My year as a Hearing Dog Puppy Socialiser

Kimba the hearing dog - face

If you follow us on social media, you may already feel you know this gorgeous chap. This is Kimba, he’s a cocker spaniel and for the past year, my Mum and I have been training him to be a Hearing Dog for Deaf People. Today was the bittersweet ending to our amazing year with him as he left us to travel to his recipient in Scotland. I have shed so many tears today and desperately hope this won’t be the end of our journey with him, but just in case, I wanted to mark this day with a special post of Kimba’s Best Bits.

Kimba the hearing dog puppy daisies

Kimba was only seven weeks old when he came to us, a tiny bundle of shiny black fluff with a rather serious expression on his little face! He was bred by Hearing Dogs especially for his temperament and his brothers and sister will all become Assistance Dogs too, Koko and Kristo for Hearing Dogs and Kasper for Dogs for the Disabled. All the puppies from each litter have names starting with the same letter.

Kimba the hearing dog eating grass

We couldn’t take Kimba out on walks at first because he hadn’t finished his vaccinations, but he didn’t seem to mind exploring the garden instead. This boy just loves to help out with the digging!

Kimba the hearing dog flower pot

Kimba the hearing dog in helping in the garden

The role of a volunteer puppy socialiser is help the dog experience as much of the world in their first months as possible, so they grow up to be confident and unphased when they go out to work. Even before he could walk on the pavements we carried Kimba with us everywhere to soak up all the sights, sounds and smells he might encounter. It’s amazing how important those early weeks are for a puppy as their ‘socialisation window’ closes at just 16 weeks, after which startling experiences are far more likely to upset them in the long-term.

Kimba the hearing dog teething

Socialising a puppy is great fun, but if you’re considering it you should remember that trainee assistance dogs are no different to any other puppy when it comes to house training and chewing! We needed lots of patience in Kimba’s first few weeks until he got the hang of it and gave him lots of carrots and ice cubes to soothe his teeth. These are still his favourite treats to this day!

Kimba the hearing dog one star award

Kimba the hearing dog two star award

Another big part of being a puppy socialiser is training the puppy in all their basic obedience skills, such as sit, down and settle. To help us do this, we took Kimba to a special puppy class run by Hearing Dogs for Deaf People every fortnight so Kimba could train with other puppies the same age and we could learn what we needed to teach him. The puppy classes and training games were one of my absolute favourite things about being a socialiser. I gained so much knowledge about how dogs learn and it was very rewarding seeing him pick up new skills so quickly when I got it right! When Kimba passed his One Star Award he got a special rosette and when he passed his Two Star he got a cute little “I’m Learning” coat so he could come with us into shops and other places pet dogs can’t go. We even took him to the cinema!

Kimba the hearing dog and lottie on the beach

Lottie and Kimba

Kimba the hearing dog with Lottie

One of the loveliest and most unexpected things about having Kimba has been his effect on our 13 year old pointer, Lottie. She was becoming a bit sluggish in her old age and we were unsure how she’d take to a pesky little pup, but Kimba has given her a new lease of life! She charges around playing with him like she’s a puppy herself and she seems so much happier and healthier too. It’s been so lovely to see them together and I know she’ll miss him as much as we do.

Kimba the hearing dog cliffs

Kimba the hearing dog swimming

When Kimba was around six months old we started teaching him his ‘soundwork’; a series of alerts to noises which his deaf recipient will rely on him for. We started off by training him to nudge our leg with his nose when he heard the sound of a squeaker and progressed onto using this nose nudge alert when he heard the telephone, cooker timer and doorbell. Kimba’s favourite job of all is the wake-up alarm because this one has a different alert… he gets to leap up on the bed and lie on top of you! There’s no such thing as a snooze function when Kimba’s around! The coolest thing is that Kimba loves every bit of his soundwork – although to his recipient it’s the most serious part of what he’ll do, to him it’s all just one big game, with lots of praise and treats on offer if when he gets it right!

The John Family with Kimba the hearing dog

Kimba the hearing dog bring your dog to work day

Kimba the hearing dog with socialisers Bridget and Bethan

Kimba has become such a part of our family over this last year and, although we always knew he would be moving on, it has been truly heartbreaking to say goodbye today. It’s really the only bad thing about the puppy socialising experience – although we know he’s going to change someone’s life and that she will love him so, so much, it’s very hard not being able to explain that to him. I have to keep telling myself that he will be fine and we will keep our fingers crossed that his recipient will get in touch with us. For data protection reasons we’re not allowed to contact her (something I completely understand) but it does make it especially sad not knowing if we’ll ever hear how he’s doing in his new home.

But for now, we will be cherishing all our many happy memories of him. I never thought that a year with a dog could be life-changing but Kimba has enriched my life so much. I’ll never forget him and his special magic.

As the saying goes, “I wish I could be the person my dog thinks I am” and for you, gorgeous Kimba, I’m sure going to try!

Kimba the hearing dog with Bethan woodland

[Photographs all © Decorator’s Notebook]

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Comments

  1. Jeannine McAndrew says

    What an inspiring thing to do! It can’t be easy to part with him, but think how much joy he’ll be bringing to his new owner. You are very brave.

  2. Barb Foster says

    Thank you for sharing. Our first hearing puppy moved on to his next section of training in January and your words echo my thoughts completely. Especially the bit ‘it’s very hard not being able to explain that to him’ The day he left with the trainer, tail wagging, thinking he was going for a walk I guess, I kept wishing I could tell him how much we loved him and didn’t want him to go. He will go to his recipient (a teenage boy) at the end of May and it would be lovely if they kept in touch. I notice your post was 3 years ago and wonder what happened next. Did you hear about Kimba? Did you get another hearing puppy?
    Ours was a black cockapoo and didn’t look too dissimilar to Kimba.
    Lovely photos.

    • says

      Thank you for your lovely message, I’m pleased that the blog post helped you. Yes, we have continued our training journey and have socialised five puppies now (between my Mum and I). It’s always hard when a puppy moves on but we have been fortunate to be in touch with all the recipients our dogs have gone to. It’s rewarding to see the dogs in their new homes and loved so much – getting a new puppy to socialise definitely helps the transition, whether full time or holiday cover.

      • Barb Foster says

        Thank you Bethan. Our pup went on to his final home at the end of June, he had done so well. We saw him for the last time mid May and it was like we hadn’t been apart. I do hope we continue to hear about him. Five puppies, how impressive, not sure we are going to get another but we shall never forget our first. X

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