Turning Off An Alert

No worries... this is a staged picture. The tea kettle is cold, and a treat is on the stove to award a "Paws up" command.
No worries... this is a staged picture. The tea kettle is cold, and a treat is on the stove to award a "Paws up" command.

One of the things I really love about Fidos For Freedom, is that even when you have completed your training you receive follow-up support “for life”. I see Chloe’s trainer about 3 times a month and so when I decided I wanted Chloe to learn a new alert, I contacted Pat.

I was putting the tea kettle on the stove to boil and walking away to check my email in the mornings. It would “whistle” like crazy after I obviously forgot about it after walking away. (You’d think I could wait patiently for all of 2 minutes!) My kids are sleeping in this summer on days they don’t work… at least, they are if the tea kettle doesn’t whistle them awake after it has been boiling for ten minutes or so! They BEGGED me to stop leaving the tea kettle without watching it. Well, I knew one other hearing assistance dog at Fidos who alerted to the tea kettle for her partner. I asked Pat how this was done, and she gave me a step-by-step plan of how to train this alert.

It worked like a charm! In a matter of a week, Chloe was alerting to the whistling tea kettle. The only problem is that I found I now had to turn that alert OFF.

Chloe bumps things with her nose to let me know what is making the sound. If a kitchen timer goes off or my cell phone rings, Chloe bumps them with her nose. When I taught her to alert to the tea kettle, I was finally able to “just forget about it” because she understood that this was now a part of her job. She’d race to get me and then make sure I was following her into the kitchen. Before I could stop her she tried bumping the hot tea kettle with her nose. I screeched and scared her to death ‘mid-bump’!

I thought, “well maybe it is all in the timing…” I attempted to follow her much more closely when she came to get me to let me know the tea kettle was whistling. That worked on days my balance wasn’t giving me fits. However on rainy days when Meniere’s disease caused me to have difficulty walking fast, she would beat me to the kitchen every time! I had to screech at her again!

She started being really anxious to alert to the tea kettle! (Wouldn’t you?) Everytime she did her job, I ended up having to screech at her. For now, I am hanging out in the kitchen for the 2 minutes or so it takes for the tea kettle to whistle. I think I’ll time how long it takes to be “almost whistling” and set the kitchen timer instead. The tea kettle would be an important alert (especially if you ask my sleepyhead kids), but it isn’t worth a burn on Chloe’s nose or paw. It is time to re-think how I want to do this. For now, the alert needs turned off.


When I first began losing my hearing, a subtle yet negative pattern began to take place in the way I interacted with others. If there was a communication blunder, faux pas or misunderstanding, it was always the hearing person’s fault. They not only didn’t understand what I was going through, but they didn’t care! Or so I had convinced myself…

The reality is that my disability is MY problem. It’s not YOUR problem! I had to learn to be proactive – not REactive. It can be very frustrating to tell someone to please face me when they talk – AGAIN. But the truth of the matter is, I make as many or MORE mistakes than the hearing people in my life. I start conversations with someone in my family from another room almost on a daily basis. I can hear them responding, and have to quickly hustle into the other room to at least catch the tail end of what they said. If I cannot understand, I sheepishly have to ask for a repeat (Baa – BAAA)

After I joined HLAA and began to learn from my peers a better way to communicate and advocate, I realized I desperately needed to be re-conditioned. Through the beginning years of my hearing loss I had conditioned myself to believe and react in such a way that hearing people were out to get me and that I needed to harshly and sternly educate in bullheaded opposition in order to gain their cooperation. I desperately needed to turn off this “alert”.

As the result of having established a bad habit in the way I choose to handle conflict regarding communication, I had begun alienating people round me. Worse… my behaving in such a way only insured that the next hard-of-hearing or late-deafened person this “idiot hearing person” dealt with would receive a defensive response. Not only was I hurting myself, but others with hearing loss as well.

Once in awhile I meet someone “new” that has hearing loss and a chip on their shoulder. I want to take them aside and explain my own history and need to turn off an “alert” It’s not always the right time or place, but I have had the opportunity to do so a few times. Sharing my own story seems to mean more than fussing at them about what they are doing. Explaining how to communicate with me best is an important “alert” or task. But to do so the wrong way is not worth “burning” someone else. I was taught and encouraged to re-think how I wanted to convey this information. I had to turn off an old “alert”.

It is very likely that all of us have something we should change… a bad reaction we have towards others. Maybe it’s one person that really gets under your skin. You hear their name and your blood pressure goes up! It may be time to recondition a negative response. You may not even realize it, but you may be hurting your reputation by the way you choose to respond to even the mistakes of others. Your own reputation or testimony may not be all that is at stake. Perhaps you are making all Democrats or Republicans look bad. Maybe you are making all Christians appear holier-than-thou or judgemental. Maybe the way you behave affects the way others look at all people with hearing loss. If you recognize this, you can turn the alert off and recondition the way you respond. If I can do it, anyone can!

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal