Hearing Dogs for Deaf People

Hearing dog puppy

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People is a national charity that breeds and trains dogs to change the lives of deaf people. Each hearing dog is trained to alert their owner to important sounds, as well as offering them more independence. The charity joined the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS) in 2008 and has placed more than 1830 hearing dogs with applicants since then.

With hearing loss on the rise and one in six people in the UK suffering from some form of deafness, the charity is working to train even more hearing dog puppies than ever before. Their National Supply Manager, Alex Stafford-Clark, explains why the charity joined the ABS and the importance of the scheme to them.

Why did you join the Assured Breeder Scheme?

We joined the scheme to ensure we were able to prove we were breeding responsibly and to support the Kennel Club initiative. We breed around 100 puppies each year that we train to assist deaf people. The breeds we train to become hearing dogs are typically Labradors, English Cocker Spaniels and Miniature Poodles. We also train a small number of crossbreeds, such as a Cocker Spaniel/Poodle alongside the pedigree dogs in order to ensure we have the right dog to match all of the needs of our applicants.

What are the main strengths of being part of the Assured Breeder Scheme?

Breeding our own puppies has allowed us to produce dogs of a consistently outstanding temperament and health and therefore meet the high standards that are required to be a hearing dog. Being on the scheme gives us a platform to demonstrate to other professionals and members of the public that we meet a high level of welfare standards and understand our responsibility as breeders. We are also aware that there are incentives on being on the scheme that we haven't taken advantage of yet but recognise that it must be very useful to get discounts on health tests, especially if you are an individual breeder.

How did you find the inspection process?

We feel the inspection process is an essential part of maintaining the quality of the scheme. The Kennel Club's UKAS accreditation to certify scheme members adds additional credibility to the scheme. We were reviewed at the end of last year. It was a positive and enjoyable experience and we were inspected by a knowledgeable and professional assessor and we are happy to say we passed with flying colours.

The Scheme is constantly developing and is now even more professional. I am happy to be a part of it and can only see that if all good and responsible breeders come together as one, with a governing body who is supportive and has extremely high standards, we can all help to eradicate the puppy farms of today.

What steps have you taken, which are in line with ABS requirements, to ensure dogs are raised to the best possible standard?

Very much in line with the ethos of the ABS, we are committed to breeding the best puppies that we can. Each hearing dog will transform the life of a deaf person, and we make a lifetime commitment to every partnership created. The long term health of our dogs is therefore vital and we ensure that our dogs are given the appropriate health tests for their breed, in line with the ABS rules.

A high standard of train-ability is also critical in our dogs, considering the work that they will go on to do. We ensure that our dogs are fully socialised, which is critical given that they will go on to accompany their owners into businesses and other public places. Many pups will spend the first eighteen months of their life in training. We breed a large number of dogs and it is crucial for us that they are all given a safe and comfortable breeding environment).

We recognise that our dogs are happiest and most relaxed in their home environment so all our broods are whelped at home. A trained member of the breeding team is on call leading up to the whelp and then goes out as soon as the bitch enters labour and stays until all the pups are born and mum is settled. All our team receive comprehensive support throughout the 8 weeks that the pups remain with their mum. We provide all the equipment and food and cover any veterinary fees as well. Most importantly all our pups receive a great grounding in early socialisation through our customised program, to ensure we produce happy, healthy pups ready for the next stage in their journey to becoming a Hearing Dog.

As well as practical support, hearing dogs also offer their deaf owner greater confidence and companionship. With this in mind, we look closely at the temperaments of the dogs that we are breeding and strive to breed puppies that have a natural desire to form a close bond with their handler, and will enjoy this lifetime partnership.

We regularly assess all our hearing dogs and continue to review their health and behaviour throughout their lives. This process allows our breeding scheme staff to ensure that they make decisions based on the success of previous litters, which helps to improve our litters year on year.

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