How to Train a Blind Dog and What Other Things You Need to Know

Blind Dogs Can Make Wonderful Pets! Thank you to straydog.org for the photo

I got an interesting question today!

And with interesting questions comes my quest to educate other owners with the same problems!

I got a question from a new owner of a blind dog.

It seems this wonderful person went to the animal shelter and adopted a blind dog.

There Are Good People Left in the World!

I marvel at the goodness it takes in someone’s heart to adopt a dog that isn’t “perfect” and at the same time I am thankful to the shelter for their willingness to adopt out an “imperfect animal”.

Just because a dog is blind doesn’t mean it is any less loving nor does being blind mean the dog suffers from any behavior problems specific to his/her disability.

And, likewise being blind isn’t an excuse for bad behavior, this is just as important to remember; don’t create a monster!

All dogs need training and exercise whether they are deaf (for more on deaf dogs and their training click here) or blind or what we think of as a regular dog.  Size and age also don’t matter, training is important at all stages for all dogs!

The Question

The question from the owner was how to g

Many Dogs Can Go Blind or Suffer From Eye Disease As They Age. Thank you dailymail for the photo

Many Dogs Can Go Blind or Suffer From Eye Disease As They Age. Thank you dailymail for the photo

o about training with a blind dog.

And, the nice thing about our system is that we use and recommend clicker and marker training (for more on getting started clicker training click here)  and of course blind dogs can still hear the clicker.

They say that the other senses are stronger in people who are blind, and I am only assuming that the same would apply to blind animals.  Dogs that are blind probably have a better sense of smell and hearing than a sighted dog.

So I am guessing that blind dogs would take to clicker training even faster than a sighted dog, not to mention there will be less distractions during the training process.

As long as you are consistent with your training your blind dog should acclimate very quickly to training of all sorts.

Marker and clicker training should also give him consistency and assurance in times of environmental changes and stress.  If you train with positive reinforcement and make it fun you condition your dog that listening to you gives him assistance in times of stress.

The Life of a Blind Dog can Be Stressful

Let’s face it; the life of a blind dog can be stressful.  Going new places and not being able to see your environment can be stressful for any animal.  Having a training program that gives you confidence in those environments is crucial.

My dog from childhood went blind as she got older.  It was difficult and sad for us to watch her lose her sight and struggle but it took her only a few short weeks to reorient and live life normally again.  I was amazed at how well she did. Being blind in and of itself is not an excuse for euthanasia.

Tracking

I would teach my blind dog to use his other senses and his nose to bring him confidence and pleasure by teaching him to track.  Tracking is a joy to sighted dogs, I am guessing it would bring even more joy to a blind dog, provided you have taught him to be comfortable in new environments.

Read these articles on Teaching Your Dog to Track Part One & Part Two

Other Things to Make Life More Simple

These Harnesses, Can Help a Blind Dog Be More Successful Without Bumping his Head and Becoming Disoriented

These Harnesses, Can Help a Blind Dog Be More Successful Without Bumping his Head and Becoming Disoriented

  • Keep things in the same place!  Make sure not to leave things down on the floor that may injure or scare your blind dog.
  • Do not rearrange your furniture inside or outside unless you take lots of time to teach your dog the new floor plan.
  • Make sure dangerous rooms (the garage) or stairways are blocked off so your dog doesn’t fall down stairs or get into things that might hurt him.
  • Teach him leash manners so you can control him easily in his environment, your leash is his tether to your eyes, you are his guide person.
  • Teach him to be confident in new environments, by first checking the environment and making sure it is safe and by using your clicker to help reassure him with his training.
  • There are hoop harnesses that can help your dog not run into things with his face while in his environment; but it is important to train him to be comfortable in these harnesses for them to work effectively and not scare your dog and make problems worse.  Find them at www.handicappedpets.com
  • Keep his bed and food in the same place and don’t move them; these become landmarks if your pet gets disoriented.
  • Don’t coddle him or carry him everywhere if he is small this will only stunt his confidence and make him rely on you in an unhealthy way.
  • If he bumps his head and becomes disoriented quietly take him back to his food bowls or bed so that he can reorient himself.

If you had a blind child you would also want him or her to be confident and trust you, but not NEED you in all situations.

You can keep your dog safe and keep an eye on him from a distance without making him rely on you; because there will be times when he is alone and needs to have the skills to be comfortable in that position.

Think with your heart AND your brain and as always make it as fun as possible and open up the world to his senses!

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Comments

  1. Mimi Thebo says:

    My parents-in-law’s Dalmation went totally blind following an illness. She could get around the house and garden okay, but lost her confidence in going out and became terribly depressed. My in-laws considered putting her to sleep.

    My husband and I came for a long visit about that time and began working with Gemma, to try and increase her confidence. We used a short, tight, lead, so that she could feel our connection. When we got to a place she needed to go down, we’d say, ‘Down’ and loosen the lead. When we got to a place she needed to step up, we’d say ‘Up’ and tighten it. We took her around her neighbourhood, practicing on curbs and steps, until she began to trust the commands and would climb a long flight of steps with, ‘Up, up, up, up…’ Eventually, just by slackening and tightening the lead, she could walk very well.

    Then we began exercising her on further walks. We also took her to playing fields, where she could run without obstacles.

    Like most dogs, Gemma was motivated by food. She loved bananas, which really helped, but any strong-smelling food would work.

    First we played a simple ‘call and praise’ game with two of us taking turns calling her further and further apart and petting and praising her when she ‘arrived’ safely. She soon began to run between us and really enjoyed this game. We would walk to new areas of the field as her confidence grew, so that she would have to use her ears to ‘find’ us.

    Then we used the bananas. We’d break them into bits and throw them. She could smell them and could run to find them, knowing (because of the call game) that there were no obstacles.

    Later, we used a ball with a bell inside.

    When we went places, after a few weeks, she had no trouble getting around and playing. We often warned people not to put out their hand to stroke her without speaking to her first, because she was blind. Many people refused to believe it, having seen her playing fetch!

    Gemma lived another five happy years and my in-laws found it easy to walk her, once we’d showed them the system.

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  2. Laura Jarvis says:

    My Minature Schnauzer got diabetes and was not a good candidate for
    cararact surgery. In fact in got Uveitis and had to have his eyes
    removed. He was about 8 years old and he adjusted very well. I missed looking into his beautiful eyes, but he was used to the doggie door and going out in the yard by himself. I built him a ramp down the steps (like a wheelchair ramp) and he managed just
    fine. He especially liked taking walks and all I had to do was say
    whoa and he would stop and change direction. He was just keyed into
    my voice and that helped him, although as he aged he got into a few
    corners that he couldn’t get out of. I missed having him on my bed
    at night, but he once jumped off not knowing where he was going so
    that was the end of that. He just slept on his bed beside minie
    from then on. I do know he wasn’t a bit of trouble. He still wrestle and played with his Schnauzer brother and had a good life.

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  3. Marlene says:

    I had two miniature poodles who have now passed on. I adopted Willy at 3 months old. Lily came from a shelter when she was 5 years old – Willy was 7 at that time. But Lily was not well, she had cushings disease, was a diabetic, and went blind during our wonderful years together. She was high spirited, funloving, and had an extroverted personality that made everyone laugh. And she was Willys best friend.

    It wasnt easy to tell that Lily was blind. She had a mental map of our yard and our home, so didnt make too many mistakes. If I had to go away, I didnt want to disturb her environment, so someone either stayed here or came in and out all day, so I didnt have to displace her. Her only mishap during all of this was when she miscalculated, and fell into the pond in the back yard….luckily there was a step for her to climb out.

    I called the dogs and they both came running when they were in the yard. So I didnt know that it was blind Lily who heard the call, because when she died, we discovered that Willy was stone deaf. When we called he didnt come….they were like an old couple. She could hear and he could see.

    I have pictures of them both all over my home. Dogs are not different than people who get old. They leaned on each other. I used to laugh when I was out, telling friends that I had to go home to my doggy nursing home…..they were old …..but I loved them to bits.

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  4. Jose Gomez says:

    Inspiring piece. Thanks!

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  5. Gigi says:

    Thank you I love those articels. I adopted a Labrador Retriever mix from the shelter when he was about 8years old. He started to get very sick after a month, eye infection to cancer, Mast cell cancer, pancreatits, colon infection, etc. etc. I went to the vet, he received eye laser, cancer operation, time 41/2 hours, his teeth very dirty, I spent every dime on my beloved labrador. He has still issues, is on 15 tab. in the morning and night, tried every food, than I had an allergy test of everything, he is now on Bravo raw, he is doing fine, his skin about every other month is getting very dry and peeling, I love my dog to bits, and would never give him away, he is telling me, he does not want to go anywhere, his gray around his schnaut is little more gray than when I got her 4 years ago, she is the boss, all the beds even my couch is hers, I dont care, I love her, I spoil her as much as I can, and I wish there would be more people caring about there pets. I am Dog Trainer. I have one big problem, when I see someone who is mistreating his animal I will tell him immediately and call the Rescue. It is braking my heart everytime. My boss does not approve of it, but I can not change.

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  6. Kelly says:

    I really appreciate you articles! A few years ago someone dumped a beautiful Australian Shepherd at our place in the country. We discovered he was blind when we put him in our yard with our other dog. No one claimed him & we were in love with his sweet personality & we named him Buddy. The vet said he was about 4 years old & had been blind since birth. We lived on 2 acres & we put a bell on our other dog. Buddy soon figured out the yard and he and Zoey would race around the yard at top speed. We take him hiking and camping. He has developed trust that we will warn him of obstacles & he even runs with us! I took him to obedience school and he did very well. We are so happy he came into our lives.

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  7. maggie weatherbee says:

    Hello Chet!

    My female rat terrier was a rescue and is going blind due to extensive cataracts. The canine ophthalmologist unfortunately said nothing could be done….
    However, her learning process rapidly progressed. The one obstacle to overcome was, not being able to find me. Guess what bells on my ankle did the trick! Just sharing…..Thank-you for your articles, they are so helpful!

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  8. Colin Churchill says:

    Enjoyed your article abt training a blind dog. Reminds me of a lovely old dog we had a few years ago. She went blind in her later years but, unless you knew, you wouldn’t know she was blind. She knew exactly where everything was (provided you didn’t change anything and her memory and other senses were amazingly well tuned.
    Don’t give up on an old friend because he/she becomes blind. Enjoy their continuing love and loyalty, and marvel at how animals adapt to adversity.
    Sincerely,
    Colin Churchill

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  9. Colin Churchill says:

    Don’t give up on an old friend because he/she goes blind. A lovely old dog we had a few years ago went blind in her later years and coped amazingly well (providing nothing had been shifted). Unless you knew, she looked completely normal in everyday activities.
    Don’t give up, continue to enjoy their love and loyalty, and be amazed how animals adapt to adversity.
    Sincerely,
    Colin Churchill

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  10. Colleen says:

    I had a Mini Schnauzer who went blind due to diabetic cataracts. Fortunately, he had spent the majority of this life at my parents home during the day and knew their home and yard very well. After my Dad died, I bought my their since my Mom was in a nursing home. We would go to the nursing home to see “Grandma” and he did quite well. I also kept my furniture like my parents had theirs so he knew where the furniture was. I had a clicker for my new puppy but before that, I would just snap my fingers and he would follow me. If he started to run into something I would tell him “careful” and he learned what that meant. I also told him “step up or step down” at the door step. He lived 4 years being blind and my vet said their hearing and smell senses are actually more important than their sight. It was harder for us humans to adjust than it was for him. I had to put him down in Aug and I miss him so, but would not hesitate to care for another blind dog.

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  11. Harry says:

    Hi

    I had a five year old german shepherd that went blind.

    Apart from not moving furniture,etc around he was fine

    He wanted to hear our voices more than he used to,but had the faith to run and fetch a ball,as long as you bounced it along the ground so that he could follow it.

    He lived a long life ,and died of old age ,bless him.

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  12. Carolyn says:

    I had a miniature poddle for 15 years. Tia passed away in 1997 and is still missed to this day. As poodles are prone to do, she started losing her eyesight at about 8 or 9 years old. We didn’t realize how bad her eyes were, until due to job relocation, we had to move out of the home that she grew up in. She knew exactly where everything was and would stop right in front of the coffee table or chairs without bumping into them. The day after the movers removed all the furniture, I took her back with me to do some final clean up. All her furniture was gone and she just sat in the middle of the room and cried. Once we got to the new city and all her furniture and familiar smells were in the new home, she relaxed. It took her a couple of days but she was back to normal running around the house. When she was 10, I came home from work to find her in pain, eyes swollen and runny. I rushed her to the vet, who in turn immediately got us into a specialist. I was told that I had two choices, either have her eyes removed or put her down. Her health in every other respect was good, so putting her down just wasn’t an option for me. She lived another 5 years with no eyes at all. People wouldn’t believe me when I told them she was blind. She stayed close to me when we were out of the house and was always attentive and listening for me. Unlike people, dogs are very adaptive and when faced with something like a blindness can learn to cope well and quickly.

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  13. Lesley Maple says:

    We recently adopted Nicky, a Yorkshire Terrier, who is about 90% blind because of cataracts caused by diabetes. It took a little while for him to get the lay of the land, but now its really difficult to tell that he’s blind when he’s moving through the house. He literally runs to the back door when he hears my husband come home from work and that’s a couple of turns and a hallway between the living room and the back door.

    Before we adopted Nicky, we had a Lhasa Apso who went completely blind in her later years from a degenerative eye disease. Her eyesight failed gradually and we had lived in this same house for several years before she went blind so it wasn’t such a big adjustment for her. The problem with her was that while she was losing her eyesight, she was also losing her hearing so we couldn’t call her to warn her she was about to walk into a wall.

    My husband and I try to always adopt the dogs who are less likely to find a forever home, so we’ve adopted dogs who had hearing loss, sight loss, cancer, etc. Every single one of them have been very special to us.

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  14. Cherish says:

    I too, had a poodle that lost her sight at the age of 10 with diabetes and cataracts. She lived until she was 15, adapting to getting shots twice a day (which was tough for me to learn), and not being able to see. I read a lot on the internet about how to adjust, and she adjusted beautifully. My husband built her a ramp for the doggie door, we left all furniture in the same spot, and put area rugs in certain places so she could identify where she was in the house. She was amazing, and I miss her so! Her hearing, and smell senses heightened, and she was so determined. She adjusted to the loss of her sight, much easier than I did, so don’t lose hope, my life was blessed by her and her disability.

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  15. Dianna says:

    I have an older female daschaund that is blind. She gets around the house and yard just fine as she has lived here several years. She was not blind when I got her. When we leave her comfort zone she follows me and keeps touching the back of my leg with her nose. This is how she keeps herself oriented. On occasion when extremely excited she does still run into things but she slows down and sniffs out her starting point and tries again. All in all she leads a very normal life and many people are in disbelief that she is blind at all. When she first became blind I contemplated euthanasia as I thought it was the kind thing to do. As I watched her acclimate herself and learn to adjust very quickly I no longer wanted to “put her down” even tho others thought I should. She actually raised a litter of puppies. Upon her return after she would have to leave her puppies for potty breaks or what have you, she would touch each one with her nose to make sure they were all there. She kept them all rounded up in this way as well. She is truly amazing and I am so glad I listened to my heart and not my peers!

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  16. Betty Walker says:

    I have a dog who was born blind. his mother had 10 pups, she lost five and he was the only one born blind. the owner was going to have him put down so i asked for him. he gets aroung my house very well but it’s just within the last few months he has started to nip me and bark a lot. i have a room instead of a cage. in one corner i put paper down and whenever he needs to go he heads for the room and never misses the paper.i work and he becomes so excited when u try to put a leash on that it’s impossible to take him for a walk now. i realize i need a lot of help with him. part of his problems i believe i have caused and before it gets too late i’m asking for help can you help me?

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    Minette Reply:

    There have to be repercussions for nipping time out or something he likes has to go away when he nips.

    Leash him when you are at home without taking him for a walk, then conquer your walks when he is good with the leash

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  17. Darla says:

    Thank you all for your posts. They are encouraging and I gained some new tips to try.
    My little one is a small (18 lb) black cocker spaniel with the sweetest happy-go-lucky personality. I brought him home last December when my m-i-l went to the hospital then senior care facility.
    At 6 yrs old he was mostly uneducated. He would go in his crate willingly for food, but soon he was clawing and biting the crate. The worst was the whining, almost screaming. Then there was the pottying, both ways, all over the house and in his crate. He begged, stole and ate food at will and was almost blind.
    I also was encouraged to put him down, but I was quite sure he was really smart.
    We have no carpet, only hardwood and tile, so accidents are easy to handle, but within a few weeks accidents were rare. The whining has lessened and we discovered he has what my husband called a “150 lb Rottweiler bark.”
    We have an 11 yr old quite well trained, retired therapy dog, male Sheltie and a 12 yr old, almost normal, female Sheltie. I say almost normal because her first three years were spent as a puppy mill bitch. She was emaciated with boils between her toes and the rescue called her “the little girl who wouldn’t walk” because she would just crawl away if you weren’t touching her, when I brought her home to foster. Obviously I’m a failed foster parent. I have learned so much from her.
    But Lucky is the one I want to concentrate on. More consistently come when called; down and sit. I just haven’t managed to get them on command. He has learned some manners—in fact a few minutes ago he came and stood in front of my chair and just looked at me instead of jumping up. He waited to be invited. I’be tried some clicker work but with the other two dogs it is so difficult. I have to put them in another room where they just bark, because they know what’s happening, but I don’t know how to do it with them in the room begging to be in on the fun aka food.
    So I am here…

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    Minette Reply:

    Read this, http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/train-dog-time-question-answered/

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  18. Neil Bailey says:

    We are looking at rescuing a blind dog who isn’t house trained. How would you go about house training a blind dog? Thanks

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    Minette Reply:

    It is all about you getting the dog out and monitoring him/her for several weeks. Then the dog will learn by feel and smell where the door is. You will be surprised how smart a blind dog can be!

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  19. Clare says:

    I’ve just rescued a blind Shih Tzu from a rescue centre. We don’t really know how old she is but guessing around 4. We are getting on we’ll with steps and learning the lay of the land but how do I toilet train her? She keeps going anywhere. Every time I catch her I say no and pick her up and put her on the nappy pad but I think that just disorientates her as she can’t see where it is obviously. Any words of advise on toilet training her would be very welcomed! Thanks!

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