How to Train a Blind Dog
As our pets age, they’ll inevitably begin to lose some of their senses – particularly their hearing and eyesight. And whether your dog has lost vision due to age, illness or accident, there’s no reason he can’t still enjoy the same active, fun-filled life as that of a fully sighted dog. But if that includes walks, visits to a leash-free park and navigating a house, yard or back deck, he’ll need a little help from you. And this is where training enters the picture.
Regardless of whether your dog knows the five basic commands of Sit, Stay, Heel, Leave It and Come, or never quite got around to mastering them, it’s going to be important that he re-learn them in a manner that’s appropriate to a visually impaired dog. And with rewards-based training, this can be a fun, bonding experience for you and your pet.
Gain His Attention
One of the first steps in training a blind dog is to get his attention. You need him focused on your movements, receptive to your commands and eager to gain a reward. And without vision, he’s going to be relying on his other senses including hearing, touch and smell.
If you’ve not yet used clicker training, this might just be the time to try it. With this type of training, you use a small, hand-held clicker that you depress to make a short, sharp click sound. Use it to capture your pet’s attention before introducing a verbal command he can follow and receive a reward. Click, command, treat, repeat.
Other means include clapping your hands or yelling in his direction. But with a clicker, you can accomplish this faster and more effectively due to its unique sound that will be new to him.
Let’s Start Training
Once you’ve got your pet’s attention – either by clicker, voice, whistle, or other sounds - you’re ready to start training him on the basics.
One thing that won’t change despite his vision loss is your pet’s ability to recognize his name. And once you’ve captured his attention, this is a great way to keep him engaged while you provide him with direction. You begin with a pocketful of treats that he earns each time you call him by name and he comes over or looks up toward you. And with treats involved, he’ll be working his way over pretty quickly. Do this a few times a day over a couple of days. The goal is for him to become highly responsive and eager to come to you when he hears you say his name.
Sit, Stay, and Down Commands
It’s called “luring” and it’s a fun way for your pet to learn or re-learn the basics. Most dogs will immediately respond to the sit command. But instead of automatically offering him a treat for this behavior, slowly move the treat down between his front paws. The nose will follow and as he begins to assume a “down” or “lay down” position, use the clicker and say “down” so that he associates the word with the action. Follow with the treat and repeat throughout the day.
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