Japanese Dogs Trained to Help Hearing-Impaired
It's always good to read about dogs living fulfilling lives as guide dogs.
Thanks to Daily Yomiuri Online for this article.
Dog trainer aids hearing-impaired
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Guide dogs for the visually impaired are relatively common, but only 13 dogs in all of Japan are certified to aid the hearing-impaired.
Two of these 13 dogs were trained by Kuniyoshi Shinden, who heads the Volunteer Dog Training Center, a nonprofit organization in Itanocho, Tokushima Prefecture.
His affinity for canines began when his family acquired a dog when he was in middle school in the mid-1960s.
He read a book about dog training while in high school, at a time when he was thinking about what to do with his future.
The words "certified dog trainer" piqued his curiosity, and before long he got a part-time job at a police dog training center in the prefecture.
Similar orders can elicit different responses from dogs. This means trainers have to get to know the individual temperament of each dog being trained. Shinden became fascinated by the variety of dog personalities under his tutelage.
"Dogs do not select their masters. But they do show reverence and affection for them," he said. "The masters may be good, bad, rich or poor--the dogs don't care."
After graduating from high school, Shinden went to work for a dog training school in Saitama Prefecture run by a breeder of German shepherds. He also spent a year in Germany to learn dog training.
He eventually became a trainer at a facility in Kyoto in 1973. The dogs he has trained have been awarded many prizes.
But one day, an empty feeling suddenly came over him.
"As I looked back on my life, I found I'd done nothing of any consequence," Shinden said. "I had trained so many dogs for other people, but I asked myself: 'Is my job doing anything good?'"
When he was 37, his passion for dog training evaporated, and he became a salesman for a housing company.
Japan's history of assistance dogs only dates back to 1991, when a physically disabled woman went to study service dog training in the United States and came back a year later with the first service dog in Japan. Coincidentally, Shinden returned to dog training in 1991 at the request of a friend, who asked him to raise a guide dog for a blind person.
But at the time, guide dogs for the blind were only trained at government-designated facilities, and so Shinden decided to try to train a guide dog for the hearing-impaired, an idea that came to him after watching a TV program.
Shinden, 56, said training a guide dog for the hearing-impaired is full of surprises. Unlike guide dogs for the visually impaired, hearing dogs do not take orders from their masters.
This means training has to focus on completely different aspects than that used for police dogs or household dogs. Hearing dogs are trained to inform their masters by leaping around them when they hear, for example, the sounds of a telephone, a doorbell or a water heater.
When the dogs do well, the trainer needs to give them copious positive reinforcement.
Shinden's training requires great perseverance to produce a well-trained dog.
Shinden said he would never forget the smile of the hearing-impaired person who received one of his trained dogs in 1992. "It was great to know there was someone, somewhere who would benefit from a dog I trained," he said.
Shinden said no prize dog contest can match this feeling of satisfaction.
One dog he trained came from a family that could no longer keep the dog because it tended to bite the children.
"A rambunctious dog has the potential for turning into an excellent hearing dog," Shinden said, adding that this energy is a sign of self-motivation. Within 18 months this energetic dog was fully trained.
The law on service dogs for the physically disabled went into force in 2003. Shinden's staff at the training center now faces the challenge of teaching the hearing-impaired how to train their own hearing dogs.