Interviewer: Nearly 10 million people in the UK experience some degree of hearing loss. That’s one person in every six. Over half a million are severely or profoundly deaf. Can dogs help them? In today’s interview Julie Bradford, a dog trainer working for a charity, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, will tell us how.
Interviewer: Welcome to our programme Julie! It’s a pleasure to have you here.
Julie: Thank you!
Interviewer: Julie, we’ve all heard of dogs that have been specially trained to help blind people, but I don’t think I have ever heard of dogs specially trained to help people with severe hearing loss, or “hearing dogs” as we might call them. Is this a new kind of dog training?
Julie: Well… not really, our organization has been around for three decades now, working with deaf people in the UK. We’ve been helping people to alleviate some of the consequences that deafness can have, but we know that we’re still considered a small organisation, although there are many deaf people that can benefit from having one of our dogs.
Interviewer: Now, tell us Julie, what do you exactly do at Hearing Dogs for Deaf People?
Julie: I am a dog trainer, so I teach our dogs to alert their deaf owner to important sounds. I train our dogs to respond to sounds such as the alarm clock, smoke alarm, doorbell and telephone. I also work on the behaviour of the dogs to make sure they are comfortable in social environments before they are placed with their deaf owner.
Interviewer: And what does the training consist of?
Julie: First the dogs need to be socialised when they are very young, between 3 and 8 weeks. These puppies stay with a volunteer for a full-time socialisation period of about one year: they get exposed to a wide range of people, animals, places and experiences. Then they arrive in the organisation for their sound training and are allocated to a trainer, such as myself.
Interviewer: These dogs have a little dark red jacket on, which tells you that they are hearing dogs. Why do they wear them?
Julie: Well, this is because the problem for a lot of deaf people is that their disability is invisible. If you’re blind there are obvious indications because you would be walking with a stick, but with hearing loss, it is very difficult to tell, and that can cause a lot of problems.
Interviewer: You are right… I never thought of this!
Julie: It’s actually a serious problem. Many of the hearing aids that people use now are so small that they can’t be seen, so you don’t know whether a person who has hearing loss is perhaps struggling with it in many social situations.
Interviewer: Could you give us an example?
Julie: Sure! Many of our clients comment on how they are often in supermarkets and people behind them would say: “Excuse me, do you mind moving to the side?” because they are there with their shopping trolley. But they don’t hear the comment and do nothing and people often think they are rude, but of course they just didn’t hear the comment.
Interviewer: I see…
Julie: So the dog makes a huge difference in that situation, because it stands next to the person with its hearing dog jacket on, telling everybody in the shop that the person with the dog is deaf, and therefore it starts to break down some of those barriers created by deafness.
Interviewer: I see… It is very important that the dogs wear these jackets. How many hearing dogs can the charity provide? How many are available?
Julie: At the moment we have slightly more than 800 deaf people allocated to one of our dogs across the UK, but since we started we have trained 1,850 dogs, so we have got a long history working with people, but we can never provide enough dogs.
Interviewer: That’s excellent! But, at a personal level, do you find your job rewarding?
Julie: Yes, definitely! I have worked for the Charity for nearly seven years now so there have been lots of good moments! I also find it really rewarding speaking to dog owners and seeing how much their hearing dogs have changed their lives.
Interviewer: What is it like to work with other trainers that might have different ideas about how to best train a dog?
Julie: Everyone is here to help improve the lives of deaf people, and so all the staff and volunteers are like one big team. Like any job, there are difficult moments too, but a sweet puppy or a ball game with one of the dogs soon puts a smile back on your face!
Interviewer: What are you working on at the moment?
Julie: I am currently training four dogs and have another one coming in next week, so that keeps me pretty busy. The job is full of variety though, which I love. One day you can be training sound work and the next you can be taking a dog on the train to London. It is important that each dog is well adapted, matched to their owner’s lifestyle so we prepare them as much as we can.
Interviewer: A truly fascinating job! Julie, thank you for telling us about it. I’m afraid we’ve run out of time. Thank you so much for being with us today!
Julie: It was a pleasure! Thank you.