Games for Blind Dogs

Balls:  Some people reported their dogs used to be interested in chasing balls when sighted but never showed interest in balls after going blind.  Others had success with rolling balls along the ground (noise) especially if there were bells inside the ball.

Rubber balls with bells: Using a ball the dog can put his mouth around but not get into trouble getting it stuck, start by rubbing some smelly treat on the outside of the ball and letting the dog sniff/lick.  You might say the word “Ball” and immediately present the ball in front of the dog’s nose for a good sniff/lick.  Praise any interaction (or click and reward).  Once dog is doing this happily, try other similar balls without rubbing a treat on them but continue to praise or click and reward.  Start placing ball closer to ground, then on ground, then add a little controlled movement (possibly just holding the ball on the ground and moving it an inch at first).  Progress at whatever rate is successful for your dog.  Remember—this is supposed to be fun for both of you.  Progress to rolling the ball to get the longest tracking time.  May be able to throw the ball in time.  As with all toys for blind dogs, it can be useful to add a drop or two (at most) of an essential oil to help the dog track the toy with his nose.

  "TouchYa!":  Happily say, "Gonna Touch Ya Toes/Face/Leg/Hip/Tail (pick one)" and gently touch that body part.  Immediately after touching give a great little treat.  Do it again and again.  Goal is to give the dog a verbal cue that it is about to be touched and where.  By touching lightly first and then giving a lovely little treat, the touch begins to predict a yummy – Hand touching predicts good stuff!  You are also starting to teach the dog names for their body parts so they can know where the touching hands will land.  Less chance for startle.  Gradually lengthen the time of the contact and make it more and more firm.  Keep in mind the way a vet touches and handles during an exam and the way people pat your dog and work toward that as your final picture.  You want the dog to enjoy this game not just tolerate it.  Progress at whatever rate your dog is relaxed and happy.  In the same way, you can also teach a dog to happily accept mouth exams, ear exams, nail clips, ear cleaning, and restraint (ask the vet tech to show you the restraint holds they use so you can train to that).

  Lift Ya!”:   Same concept as “TouchYa!” – this teaches the dog it is about to be lifted up.  You can use any cue…some folks like “Elevator”, “Airlift”, “Uppsy Puppsy” or “Flying Doggy” … pick something you like and teach the dog what it means and that it predicts good stuff for the dog.  Be careful you lift the dog in a way that supports them, doesn’t hurt or frighten them and that you put them down gently and help steady them til they have their feet under them and regained their balance. 

"Which hand has the treat":   he wins every time.  Simple stuff, but pleasing.

"Find the Treat “:  Drop a piece of your dog’s food or a small treat on the floor and say "Find the Treat".  When she finds it, praise as she eats it.  You can start asking for a “sit” and a “stay” and release the dog to go find the treat.  This adds self control to the exercise!  Allowing a dog to use her nose creates wonderful games and builds confidence.

Hide and Seek”:   Call your dog from another room and give a good treat when she finds you.  You may have to help her at first by tapping your toe on the ground or clearing your throat to give her a sound to go by.  Your scent track is criss crossed all over the house so she may not find you with her nose…then again…depends on the dog and how stinky the treat is in your hands (or if you are wearing perfume/aftershave etc.).  Always give your dog an auditory hint if she becomes confused – but don’t help out too much – let her use her natural senses and persist.  Read your dog and assist as needed but don’t take away their game and accomplishments.

Posse Submissions:

Food roller ball/any toy that dispenses treats:  fill and put in an empty kids’ wading pool so
dog can chase it around without losing track of it.  Treats (ok to use kibble) will fall out gradually as dog pushes and paws at the ball, making it roll.  At first, you’ll want to help the dog learn what the object is, play with it together, help the dog understand the rattle sound predicts treats and isn’t scary.

"Find it":  Treats are put down in a trail leading to something extra special at the end (the owner with treats in hand or a favorite toy for a joint play session, for example).

Brain Games:  Any Nina O. toy   Note, You can make home version toy like ‘checker board one’ of Nina toys with a muffin tin and tennis or racquet balls.

Chase toy on a fishing line:   There are multiple brands sold.  Scent the toy as well as securely sew a bell on it.

Bags and Tubes:  How about things put inside paper bags so he can tear apart the bag to get at
it?  Some dogs play with paper towel tubes.  Monitor this play.  Some dogs will try to consume the paper products rather than just play with them.  Paper products are not designed to be ingested.

Shaping Games:  Clicker trainers are very familiar with shaping games but everyone can play them with well timed verbal markers (YES!  GOOD!).    An all time favorite is "101 things to do with a box" (or any object he can safely interact with in a variety of ways).  This link gives lovely pictures plus step by step directions and explanations of this excellent game:

bulletYou can use this to "unstick" a dog who doesn't offer many behaviors. The dog may be "stuck" due to inexperience (e.g., greyhounds who don't know what anything off the track is) or may be shut down or have suppressed behavior for some reason (fear, anxiety, previous punishment based training or whatever).
bulletBasically, click or verbally mark (YES!) anything the dog does provided it's acceptable behavior. With an anxious dog, click for any movement at all (ears, feet, legs, even tails).

The Shell Game:  Lots of versions of this but basically it is where you take three empty plastic cups, let the dog sniff them and get familiar with them.  Then place the dog in a ‘sit/stay’ (at first, you may have to help the dog stay still, but it is a nice way to help your dog strengthen the ‘stay’ behavior and teach self control). 

bulletTake ONE cup and place a really smelly treat under it. 
bulletPlace the cup upside-down over the treat.  Put this just a few inches in front of your dog.
bulletDecide on a cue and release your dog to ‘find’ the treat under the cup.  At first, you may have to tap the bottom of the upturned plastic cup to help entice the dog to it. 
bulletWhen the dog pushes it over (it’s ok if at first it seems accidental), the treat will be uncovered and the increased smell of the treat will lead your dog’s nose to it.  Click or verbally mark as your dog eats the treat.  That’s the ‘reward’ for playing the game. 
bulletAs your dog gets good at this, remember to keep building the ‘sit/stay’ part of the game.
bulletStart placing the cup with the smelly treat not quite directly in front of your dog, off a little to the side…let dog’s nose lead him on a small hunt for it.  You may have to let your treat-smelly fingers touch the sides or bottom of the cup to help your dog’s nose at first, but remember what great noses dogs have…let your dog use that good sense! 
bulletIn time, you can add a second and a 3rd plastic cup and only put treats under one of them, let your dog learn that it is only the smelly cup that has the goodie! 

Belly Up!:   If dog already knows ‘down’ on cue, ask for ‘down’.  Otherwise, start by teaching sit and then by teaching down.  Take treat to dog’s nose, let dog lick and nibble but not get the entire treat…just enough to be strongly involved.  Slowly bring treat (and the dog’s nose!) along the dog’s shoulder and side so the dog stays in the down and is now twisting into a bit of a pretzel shape.  Continuing to let the dog lick/nibble a little, bring the treat up over the dog’s hip (grazing the skin…you don’t want the dog to stand up so keep your hand low and lightly touching the dog).

In order to get the treat, the dog is likely to flop onto his back because its nose is following the treat and the body is twisting.  When the dog is on his back, stop moving your treat/lure hand. Happily say “YES” or click and give the remainder of the treat.  If your dog doesn’t do this easily, say “YES” or click and give the treat for staying down and following the treat just a bit along their side, then a bit further and further, until you have the full behavior. 

Then, as the dog rolls, you can start labeling it “Belly UP!”, “Show me your belly”, “Tummy UP” or whatever you want.  When you are sure your dog will do the ”Belly UP!” in response to your asking for the down and putting your hand the way you want…start cuing “Belly UP!” and then starting the trick.  In time, your dog will recognize that those sounds always predict the start of that game and will hurry to Belly UP! in order to get the treat that always comes at the end of the game.  Go slowly, it’s about the interaction and communication more than the end result.  Enjoy!

Make sure your dog is on a soft enough surface to protect the dog’s spine during this trick and keep practice sessions sort – it exercises a LOT of the dog’s muscles.

Roll Over:   This is just the continuation of “Belly UP!”.  In “Belly UP!”, the dog rolls onto his back and stays there showing his belly (just the way they do when we give a belly rub).  In Roll Over, they complete the roll in one motion.  Start from the Belly UP position and use the momentum of that roll to continue completely over by moving your lure (smelly treat) all the way to his opposite side or by tossing it to the floor on his opposite side.  As his head follows the lure, his body will follow and he should flip over to complete the roll over.  Give the treat as he flops into the finished position.

Make sure your dog is on a soft enough surface to protect the dog’s spine during this trick and keep practice sessions sort – it exercises a LOT of the dog’s muscles.