Improving independence and quality of life through highly trained Hearing Dogs

Home 9 FAQ



not displayed so top item is closed

Are an Assistance Dog and a Service Dog the same thing?

According to Assistance Dogs International (ADI), “assistance dogs” is a term that includes guide, hearing and service dogs. Below are the ADI definitions.

Guide Dogs: “Guide individuals who are blind or visually impaired.”

Hearing dogs: “Alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to specific sounds.”

Service dogs: “Work for individuals with disabilities other than blindness or deafness. Service dogs are trained to perform a wide variety of tasks including but not limited to pulling a wheel chair, bracing, retrieving, alerting to a medical crisis, and providing assistance in a medical crisis.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) however uses “service dog” instead of “assistance dog” as the “umbrella term” that includes the three ADI categories above. That’s why there is sometimes confusion between the two terms.

What breeds are typically trained as Hearing Dogs?

Common breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, and mixed breeds with suitable temperaments.

How long does it take to train a Hearing Dog?

We don’t keep and train a large number of dogs at a time. Instead, we search to find the right dog for each client. After a dog is selected for Hearing Dog training, training takes six months to a year to depending on the dog’s aptitude, the complexity of tasks, and individual training needs. Keep in mind that not every dog successfully completes training which means finding and training another dog when necessary.

What tasks can a Hearing Dog perform? / What is a Hearing Dog trained to do?

Hearing Dogs are trained to be well-behaved and under the handler’s control at home and in public. We call this “public access” training. They are also trained to alert people to important sounds. That’s called “task training.” Common sounds include the alarm clock, telephone, doorbell or knock, name call or smoke alarm. We also custom train sounds. One of our clients in Montana raised cattle and asked us to train his dog to alert him to the sounds of a cow having a calf.

Can any dog become a Hearing Dog?

No. Most dogs are not good candidates to become Hearing Dogs. Good candidates must have a stable, friendly temperament without fear or aggression issues, and a natural tendency to react in a positive way to sounds. Dogs who fail to complete training may be dropped from the program and become available for adoption as pets.

How are Hearing Dogs trained to alert their handlers?

Our smaller dogs are trained to run to the sound, find and alert their handler by jumping up, and the taking a person back to the sound. That’s called a “back and forth” or “three-way” alert. Larger dogs are trained to alert with a “nose nudge” instead of jumping up. With smoke alarms, the dogs alert and then stay with their person.

Do Hearing Dogs receive certification?

Many people think Hearing and other kinds of Assistance/Service dogs need to be certified. Most programs do give their graduates a “certification ID card” that includes a photo of them and their dog. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require certification. You cannot be asked to provide an ID card in public.

According to “service animals are not required to be certified or go through a professional training program” and are not “required to wear a vest or other ID that indicates they’re a service dog.”

People working in public places may only ask the handler two questions: 1) Is the animal required because of a disability? The law requires the service dog handler’s “credible verbal assurance” that their dog is, in fact, a service dog. 2) What work or task has the animal been trained to perform? This means a specific action or behavior that assists it’s handler with their disability.

How do handlers communicate with their Hearing Dogs?

How a handler communicates varies from team to team.  Some use a combination of body language, movement, voice, and hand signals. Some use primarily voice and movement. Others may use sign language like American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.

Can Hearing Dogs accompany their handlers everywhere?

Sometimes you hear that Service (Assistance) Dogs have public access rights. This is  incorrect. The ADA is a civil rights law that gives a person with a disability the right to be accompanied by a service dog into public places. So, the person has the right, not the dog. Otherwise, anyone could take a service dog into public.

The ADA (in Titles II and III) says, that “service animals” are allowed in public facilities and accommodations” and “must be allowed to accompany the handler to any place in the building or facility where members of the public, program participants, customers, or clients are allowed.”

There are some exceptions where access with a service dog may not be allowed or limited such as certain areas of a hospital, amusement park rides or zoos.

How do I get a Hearing Dog?

The first step is to contact the Hearing Dog Program. We will help you determine if a Hearing Dog is the best solution to meet your disability-related needs. If you decide to apply, you must meet certain “eligibility” criteria. For example, do you meet the ADA definition of disability? What is your degree of hearing loss?   

Next you must meet our “acceptability” requirements. Are you able to properly care for and afford having a Hearing Dog? Are you willing (and able) to work with our staff and practice with your dog during the placement process? We will help guide you through the application process.

After you are accepted into the program, your wait time depends on where you are on our waiting list and how long it takes to find the right dog for you. The usual wait time is about 2 years or more. We give priority to people who have had Hearing Dogs before.