Adaptil® collars help to reduce stress for trainee assistance dogs
Previously, just 39% of dogs graduated successfully as hearing dogs, whereas afterwards this percentage increased to 68%.
Future hearing dogs for deaf people undergo intensive and complicated training from when theyare puppies through to adulthood. This training period, especially in its traditional form, placedthe animal under a great deal of stress. They had to cope with several changes in environment, and time spent in kennels between different homes. This stress was not only harmful to the animal’s wellbeing, it also decreased their capacity to learn. To address this problem, the British charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, introduced a series of changes to their training program. These included a shift from kennel-based training to allowing the dogs to continue to live with families throughout their training and also the introduction of Adaptil® collars at key moments during training. The impact of these measures was dramatic; previously, just 39% of dogs graduated successfully as hearing dogs, whereas afterwards this percentage increased to 68%.
Hearing Dogs for Deaf People is a UK charity which, for the past 35 years, has been training dogs to assist hearing-impaired people, especially helping them to respond to sound alerts, such as doorbells, alarm clocks and re alarms, among others: “deafness can be a very isolating disability. A hearing dog can give a deaf person a newfound sense of independence and confidence now that they have a loyal companion and a true friend by their side” Hearing Dogs explains.
In 2016, the charity trained 140 dogs. Currently they have over 900 active working hearing dog partnerships across the UK and since 1982 have successfully placed 2,901 hearing dogs with deaf people.
Before the changes were implemented, the majority of dogs undergoing training with Hearing Dogs did not succeed and had to be rehomed as pets. Sta at Hearing Dogs realised that a key problem was the stress associated with the 3-4 months’intensive kennel-based phase of the training program. This took place after an initial 12-16 months puppy socialising phase in volunteer’s family homes. Some dogs could not cope with the changes associated with the move to the kennels. Their stress manifested as a range of behavioural problems; in some cases, this led to them being dropped from the training program. One result of this was a 4-5 year waiting list for deaf people who wanted a hearing dog.
This is what encouraged the association to devise a new program which enabled the dogs to live in family homes throughout their training. At the same time, the association introduced Adaptil® collars at four key stages of the dogs’ socialization and training programs: when they leave their mothers; for the 1st month of their socialization phase living with families; as they enter the more intensive training phase; and when they are eventually placed with their deaf partners. The collars are also used at other times, such as to help the dogs cope with reworks or other short-term stressful experiences.
Adaptil® is the synthetic copy of the natural dog appeasing pheromone released by the mother dog 2-3 days after giving birth. This pheromone comforts and supports the puppies, giving them the condence to explore the outside world. This dog appeasing pheromone has been proven to have a comforting e ect… on both puppies and adult dogs during stressful situations and also helps support their training and socialization.
Jo Gray, Head of Quality Assurance and Welfare at Hearing Dogs said:
Minimizing stress and maximizing enrichment is a key focus point of the hearing dog operational teams. We recognize that each dog is an individual with needs that will differ and so our approach to the training journey needed to adapt and change too.
Using Adaptil® for each dog in training is one such tool that encourages a well-rested, relaxed dog that is supported through its learning. This has had a very positive impact on the welfare of our dogs and allowed us to help more deaf people by providing them with the gift of a hearing dog.
The program changes implemented by Hearing Dogs, and the introduction of Adaptil®, greatly contributed to reducing the dogs’ stress, and making them more sociable. This translated into more successful outcomes. Before, of 177 dogs, just 69 (39%) graduated; afterwards, of 209 dogs entering the program, 142 (68%) graduated.
The higher success rate achieved has halved the average waiting time for a hearing-impaired person to be matched with a dog, from 4-5 years to around 2 years. It also means that significantly more people can benefit sooner from the life-changing experience of receiving a fully trained and accredited hearing dog. People like Olivia, who became deaf when she was three.
Hal helps me every day. He is my ears. He tells me about important sounds, like my mobile phone, so I can keep in touch with my friends. When the alarm clock goes in the morning, he wakes me up with his paws on the bed. When it rings to tell me I can finish my homework, he gives me a gentle nudge with his nose. We’re a team. Hal looks after me, and I look after him. When people see him, and notice his jacket, they talk to me about him. I love telling them how he helps me. If I’m feeling tired, I can give Hal a cuddle and I feel much better. He ‘energizes me up’. He’s not just my hearing dog. He’s my best friend.
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