We got Gromit, our first Kerry, when he was 12 weeks old from Carolee Nickols of Ardara Kerries. We already had an Akita but had recently lost our other dog and two is always better than one, I say. I had always admired Kerries so this was my chance to finally have one. Having Gromit become a hearing dog was just an unplanned but fortunate opportunity.
I have an adult onset hearing loss due to MS and I am very lucky that the deafness seems to be the only residual affect that I have. I had done a little investigating into hearing dogs but at that time the groups that I contacted said I would have to give up any other dog in my house and there was no way I was going to do that so I forgot about it.
When Gromit was about a year old, a friend of mine told me about her daughter who was training service dogs in North Carolina. Monika was going to be here for the summer and would I like her to test Gromit and see if he might make a good hearing dog. If he passed the test, she would train him for me (for a price of course). I jumped at the chance. She came over with a buzzer and lots of dog treats. Gromit thought she was the neatest thing ever. She would buzz and if Gromit came over to see what the noise was, he got a treat. FUN TIMES!
Monika was looking for a dog that really reacted to sound, also one who was smart enough to figure things out for himself and willing enough to play this silly game. Gromit passed with flying colors. She commented to me several times that Gromit learned more quickly than the dogs (mostly Goldens and Labs) that she usually trained and what a fun dog he was.
Monika started Gromit out on a kitchen timer. She placed the timer with a treat on the counter where I would normally put it and when it went off, Gromit learned to run to it and get his treat. This was a little scary because I had visions of his stealing 25# turkeys but the only thing he has ever taken was a stick of butter that I had left where his treat usually was. That was a ‘dumb me’ situation so he just got a much better treat than usual. When he had that part down, she worked with him to then come to her for more treats. We discussed the various ways that he would alert me to things – barking wasn’t much good – and he sort of chose his own way of telling me. He runs and leaps on me and sometimes his enthusiasm almost knocks me over.
The next thing he learned was to alert me to the phone. I have to use a text telephone and he learned to ignore my husband’s phone when it rings. No treats there. He knows my phone is the only one that concerns him. The same process was used as in most dog training – short sessions, teaching small steps and then weaving them all together to reach the desired effect. He learned to ‘go find Julie’ which my husband uses to let me know he has come home. No more frights when I turn around and see someone standing there that I wasn’t expecting.
Answering the door is the most exciting of his jobs and the hardest job for him to perform correctly. He is so happy having visitors that he carries on at the door and sometimes forgets to alert me so sometimes people sometime have to wait a bit but he always comes through in the end.
Gromit wearing his service dog vest.
It says "Hearing dog" and the next line says "In Training".
I think that Kerrys are a good choice for hearing dogs. They have such versatility and they love their people so Kerrys want to do whatever their people want them to do. They love to play games and answering a phone is a game. The only problem with Gromit, and it may be true of other Kerrys, is that he is easily distracted. I can’t depend on him outside of the house because he is more interested in seeing other people or animals or which way the wind is blowing or whatever. This is not a big deal for me as it is in the house where I need him the most. I would imagine that with time and more training that could be overcome.
It is really hard for me to remember how limited my life B.G. (Before Gromit) was. He has given so much and I am so very grateful to all who have made it possible.