Sunday, 27 April 2014

Hearing Dogs Spring Open Day

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People had their Spring open day yesterday and I thought I'd wander along to see, in person, some of what they do. I had heard about the open day a month or so ago from the News page on their website and, despite all my research and viewing of videos on t'web, I thought it would be useful to see in person some of the work that they, and the puppies, socialisers and Hearing Dogs do.
Bruce, the Hearing Dogs Mascot

It's a decent drive from where I live to get to Princes Risborough in deepest Buckinghamshire nestling in the Chiltern Hills. Luckily I enjoy driving and I know the area really well from when I used to live in the Rickmansworth area some years ago which made the journey much easier and something of a nostalgia trip as well. The area, if you haven't been before, is part of the gorgeous Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a phrase that came to mind while I was driving through was that it's the Southern Lake District but without the lakes!

Anyway, the weather was being characteristically April-like in that it was changeable with the odd light shower here and there on the trip down but with some glorious sunny intervals as well. As time went on things became more and more promising and what started out as a dull morning turned into something much more resembling a Spring day.

When I arrived, just after Midday, I was really pleased to see how full the car parks were and that many others had decided to come along as well. I took a moment to view the surroundings and the centre is in a lovely valley floor location with nary a house, building or even a phone mast in sight!

I was also very pleased to see that Pet Dogs were welcome. Why I was (mildly) suprised by this I have no idea, I suppose it's because Dogs are usually not welcome in most places. Nevertheless, there were lots of Dogs in attendance, many of whom were either Hearing Dogs or Hearing Dog puppies with their burgundy coats or burgundy leash tags.

One of the Socialisation Demo Puppies
After a brief wander around I went to one of the large (shed?) buildings where the live demonstrations were taking place. Every half-hour there was a Puppy Socialising demo where we saw the puppies go through their paces with some obedience demonstrations such as sit, stay, recall and walking to heel. The puppies were fabulous and seemed to enjoy it immensely although sometimes the crowds and surroundings did prove to be a slight distraction at some points. After the puppy demonstration we were then treated to a Soundwork Demonstration by the adult dogs. The soundwork demo included all the key ingredients that go into making a Hearing Dog such an effective partner. 

You can see examples of Soundwork Demonstrations on the Hearing Dogs YouTube channel which can be found here.

After watching the demonstrations I had a wander around in more depth and looked at the Kennels and the Training Houses where the Dogs go through their soundwork training.

The Kennels, which are about to be updated, are spacious with plenty of space for each dog to sleep and play. There is a central area for staff to keep an eye out and a health care section at the end for minor treatment to be carried out. At the entrance there is a waist high shower tray and shower where the Dogs are washed (and groomed?) after the traditional roll in the mud and jump in the river! I was impressed by the kennels and I have taken a couple of ideas away with me to carry out at home if/when the need arises.

The Training Houses (there were at least two and maybe three of these) are fully furnished 'houses' with a Hallway, Lounge, Kitchen/Diner, stairs and probably bedroom where the dogs undergo their Soundwork training. The walls downstairs are festooned with photos of Dogs that have previously been trained and placed with recipients which is a lovely touch.

I left after a few hours and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Dogs (trained and untrained) in action and thoroughly recommend visiting the next open day when it comes along. To further boost the day the weather stayed sunny and warm until a few minutes after I left whereupon a typical April shower decided to do its worst.

I took some video of my day out which you can see here. (Note that the video does not contain sound so do not panic if you can't hear anything... there's nothing to hear!)

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