Making the decision to work with a hearing dog is a transformational event that extends into every area of a handler's life. Because of this momentous change, it’s crucial that each of our students is teamed with a dog that best suits that person’s mobility, personality, lifestyle, and physical needs. As each applicant is accepted to our program, we carefully match them with a dog that’s right for them, and the power of their bond makes ordinary moments extraordinary.
As you work through our application process, you’ll be providing us with the key information that will determine your ultimate success. With a clear understanding of your goals and objectives, we’ll be able to craft a program that you’ll be excited to participate in since it relates to your specific needs.
The hearing dog program is geared towards veterans and first responders who have encountered hearing loss later in life due to their service, age, head trauma, virus or disease, or other encounter. A hearing dog recipient must have at least 30 percent hearing loss in both ears.
Once accepted into the program to train with a service dog, you will be invited to attend the one-week in-residence training program held at our campus in Smithtown, New York. With a 2:1 student/instructor ratio, each student receives individualized training relevant to their home environment and lifestyle.
This process begins when the dogs are puppies, as part of our prison puppy training program. Inmate handlers begin working with puppies on housebreaking, obedience, standardized commands, and teaching the four foundations of service dog tasks: retrieve, tug, push, and brace – all part of the VetDogs training curriculum. Volunteer weekend puppy raisers take the puppies on the weekends to socialize them in many different situations so they will be comfortable in a variety of settings: stores, restaurants, public transportation, sporting events, concerts, etc. When the dog is approximately 14 months old, it returns to the organization so it can move ahead with its advanced training.
Once the certified VetDogs hearing dog training team understands the needs of an applicant (several months prior to the student attending class), they will build upon the foundation task and work on advanced tasks that will specifically help mitigate each student’s particular needs. Hearing dogs are specifically trained to alert their handler to specific sounds such as a doorbell or a door knock, warning of an intruder, a smoke alarm going off, and a timer (cooking timer, microwave, etc.) signal.
During class, students are immediately introduced to basic commands and the four foundations of service dog tasks in preparation for receiving their new hearing dog. They get acquainted with equipment and handling techniques, and are then introduced to their dog. For the remainder of the week, they work on the fundamentals of communicating and working with their new partner in various environments both on campus and in other training environments. Training also includes basic obedience, discussions on dog care, etiquette and more.
As the class carries over into latter part of the week, students will gain confidence in working with their dog; have a clear understanding of the tasks their dog was trained for, and how to motivate them for optimal performance. Students will also learn how to work with their dogs in various settings that include country walks; mass transit situations, including train platforms, subway, or bus travel; outings to malls and other stores; and other types of real-world situations.
Prior to the completion of class, each new handler and dog team will have to pass the Assistance Dog International Public Access Test. The test is to determine if the dog is safe to be in public and that the handler demonstrates that he/she has control of the dog at all times.
Upon completion of training, the newly created human and hearing dog team will return home to start their new life together. They will have begun to master all of the techniques they need to be successful—from retrieving a ringing phone, to alerting their handler that the smoke alarm is ringing, to being comfortable in new and different situations. The veteran can feel confident and independent with a new companion by their side. There is a mandatory follow-up by our instructors one-week after the completion of class to help with the transition from the class environment to their home environment. Should a graduate require further follow-up training, our staff will arrange to work with them on any questions or concerns they might have in a prompt and professional manner, which may include additional follow-up visits to their home to work on specific tasks or dog behavior. Each new handler will then be required to have their dog recertified one year after program completion, then every two years.