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Service dog small but vital

Canine companion helps local woman with hearing

December 17, 2012
Beth Christian Broschart - Staff Writer , The Inter-Mountain

When we hear the term "working dog," it usually conjures up images of a large golden retriever or German shepherd with a harness, assisting someone who is visually impaired. But service dogs come in many shapes and sizes, and are trained to assist in a multitude of tasks.

Caleb, a four-year old terrier, is a hearing service dog. He resides in Elkins with his owner, Tina Vial, and helps her with her day-to-day activities by being her "second pair of ears."

Caleb is credentialed through Service Dogs of America, and his papers affirm that he performs a service for medical needs.

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Caleb, a four-year old terrier, is a hearing service dog. He is credentialed through Service Dogs of America, and his papers affirm that he performs a service for medical needs.

Vial wears two powerful hearing aids. She said she began losing her hearing in her early 30s and starting wearing hearing aids at age 35.

"Specialists have concluded that my condition is most likely due to high doses of a medicine," Vial said. "I have a loss of hearing across all tones and in both ears. Even with the hearing aids, I don't hear sounds behind me or sometimes off to the side. It is difficult for me to distinguish where sounds are coming from, and even sitting around a table in a meeting, I don't know who, at first, is speaking. I do a great deal of lip reading."

Vial trains families and their dogs to prevent behavioral issues and keep the pet from ending up in the shelter.

"That is how Caleb and I came together," Vial said. "He was a 10-week old foster puppy and was part of a litter I was training before they were placed in homes. I truly did intend to find him a home, but he curled up on (her husband) Peter's shoulder, and, well, the rest is history.

"Terriers have very acute hearing skills as a result of being bred to hunt vermin underground," Vial said. "Their ears are like two radar dishes, each one honing in on different sounds. As I began to automatically look the direction his ears pointed to see what he was listening to, I realized how helpful that was to me, and how I was more aware of my surroundings and more engaged when I watched him."

Vial said she used her dog training skills to shape and reward Caleb's behaviors.

"If there is a sound nearby that he thinks is important that I am not picking up on, he will get my eye, look at the thing, and look back at me for the confirmation signal," Vial said. "Once he gets that he usually lays his head back down."

Vial said she takes Caleb with her everywhere she goes, and he sits with her on her lap or beside her computer at work.

"In order for all of this to work, he has to be within my range of sight," she said. "He scans the room for who is speaking or what is happening, and I watch his ears and eyebrows move to determine the source of the sound."

Vial said there are many different types of dogs providing all kinds of help to people today. She said therapy dogs are becoming more well-known and they are trained to be with people who are ill or recovering from an injury.

"Therapy dogs are used to lie on a hospital bed or sit with children without pawing or licking them," Vial said. "They are trained to be non-reactive to walkers, wheelchairs and nursing home sounds like food trays falling. Their job is to offer up some doggie love to someone who might need it in a calm and controlled setting."

Vial said that a hearing assistance dog differs from therapy dogs because a service dog works as a team with their owners. She said today dogs are being trained to help with many folks including those who assist autistic children by calming them and giving them security. Other dogs warn someone prone to seizures that they are about to have a seizure so they can move to a safe place, or warn a diabetic of an oncoming imbalance in their insulin levels so they can respond accordingly.

Other dogs assist those who are visually impaired, those who assist wheelchair-bound folks with daily tasks around the house and in public and those who warn their owner that foods may contain toxins they are allergic to, such as peanuts.

Vial said she is thankful to have Caleb.

"Caleb is making up for one of my senses which is not perfect," Vial said. "Having a disability can be isolating and frustrating, especially when the disability isn't an obvious one. But a service dog fills a void for the handler and makes life easier."

Vial reminds people that service dogs are working dogs.

"When they are working, they should not be petted," Vial said. "It can interfere with the work they are performing and put their human partner at risk." More information is available at or



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