How Do Service Dogs Benefit People with Hearing Loss?

Close Up Red Dog Miniature Pinscher (Zwergpinscher, Min Pin) Head Over Green Grass Background

Hearing dogs need to have healthy ears themselves.

Hearing impairments deprive people of the world's sounds, and that can hinder more than just your quality of life. Beyond not being able to hear grandkids giggle or embrace your inner rocker by listening to Sting's "Fields of Gold," hearing loss can also be a safety concern and inhibit your ability to perform everyday tasks. While many people experience benefits from wearing hearing aids, there are other tools that can be used in conjunction with these devices. One such supplement to hearing aids is a service dog.

What is a hearing service dog?
Hearing dogs are trained to assist and improve the quality of life for individuals who experience hearing impairments. Quite simply, they act as their owners' ears. These pets alert their hard-of-hearing handlers of the occurrence of certain sounds - a knock at the door, dropped keys, approaching traffic, smoke alarms and alarm clocks.

Why is this important? Beyond getting to work on time or answering the door when a visitor is knocking, you can stay safe with the help of a hearing dog. If you have hearing loss, imagine if your house was on fire while you slept. Perhaps the flames were contained in a closed room, and the smoke hadn't reached your nostrils yet. A blaring smoke detector may not be enough if you have hearing loss and don't have your hearing aids in yet. A service dog would hear the alarm and alert you. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, hearing dogs were able to make their owners more independent and reduce the cost for paid assistance. 

How do dogs alert their humans?
The dog may gently tug at the owner's clothes or nudge him or her with its nose or paws. It then leads the way to the source of the sound. For example, if the kitchen timer goes off, the dog not only alerts the owner of a noise, but it also guides him or her to the oven. Of course, the service animal isn't going to use sign language to talk to its owner. However, the handler can use hand signals to communicate with the dog.

Is there a certain breed that's best?
Fortunately for puppies everywhere, there is no specific breed of dog that fits the bill for this job. Any pooch, regardless of size or genetic makeup, can work as a hearing loss service dog. Many organizations that train these animals will select only dogs from shelters, giving them a second chance at life. The only criteria is the dog must have a calm temperament and be trainable. Organizations also opt for younger dogs to ensure the animal can serve in its position for a longer time period.

Many people who have hearing loss wonder whether their own dogs can be trained as service animals. Some organizations will do this if the pup meets the temperament qualifications. However, others will select from only animal shelters. With all hearing dogs, it goes without saying that they still have all the same needs as a typical pet, including exercise, nourishment, grooming and attention.

How can I get a service dog?
Each organization that trains service dogs has its own requirements for owners, which usually pertain to level of hearing loss, age and living situation. For example, some organizations only give dogs to veterans or kids or those who live alone. Service Dog Central explained that handlers must typically have a hearing loss level of 65 db. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, that lands you at either moderately severe, severe or profound hearing loss. You'll need to schedule a consultation with an audiologist or hearing health professional to determine your level of hearing loss and find out what treatment options are right for you.

Additionally, the dogs may come at a cost. While International Hearing Dog, Inc. provides qualified individuals with a hearing dog free of charge, NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans typically charges over $25,000. Therefore, it's important to make your hearing loss treatment decision with budget and needs in mind.

If you are concerned about hearing loss for yourself or someone important to you, the audiologists and hearing health care professionals at AccuQuest can help. Contact your local AccuQuest Hearing Center to schedule a hearing test and consultation.

Many people experience benefits from wearing hearing aids, there are other tools that can be used in conjunction with these devices, such as a service dog.