By Kate Naito
Kate is a positive dog trainer with Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY. She has a soft spot for dogs with special needs and currently has two visually impaired dogs.
I recently gave a private training lesson to a spunky Pug/Pomeranian (or so we think) mix who had recently lost her vision to SARDS. This little girl was clever but bored and stressed, so we immediately started engaging her brain with clicker training. If you haven’t tried it with your own blind dog (or cat or chicken or any animal), I’d highly recommend it!
Why Clicker Training?
Clicker training follows the principles of positive training. When the dog does the desired behavior (e.g., sits), you “mark” the instant of the right behavior with either a click or a verbal marker like “Good dog!” This tells the dog exactly what she did right. Then, you treat, which is like paying her for doing a good job. I recommend a click rather than a verbal marker for a blind dog, because a click is a unique, perfectly clear signal. A voice marker can vary in tone or volume, making it less clear, and if you’re like me, you often praise your dog in non-training contexts, just for being cute. Given that a blind dog depends heavily on clear auditory feedback, a clicker can make training fun and quick rather than confusing and slow.
There are many kinds of clickers, some noisier than others. The ones with internal clickers (and a round external button) are quieter and better for skittish or small dogs; the boxy ones are better for boisterous or hearing-impaired dogs.
The first clicker lesson is a simple classical conditioning exercise, in which you click once and follow it with a treat. Repeat this at least ten times in different parts of the room. More specific instructions are here: www.clickertrainusa.com/chargingtheclicker.htm
Teach Something New
You can use clicker training to teach any number of cool behaviors (think Canine Musical Freestyle routines) or eliminate problems behaviors like barking. I’d start with something light, like teaching to spin:
Clicker Training for Blind Dogs Video [PGAA Note: An excellent example of a blind dog training video]