A reader asked for the address of the nearest blind guide dog school so she could donate her dog. What she didn’t realize is that schools for guide, hearing and service dogs are very particular when they evaluate the individual animals for training. Even puppies bred in the schools’ kennels are put through strict tests before the money is allocated for special training.
Puppies born at the school are first temperamentally and physically tested before being released to foster homes (often 4-H members’ homes) for socialization and basic obedience training. When the dog is returned to the school, it is again evaluated on how well it has learned to behave itself in public and how physically sound it is. If the dog passes all these tests, it is admitted into the advance training program.
The problems that schools for service dogs of all types check for include hip dysplasia, allergies, progressive retinal atrophy, inability to handle stress, aggression and shyness, including reaction to loud noises such as fireworks and trucks backfiring. I read where a border collie bolted up a chimney during a fireworks display and braced herself so firmly that even the fire department couldn’t get her out without removing 50 bricks. Now,that dog would not make a good assistance dog!
Of all the dogs used by the various training schools, the hearing dogs are most often selected from animal shelters. Even those dogs are screened before being accepted into the training programs. Maybe it is because the hearing dogs can be any size, but those that are on the smaller scale are highly desirable because the smaller dog can hop onto the bed and bounce up and down to wake the owner when the alarm clock goes off. A large breed is trained to stand beside the bed and nudge or, if that fails, pull the covers off the owner.
Hearing dogs are trained to alert the owners to the presence of guests at the door, the whistling tea kettle, the timers on the washer, dryer, and stove and, of course, the alarm clock. If there is a baby in the family, the dog is trained to alert the mother to the baby’s cries. The training schools also teach the dogs to act differently (more emphatic) if a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide alarm sounds. Some hearing dogs learn to summon the police by pulling on a special cord that activates a silent alarm.
Another caller wanted to know where they could locate a service dog for a disabled family member. The dogs are in high demand and there is a waiting list for them. They are large animals capable of pulling a wheelchair and also pulling and pushing doors open. Because of their size and strength, the humans have to be screened as well as the dogs. Some of the questions an applicant may be asked are: Will the humans in the family be able to care for the dog? Feed it? Walk it? Clean up after it and keep it groomed?