We interviewed Susan Hansen a few years ago, shortly after she made the leap of faith into the world of firearms instruction and competitions – following a devastating, life-changing accident. We were not surprised at all to learn that Susan now has become an entrepreneur and developed an effective hearing protection for dogs. We thought you’d like to know more about CrittEar – and especially, the reason it is now here.
Of all the things in all the world, why this?
This question made me chuckle! Right? In all the things in the world! And, how cool is it that it’s never been invented before! I am the first to patent it! WOW! That’s so cool to say!
Long story, short
All my life I was into horses. They were a part of me, until 13 years ago, when my whole life changed. I had a terrible horse accident where I broke my back in 2 places and suffered a traumatic brain injury. No. More. Horses.
My life had a very big hole left in it – as well as issues caused by the brain injury. Speaking to people was difficult because of word retrieval problems, stuttering which was worsened when nervous and terrible short-term memory issues. Fast forward 5 years ago, when on a whim, I went to the shooting range with a friend and really enjoyed myself. In fact, I found that shooting was helping with my memory. Being highly focused on 1 thing helped. Then, moving into the shooting sports proved very helpful because of all the planning involved, not to mention, meeting and talking to people.
To help with my new “hobby,” I started a business of making custom hearing protection for people because I saw a need in the shooting community. I made EARs for people who work in loud industries, shooters, hunters and even autistic children.
Meanwhile, at home, I have 3 dogs; one is an aging golden retriever, Coleman, who, in his old age, is getting more and more sensitive to loud noises. It really bothered me to see Coleman get so distraught from noises. I had to help him. I help people with hearing protection, why not dogs? I dove in and started researching and developing something for him. And I did! One day I came inside after leaving him with his Calm, by CrittEar in, to find him totally zen’d out on his bed. He could NOT hear “the scary” noises and just relaxed. That made my heart happy to see him so peaceful. I was happy I could help him. I also knew that I am NOT the only one who has a “Coleman.” So, from idea to market – CrittEar was born.
Sure, you can drug dogs to calm them down, but drugs have horrible side effects, and actually might cause a dog’s anxiety to become worse. CrittEar is the first product of its kind and it’s a double hitter. My competition for hearing protection is external muffs, that are generally ill-fitting, which defeats the purpose. The anxiety product is a tight-fitting shirt, but they can still hear the noises. CrittEar handles both issues as it protects dogs’ ears and calms dogs’ fears. They can’t fear what they can’t hear.
Why hearing protection for your dog?
Why? We all love them. They are family. We are sure to protect our children and ourselves. Why not your dogs? Dogs have better hearing than we do. Five times better in fact. And they live in the same loud world we do. Think about it? City street noise when on a walk. Concert in the park. Loud music in the car. There are so many reasons why.
And for me, again, it was all because of my Coleman. The older he was getting, the more sensitive he was becoming to noises.
You’re a dog mama … what’s the story on dogs and fear of noise?
I own 3 dogs. Coleman, along with Bella and Darby. Bella is the talent in the videos for CrittEar and I am working with her to bring her on the road with me to events and expos. Darby is Bella’s mom and the property watch dog at 26 pounds.
As I know from Coleman, some dogs get anxiety from noises. Thunder, fireworks, wind. And some people take their fur family members with them everywhere. Some places are too loud for us, like a range. And some have their dog canine companion to help them as therapy and assistance dogs. And we have a world filled with working dogs in the military, law enforcement or search and rescue.
All of these dogs need to have their hearing protected. Just like us. As I previously mentioned, I couldn’t find anything like this out there to help Coleman from hearing distant noises and for protect his hearing. Upon further research, there was nothing patented either. I decided to jump in, figure it out and bring it to market.
Won’t the hearing plugs fall out?
That is part of my secret sauce of my patent. What I have learned from doing human hearing protection, is that the protection comes from having the protection in the ear canal far enough. The only way you can really achieve it is to have a professional do it.
I spent a week at my friend’s, Lori Blackwell’s, veterinary clinic in the Chicago area. While there, I took in-ear impressions of just about every dog that came through the door. With Lori’s help, we got some great impressions of their total, internal ear canals. I could see what their anatomy looked like – from chihuahuas to Great Danes. From there, I worked on figuring out what the end product would look like and how it needed to feel to work correctly. A lot of work went into this seemingly simple, little dog product to be sure it was safe for the dogs, fit properly and worked.
How did you develop this product?
I am humbled and blessed with an amazing manufacturing company, in the US (that was and is so very important to me. Keep it here. And keep it local as much as I can) that believes in me and my products. Together, we have developed this first product. Many hours have been spent on assuring the customer will have the safest and best product. However, it is a living being. I am constantly evolving the product to make it better.
Did you use your own dogs as “lab rats?”
But, of course! At the time, I had 4 of the 5 sizes. They all knew what was going to happen when they saw me coming with a bunch of bribery (treats) in my hand. They are awesome. I could not have brought it to market without my dogs help.
When did Calm hit the market and where is it sold?
Calm, by CrittEar, debuted in November 2019. I did a soft roll out. Nothing big. I’m still making sure all the gears and things are all working smoothly together. All of this is so out of my wheelhouse. I feel like I am on the fast track Business PhD, and what a journey this has been!
What does the future hold?
The future is super bright; it is called CrittEar and not DogEar for a reason! I have a lot of great products on the inventor’s deck. Horses – I am creating an ear plug for horses for cowboy shooting, race, jumping, dressage, hunt mules and horses, and military and law enforcement.
I am also working to bring the electronic version to market. The first is for hunt dogs that amplifies and reduces noise when needed. And next is for working dogs that has a communication component to them.
I see that you have a veterinarian supporting it — has she seen a lot of hearing damage?
Yes and no. Hearing loss is such a slow thing. It’s not like flipping a switch. And … people haven’t really thought about it for some reason. I hear it a lot from hunters. “Oh, he’s OK. He doesn’t even flinch when I shoot.” Think about it. With every shot over the safe decibel level, a little bit of a dog’s hearing is lost. After a few years of this happening, you now have a beautiful hunt dog, in its prime, that cannot hear you. This problem is totally avoidable! I am working hard to educate the public as to why they need to protect their dogs’ hearing and also offer a solution. Calm, by CrittEar, is a new product in a new space. When people first see it they love it. I’ve heard so many times, “How come this hasn’t been on the market yet?” Well it is now!
Training! Training is crucial. As well as the act of pulling up the ear so the ear canals are elongated when you put them in. When you let go, it bends the tail of the device and helps with retention of the Calm.
These are not a simple plug-and-play for most of the dogs. Some dogs really don’t care that Calm plugs are in their ears. Others take some convincing. It is paramount to make the training fun and positive, and increasing your training time more each day. Be sure to have your secret weapon with you – your dog’s favorite treat or toy! Soon they won’t even know they are in.
I had a dog I just met who did not like to have his ears touched. I loved on him and gave him treats. I introduced Calm to his ears, along with more loves and treats. Within the hour, he was coming to me and turning his head up so I could put them in his ears! He was associating them with positivity and fun. That is the experience I want everyone to have.
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