by Candace Bailey
Many of us are familiar with guide dogs for the blind, but did you know there are specially trained service dogs for the deaf as well? Their function is slightly different yet they still receive intensive, long-term training to make sure they are ready to assist their differently-abled owners quite capably.
Founded in 1977 by Roy G. Kabat and located in Central Point, Oregon, Dogs for the Deaf, Inc. is a non-profit [501(c)(3)] corporation that has as their mission to professionally train dogs to help people and enhance lives while maintaining a lifelong commitment to all the dogs they rescue or breed and all people they serve.
What kind of dogs do Dogs for the Deaf trainers work with and place?
Hearing dogs – these dogs are trained to alert to household sounds, making physical contact and leading their person to the source of the sound. There are two types of Hearing dogs –
- A) Publicly Certified Hearing dogs are just that – trained and certified to legally accompany their person anywhere they go in public.
- B) Home Hearing dogs are meant for those clients who do not need a hearing dog outside of the home, and is trained to alert to sounds in the home, but does not have public access rights.
Program Assistance dogs – working with and assisting full-time professionals such as teachers, counselors, physicians and others these dogs provide a calming effect, allowing the professionals to better serve or treat their clients.
Career Change dogs – sometimes, a dog isn’t meant to be a service dog, but will make a wonderful family companion. These dogs are adoptable via Dogs for the Deaf as pets only.
All of these dogs are placed free of charge. For Hearing or Program Assistance dogs, there is a $50.00 application fee, and a $500.00 Good Faith deposit once an applicant has been approved to receive a dog. That deposit will be returned once the person and dog have been together for one year. The cost of rescuing, training, and placing dogs is funded through donations from individuals clubs, groups, business, and corporations.
Andrea Woodcock, Assistant Training Director for Dogs for the Deaf, Inc., shared some of her insights about the organization. Andrea is a Certified Service Dog trainer, under Assistance Dogs International, and has been with Dogs for the Deaf, Inc. since 2013.
Dogs for the Deaf works mainly with rescue dogs who have been found at various shelters and humane societies in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and California. With no size or breed restrictions, trainers will visit these facilities, looking for dogs between the ages of 10 months and three years, who exhibit confidence and friendliness. When selected, the dogs are rescued and sent for training either at the facility in Central Point, or perhaps in a foster home setting. Unfortunately the program cannot train privately-owned dogs.
Sometimes the program receives dogs from other assistance dogs organizations. For instance, Guide Dogs for the Blind has generously donated several dogs to Dogs for the Deaf – this usually happens when they deem a dog unsuitable for guide work but it has the qualities that would make it a good hearing dog.
Dogs who are selected and rescued from shelters are exposed to many different types of people and situations, as well as other dogs and cats if possible.
“It’s important that the dogs we bring into our program not be reactive toward other dogs or cats,” Andrea explains. “We will also expose the dog to a loud noise to see how it react and more importantly, how it recovers. Most dogs will startle at a loud or sudden noise. Some dogs will then go and investigate the source of the noise and some will be unwilling to investigate. We are looking for the ones who investigate the noise quickly.”
To be a great fit for the program, Andrea says “we check the dogs for food and toy motivation. It is very important that the dogs are motivated by food, because we use food in training. Toy motivation is also helpful. We also do some basic handling with the dogs. We will pick up their feet, look in their ears, lift their lips to look at their teeth, and if the dog is small we will pick it up. We want to see that the dog accepts this without excessive struggle. Confidence is the first personality trait that we look for when choosing a dog for our program.”
Once a dog is placed with a client, Dogs for the Deaf is committed to that person and dog team for the team’s lifetime. From the very beginning, the trainers make sure the team will work well together.
“When a dog is placed with a client, the trainer of the dog spends 3 – 5 days in the home with the dog and client. During that time the trainer teaches the client how to work on obedience, sound work, and if it is a Publicly certified team, they go into public many times together,” says Andrea. “We also provide our clients ongoing follow up support for the lifetime of their dog. The client sends in monthly reports for the first year after placement and we visit them in their home several times over the lifetime of the dog.”
With that kind of support, clients of Dogs for the Deaf are repeat clients – if their dog ages out of service or passes away from old age, the client can be placed at the top of the waiting list to receive another service animal to assist them.
Who does all the training for these great dogs? According to Andrea, Dogs for the Deaf has four Certified Trainers who come from four different training backgrounds. This allows for a broad range of training tactics to be used when working with the dogs, utilizing positive reinforcement by rewarding good behavior and ignoring undesirable behaviors. The organization encourages continuing educations for their trainers with a library of trainings books and videos and opportunities to attend a training seminar each year. They work as a team, sharing ideas and discussions to help solve problems or develop new tactics when needed.
Dogs for the Deaf has done a tremendous service, rescuing dogs from shelters and training them to make a difference in their owners’ lives. Even the dogs who aren’t cut out for a life of service work are placed with loving families and are supported for their lifetime by the organization. For more information, please visit their website.
— Candace Bailey juggles working full time at a desk with devoting as much free time as possible to animal welfare and her own herd of pups. Candace is an active volunteer for the Oregon Humane Society, where she is involved in a myriad of programs. Along with her husband Bill, they have six dogs, affectionately referred to the as The Littles – Benny, an 11 y/o poodle/beagle mix boy adopted from OHS; Maggie and Millie, 7 y/o Lhasa Apso girls; Bubba, a 5 y/o Lhasa Apso boy from the OHS Second Chance program; Pudgy, a 3 y/o Chihuahua boy; and Katie, a 2 ½ y/o Mini Dachshund girl from the OHS Columbia Co. rescue.