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training extraordinary hearing service dogs

Jeff and Service Dog Atlas

Service Dog Training

Hearing Dogs

our hearing service dog training program is intentionally designed

At Paragon, we meticulously raise and train pups to serve as invaluable companions to individuals who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing. These remarkable canines are adept at alerting their handlers to various sounds through gentle paw or nose nudges, leading them reliably to the source. Our rigorous training program ensures that our hearing service dogs are proficient in recognizing and responding to a multitude of auditory cues, including door knocks, doorbells, timers, smoke detectors, name calls, baby cries, alarms, and dropped items. Our hearing service dogs meet all the stringent standards established by Assistance Dogs International for certification, granting them the full rights and protections afforded to service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Training a hearing dog to be on alert 24 hours a day, 365 days a year is a lengthy and involved process. The cost to select, care for, train, match, and place a hearing service dog is nearly $20,000 per dog. This investment includes daily care, specialty medical/vet care, grooming, extensive training, and placement costs.

Our hearing dog training program is rooted in best practices and focuses on (1) socialization, manners, and obedience cues; (2) public access training; and (3) sound alert training.

Socialization, Manners, and Basic Cues Training (Part I): Hearing dogs in training are exposed to the routines and expectations of in-home living, socialization opportunities, and foundational cues.
Public Access Training (Part II): The trainers invest a great deal of work desensitizing each dog and aiding them to master cues and behaviors, travel with ease, and be reliable even when surrounded by distractions and temptations.
Sound Alert Training (Part III): Shaping techniques are used to break down complex behaviors into a series of small steps that achieve the desired end behavior to create a two-way fluid alert.

Dogs are trained to alert to essential sounds like doorbells, phone rings, smoke alarms, household alarms, and their handler's name. Throughout a dog's training, they are continuously monitored to ensure they never lose their drive and love for their work! Our science-based approach allows Paragon dogs to have fun while learning throughout their training. It is also fundamental to maintaining their specialized skills throughout their lifetime.

During sound training sessions, the dogs initially learn to respond to 3 basic sounds:

  • Doorbell or knock
  • Telephone
  • Emergency alarms (smoke alarm, tornado siren)

From these three basic commands, the hearing dog is then custom trained to fit the needs and lifestyle of the client they will go on to serve. Additional sounds a hearing dog might be trained to alert to include appliance buzzers, alarm clock, baby cry, their name being called etc.

what is a hearing service dog?

A Hearing Dog alerts individuals who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing to specific sounds, such as a smoke alarm, baby crying, or doorbell ring. A Hearing Dog Team may be trained for the right to have Public Access, which, in the U.S., includes the right of a person with a hearing disability to be accompanied by their hearing service dog in all public accommodations. 

who do we work with

Paragon's applicants are some of the 50 million Americans who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing, across all demographics. Being d/Deaf or hard of hearing can impact all areas of an individual's life - from daily living to education to employment to personal relationships. A hearing dog that alerts to important sounds allows d/Deaf or hard of hearing individuals to gain greater independence, enjoy increased peace of mind regarding their safety, and benefit from the power of the human-animal bond they share with their dog.

At Paragon, we consider working with clients with the following stipulations:

  • At least 18 years old and completing this application on my own or with minimal assistance (excluding interpreting needs)
  • Live alone, with dependents, or with others who are d/Deaf (homes with other hearing adults may be considered on a case-by-case basis)
  • Do not have another dog in the home (exceptions are typically granted for retired Paragon hearing dogs)
  • Are able to complete an initial evaluation (1-2 days) and later team training (10-11 days) onsite at Paragon north of Denver at my own expense, and I will be able to work independently during these days (Paragon provides certified interpreters)
  • Are able to walk a dog on a leash for 30 minutes daily, without an assistive device and without falling
  • Can legally drive and/or have 20/40 vision in at least one eye (when corrected)
  • Are financially, psychologically, cognitively, and physically able to provide a hearing dog's care, exercise, and ongoing training for 10 or more years

Although Paragon does not charge clients for our hearing dogs, they will incur expenses for you – sometimes significant expenses. Further, if you are partnered with a Paragon dog, it means that you have become one half of a two-member team and suddenly, wherever you go, whatever you do, the dog half must accompany you (nearly always).

Finally, you must be able to participate in our virtual classroom and online meetings; you are responsible for all the costs of traveling to Paragon for an initial in-person evaluation and then 11 full days of small group training; you will need to train according to our positive reinforcement/treat-based training principles; and you must complete team recertification annually.


phase 1 - application & evaluation

Paragon announces periodic reopening of the application for a hearing service dog. The application window will remain open for a minimum of two months. Fully completed applications, including applicant videos, are reviewed by the Paragon Application Committee. The Committee approves a small number of selected applications for preliminary acceptance, and decisions are provided to applicants within six months of submission. We strongly encourage applicants to apply to multiple service dog programs.

These applicants then enter a secondary evaluation phase in which they must submit additional documentation; videos; an interview; home visit/safety inspection; and reference checks, including with at least one key care professional and two emergency contacts willing to keep the dog in an emergency. Applicants that advance through this secondary phase are then approved to move into the final phase of the application process. This group is required to participate in an initial in-person meeting, assessment, and orientation at our facility.

Applicant finalists are considered for prospective dog matches based on factors including: date of application; best fit for client-dog team based on client routine and needs and dog characteristics; and current life routine and circumstances. If Paragon is unable to make an appropriate hearing dog match within two years, the application is made inactive. Paragon will inform the applicant if and when they are able to reapply. Applicants may withdraw their application at any time.

phase 2 - client training, matching, & custom training

Paragon works closely with each client to assess and understand the client's activity level, lifestyle, needs, and ability to care and adequately provide continued training for the hearing dog. This personalized information is incorporated into custom training to accommodate specific needs to ensure each client is matched with a hearing dog that optimally enhances their quality of life and independence.

Therefore, during our process with clients, we strive to understand their needs and abilities, be clear around expectations, and be honest and open in our communications. We are diligent in our selection practice and endeavor to create a match that offers the greatest potential for every client.

The matching module creates avenues for clients to "meet" numerous dogs virtually. Doing so enables the clients to witness a dog's movement, experience temperaments, energy, and personality, and provide reactions and responses. All of this is essential information as we determine best matches.

Once matched, trainers begin incorporating the custom training required to accommodate any specific needs a client identified in the application and pre-match training.

phase 3 - team training (on-site at paragon)

Paragon Service Dogs utilizes a two-week Team Training onsite at our training facility with hearing dogs in training and clients. 

The client and hearing dogs in training must learn to work together to achieve success. To facilitate a positive and strong connection, the Team Training has three concentrations.

Classroom Instruction: Clients learn cues, training techniques, training theory and participate in the execution of short training exercises to create a foundation for honing skills and a solid connection. 

Environmental Learning: Challenge-based field trips take the training beyond cues and sound alerts and introduce the team to public work scenarios.

Graduation: Passing the Sound Alert Certification Test and the Public Access Test solidifies the establishment of a certified Hearing Dog Team and marks the beginning of their life-changing journey together.

phase 4 - ongoing support, training & re-certification

Once a dog/handler team has successfully completed Phase 3; has successfully tested for Public Access and Sound Alerts; and has received their initial ADI Certification; that Dog/Handler Team becomes a “Forever Team” with Paragon. The Team will be eligible for ongoing check-ins; phone and in-person support from the trainers; access to the Monthly Team Chats – a monthly Zoom meet-up for all active clients to share triumphs and tribulations; and six-month and annual recertification necessary to maintain ADI status.