Can I train my blind rescue dog to play?
April 10, 2019 3:33 PM   Subscribe

My best buddy is a 6-ish year old Akita Shepherd (?) mutt whose eyes were removed in a lifesaving operation when he was rescued last year. His background is unknown, but he never learned to play. I would love to get him into playing as a source of entertainment and exercise. Can I?

His interests include shedding, food, walks, and lounging around the house; he's basically either on a walk with me or napping/lounging, and I'd like for him to have more activity than that. He's very classically Akita in temperament (chill, lazy, loyal, doesn't really care for other dogs).

Infodump of all current statuses in this effort:

-I feed him his meals in a meal ball that he has to roll around to get kibble out, but he doesn't evince any pleasure from it, just interest in the food.
-I've gotten him to learn "pick it up" with tennis balls/bones as a way to work towards "fetch," but am sort of stuck: he picks up and immediately drops the item, and if I drop the item even a few inches out of his immediate reach he won't get up or even stretch to get it. One time he fetched a wet tennis ball in the dog park, but I've never been able to replicate that. If I ask him to pick up things while he's standing he will occasionally do it and immediately bring them back to his bed, which he considers to be their proper place.
-He has no natural tug of war inclination, and immediately drops anything you want him to put down. Even training him to pick up a non-food item was a big deal!
-He does enjoy running after and sniffing out small treats I throw around the house! But my apartment is small, and I don't want to just always be throwing only treats, would love to work up to occasionally treating him but having him engage in a non-food-focused activity.
-He doesn't typically chew or interact with non-food items (including things like Nylabones)
-Balls or toys that make sounds, including squeaky toys, offend him.

Ideally I would like us to get a to a fetch/tug of war/something hait where he can be intellectually and physically challenged around the house without me always strapping on my shoes to go for a full walk. Because I, too, am sometimes lazy.
posted by verbyournouns to Pets & Animals (7 answers total)
Response by poster: Also: he's pretty fearless about running into stuff.
posted by verbyournouns at 3:35 PM on April 10, 2019

Scent training? Starting with hiding small high-value treat items around the house, using some trigger word to alert him, and praising him for every find?
posted by praemunire at 3:41 PM on April 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have a blind RottieX, who went blind from SARDS last September. It took her months to start to playing after she went blind and what got her kick started were some soft toys which had a strong scent from a brand called Aroma Dog— really stinky (but they did have squeakers). Now she has her box of soft toys near her bed, and she will spend an hour taking them all out, rearranging and mumbling happily to herself.

There’s also a resource which helped us a lot— a blind dog quality of life study run by a dog trainer in Norway. Even though your dog has been blind for longer than six months, you may still qualify. In return for helping her research, she makes a custom training plan for your dog which includes elements like play. She keeps a closed FB group for past and future participants, and I’ve gotten a lot of support and advice there.
posted by frumiousb at 3:51 PM on April 10, 2019 [14 favorites]

Response by poster: Eep, last edit: I live with another dog who has fabulous vision and is obsessed with food, so she'll get to anything I hide unless I crate her up.
posted by verbyournouns at 3:52 PM on April 10, 2019

There is a product called babble ball that makes a lot of noise, constant noise... if he's blind amd cant see something flashing - go with sound toys...
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:13 PM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was a dog walker for 11 years, and I learned to mimic the sounds and head and body movements dogs make when they do that excited sneezing thing as a warm up to play time. I find it still works when I meet a dog and want to be friends. Make the sound and drop down and slap your hands on the floor and see if he responds. Then wrestle with him gently or try tug of war again. Vocalize doggy sounds.
posted by vrakatar at 4:22 PM on April 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

Would you consider playing with a snuffle mat to be playing?
posted by DarlingBri at 8:10 PM on April 10, 2019

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