- Deb Bauer
Housetraining a Blind (& Deaf) Dog - Top 5 Things to Know
Here are the Top Five things you need to know to successfully housetrain your blind (or blind/deaf) dog. 1. Schedule Create a schedule for your dog. Puppies will need to go out more frequently than adult dogs, but it's important to take the dog outside more often than you think is necessary at first. Times that should definitely be on the schedule are: when the dog wakes up from a nap or first thing in the morning, after running around/playtime/excitement, after meals, before bedtime, before you leave and as soon as you get home if you are leaving the dog alone, anytime the dog leaves its management area (more about this in a bit), and after he drinks a lot of water.
Create your dog's schedule around these times and try to be consistent. Your dog can learn to be on a consistent schedule. With a puppy, take him out every 1/2 - 1 hour in addition to the above-mentioned times. With adult dogs, if you know the dog emptied itself when you were last outside, you may be able to stretch this time to every 2 hours. Anytime you notice that the dog has stopped playing or interacting, or is sniffing around suspiciously, get him outside! Quickly! It can also be helpful to take your dog to the same spot in the yard each time in the beginning. The smells of where he went before will remind him of what you want him to do while he's there.
You may need to pick up a smaller dog/puppy, and physically lead a larger dog to get it outside quickly. With repetition, your dog will learn the path to get itself to the door and outside, but for now, the idea is to get it outside quickly and before an accident can happen!
Once your dog has been going outside on a schedule, you will begin to notice the specific times that your dog will do his business. Over time you will begin to see a pattern. You can use this pattern to learn when your dog needs to go and you can adjust the schedule accordingly so you're not making so many trips outside. If your dog is a puppy, you will notice this will change over time as he becomes better able to control himself, and he will be able to wait longer between outings.
2. Supervision It's imperative that you are always supervising your dog during this process. Giving your dog run of the house when it's not reliably toilet trained is asking for accidents to happen! Keep the dog in the same room as you so you can watch it closely and can easily get to it if you need to get it outside quickly. You can use gates, or close doors within the house to keep the dog with you. If you can't see the dog, you can't prevent a mistake, and you can't teach appropriate behavior. Many people like to just open the door and let their dog go out into the yard to do its business on its own. This doesn't really work so well. At least in the beginning, you will need to be there with your dog. Help him navigate quickly to the door and outside, help him navigate to the potty area, and then stay with your dog to make sure he goes. If you just open the door and let him out, you won't know whether he went or not. If he hasn't gone, or he's not finished yet, when you let him back into the house, he really has no choice but to then do it in the house. Don't wait for your dog to tell you he needs to go outside. Some dogs will tell you, others won't. But until your dog understands to go outside every time, he probably won't. It's your job to watch closely and use the schedule to prevent any mistakes. And it's your job to help him get himself quickly and safely outside each time until he knows how to do the route himself. It may take some time for your dog to learn how to get to the correct door from different areas of the house on his own. 3. Management Management means that we set up the environment to help our dog be correct and to prevent mistakes. Dogs learn by practicing - just like we do. If a dog practices doing its business in the house by being allowed to have accidents, that is what he's going to get used to doing. He's going to get better and better at going in the house - hmmm. That's not what we want, is it? Practice makes better, right? Instead, if we set up the environment so we prevent him from making and practicing mistakes, and we set up things so that he is encouraged to always do his business outside, he will be practicing going where we want him to. The less accidents he has in the house and the more times he goes outside, the better! And, the faster he will learn! Management can also mean setting up a small area that the dog is unlikely to do his business in, where he can be when we can't supervise him. This is the management area. If we are going out to run an errand, if we have guests over to watch the game and we know we will be distracted, while we are napping, etc, we then have a small safe place to leave our dog where he can't be wandering the house to do his business. However, if we leave our dog in this area for too long and he needs to go, he will learn to go in this smaller area. So it's important, even with management, to supervise as often as we can and to keep to the consistent schedule. 4. Prevention Remember, remember! Prevent those indoor accidents at all costs! Supervise your dog whenever he is with you in the house. Catch him early before he actually has an accident and get him outside quickly. With small dogs and puppies, pick them up to get them outside the quickest! With larger dogs, lead them out as quickly as possible. If the dog does have an accident, it wasn't his fault. He didn't do it to spite you. He did it because he had to go and doesn't yet understand how to hold it to get outside. Take your dog outside in case he needs to finish - be sure to reinforce if he does go outside! Then put your dog in the management area while you clean up the mistake. Use enzyme-based pet safe cleaners to help get rid of any residual odors. And then supervise more carefully next time. If by chance your dog continues to have many accidents or starts having accidents after you believe it is fully trained, please take your dog to see its veterinarian. It's important to rule out conditions such as infections or parasites that may be contributing to your dog not being able to control itself. 5. Reinforce Dogs learn to repeat behaviors that are reinforced (rewarded) with something they like. This is why it's important to stay with your dog outside in the yard while he does his business. If you are there with him, you can reinforce him each and every time he does his business outside - which is what you want. With a blind dog, talk soothingly while he is busy. Soft praise is important to let him know that you approve of him going outside. Some blind dogs may also be anxious or hesitant if they think you've left them alone, so your voice and presence will help him to feel better and more likely to want to do his business outside. If you were to put him out into the yard alone, he might just sit by the door afraid or confused, only to go on the floor once you let him inside. With a blind/deaf dog, be sure you are touching him. Gently pet your dog as he is doing his business, or immediately afterwards. It can also be helpful to keep him on a leash to make sure you are close enough to touch him as he is going. If you need to run across the yard to get to him in time, you may miss a crucial moment to reinforce the behavior that you want to encourage.
*For more information or support regarding blind and/or deaf dogs, please contact me through www.yourinnerdog.com.