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Guide to Service Dogs for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

A service animal is any type of animal (generally a dog) that is trained to assist an individual who has a disability. They may allow individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, have a mobile impairment, or any other disability gain independence through their animal companion. These animal companions can perform tasks that the disabled may not otherwise be able to do. While most service animals are dogs, other types of animals can also be trained to aid those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Capuchin monkeys, commonly known as “helper monkeys” can be trained to complete simple tasks, such as operate doorknobs and light switches, grasp items, and turn the pages of a book. Miniature horses can be used to pull wheelchairs, guide the blind, and support individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is any type of signal dog trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a person with disabilities. This can include, but is not limited to, alerting those with hearing impairment about sounds or intruders, providing rescue work and protection, fetching items, and pulling a wheelchair. There are different categories of service dogs, each having their own level of training that helps in their ability to support the deaf at home and in public. Hearing dogs typically take between four and five months to train in hearing various sounds and performing simple tasks. Dogs are trained to respond to several different sounds, including the telephone, smoke alarms, alarm clock, oven timer, and name call. More advanced trained dogs may even respond to the sound of a tea kettle, microwave, and washer/dryer.

Before the training to become a service dog begins, the animal must first pass a rigorous list of qualifications. The dog will need to pass a physical exam by the veterinarian, be neutered/spayed, vaccinated and physically suited to perform tasks and work a minimum of six years. The dog is screened for temperament to ensure that the dog is friendly, confident, has appropriate fear reactions, is not overly submissive or overly assertive, and has the ability to successfully interact with people in unfamiliar places and situations. Service dogs must also be trained in basic obedience as the dog must never exhibit any aggressive behaviors, such as biting, barking, growling, jumping, sniffing people, or begging. The dog must also meet sound criteria and awareness skills and have the ability to alert the client by a behavior or physical contact upon hearing a sound.

Laws relating to service dogs for the visually impaired vary by state, but include admittance to facilities and accommodations with a guide dog, as well as any disabled passenger on a common carrier, such as a motor vehicle, airplane, train, streetcar, motorbus, or other form of public transportation. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title III explains that no individual should be discriminated against due to a disability when enjoying a good, service, facility, or accommodation by any person who owns, leases, or operates a public location. Most service dogs are able to be identified by a harness, backpack, and a form of identification card. Here you will find additional resources to information on service dogs for the deaf and hard of hearing.

  • Dogs for the Deaf:
    Learn about the process that service dogs must go through to become a guide for a hearing impaired individual.
  • Hearing Dogs:
    Find information on identification and legal status of hearing dogs, as well as training and obedience.
  • Assistance Dogs International:
    Here you will find the assistance dog model state law and principals.
  • Canine Companions for Independence:
    Learn how to apply for a service dog and the benefits that come from acquiring a canine companion.
  • Fido’s for Freedom:
    Information on how service dogs help those with disabilities, such as hearing impairment.
  • Happy Tails Service Dogs:
    Learn about the various tasks that can be performed by hearing dogs.
  • The World of Assistance Dogs:
    Information on the basis of access rights, and expanding hearing dog services.
  • Assistance Dogs:
    Learn about the different types of service dogs and the tasks they perform.
  • Service Dogs: Hearing Impaired:
    Article on the benefits of training and providing a service dog for the deaf to help notify the client of sounds.
  • Assistance Dog Types:
    Information on assistance dog types, including guide dogs, hearing dogs, and service dogs.