Skip to main content

meet paragon

from humble beginnings

Dogs from the begginning

Meet Paragon


how paragon service dogs came to be

Paragon Service Dogs has a long and rich history. The training of dogs to assist the d/Deaf did not exist until the early 1970s when Mrs. Elva Janke's, a hard of hearing woman in Minnesota, dog passed away. Her dog had, just naturally, alerted her to sounds. When he died, Mrs. Janke reached out to a local news station to see if they could find her a way to have a dog trained to alert in the way her previous dog had done. Mrs. Janke was eventually connected with a local dog trainer in Minnesota by the name of Agnes McGrath, and the rest, as they say, is history. Agnes initially trained six hearing dogs, including one for Mrs Janke. These were the first six hearing dogs to be trained. This training project was called the "Hearing Ear Program" and operated with financial support from the Minnesota Lions Club and the then Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson.

In 1974, as interest in the project grew, Agnes added three additional women, Martha Foss, Emlynn Wood, and Sandy Sterker, and the four embarked on a pilot project to examine the benefits and sustainability of hearing dogs. After four years of collaborations with the d/Deaf community, testing different dog breeds, and developing a sound training method, the study results demonstrated that dogs were a viable choice to assist people who were d/Deaf and hard of hearing. These four visionary women became our Founders.

Officially founded in 1978, Hearing Dog, Inc. was formed - the first hearing dog training organization in the United States. Soon after, the name was changed to International Hearing Dog, Inc. to include IHDl's work in Canada.

In 2024, IHDI rebranded as Paragon Service Dogs. The new name reflects our commitment to excellence and our mission expansion to serve a wider range of individuals. While remaining dedicated to training hearing service dogs, the transition allows us to increase placements and extend support to diverse communities in need. Tailored training programs now capitalize on each dog's unique strengths, ensuring a broader impact. This strategic shift not only enhances our service offerings but also strengthens our foundation for long-term sustainability by fostering more engaged volunteer and supporter networks.

Since our inception, Paragon has partnered over 1,400 teams of people who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing and custom trained dogs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and throughout Canada. Additionally, Paragon has helped support the development of similar programs in Norway, Japan, and Australia.