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Train a Disabled Pet? Yes, You Can!

kyrasmygsd Debbie McKnight/Accredited PetSmart Trainer

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 There are many organizations to train dogs to help disabled people, but it can be hard to find information on training people to help disabled dogs.  The most common disability that seems to cause trouble in training is when the dog is deaf.  Just because a dog is missing one of his five senses doesn’t mean he’ll be hard to train.  Hopefully the tips below will help:

 

  • Dogs’ primary language is body language.  This is great news if you have a deaf dog, as it’ll be natural for them to follow hand signals.  As long as you are clear on your hand signals, your dog should understand precisely what you want.  Most training classes teach you how to use both verbal cues and hand signals.
  • You can “clicker train” a deaf dog.  A clicker (used in many positive reinforcement training classes) functions as a marker.  That means that it “marks” the correct behavior for the dog.  For a deaf dog you would use a visual marker, like a “thumbs up” sign or other clear hand sign to tell the dog when he did the correct behavior.
  • Since your dog cannot hear you call him, you will need to keep him on leash or contained in a safe area most of the time.  Some people use a flicker of the porch light to call their dogs in from outside.  If the dog is within reach, he can be trained to turn and pay attention when touched.  The easiest route seems to be to train him using a vibrating collar.  This is NOT a shock collar.  Information about vibrating collars and other deaf dog training tips can be found at www.deafdogs.org.  Basically, you train the dog that when he feels the vibration (which is very subtle) to turn and look at you.  You can then use your hand signal to call him to you or perform another behavior.
  • If your dog is easily startled, you may want to condition him to being touched when he’s not prepared for it.  This can be done using treats and always making it a positive experience.  To begin, especially if the dog is sleeping, use a smelly treat and sort of waft it by his nose so he is starting to wake up because of the smell.  As he’s coming awake, you could touch him gently and then give him the treat.  As he gets used to this, you would begin to touch him gently without wafting the treat at his nose.  Give him a treat after you touch him.
  • Since a deaf dog will not be able to hear another dog’s growl, always be aware of his dog-to-dog interactions so you can call him away if the other dog is uncomfortable.
  • If your dog is blind, you can still use lure-reward training, as he’ll be following the treat with his nose.  If he has trouble following a treat he cannot see, then you can catch most behaviors and use the clicker to mark the right behavior.  Since he won’t be able to use his primary language (body language), you will need to be extra careful with your verbal cues.  Humans tend to want to talk to the dogs all the time and if not trained precisely, the cues just end up being meaningless and blend in with the rest of the gibberish we say!
  • Most physical disabilities (i.e. missing a limb) can be handled by not requesting the dog do something he is physically unable to do.

 

 

Most dogs love positive reinforcement training.  If your dog doesn’t let his disability stop him, there’s no need to let it stop you either!  Happy Training…

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