We saw Sasha’s photo on the Doodle Rock Rescue website. She was a cutie. Her bio said she was about two years old and rescued from a kill shelter in South Texas. She was a white Poochon. Her bio also said she had a degenerative eye disease and would eventually go blind. What did we know about caring for a blind dog? We scrolled on.
Weeks later she was still posted on the DRR website. Dang it. Could caring for a blind dog really be that difficult? We applied for her and pending a meeting with her foster mom, Sasha would be part of our family.
It’s been 5 years since Sasha joined our family. Being a pet parent to a blind dog is incredibly challenging. Shasha loves camping, playing “fetch” (although it can take her a long time to sniff out the ball), and going for walks.
Training a blind dog to walk confidently and safely requires patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement. Here are 10 training cues to help you guide your blind dog during walks:
- Name Recognition
Teach your dog to respond to their name so they can focus on you during walks.
- Verbal Cues:
Use specific verbal cues for different actions, such as “stop,” “left,” “right,” and “forward.” Consistency is key. Sasha knows “up” or “down” for steps and “STTTOOOPPP!!!” which means she is going to walk into our pool or a trailer hitch on a pickup truck (those are at her head level).
- Touch Signals:
Introduce touch signals along with verbal cues. For example, a gentle touch on the shoulder can mean “stop,” while a touch on the back can indicate “move forward.”
- Clicker Training:
Clicker training can be effective in marking desired behaviors. Associate the click with treats and use it to communicate positive reinforcement.
- Treat Rewards:
Use high-value treats to reward your dog for following your cues. Positive reinforcement will help reinforce good behavior.
- Harness and Leash Familiarization:
Allow your dog to get used to wearing a harness and walking on a leash in a safe environment before venturing out. Ensure the gear is comfortable and fits well.
- Spatial Awareness:
Help your dog develop spatial awareness by walking in familiar areas first. Gradually introduce new environments, giving them time to adjust.
- Consistent Routes:
Stick to consistent routes during walks so your dog can become familiar with the surroundings and anticipate cues.
- Obstacle Training:
Set up controlled obstacle courses to help your dog learn to navigate around objects. Start with simple obstacles and gradually increase complexity.
- Patience and Positive Reinforcement:
Be patient and encourage your dog with positive reinforcement. Celebrate small successes and avoid punishment for mistakes.
Remember to go at your dog’s pace and tailor the training to their individual needs. Building trust and confidence is crucial in helping a blind dog navigate the world with ease. If you’re unsure about training techniques, consider consulting a professional dog trainer, especially one with experience in working with visually impaired dogs.