Creative Cues: Texture cues for blind dogs

Recently I posted about how platforms, pedestals and mats can be helpful during training new behaviors to our animals. These items give the animal a target to go to, which can reduce errors and lead to faster learning. (Click here to check out that post.)

This post led to some interesting discussions on facebook with my friend Miki. Miki is a clicker trainer in Japan who trains blind dogs. We’ve been talking about how texture cues and tactile cues can be so important for blind animals.

Miki shared one interesting video clip with me of a blind dog playing fetch with his owner. The dog would run across the backyard and stop where the yard changed from grass to concrete. Then, he’d tilt his head and listen for where the ball would land. Once the ball landed, the dog did a great job of running over and picking it up. Although this dog couldn’t see, he still did a wonderful job playing fetch. And it was clear from the video how important tactile and auditory cues were for him.

In response to my post, Miki did an experiment with her dachshund Nono, who is blind. She wanted to see if she could use different textured mats as cues for two different behaviors, stand and down. Here’s the video she made:

Watch on YouTube: Can the different texture of platforms be used as a cue for a blind dog?

 

One thing I like about this video clip is something that Miki says toward the end of the clip:

I think Nono doesn’t decide how to behave depending only on the feel of her paws. She has understood and discriminated not only the difference of texture and shape but also each object’s smell and sound when I’m putting and patting those.

I think this is important to remember when training any animal–whether the animal is blind or can see. We might think the animal is primarily using one sense or one property of an object as a cue. However, the animal is always paying attention to the whole environment and most behaviors will be controlled and influenced by multiple environmental cues.

Miki recently posted this video on her website, along with step by step instructions for how to train this behavior. You can find the video and instructions on her website here. Has anyone else trained different mats (or other surfaces) to mean different cues? I think this would be a fun training exercise for any dog or other animal. Let me know if you give it a try!

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