For most that is a silly question as it seems very obvious that it would be far too dangerous to run dog agility with a blind dog. Well, the authorities agree, you cannot compete with a fully blind dog. However, while you may not be able to compete with a blind dog, they can benefit from body awareness exercises as long as you keep their safety in mind at all times and take it slow.
And while you may not be able to compete with a completely blind dog, several venues accept dogs who are blind in one eye or have visual impairment. Some dogs are diagnosed with Collie Eye Anomaly which results in serious holes in their vision. Depending on the severity and the dog, they can do just fine once they learn to trust their handler and work around their disability. Some dogs, have what is called Early Take-off Syndrome (for more information, check out Linda Mecklenburg’s site.)
Once your dog is diagnosed with a visual impairment, discuss with your vet first and then your trainer, on how to proceed with training for your dog. Maybe verbal commands would be better, or handling from their seeing side. Your dog can learn to negotiate a course with slow, consistent training that allows your dog to build their confidence and find the best way to communicate with you on course.
Cavalettis are great conditioning obstacles when used correctly. To get the most of your cavaletti work, you should use a row of at least four (preferably more) set to your dog’s hock height. Go lower if your dog has a problem with that height. They need to be set at one stride, for all gaits, and can be used to shorten or lengthen strides if adjusted in small increments. The purpose is to have the dog take the cavaletti in normal striding, not jumping while lifting their legs more animated much like a football player running through tires.
You can set your cavaletti up in a row or a circle, and coax your dog through. While some dogs will take to them naturally, others need time to figure them out. If your dog is having difficulty with them, lower them and give your dog lots of rewards completing them. Reward your dog like any new obstacle and be positive! If you hear your dogs’ feet ‘ticking’ on the bars, the spacing may be off or they may be too high. Change the spacing to reflect the stride difference between the walk and trot. If you do not, your dog most likely will not be able to master them and may give up.
Be sure to end a session while your dog still has energy and having fun. If you go until your dog is tired they could become injured and soured on the exercise. A good conditioning regimen will get your dog’s muscles toned and in good shape. The better condition your dog is in, the less likely they will be to get injured on course. It can also speed up healing if they do get an injury.
Dog agility lends itself to a high percentage of herding breeds. Though they are not the only ones to get nippy when the excitement level increases, it is the most common with them. Pair that with the other common factor of handlers that choose herding breeds tend to love speed and thus drive their dogs. Unless the handler knows how to “nip it in the bud,” nipping can become a very annoying problem on course.
Many times nipping is a sign of frustration that can be caused by many factors, but most commonly is from a dog not knowing where they are going next. This can happen a lot with high-drive, high octane dogs who want to go and go fast. This can happen when the handler gives their dog late directions, but it can also happen with dogs that think they how to run the course better than the handler. In both cases the dog thinks they can hurry things along by nipping the heels of the handler. After all, it works on the cows…
To combat this type of nipping the handler needs to either keep the run at a lower arousal level or learn how to stay far enough ahead of their dog with directions to avoid the dog insetting frustrated. Keeping the dog running slower, as odd as it sounds, will allow the handler to learn how to stay ahead of their dog. As both become proficient at a slower speed they can try adding a little more speed.
Some dogs nip because they have never learned that nipping is unacceptable social behavior. They are still responding to stress, so you need to discover the source of the stress while letting your dog know nipping is not tolerated. Many handlers choose to remove the dog from the current activity for a bit of a “timeout.” Some will also try redirecting the dog to a toy, though this cannot be done in the competition ring. Once the source of frustration is located, the handler should eliminate or lower the source to a level the dog can work at. Once the dog is proficient at a low level, the stress should be raised slowly.
Be consistent and fair with your dog removing, redirecting, and proofing until your dog understands and your team moves past this temporary road block.
We would like to point out that if these methods do not work and your dog is aggressively biting that you seek professional help in reconditioning your dog’s behavior. These tips should be administered at the first thoughts of nipping. Should it escalate beyond your ability, seek help immediately. You do not want to practice bad behavior.