Australian Lions Hearing Dogs (ALHD) is looking to train and rehome its 600th dog this year, a sentiment to its valuable work that comes in all shapes and sizes.
Stepping away from arguably the most well-known dog breed used for service dogs, the Labrador Retriever, ALHD sources its furry friends from shelters, pounds, rescue organisations or its newly established puppy program, before the dogs undertake sound work and public access training for 5-8 months.
The dogs are then delivered free of charge to deaf and hard of hearing Australians on behalf of the Lions Clubs of Australia.
Chief Executive Officer of Australian Lions Hearing Dog David Horne says some of the traits of ‘rescue’ dogs such as energy, enthusiasm and reactivity are easy to shape into a great hearing dog.
“The other reason is we have no perfect breed archetype as every one of our recipients' needs are different.”
“For example, if you live in a one bedroom unit, a Labrador will fill that space up quickly, whereas a Shih Tzu x (mix) is perfect,” he explains.
Mr Horne also notes smaller dogs often cost less to look after and are lighter and easier to handle.
Sound work involves teaching each dog to alert to 10 common household sounds that will be customised when the dog is placed in its new home.
“These sounds include, but are not limited to, door knocks, bells, alarm clocks, oven timers, babies crying and smoke alarms,” Mr Horne explains.
The dogs must also be taught to work with their owners in public areas, such as supermarkets, restaurants, workplaces and public transport as they possess the same public access rights as other service dogs.
“When we deliver the dogs we go and spend a week with the recipient, teach them how to use the dog and customise the work in the home,” Mr Horne says.
“Through this week we also train a local Lions Club to help support the placement and report back to us throughout the first three-month follow up period in which we visit twice over that time for extra support.”
Speaking of the fantastic milestone of training its 600th dog, the former trainer says he is incredibly proud.
“There is a real sense of pride within the organisation for reaching that milestone,” Mr Horne says.
“We have a great deal of staff who have been here a long time and have been part of our organisation as it has evolved over almost 40 years.”
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into our efforts to become a high quality, well-respected assistance dog training organisation and we are hugely proud of that achievement.”
He says their 600th dog represents the 600th time ALHD has helped someone in need and become a part of their journey as they and their Hearing Dog develop a true partnership, changing both of the lives of both human and dog.
“I remember when our 400th and 500th dogs went out, I have seen how those dogs have changed their recipients’ lives in that time and I know what our 600th has the potential to do,” Mr Horne says.
ALHD is holding an open day on Sunday September 22 from 10am to 2pm at their National Headquarters and Training Centre in Mount Barker, South Australia.
With market stalls, a free sausage sizzle, demonstrations and facility tours, it’s certainly a day to keep in the diaries as there will be the opportunity to hear recipients share their stories.
For more information on ALHD visit their website, hearingdogs.asn.au