats is due to having positive introductions to cats.
Bringing up baby
A baby’s particularly piercing cry is meant to grab our attention. This is why it can be especially worrying for people with hearing loss, if they can’t hear their children in distress. We train our dogs to respond to a baby’s cry as a bespoke alert, so that they can tell deaf mums or dads what is going on.
This can even encourage deaf people who want to start a new family. For example, hearing dog Mene helped Amy when she wanted to have children, but realised she would need support. She now has three children, and as Amy says, “Mene has allowed us to be a happy family that can function in a hearing world.”
Our dogs also help families through the ‘pouch’ system. It can be ineffective shouting across the house to gain a deaf child’s attention. Instead, simply write a message, pop it in a pouch, and ask the dog to find the child! At the other end, the clever dog gets the child’s attention, and the message is delivered.
A lot of our child partners love this alert, as it strengthens the bond between them and their hearing dog.
Slow and steady
We train all our dogs to walk nicely on their leads, which we call ‘heelwork’. Sometimes however, they really need to major on this skill, if their deaf partner uses a mobility scooter or wheelchair, or relies on crutches or other mobility aids.
It’s important that our dogs are happy to walk calmly next to a mobility scooter or wheelchair without getting too excited or inquisitive. We gently introduce a number of our dogs to these things, so that they become just another part of daily life.
It’s incredible to see how our dogs behave after this training – just patiently walking alongside, wherever their partner wants to go, happily keeping them company. This makes the world of different to deaf people who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids.
Made to measure
We don’t stop there. In fact, we don’t stop at all, until we’re sure we’ve covered everything a deaf person might need.
For example, Katharine, whom we mentioned earlier, runs her own soft furnishings business but became deaf very suddenly. She could continue working, but realised that, if she was in the workshop, and someone came into the showroom, she wouldn’t know, even when the doorbell rang.
So, we taught Honey that the doorbell was her cue to tell Katharine by nudging a pink post-it on her desk. It’s a unique alert that only Honey is trained to do, and it makes Katharine much more relaxed, especially when she’s on her own.
There are many more examples of tailor-made training. This training helps us to ensure that your support makes an even more genuine, profound difference to the lives of the deaf people.
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