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When Keep the Tail Wagging is a full time gig, I would love to adopt a blind or deaf dog. When Gayle Irwin contacted me and offered to share what she knows about living with a blind dog, I was so excited, because it is such a great compliment to an earlier article about living with a deaf dog.
When my husband and I heard the startling words from our veterinarian, “I have bad news – your dog is going blind”, we truly did not know what to do… or what to expect. Sharing nearly 12 years with our Springer Spaniel, Sage, taught us how to cope with her disability and also how to help her adjust. Sage became blind before she was three years old due to a genetic disease called Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA); there is no cure for PRA. She lived more than nine years without sight, yet she lived with joy and courage.
Tips for Blind Dog Owners
There are many important ways to adjust to the disability of canine blindness; consistency, creativity and courage are three important keys for you and your blind dog to live happily, successfully, and safely together.
1. Acknowledge your feelings of shock and sorrow at the news your dog is going blind. It’s okay to grieve – you and your dog are experiencing a loss – but don’t get stuck there. Blindness is a disability, and disabilities can be compensated for, especially in dogs. Remember that disability is NOT inability – dogs can and do acclimate, and so can you.
2. Teach your dog additional commands to the standard “sit”, “stay”, “come”. We taught Sage “step-up”, “step-down” and “stop”, all very useful for navigating stairs and taking walks. Training not only keeps your dog’s mind alert, but also provides extra security for you and your blind friend. Giving the command to “stop” when you come to a street corner, for example, keeps your dog from stepping out into traffic, providing you the time to ensure it’s safe to cross the street. Some dog owners implement clicker training, using a small, simple device that creates a distinct metallic sound, pairing the clicker with treats while saying the command.
3. Don't move the household furniture. Blind dogs learn quickly where items are placed, and they use that memory to get around. “Cognitive mapping” refers to the mental representation a dog has of its physical environment as a result of repetition and spatial learning. Therefore, by keeping the recliner, sofa and end tables in the same place, your dog will learn and remember where that furniture is located.
On the other hand, having the sofa in one spot for several months and then relocating it to another will cause confusion; the dog will bump into that piece of furniture more readily after it’s moved. The same concept applies for taking walks outdoors: repeating the route over and over again will help your dog better navigate the neighborhood because of its “cognitive mapping”. We witnessed this with Sage, and though we may have gotten bored walking the same route, we chose a location which included a park – that place stimulated her sense of smell, for squirrels, birds, and other creatures used the park, and she could smell and hear these animals during our walks. Those creatures delighted our days, too!
4. Accentuating your blind dog's more acute senses, like hearing and smell, keeps your furry friend engaged. Therefore, not only try to include a park or woodland on your daily stroll, but also use bells when you walk so your blind dog can hear and follow your footsteps. Also, place jingling tags on your other pets so your blind dog is not startled when those companions come near. You can also use wind chimes in the backyard to help your blind dog navigate outside.
5. Texture is also helpful for a blind dog's navigation. We placed wood chips along fence lines in our backyard to help Sage understand she was near the metal fence; that helped prevent collisions. Throw rugs were used in our living and dining rooms near the recliners and table chairs to let Sage know she was near those furniture pieces. She also used those rugs for naps.
Stay tuned for part two, that is sharing tips 6 through 10 abut living with a blind dog…
Gayle M. Irwin is a Wyoming author, writer and speaker. She has published three children's books and an adult nonfiction with her dogs as main characters. Her latest work, Walking In Trust : Lessons Learned with my Blind Dog, is a devotional-style book that that parallels lessons learned from her blind dog Sage with her faith walk with God. Mrs. Irwin is also a contributing writer to four Chicken Soup for the Soul compilations and has produced an ebook for blind dog owners. A former conservation and humane educator, she volunteers for various animal welfare
organizations. Learn more at www.gaylemirwin.com.
- Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Dog Did That!: 101 Stories about the Crazy Antics of Our Canine Companions
- Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog: 101 Stories about Life, Love, and Lessons
If you're living with a blind dog or a deaf dog, I'd love to learn more about what tips you have for me!