Training Dogs Who Are Blind AND Deaf

Video how to train a deaf and blind dog

Helping Dogs Overcome Unique Challenges

By Christine Hibbard, CTC, CPDT

In the past months, I’ve been approached by shelters seeking advice on training dogs that are both blind and deaf. While there are excellent resources available for training blind dogs and deaf dogs individually, the specific needs of dogs with both impairments are often overlooked. This article aims to shed light on training techniques, generate informative discussions, and assist rescue workers in their noble mission of finding suitable homes for these exceptional dogs.

Work to Eat: Engaging the Mind

Exercising a dog that is both deaf and blind can be incredibly challenging. Therefore, it’s crucial to provide environmental enrichment to reduce anxiety and mentally tire the dog. One effective method is to eliminate feeding from a traditional bowl and instead ensure that all meals are acquired through toys or in training sessions. The market offers an array of work-to-eat puzzles that can stimulate a dog’s problem-solving skills and provide mental stimulation.

Stay on a Mat: A Safe Haven

Using a mat is an excellent way to position and keep track of a blind and deaf dog. By rewarding the dog each time they find the mat, it becomes easier for them to comprehend and remember its location. Scenting the mat with relaxing aromas, such as diluted lavender, can further aid the dog in identifying it. Placing frozen stuffed Kongs on the mat can help build the dog’s duration on this designated space, ensuring their safety and security.

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Follow the Carpet: Navigating with Ease

Creating paths using carpet runners or other suitable materials can assist in guiding blind and deaf dogs around their environment. Teaching the dog to walk along these paths helps prevent them from getting lost or encountering potential hazards. Scenting the paths can provide additional cues to help the dog navigate confidently.

Condition a Marker: Establishing Communication

Establishing a touch-based marker system is vital for communicating with a dog that is both blind and deaf. Select a specific body part, such as the neck, and consistently touch it in the same manner every time the dog executes a desired behavior. By linking this touch with a reward, the marker becomes an effective tool for providing feedback and reinforcement. While vibration collars can also be used to get the dog’s attention, it’s essential to introduce them gradually and ensure they predict positive outcomes rather than startle the dog.

Target Train: Enhancing Navigation

Teaching the dog to touch a target with their nose can be immensely beneficial for their mobility and independence. Scenting the target and using a sturdy object, such as a wooden spoon, allows the dog to detect vibrations and follow the target’s guidance. This method minimizes the need to physically guide the dog by their collar, providing them with a sense of autonomy.

Training Behaviors: Lure and Reward

Lure/reward training is particularly effective for dogs that are both deaf and blind, as shaping behaviors through auditory signals or visual cues can be challenging. To teach a dog to sit, for example:

  1. Use a treat to lure the dog into a sitting position.
  2. Once their bottom touches the floor, provide the touch marker (e.g., on the neck) to indicate they performed the behavior correctly.
  3. Reward them with a treat.
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Once the dog voluntarily starts offering sits, you can introduce a cue, such as a tap on their back, which eventually becomes associated with the desired behavior. This approach can be applied to teach various behaviors as long as they can be lured.

Join the Conversation

Do you have experience training dogs with unique needs, such as being both blind and deaf? Are you a dog trainer with insight into this specific challenge? Share your creative ideas and experiences to contribute to a dialogue that supports the training and well-being of these extraordinary dogs.


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