For this month of Irish luck, I want to tell the story of a lucky dog named Baker.
Baker is a rescue – a super high-energy Tree Walker Coonhound who had never lived indoors.
I needed to help Baker learn basic skills, walk politely on a leash, and learn how to let his foster and future owner know when he had to go outside to potty. As an outside dog, he’d never learned to consider doing that. This needed to be taken care of ASAP, so Baker could be adopted.
Oh. One more thing. Baker is blind. Probably since birth. So why is Baker, an 8-year-old, blind, doggie version of a street person, a Lucky Dog?
He’s lucky because he was found by the Blind Dog Rescue Alliance, who contacted Sara to be his foster, who called The Clever Dog Training to help Baker to learn how to be a house pet. I had to civilize Baker.
I started by just getting him to follow the scent of a treat in my hand. I had a mix of tiny pork chop pieces and really stinky fish treats. I figured the stinkier, the easier for a blind dog to follow. I used a clicker as a marker, so Baker would know when he was doing the behaviors we needed.
I started by luring him back to me when I called his name. Then, when he started to pull on the leash during walks, I would say his name. And when he turned around to come back to me, I would click and treat.
Soon, he was staying closer and closer because when he checked back with me, I’d click and treat. He was learning that the click was a good thing. It meant that he was doing something to please us – getting paid for it! He was also learning to focus on a human, and learning where we wanted him to be – right beside the person who was walking him.
At the next session, I was able to lure him into down position with the treat, while saying the word down. When Baker’s bottom and elbows touched the ground, I clicked and popped the stinky treat into his mouth. Then we taught him to “Sit!” He was starting to really love the sound of the clicker, which only happened when he was pleasing us, with the treat reinforcing that behavior!
Baker was learning the clicker training game and loving it. Foster mom Sara was practicing with him every day, helping him to understand and remember. Soon, he knew the words Sit and Down, and threw himself into those positions when asked.
We decided to teach Baker to ring a bell to alert Sara that he had to go outside. So I sprayed a dab of lavender on the string that held the bells, and when he would touch the bells with his nose, I reinforced the behavior with a click and a treat! I also put a textured mat under the bells because I didn’t want to rely exclusively on the smell for him to find the bells (smells can spread throughout a room). We’re now hanging the bells on the back doorknob, with the textured mat right beneath – and he is ringing them!
Baker is not only learning very fast, he's enjoying the training! Hopefully, in a few weeks, he’ll be ready to find his forever home, and live the life of a loved, totally spoiled Lucky Dog.