A blind dog with useful hearing will appreciate you teaching and using verbal cues to help her navigate her environment safely and with as little stress as possible. Keeping our blind dogs safe is a consideration that is always foremost in our minds. How helpless we feel when we are across the room or yard and we see them about to crash into something they can't see.
Teaching your dog some safety words and words to describe what's happening around her can help make our job easier and can keep our dog safer. Knowing what to expect will also help to alleviate anxiety and stress for the dog, which will decrease many unwanted behaviors.
Wait/Stop: This may be the word you'll use the most to prevent your dog from bumping into things and moving forward into dangerous situations. There are a couple of ways to teach it. You can use both in combination or choose what works best for you and your dog.
In day to day life, when you are close to your dog, say Wait and immediately use your hands to prevent your dog from moving forward. As soon as she pauses, praise her and give her a treat. Then give her an All Clear cue and allow her to move again. It is important to say the word immediately before (not at the same time) as you stop your dog. This allows her time to hear and recognize the word before you stop her. Gradually you will need to physically stop her less and less as she starts to understand and respond to the Wait word. With repetition, she will learn to stop when you say Wait, and to move when you say All Clear.
I also like to teach this with the dog on a leash and walking with me. I practice Wait on walks and in all environments so I have peace of mind that when I really need it, my dog will respond quickly. On a walk, I will cue Wait and then stop walking as I prevent my dog from moving forward. Again, I praise and treat when she stops and I practice until she can stop on her own with just my verbal cue to Wait. Continue to reinforce this behavior with praise, petting and treats to keep it strong.
Curb: This is a cue used to tell your dog to take a step down at a curb or a small step down. You will have probably already used your Wait cue above to get your dog to stop at the edge of the curb. Simply say the word Curb as you help lead your dog down the step, then praise and treat. Your dog will learn this cue with practice and repetition.
Step up: Step Up is the cue used to tell my dog to step up onto the top of a curb or other step upwards. After the Wait cue to tell my dog to stop at the bottom of the step, I will use the cue Step Up and then guide my dog up the step. She will learn this with consistent practice and rewards.
Come to me: It's important for all dogs, including blind dogs, to learn to come to us immediately when we call. This is safety at its finest - to be able to call our dog away from dangerous situations. With a blind dog, we do need to keep in mind the environment we are calling our dog in. If there are obstacles in the path back to us, it is likely that our dog will bump into them on her way to us. This can actually be upsetting to the dog and she may begin to associate us calling her with bumping into things. It's important to ensure that when we call our dog, the pathway is clear to get to us. If it's not, it's better to try to get to our dog quickly instead.
Choose a word that you will only use for your dog to come to you quickly - Cookies, for example. When you first start calling your dog, do it very close to her and give her lots of cookies. Gradually move farther away from her so she learns to come towards you to get her cookies. Keep in mind that your dog can't see where you are when you call. She will hear your initial call, but then if you are quiet, she may not know where you are. As you call a blind dog, continue to make a noise - clap, pat your leg, continue to talk, etc - so she can follow the sound and come right to you.
Words for Walks
Let's go: This cue will let your dog know that you're going to start walking and you want her to come along with you now. She will learn it with repetition. As you give the cue, it may be helpful to continue to talk to her or pat your leg to encourage her so she knows which direction you're moving. Some people will wear a small bell which will provide ongoing sound for the dog to orient to while you're on walks.
Right/Left: These are helpful cues to let your dog know which way you'll be turning. Give the cue before you actually turn and then help your dog to go in that direction.
Close to me: This cue will bring the dog in closer to you to make passing trees, hydrants, and other people easier. You will need to guide your dog closer to you and may need to at first keep a shorter leash to keep her close to you.
Dog friend: Your blind dog won't be able to see other dogs approaching her. Even if the dogs aren't going to meet, if you will be passing another dog, your dog will surely smell it. I find it's handy to point out a Dog Friend as a dog is approaching or passing us, and then to keep talking happily and feed my dog many small treats. This can prevent my dog from learning to pull towards other dogs as her attention will be on me for the treats, and it can prevent my dog from being startled by there suddenly being another dog smell in her space.
Say hello: You may meet people on your walk who want to stop and greet you and your dog. Your dog will smell them but won't be able to see them reaching out a hand. Most people reach out a hand to a dog for a sniff before they touch. You can teach your dog to sniff for someone's hand on a cue Say Hello. If your dog wants to greet the person, that can offer a chance for her to prepare herself for touch so she's not suddenly being touched by a stranger.
Day to Day Words
Petting/Touch: It's a courtesy to let a blind dog know before you touch or pet her. She may or may not be aware that you're going to reach for her, and letting her know before you touch her will give her a moment to prepare herself. She will be less likely to be startled. This might be as simple as saying the dog's name first, or as elaborate as telling her which part of the body you're going to touch - ears, belly rub, etc.
Grooming: Dogs can tell the difference between pieces of grooming equipment and learn to associate them with how the tool is used. Take the time when grooming your blind dog to tell them which tool you're going to use. With consistent repetition, she will learn each of them by name. How much nicer is it to your dog to know the brush is coming next, or the nail clippers, or the scissors, than to be surprised and startled with each one?
Elevator: Small dogs who are picked up will be very happy to have a cue that means, I'm going to pick you up now. Not all dogs enjoy being picked up, although many tolerate it. Knowing they will be picked up is going to be much nicer than suddenly being swooped up from the ground with no warning. Blind dogs can't see you bending and see the body language associated with you picking them up. Give them a verbal cue to let them know before you pick them up.
Sound words: There may be sounds that startle or scare your dog because they are sudden, loud or unusual. Adding a cue word to tell your dog what the sound is can be helpful to helping her return to a state of calm. Telling your dog that a noise is a motorcycle may not help her to know what a motorcycle is, but it will tell her by the matter of fact tone of your voice that it's not a big deal to stay upset about. And the more you hear motorcycles, and name them for her, she will begin over time to recognize the word. If you remain calm in the way you name the noises for her, you will be helping her not to be as upset by them.
Bedtime: Some blind dogs are challenged to know what behaviors we expect at certain times of the day. They are not seeing the visual cues of us getting ready for bed and they can remain active at night while we're trying to sleep. There are many cues we can use to help our dog distinguish bedtime from daytime, and adding a verbal Night, Night cue can add to these.