Many dogs are born with disabilities or develop a disability during their lifetime. Having a dog with a disability can make training more challenging, but your dog can still live a rewarding life. There are many different options to train your dog to make their life more accessible and allow you to trust your dog to be more independent. Adapting training techniques to fit your dog’s unique needs can help you train your dog. At All Dogs Unleashed, we find training dogs with disabilities to be one of the most rewarding parts of our job. We love helping dog owners find ways to work with their dog’s disabilities to instill new skills and improve behavior.
Just like humans, dogs can experience any number of disabilities that can impact their training needs. Some disabilities will require minor tweaks to training, and others will require major adaptations. Disabilities can result from a congenital disease to an injury resulting in limb loss. Let’s take a look at some of the common disabilities we see at All Dogs Unleashed.
Deafness in dogs is relatively common. Some breeds, like Whippets and Dalmatians, have a higher percentage of puppies born deaf than other breeds. Dogs can also become deaf over time after repeated ear infections, issues with the structural development of the ear, or simply aging.
Blindness in dogs can also be attributed to congenital disease, illness, age, or injury. Chronic eye infections are a major cause of blindness in dogs. As your dog ages, cataracts can develop in the eye, which over time, can cause your dog to lose their vision.
Mobility issues are wide-ranging, from arthritis in older dogs to missing limbs or appendages. Spinal cord injuries, chronic disease, and limb amputation can all lead to lifelong mobility issues. Each specific mobility issue will come with its own concerns and special needs.
How All Dogs Unleashed Uses Adaptive Training
When training a dog with disabilities, you must use adaptive training techniques specifically suited to the dog’s needs. Many disabilities will limit or remove an essential sense in its entirety. Luckily, a dog’s other senses will compensate for a missing sense, making training possible with a shift in perspective.
Understanding your dog’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their senses can help you tailor training techniques to your dog’s abilities. In adaptive training, you can use your dog’s available senses to help them learn new skills and adapt to their disability. By playing to your dog’s functional senses, you will be able to communicate quicker and more effectively with your dog.
When working with a blind dog, focusing your training efforts on the dog’s sense of hearing can be very beneficial. Clicker training is very helpful for blind dogs. Using a clicker to alert your dog or mark the start and finish of a command can help get your blind dog’s attention. Praise, treats, and play after a successful command can help reinforce the click training.
Because a dog’s sense of smell is very powerful, it can be an excellent tool in your training efforts. Scent training can be a great way to work with dogs that are blind or otherwise visually impaired. Scent mapping your home can help your dog navigate corners, stairs, and different rooms. Using a pet-safe scent, you can mark corners or doorways to create a mental scent map of your home.
Dogs that are deaf, blind, or both can benefit from physical contact during training. The contact does not need to be you physically touching your dog. Many owners can get a deaf dog’s attention by stomping hard on the floor or using a vibrating collar to alert their dog. Blind dogs can also benefit from wearable “halos” that attach to the dog and extend around their body, preventing them from bumping into corners or furniture.
Many dogs with deafness can learn hand signals and sign language. Including a hand signal with basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” or “come” can help you communicate with your deaf dog after you get their attention.
Owning a disabled dog is a lifetime commitment, and it can certainly be challenging to adapt to, but it can also be a profoundly enriching experience. Training a disabled dog can require a different level of adaptability, but understanding how to communicate with your disabled dog is a significant first step to successful training. All Dogs Unleashed can help you determine how to communicate with your disabled dog. We have experience training dogs with all kinds of special needs.