Hearing Dogs – not yet widely seen in Ireland – are companions to deaf people, and alert their owners to everyday sounds like doorbells, door-knocks, phones and cooker timers that otherwise might go unheard.
Smudge the Hearing Dog features in this contribution to the website by his owner Tina Lannin, from Co Derry & Co Down, but who now lives in the UK.
” I grew up scared of dogs, especially the lively ones that bark and jump up at you. Then Smudge arrived in my life.
Why did I choose to have a dog when I’m scared of them?
I have always been profoundly deaf and when I heard about Hearing Dogs for deaf people, I thought they were a brilliant idea. You have ears that don’t work properly, so let something else do that job for you, plus you get a friend and a companion.
For two years, I thought about the phrase ‘A dog is a man’s best friend’ and decided to give a Hearing Dog a try. Smudge arrived in December 2000, a soft black bundle of happiness with a permanently wagging tail. He was so gentle and sweet, and never barked. I fell in love with him at first sight. Smudge is a cocker spaniel / poodle cross, known as a cocker-poo.
I can still remember the first time I took him home on the train.
I was terrified of the responsibility of this living being – would he live to see the end of the week? The first night at home, I fed him his dinner. Still hungry, he asked for seconds, and I gave in. I didn’t realise my partner had already fed him, so it was really his ‘thirds’! He went to lie down and refused to move when I called him over. He was lying so quiet and still. I thought I had overfed him and killed him, and panicked. I poked him and he rolled over, thank goodness! Too full, he could barely move.
This was a good indication of Smudge’s relationship with food…. he’s so greedy that I’ve had to put him on a diet twice, and he’s an expert at stealing chocolate from the shop till point. But it’s made him easier to train. Hearing Dogs are trained with food, which is why it’s so important that only the owner feeds their dog, otherwise doggy thinks ‘I get a treat anyway, why should I work?’ and loses his motivation to work for a reward.
Smudge is trained to ‘Touch and Tell’ for the phone, fax, cooker timer, doorbell, door knock, and someone calling for me. When my phone rings, he finds me and touches my leg with his paw. I ask him ‘What is it?’ and he takes me to the phone, where he gets a treat. When the smoke alarm goes off, his signal changes, so I know there is danger. He will lie down straight away, instead of taking me into danger.
Smudge is a lovely alarm clock, he jumps on the bed and pats me, and always greets me happily. A Hearing Dog can also be trained to tell me when I’ve dropped my keys and when a baby cries. All this training means I can relax at home and in the office, and not worry about unexpected noises or missing things.
I have found an unexpected and huge bonus in having a Hearing Dog. He has broken the isolation I have felt all my life, and built a warm and loving bridge to the hearing world. I used to think hearing people were cold and unfriendly, because no one would talk to me, and I couldn’t hear them. I would always hide behind a newspaper in the corner. How things have changed! I am often mobbed by people wanting to talk to Smudge or ask me about him.
On the tube and train, in the office and shops, Smudge goes up to everyone and begs for a pat on the head – and he usually gets it, making new friends for both of us everywhere I go. As a result, my speech has improved and I have become a very different person, happy to give public speeches about Hearing Dogs, train people in deaf awareness, and teach large classes of hearing students at university – something I would never have dreamed of in my ‘pre-Smudge’ days. Smudge has given me a life I never had, and has taken away the isolation of deafness. For me, that, and his friendship, is priceless.