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Can you train a blind dog? The quick answer: Yes!
Have you ever wondered how to train a blind dog with a clicker? We’ll cover that and much more to help you work with your blind dog.
Whether you’re rescuing a blind dog or training a dog who is losing his sight, there are measures you can take to ensure his safety. And you can modify techniques to teach him obedience cues.
After all, training helps strengthen your bond with your dog. And it helps communicate to him what’s expected and gives him much-needed confidence in navigating his world.
A blind canine can still lead a fulfilling life. So, let’s discuss how to successfully live with your sight-impaired canine.
Safety First: Prepare Your Home
You need to ensure your blind dog’s safety. Without sight he can’t tell if he’s in danger.
So it’s up to you to make his environment free from risks. Sharp edges, stairs, and other hazards pose risks to your blind dog’s safety.
One of my rescues, a shih tzu named Trevor, lost most of his sight by the time he was about 16 years old.
He lost his vision incrementally over about a year. There was nothing that could be done to restore his vision.
So we had to ensure that there wasn’t anything that could injure him.
Fortunately, I rescued him at about four years old. So he knew the “lay of the land” by the time he became vision-impaired.
But I still had to look at the world from his perspective. So I got down to his level to be sure there were no hazards he would encounter.
I put a doggie gate up so that he wouldn’t fall down steps. Trevor actually navigated his world like he did everything–boldly and happily.
Make Sure Areas Where Your Blind Dog Could Be Injured Are Safe
Block access to stairs by using baby gates and exercise pens. Use bumper corner protectors on sharp edges so that he doesn’t injure his eyes.
Don’t move furniture around unless you need to in order to make your blind dog’s environment safe.
Once he learns to navigate your house, don’t re-decorate by moving furniture or other items around that are at your dog’s level.
Make sure that he’s only off-leash in safely enclosed areas that don’t have dangerous obstacles in them.
Aids To Help Your Blind Dog Learn To Navigate His Environment
There are many ways you can help your blind dog get around safely. After all, he still has his senses of smell and hearing.
And he’s smart and can learn to memorize his environment.
To assist him, you can use the following devices:
Blind Dog Halo
This device consists of a harness with a circular device (the Halo) that’s attached and sticks out in front of the dog.
The halo acts as a buffer so that your blind dog’s head isn’t injured. Once he’s trained to use it, he can navigate his environment more safely.
Bumpers and soft protectors on sharp edges
You can place guards to protect your blind dog from sharp edges on furniture and any decorations that he will encounter.
Gates and exercise pens
Gates can be used to block stairs or rooms that are unsafe for your blind dog to navigate. Or a gate can be used to separate various pets from each other.
And you can use exercise pens to help safely contain any of your furry children.
It makes sense to use scents
Scents can mark various areas so that your pup can map out his environment.
You can use pet-friendly scents such as vanilla and lavender. Just make sure that the brands you use aren’t toxic to dogs.
You need only a drop or two to mark areas such as doorways so that your pup will know when he approaches or reaches such areas.
Different flooring textures
Your dog can sense varied textures. So he can feel that carpet is different from linoleum, tile, or hardwood.
If your kitchen floor is tile and the hallway is carpet, it will help your pup learn where he is.
You can also place a small area rug at certain locations to show him where he is. Of course, make sure that the small rug is safe for humans to cross and not trip on by having carpet tape hold it in place.
Use small bells as locators
You can attach a small bell like one that’s attached to a cat collar so that your pup can find you. Attach it to your shoe or otherwise on your clothes.
You can also attach a small bell on your other pets so that your blind pup can find–or avoid–other household pets.
And, of course, your blind pup should wear one on his collar so that you can find him.
I recommend using different bells on each being so that he can differentiate who’s who.
Take Your Dog on a Tour of Your Home
After you have the safety measures discussed above in place, take your dog on a tour of your home.
Do this a few times every day for a week to be sure that he’s comfortable. Praise and reward each success with a small treat.
Teaching Cues to Your Blind Dog
All dogs should learn to pay attention, come, sit, down, stay, and leave it. These can save your blind dog’s life so that he learns to avoid dangers and come to you reliably.
Of course a blind dog can’t read your body language. But you can still train him by luring a position with a treat, capturing and rewarding a desired behavior, or teaching him by shaping a behavior (where you reward each approximation that reaches a final desired behavior).
The treats should be something that he can easily smell and that he loves. And use the highest-value ones for a reliable recall.
Make sure that your dog has been exercised before a training session. If he has too much energy, he won’t be able to focus on the lesson.
Remember that treats are just one way to reward your dog. You can also pet, praise, or play with your dog as a reward as long as he enjoys those actions.
Always start without distractions because ambient noise can disorient blind dogs.
How To Train a Blind Dog with a Clicker
Training a Clicker as a Reward Marker
Sighted or not, dogs need to know when they correctly performed a desired behavior. So you need to inform them immediately after they performed the obedience cue.
A clicker is a great way to mark that a dog correctly performed the cue. The click gives a uniform sound unlike our voice.
This is great for deaf dogs, who can’t see whether we are pleased by observing your body language.
A click doesn’t mean anything to the dog at first. It’s just another sound.
So, to train the blind pup, you have to pair it with a food reward. It’s called “loading the clicker.”
Have your pup on leash in a harness. And have your clicker and yummy treats ready.
I recommend practicing with the clicker before using it with your blind pup so you get used to using the clicker.
At first, you won’t be rewarding any behavior. You just need to teach your dog that the click means yummy treats are coming.
So click, treat. Do this five times in a row. Then take a break for a few minutes. Then repeat the click-treat session.
Do this for three separate training sessions during the day. You should see your dog becoming excited when he hears the click, recognizing that food is coming.
Positive reinforcement really works!
Teaching Safety Cues to Blind Dogs
There are several basic cues all blind dogs should learn to help safely navigate their environment.
Name Attention and Attention Cue (“Watch”)
In order for your blind dog to successfully learn, he needs to pay attention to his name and to your voice.
Part of the training is for the dog to turn towards you rather than walking forward. He can then avoid upcoming obstacles. And he will then hear the next cue that you’ll give.
Have your pup on a six-foot leash in a harness. Either hold or have your foot on the leash so that he’s close by when you work with him
- Say his name. When he turns toward you, click and treat. Do this five times then end the session.
- If he doesn’t turn toward you, you can help gently guide him towards you with the leash.
- Some dogs might fight against the tension. So just lure him with a treat towards you. Click and treat when he’s facing you. Do this five times.
- Fade out the treat lure as soon as you can. Just call his name and click-treat.
- Once he understands to pay attention on his name, then do this exercise in various locations.
- After he pays attention to his name, start teaching him a “watch” cue.
- Say “watch,” and when he turns towards you, click and treat.
- If he doesn’t automatically turn, you can help guide him with the leash or a food lure as described in #s 3 to 5 above.
Step Up and Step Down
These cues can be used for steps, curbs, or a training platform.
- Lure up one step or onto a curb. Click and treat when he steps up.
- Lure him down–off the step or curb. Click-treat when he’s moved off the step or curb.
- Click-treat and capture the behavior if he goes up or down on his own.
- After he’s at ease going up and down, add the cue “step up” or “step down” when he’s performing those behaviors.
- When he’s securely moving at those locations, practice at different steps and curbs.
You want your dog to know when it’s safe to move ahead.
- Use the cue “walk” when you start moving. Click and treat when he moves forward.
- If he doesn’t, you can lure him with a treat, then click and treat after he moves.
- Practice in different locations and with longer walks after he understands the cue. Go four steps, then two, then 10. You get the idea. Your dog just needs to understand that “walk” means move forward.
This can help a blind dog not run into something.
- Say the cue “walk” and take four steps forward.
- When your blind dog is moving with you, say the cue “stop” and stay still.
- You can use gentle leash pressure or your hand on his chest so that he doesn’t move forward.
- When the dog stops moving forward, click and treat.
- Repeat this pattern five times, varying the number of steps that you move forward so your dog realizes that “stop” means cease forward motion whether he’s going two steps or 20.
- Then you can tell your pup that he can move forward again when you say “walk.”
Teach this cue only in a safely enclosed open area with no dangerous obstacles. After all, most dogs love to run and zoom around. But you need to teach your blind dog when it’s safe to do so.
- Detach him from his leash and give the cue “run.”
- Eventually, he should learn that he can safely zoom around and have fun.
You need to teach your blind pup when it’s safe to investigate something or approach someone.
- You can place a few treats a foot in front of your dog and give the cue “go see.” He should be lured by the scent.
- Also do this with a friend who calls his name about a foot away from him. If necessary, she can lure the dog forward with a treat and give him the treat when he reaches her.
- Do these training exercises in various locations, eventually adding distance from the treats or person after you say the “go see” cue.
Left and right
When training a blind dog, it’s important to tell him when he should turn in a different direction.
- Lure your pup to your right.
- Click-treat when he follows the lure. Repeat five times.
- Add the cue “right” as you lure. Repeat five times.
- Fade the lure after he understands the cue.
- Then do the same training process to teach your pup to turn left.
Teaching Basic Obedience Cues to a Blind Dog
A blind dog can be taught any cues you want. You just need to adjust some of the methods. Patience and persistence pay off!
Luring your dog into position is probably the easiest way to teach this cue.
- Place a treat just above your dog’s nose.
- Slowly, move the treat towards the back of his head.
- As soon as his rear touches the ground, click and treat.
- If your dog jumps at the treat, he either has too much energy or you’re holding the treat too high.
- Repeat steps 1 to 4 five times.
- Then practice adding the cue “sit” as you lure him with the treat. Click-treat when he sits. Do the exercise five times.
- Eventually fade the lure after he understands what “sit” means and just click-treat.
The “come” cue can save any dog’s life. But a blind dog can’t see the many dangers in his environment such as cars, buses, and other perils.
- Hold a yummy, high-value treat in front of your dog’s nose.
- In a high-pitched, happy voice, say your dog’s name and “come, come come!” Take a step back as you say it.
- Make it a party when he reaches you. Click-treat-treat-treat. Give three treats after the click. It’s called a jackpot to make coming to you extra rewarding. Do this exercise five times.
- Trainers–myself included–will usually tell you not to repeat commands. But, because a blind dog needs to go to you and is using his sense of hearing, you can train the cue by saying the dog’s name and “come, come, come.” It becomes almost one word that he’s more likely to hear and follow when at a distance.
- During subsequent training sessions, back away more steps. Go ten steps. Then 15. Click and treat-treat-treat when your blind dog reaches you.
- Fade the treat lure over time and just click and treat when he comes. Start a few feet away and add distance as you see that your dog understands and progresses.
Additional Tips for Your Blind Dog To Live His Best Life
There are other actions you can take to improve your blind dog’s quality of life.
Use special toys
Your dog can find items by the sound that they make or by their scent.
You can also rub the scent of food on the toy so that he can find it. Just make sure that he doesn’t want to eat it then.
Teach the names of things and people
Teach your dog the name of each room he has access to.
Train him what different pieces of furniture are. Have him learn the names of people and other pets. Teach him the names of his toys.
Give him puzzle toys
Just observe him when he uses them. Make sure that the puzzle toys you use aren’t too difficult for him so that he doesn’t become frustrated.
And you need to be certain that he doesn’t try to chew through them when attempting to reach the valued treat treasure inside.
Keep water and food bowls at the same location
Don’t move his bowls to different locations. He needs to be able to find them without stress.
Teach a cue when you’re leaving
So that your blind dog doesn’t panic when he can’t find you, teach him an “I’ll be back” cue when you’re leaving.
I’m thinking about adopting a blind dog. Are they trainable?
Yes! A blind dog can be trained and learn the same cues that a sighted dog can. You just need to learn to adapt the training methods.
Luring and capturing, marking with a clicker, and rewarding desired behaviors are very useful in training a blind dog.
And using a clicker to mark desired behaviors is also effective.
My senior dog is losing his sight. Should I do anything to help him?
Yes. As described above, puppy proof his environment to make sure that he’s safe.
And don’t let him off a leash in an area that’s not safely enclosed and free of dangerous obstacles.
I’ve just adopted a blind dog and don’t know where to start.
First, as described above, make sure that you puppy-proof your house so that he can’t be injured.
Make sure that he doesn’t have access to any area outside that isn’t fully enclosed and without dangerous obstacles.
Teach him to use a Halo so that he can’t injure his eyes. And teach him safety and basic obedience cues as described above.
With patience, consistency, and training, blind dogs can lead very fulfilling lives.
Just be sure that your home is puppy proofed and you train him to certain safety and basic obedience cues.
Do you have a blind dog or are you thinking of getting one? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
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