Your dog may have problems with their eyesight, but that doesn't mean they aren't highly trainable. Think of it as a challenge you can overcome together. Once you accept that your dog has certain limitations, training becomes much more manageable. The key is to work with your dog. Be patient and consistent, as well as creative and flexible. Blind dogs can live a normal, fulfilling life. It just requires a shift in how they're trained.
Training Techniques for Blind and Vision-Impaired Dogs
It doesn't matter why your dog is losing their vision, or if they are already blind. Training is basically the same. Use positive training techniques to encourage the behaviors you want. The difference is, you won't be able to signal your dog to perform certain behaviors or actions with visual cues.
Master Auditory Signals for Your Dog
You and your dog will need to rely on auditory cues and commands. Actually, this is where clicker training can be very helpful, but voice commands or a whistle work, too. Start training by remaining close to your dog. This helps them feel more secure, and you can reward them more quickly with treats when they perform the desired action.
Make sure that all of your commands are clear and concise. If your dog doesn't understand what you want them to do, they will not respond as quickly or effectively. When giving commands, always use a firm voice so that your dog knows that you mean business. Don't yell at them, but don't be too soft either. Keep in mind they rely on your voice, rather than your body language.
Using deep voices can confuse them and make them think you're angry at them, so you also need to keep your tone in mind.
Employing Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is recommended for all dogs, but it's especially important if your dog is losing their vision. They're probably feeling unsure of themselves, so keep it positive with treats and a lot of praise as rewards for good behaviors.
These can include things like sitting or staying when asked, going into their crate on command, or not barking at the doorbell when it rings. Here are a few examples of how to use positive reinforcement with a blind dog:
Teach "Sit": Stand close to your dog, and speak your command clearly. They won't see your hand signal to "Sit," so cup a small treat in your hand, hold it in front of their nose, and lift it so your dog follows your hand as you move it above their head, toward their backside. This will naturally encourage your dog to sit down. Once they do, give verbal praise - and don't forget the treat!
Teach "Stop": This one is especially important for blind dogs. Start by keeping your dog close on a leash. Say "Stop" and have them stand in-place next to you. Treat them for holding their stand. Next, try a longer leash, and lead them through your house, giving your "Stop" command periodically. You need to be patient and build on this foundation until your dog will stop where they are consistently.
Teach "Step Up/Down": This command helps your vision-impaired dog know steps are coming. You'll need a step or elevated and sturdy box to train this behavior. Lead your dog to a step, first give your "Stop" command, and then say "Step up" to warn them a step is coming. While they are stopped, place one of their paws on the step, and repeat "Step up." Now, lead your dog with a treat in your hand up the step. Give praise and the treat right away. "Step down" is taught in the same way, but in reverse.
Teach "Watch": A useful word is "Watch," or "Pay attention," which signals to your dog that they are approaching something. Stand close to your dog, and lead them around your house. You can even place soft objects - like a stack of pillows - in their way as an obstacle course. As they get close, say "Watch" and gently redirect them with the leash. Do this repeatedly, with different obstacles (always in a safe environment) and treat them when they successfully redirect themselves after you give the command.
There are several other commands you can train with your blind dog. You should work on the basics, like "Stay" and "Come," like you would with sighted dog. These commands rely on auditory cues, even for dogs who can see normally, so just review your process, and remember, always keep it positive!
Use Their Sense of Smell
Your dog's nose is their strongest sense. Why not leverage it for training your visually impaired pup? You can use all sorts of smells and cues to help your dog navigate.
Create a "scent map": Use a different smell associated with each room in your house. Place a few drops of a dog-safe essential oil to mark your bedroom, and another safe oil for your living room. Your dog will quickly figure out which smells go with which rooms.
Mark your back door: Use a particular smell, such as a type of dog-safe flower or a pheromone product for dogs, to mark your back door. This is a useful trick for potty training a blind dog. As you are working on house training, make sure your dog notes the smell at the exit, so they know which direction to go when they need to relieve themselves.
Tag no-go areas: Try a bit of citrus for this one. You can use an orange essential oil or something you dog isn't fond of to mark places they shouldn't go, or objects they need to avoid - like the corner of a table or a set of stairs.
Lure Training involves using treats your dog loves as a smell guide while you're working with them. Hide the treat in your palm and use its enticing smell to direct your dog while training.
Give Your Blind Dog a Tour
Blind dogs learn how to get around on their own in most cases by bumping into things, but others need help navigating around furniture. To be on the safe side, it's important to provide your dog with several tours each day, placing different scents and textures to show them where certain items and furniture are located until they get to know your home. This will not only prevent accidents from happening, but aid in preventing your dog from getting hurt.
Keep in mind that if you change your home's layout, your vision-impaired dog is going to be confused. Try to keep furniture in the same place, and pick up regularly so your dog isn't confused.
Potty Training a Blind Dog
Potty training a blind dog can be a challenge, but with patience and perseverance, your pup will soon be using the bathroom on cue. However, it is a bit different from potty training other types of dogs. Blind dogs are more likely to soil their beds or kennels if they cannot see that they have been taken outside, so it's important to make sure they always know where they're going.
Set a routine: Put your dog on a schedule to go outside every hour during the day, and every two hours at night. Take them out at the same time every day, even if they don't seem to need it.
Guide them at first: Place a leash around your wrist, so that if your dog starts to move away from you, you'll feel them tugging on it. This way, you can easily guide them toward the designated potty area.
Give them praise: When they do go potty outside, praise them immediately and give them a treat.
Be very patient: It may take your blind dog longer than usual for them to learn this new behavior.
Use their sense of smell: If they have difficulty learning how to go outside when you take them out, try putting down scented newspaper or pee pads inside until they get used to going outside.
Tips and Tricks
Keep the following tips and tricks in mind when training a blind dog:
- Make sure your verbal cues are simple and easy to understand.
- Determine some auditory cues your dog responds to if you, or they, don't like the clicker.
- Mark safe places like their kennel with a scent. For example, dab lavender essential oil to mark their crate area to indicate where they sleep.
- Baby gates are helpful in preventing blind dogs from going where they shouldn't.
- Remove any hazards in your home that your dog could bump into, including sharp corners or furniture.
- Get down to their level and look around, checking for any hazards they could encounter
Training Elderly Dogs Going Blind
Most elderly dogs going blind have already gone through the training ritual at least once. In these instances, you will need to teach your dog how to remain calm and follow commands.
As your dog becomes accustomed to blindness, you will notice their other senses are heightened. They will rely heavily on other senses; especially hearing and smell. The following tips will help you with your elderly dog:
- Keep your old dog in familiar areas of the house and avoid sudden changes in their environment. A young puppy can adapt easily to new environments, but an older dog with failing sight may not have the ability to adjust so quickly.
- When you're walking your dog outside, keep them on a short leash so that you can guide them when needed.
- Keep the places in your home that your dog uses most often as clutter-free as possible.
Remain Patient and Understanding
Training a blind dog takes time and patience, whether they're born blind or they're going blind due to old age. It's important to be patient and consistent with your training, and give your dog plenty of positive reinforcement when they show good behavior. A blind dog can be a wonderful addition to your family. Just remember, your dog will need extra care and attention, and lots of love.