© 2009

Dogs for the Deaf
"Enhancing Lives"

Robin Dickson is the President and CEO of Dogs for the Deaf which is located in Central Point, Oregon.  I had the pleasure of interviewing her and below is the conversation that took place.

Pearl:  Dogs for the Deaf also services the hearing impaired population, correct? Is there or are there special requirements that differ for the hearing impaired individual vs. the deaf/Deaf individual?

Robin:  Yes, we train dogs for both people who are totally deaf and those with hearing impairment.  The only criteria is that they must have enough hearing loss so that they are not able to hear the sounds that the dogs are trained to alert them to.  We have a committee of audiologists who review all applicant's audiograms and tell us which ones qualify from a hearing standpoint and which ones do not.

Pearl:  What type of dogs do u train?

Robin:  We get most of our dogs from shelters so they are a variety of types of dogs.  Most of them are mixed breeds.  We look for dogs that are confident, friendly, and playful, and they need to be between 10 months and 3 years of age.

Pearl:   How long does it take to train a dog?

Robin:  It takes approximately 5 to 6 months of training.
Pearl:  How long does it normally take for a person applying for a dog to the point of actually getting a dog?

Robin:  Currently our waiting list is 3-4 years.  We know that is too long, and we are working on expansion plans for our facility.  We have maxed out our current space and need to expand so that we can train more dogs.

Pearl:   Does someone from your agency come to the home to train the dog or does the recipient have to be available to go to your agency to be trained with the dog?

Robin:  When the dog has completed training, the trainer takes the dog and goes to the person's home.  The trainer spends a week training the person and family in what they must do in order to maintain the dog's training. The trainer stays at a nearby motel and then works with the person and dog daily for the five days.

Pearl:   What types of situations can a hearing dog help us with?

Robin:  Hearing Dogs help in a wide variety of situations.  They provide confidence, freedom, and independence by making the people aware of their surroundings.  Like one of our applicants said, "My Hearing Dog lets me relax like everyone else can.  I am no longer tense all the time worrying about what is going on around me.  I know that if something happens, my dog will let me know about it."

Pearl:   Could the individual expect a hearing dog to be a good protector as well?

Robin:  Hearing Dogs are NOT trained to be guard dogs or protectors. However, we all know, that just the presence of any dog is a deterent to most people thinking about doing something to harm a person or property. Protection is NOT their purpose, though.

Pearl:  What makes an individual a good candidate for a hearing dog? Is there an age limit as to who can obtain a hearing dog (minimum age vs. maximum age)?

Robin: We do not place dogs with deaf children.  There is no upper age limit.  The person must be able to care for the dog, exercise it regularly, maintain the training, and provide a fenced yard. 

There are many benefits to having a Hearing Dog, and there is also a lot of work involved.  The dogs are living beings who need to be cared for, who shed, and who make mistakes.  They are no more perfect that we are.  In order to succeed with a Hearing Dog, the person must be committed to taking the time and having the patience to work with the dog to maintain the training. 

The first year is very hard if the long-term benefits are going to be realized.  It is very much like having a new baby--lots of work and lots or rewards.  The person has to be willing to do one in order to gain the other.

Pearl:  I read somewhere on your website that the dogs receive a microchip. What exactly is that? and why do the dogs need it?

Robin:   A microchip is used for identification so that if the dog is lost, the owner can be more easily notified.  It is a tiny chip injected under the skin, and it has a phone number to call. 

When a dog is found, there is a scanner that veterinarians and shelters have that reads the chip and give them the phone number to call to retrieve the owner's information.

Pearl:  Where do you get your dogs?

Robin:  We get our dogs from shelters on the West coast

Pearl:  Is there a perfect age to train a dog to be a hearing dog?

Robin:  10 months to 3 years of age is the best time for training.

Pearl:   What other types of dog training does your agency provide for besides hearing dogs for the deaf?

Robin:  We also train Autism Assistance Dogs for families with an autistic child, and we train Miracle Mutts (special dogs for special people) for people who have other special needs such a dementia, stroke, Cerebral Palsy, and mental and emotional challenges.

Pearl:  Do you only service a specific area of the U.S. or can anyone apply for a hearing dog?

Robin:  We place dogs throughout the U.S. and Canada

Pearl:  Would you like to add anything else?

Robin:  We are totally funded by donations.  We receive no government funding and the people do not have to pay for the dogs.  The only charge they have is an initial $50 application fee and then when someone is approved for a dog, they pay a refundable $500 good faith deposit. After they have been together with their dog for a year, they get their $500 back.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Robin Dickson from Dogs for the Deaf for taking the time to be part of this interview.  If you would like more information on Dogs for the Deaf, please feel free to visit their website at: