When we got Bodhi some six months ago, and I took him to a dog obedience class with a very skilled teacher, she looked at me when she announced that we were going to teach the dogs the “watch me” command. Bodhi is blind…”watch me” is pretty much meaningless in his world! The trainer looked at me with a bemused look on her face. “I have no idea what to suggest to you,” she said. I didn’t know either.
Over the months I haven’t found a great way to let Bodhi know I want him to pay attention to me, to actually turn to me and give me his attention. Until now. And it has been quite by accident.
Meet the jingle bells.
I ordered this cute little jingle bell bracelet after talking with a trainer at Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue when we were out in Sacramento on vacation. My sister volunteers there and told me they had trained several blind dogs, so I was more than excited to pick their brains. One of the strategies for teaching blind dogs to walk nicely was to put bells around your ankle so the dog knows where you are, and to treat the dog when they stay near the bells. Bodhi isn’t a horrible walker, but he could use a little improvement, so it seemed worth a shot.
Armed with my bracelet and a pocket full of dried liver treats, I “charged” the bells, just like you do a clicker. Ring the bells, and if Bodhi turns toward them, he gets a treat. He got the idea very quickly…he’s a smart dog. Next we tried walking with the bells, and at the moment what Bodhi thinks the bells mean is either ‘look at me” or “come back to me” a little more than “walk next to me,” but it is a work in progress. He does stay closer and he absolutely gives me his total attention and returns right to me when he hears the bells. He isn’t yet as good at just staying with the bell sound all the time…we’ll keep working.
In the meantime, he has discovered that the bells are a really fun game, and if that’s what they end up being, so be it. He has never gotten the hang of going to find a hidden treat. He uses his ears much more than his nose. But go somewhere in the house and ring those bells and he’ll be there as quickly as he can manage. So we’re working on a sit or down stay so I can go away from him, and ring the bells, so he can come find me. A great winter game when it is cold outside. It isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but if he’s having fun, and so am I, all’s good.
After a rousing round of “come find me and the bells” this afternoon Bodhi was relaxing in his favorite spot, on Marley’s lap. The two of them have lap time every day, and Bodhi absolutely adores it. (So does Marley, I think.) It is nap time for both.
I can’t tell you how tempted I was to ring the bells and see if Bodhi would choose me or Marley and the comfort of the chair. In the end, I decided not to test the guy. Who knows whether I would actually like his answer! No point in asking him to choose, right?! I’ll stick to playing with him when he’s not cuddled up with Marley.
Ultrasound later today…stay tuned for the results.