Emily Howlett: Answering the question: “But what does your Hearing Dog do?” 

Posted on October 2, 2017

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My hearing dog is already famous. Way more recognisable than I am.

True story; he gets more fan mail and more people stopping him in the street than I could ever dream of. He had his own hashtag on Twitter when we went to Edinburgh Festival.

He steals my thunder at every opportunity. Yet, I’ve never actually officially introduced him to the world (Limping Chicken is still the centre of the universe, right?).

Guys, meet George. Or Baron Von Georgeinton, as he is known as the school gates.

It’s funny but, before I had a hearing dog, I never realised how much attention they get. As a working dog who doesn’t work quite so intensely as some of the others (such as guide dogs), it is left up to the owner’s discretion whether people are allowed to fuss and interact with the dog while it is in uniform.

And, as a particularly sociable beast, George doesn’t really give me a choice – he thinks everyone comes out only to see him, and has been known to block the pavement until he’s had a scratch.

But, what does he actually DO? Apart from try to eat everything (especially things that are bad for him), trip me up in the kitchen every time there might be fuss/food/something interesting happening and act completely demented every time he sees a tennis ball? That’s a good question. I’m glad you asked it.

Hearing dogs alert their d/Deaf owners to important sounds. We know this. But HOW?

A lot of the spaniels and smaller dogs do a lovely, polite little sit by their owner’s feet, and put their front feet up as an alert. It’s very sweet and effective. However, as a Labrador, George is a big monster. He has paws like Yogi Bear. If he jumped up me like that, I would be instantly felled like a tree, possibly walloping my head in the process, whereupon he’d probably just curl up and go to sleep on my warm, unconscious body.

So instead of the paw alert, he nudges me with his nose. This varies in intensity and strength depending on what he’s alerting me to – any alerts around dinnertime tend to be fairly bone-breaking…

Once nudged, I ask him “What is it?” and he then takes me to the source of the alert (apart from when it is a fire alarm; this is signalled by him lying down and staying put until I tell him to move and, in theory, evacuate us both safely from the burning building/vicinity of the toaster).

The things a hearing dog alert their handler to can vary, as they are trained to suit each person’s needs. Generally, they will respond to a fire alarm, a doorbell and an alarm clock (George is supposed to put his paws on my pillow for this, but as it’s usually also breakfast time he tends to just jump on my head to wake me up, which my son thinks is the best thing ever, and I am fairly ambivalent about to say the least).

George also knows the ‘Call Mum’ command, which sends him scuttling to fetch me wherever in the building I am, saving people from having to throw things in my general direction to get my attention.

This command especially has been life-changing, considering I have a small child who doesn’t always want to come and tell me in person that he’s ‘accidentally’ spilled his peas and needs chocolate instead.

It’s also been invaluable on sets and stages, along with the fact that such a gorgeous, hairy presence just benefits everyone. It’s not unknown for castmates and crew members to start sneaking dog treats and toys into their dressing rooms…

The best thing for me, since I had George… Well, it sounds very Hollywood and cheesey, and I’m sorry about that, but it’s also true. He has made me so much more confident, especially at home.

As a single mum, it can be tough being Deaf, never quite sure what’s happening with your child when you can’t see them… Never quite sure if that thud was a toilet seat, or a box of toys, or a small head hitting the floor. But George always lets me know – even if he doesn’t do an official alert, I can tell by his body language or the way he runs out of the room if my son is up to something or in trouble (usually stuck upside down behind the sofa cushions while hunting for dinosaurs, like you do).

And, outside, I have to interact with everyone. George is so happy, bustling up and down the streets and in and out of the shops and cafes, that we attract attention. It was weird at first, but I’m a lot more used to it now. And it’s very, very rare that the attention isn’t positive. Generally people just want to stroke the old doofus, or tell me tales of Labradors they knew, or ask what he actually does.

Most days I am happy to answer. But sometimes I am in a rush (late? Me? Never…), or feeling grumpy or tired or vulnerable, and I just can’t stop to chat, even if George is wagging like his life depends on it.

So, here we go. This is the link. Anybody who has been wondering what Hearing Dogs do, especially the most gorgeous, boofheaded one, Baron Von Georgeinton – now you know. It’s pretty amazing, huh?

And, yes. He can come on a plane with me.

And, yes. He licked me in my mouth one time.

And, no. I can’t imagine life without him. The limelight-stealing scumbag.

For more information on Assistance Dogs -: http://www.assistancedogs.org.uk/ 

For more information on Hearing Dogs UK -: https://www.hearingdogs.org.uk/ 

Emily Howlett is a regular writer for this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and teacher. She tweets as @ehowlett

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