Blind dogs can jump
Stevie loves doing agility Ė he is bright, fearless and has been blind from birth. He is also a rescue. His owner Alison wanted to do something to exercise his body and mind. Agility trainer Ann-Marie Froggatt was recommended and it wasn't long before she started working her magic on Stevie.
Alison adopted Stevie him from the Irish Retriever Rescue UK team in March 2007. He'd been kept locked up in a dilapidated shed for the first year and a half of his life until he was rescued by the ISPCA.
Stevie is very inquisitive, full of mischief and a complete cuddle-monster. Although very affectionate, physically Stevie was not in the best of health when was rehomed. He'd had an eye removed, and he was underweight and quite lame due to underdeveloped muscles and ligaments. Regular hydrotherapy helped him build muscle in his hind legs and he was soon enjoying longer walks and runs off lead.
As Stevie had always lived outside and was completely untrained, Alison also decided that some one-on-one training, rather than distracting classes, would be helpful. And that's how they were introduced to Ann-Marie.
She suggested that they try agility with him as as he is very very bright and loves working things out. Agility would provide good variety for him. He loved it immediately and they found he would do anything for a piece of liver! Teaching him agility allowed him to use some of that brain power. Heís never likely to compete though, so you top handlers can rest easy.
They taught him to jump through the tyre first as it supported his weight as he worked out where it is. Now, once he's touched it with his chest, he does a nice little pop through it. He then went on to apply that little pop to jumps. Weaves are coming on nicely. Once he's in, the handler can move forward and use their voice as a lure/guide. You can see his understanding and confidence growing week by week.
Alison and Stevie donít do the contacts as a rule as Stevie can be a bit too adventurous and they donít want him bimbling over the dog walk while no one is looking!! He loves tunnels. He comes out looking really smug - as smug as when he does his left or right turns.
Ann-Marie and Alison make sure to give him a lot of 'down time' to mooch about in the safety of the field. It is fascinating to watch him navigate around the equipment by 'smelly vision.'
People are mystified as how you train a blind dog, but Ann-Marie says that she forgets that he is blind when she is working with him and Alison as he's so willing.
There are a few rules that have developed like don't go quiet and stand down wind of him as then he really is blind. He relies heavily on his sense of smell. Donít ignore him for too long otherwise he'll sit, throw his head back and bark... and bark and bark. Touch is really important. It can be really touching that he is so trusting after what he has been through.
Iíve no idea what Stevieís limitations are but they certainly have little to do with him being blind!!
Between the next two - Jen and Scud, both Advanced - she's qualified for all the major finals over the years including the Worlds in 2005. Now there's Scud's son Red - big, goofy and utterly charming. Let's see what the next chapter brings!
Ann-Marie loves training other people and their dogs. She says, 'It's great to share in their achievements and offers as many opportunities for learning for me as for them!'