What happens in the final stage of a hearing dog puppy’s training?
In the final stage of a hearing dog puppy’s training, our expert dog trainers and puppy socialising volunteers help to fine-tune a hearing dog’s training and ensure they’re ready for their final assessment in a few weeks.
Known as the Puppy Four Star, this is also where our hearing dog pups learn the majority of their soundwork – practicing to alert to sounds like the doorbell, telephone alerts and the fire alarm – which will make a huge difference to a deaf person’s life.
By this stage of a hearing dog’s training, we will begin to personalise their training as we’ll have a strong idea of which dog will be the perfect match for one of our deaf applicants.
Here are the main activities that happen during this important stage of a hearing dog’s journey.
Our hearing dogs perfect their all-important soundwork training
It’s during the Puppy Four Star that a hearing dog develops their soundwork, although they do pick up some soundwork training throughout their previous Stars. This is arguably the most important training a hearing dog will learn, as it’s where they learn all the practical skills that will change a deaf person’s life.
Hearing dogs learn to alert to sounds like the doorbell, telephone alerts, digital timers, alarm clocks and fire alarms. Our expert dog trainers teach in specialised training houses so our hearing dog pups can learn how to apply the majority of their soundwork skills in different everyday situations. The dogs will begin to understand which sounds require which reactions and quickly pick up the sounds they are to alert to.
We train our dogs to alert to a sound in a number of ways. Smaller breeds like Miniature Poodles and Cocker Spaniels will alert by placing both their paws on their deaf recipient’s lap. For larger dogs, or for smaller dogs who may be going to a deaf person with stability issues, they will alert through a gentle ‘nose nudge’ on their recipient’s leg.
Depending on the sound, a hearing dog will either lead the deaf person to the sound after alerting them. Or, if it’s a danger signal like a fire alarm, a hearing dog will lay down – to avoid a dog leading someone into an unsafe situation.
Once a hearing dog is confident in alerting his trainer, we then start making it a bit more challenging. Our trainers might start using the vacuum cleaner and expect the dog to alert to the doorbell, or pretend to take a bath and set off a fake fire alarm. All of these scenarios are crucial for a hearing dog to understand that they should still tell a deaf person about these sounds.
This essential soundwork training has not only transformed deaf people’s lives, it has saved some, too.
We begin the matching process
This is the stage of a hearing dog’s journey that we start to decide which deaf person that they could help the most. There are a number of requirements and circumstances our partnership team take into consideration to maximise the chances of creating a great match.
As an example, let’s say we have two hearing dogs-in-training – a Miniature Poodle called Milo and a Labrador called Rocky.
Milo is fantastic at being calm and is very placid, but isn’t too keen on very busy town or city centres. He doesn’t require too many walks or attention and is happy to have a quiet life.
Rocky on the other hand is full of life. He adores going out for long walks and runs and is a typical bouncy Lab who loves his food and plenty of cuddles and attention. He isn’t at all fazed by town and cities, but is a bit clumsy and needs a lot of outdoor fun to keep him on his toes.
Let’s say we had two deaf applicants – one being 72-year-old Mary who lives in the quiet countryside and takes a short daily walk to her local village – and the other is 38-year-old Paul who is training for his second marathon and has a young family in South West London. Can you tell which hearing dog would be suitable for which deaf applicant?
Matching a deaf person with the right hearing dog is a lot like finding love – someone’s ‘Prince Charming could be totally wrong for somebody else. We work really hard to make sure we get the right balance and treat every applicant with precision and care – but this can take a while to perfect. All this hard work is worth it when we see a happy hearing dog partnership beginning their new lives together!
A hearing dog’s training is personalised for their match
Once we know which hearing dog-in-training will be the perfect match for a deaf applicant, we start to tailor the dog’s training to the deaf person’s needs.
This can be anything from more practice in a busy town if the applicant works in a bustling area, to increasing the interaction with children if the applicant has kids. Another example would be travelling on public transport more if that’s how a deaf applicant gets about.
Personalising the dogs’ training like this can have a huge effect on how they react when they’re faced with these situations on a daily basis. We want to make sure the hearing dog is happy travelling on a bus or walking through crowds before they are placed with their new deaf recipient.
Training is polished and fine-tuned
To make sure a hearing dog is as well behaved and confident as possible, we spend a lot of time in this stage going through all the training they have already learned. This is to make sure our dogs are happy with everything they have learned during their months of training, and gives us the opportunity to smooth out any areas the dog is still developing in.
Passing the Puppy Four Star
The Puppy Four Star is the final training stage a hearing dog will pass. Once they pass this star, they will be tested for their hearing dog accreditation which is conducted by our quality assurance team.
Our team ensures the puppy is happy and confident performing all of their training in different environments. Our pups will also be tested on their soundwork, general obedience and their behaviour out in public.
Just like driving tests for us humans, not all dogs pass the first time. Similar to us, they all learn at different speeds. The welfare of our dogs is always our top priority and if becoming a full accredited hearing dog isn't for them, they can still be successful in an alternative career with us. A small number of our dogs are rehomed as pet dogs.
The majority of our pups pass this accreditation with flying colours, and they go on to become life-changing hearing dogs!