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Your senior dog is beginning to walk more gingerly and run into things around the house; a visit to the vet determines that he is losing his sight and going blind. Or perhaps you have opened your heart and home to a special needs dog who cannot see at all or was born without eyes. How can you make sure that your dog is safe and unlikely to harm herself, especially when you aren’t at home to help guide her?
Crate training is a successful method often suggested for general training, behavioral, and safety purposes for dogs of all ages. When trained correctly, a dog can come to see the crate as a throwback to its ancestors’ den, a place that is entirely the dog’s own and entirely safe.
Crate training always takes some time, but with a blind dog, it can be more time-consuming and challenging. Ultimately, when done right, you can create a haven with a crate and keep your blind dog secure and comfortable.
While the main goal of crate training a blind dog is placing the dog in a safe location, consideration also must be given to the dog’s comfort and sense of security. Slow, measured training and a properly created environment will help eliminate any anxieties or fears your dog may have when alone and in an enclosed space.
A blind dog is liable to panic, thrash about, bark or whine, and possibly hurt herself if she is unfamiliar with or fearful of her crate. Be extra patient, gentle, and positive in helping your dog understand that the crate is a place that will be her own, full of creature comforts and smells that will encourage calm. Take care that the crate is structured in a way that will best assist your blind dog and not startle or hurt her at all. By following any of the training methods below, you will ensure that your dog is content and protected from harm.
First, have a crate that is appropriate for the size of your dog. You want a crate that allows your dog to stand up, lie down, and turn around without difficulty. Avoid purchasing a crate that is too large or too small as excessive or overly restrictive spaces will not feel comfortable to a blind dog--or any dog for that matter.
Certain objects that your dog might imprint on, like blankets, toys, your clothing, food, and treats can also be helpful during the training process. Also, make sure to keep the crate wherever you first place it. Avoid rearranging where the crate is located as that can confuse and upset a blind dog. Most of all, patience, understanding, and compassion are necessary to help your special needs dog live the happiest life possible.
The Blanket Wrap Method
Grab two blankets with your dog's scent on them
Find two blankets, one smaller and one larger, that have your dog's scent on them.
Fold the small blanket
Take one smaller blanket, fold it up, and cover the entrance to the crate. This will ensure that your dog not only can find the entrance but won't trip or get caught on the front part of the crate.
Fold the large blanket
The larger blanket should go over the top of the crate. Take the excess of the blanket and wrap it around the other three sides of the crate entrance. This creates an effect like a den for your dog, dark and secure.
Lead your dog to the crate
Gently lead your dog over to the crate. Allow her to sniff the blankets with her scent on them.
Give the "crate" command
At this point, tell your dog "crate," toss a few small treats in the crate, and encourage her to go in. Once she is in, praise her, reward her, close the door, and then practice the process again.
The Treat Motivation Method
Get some treats
Have a decent number of small treats on hand for this process.
Place several treats in the crate
Take a number of treats and put them inside the crate.
Lure and enter
Take one treat (or use a clicker for those who do clicker training) and place it in front of your dog's nose. Then slowly lure her over to the mouth of the crate.
Toss those treats
Provide a steady stream of treats in the back section of the crate. Your dog will begin to notice where the treats are coming from and move further into the crate.
Cue and close
As soon as your dog has fully entered the crate, give your cue word ("crate" or "kennel up"), praise, and reward your dog. Once your dog is comfortable and relaxed in the crate, close and lock the door.
The Base Camp Method
Get some food and water
Place your dog's food and water bowls on a large plastic floor mat in close proximity to the crate. The closeness here can give your dog a positive impression of the crate.
Make the crate inviting and safe
Place a blanket or crate pad with your dog's scent on it in the crate. Some of your old clothes with your scent on it will work well for this step, too.
Add some essential oils
If your dog is still struggling to locate the crate, consider using an essential oil like peppermint or lavender along the edges of the crate and the floor around the crate. These two oils have an additional benefit of promoting calm and alleviating anxiety.
Tie open the door
If you want to give your dog the option of exiting and re-entering the crate after she has had food and water, tie the door of the crate back with twine or a small bungee. This tool prevents the door from swinging shut and hitting your dog or trapping her in the crate.
Give a cue and reward
When your dog knows that everything she needs is at her base camp around the crate, add a cue command, like "crate" or "bed." Once your dog has figured out how to find and enter the crate, praise and reward her for her actions.
By Erin Cain
Published: 02/09/2018, edited: 01/08/2021