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This blog post was originally published in March 2013. It has been updated with helpful videos and republished to help pet parents who may have a dog that has lost their sight or pet parents who adopt a blind dog. With two of our dogs reaching their senior years, it was important for me to review this helpful guest post by Gayle Irwin.
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.
Living with a Blind 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 Pet Parents who are Raising a Blind Dog
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
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 – Training is Important
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 Your Furniture
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 – Accentuate Your Blind Dog's Other Senses
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 Important for Navigation
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.
6 – Invest in a Flowing Fountain for a Water Bowl
Consider using a flowing fountain for your dog's water bowl. The sound of running water will help your blind dog find its drinking dish, and the sound can be appealing to both people and pets in the house. Circulating water maintains its freshness longer as well, offering greater appeal than a stagnant pool.
7 – Choose Toys that Engage Other Senses
Various toys that stimulate your blind dog's other, more acute, senses engage it in play. Squeaky toys or products that you can put treats inside positively impact playtime. KONG© makes a variety of toys into which biscuits and other treats can be placed; these offer aromas that a blind dog can “seek and find” and be rewarded.
- Wobble Wag Giggle Ball Glow in the Dark Squeaky Dog Toy
- KONG Genius Mike Dog Toy
- Pet Qwerks Talking Babble Ball Dog Toy
- West Paw Qwizl Tough Treat Dispensing Dog Chew Toy
- KONG Squeezz Ring Dog Toy
- KONG Squeezz Dumbbell Dog Toy
- Ethical Pet Sensory Ball Tough Dog Chew Toy
- Chuckit! The Whistler Ball
Some blind dogs may react negatively to squeaky toys because their sense of hearing becomes much more acute when blindness sets in; that was the case with Sage, so we substituted toys with fragrance for toys that squeak. She also enjoyed tug-of-war, and that engaged us, as Sage's owners, in her playtime.
8 – Connect through Voice and Touch
Stay connected with your blind dog through voice and touch. Dogs enjoy gentle strokes and pats on the head; many dogs also respond positively to belly rubs and massage. Dogs also love to hear their human’s voice. All this is especially true for blind dogs. Affectionate voice and tender touch are calming and provide the sense of security your blind pet needs. Sage was a very tactile dog – she enjoyed gentle, massaging touch, and she often curled near my feet, reassured of where she was … near me.
9 – Security is Key
A sense of security is important, and having a quiet place at which your blind dog can spend time is also beneficial. A peaceful room, such as a corner of your bedroom or home office, can serve as that special place. An indoor dog kennel, with the door left open so that your blind dog can come and go as it pleases, can also serve as the “safe spot”. If your household is busy with children, parties, and/or other dogs, your blind dog will need that safe, quiet place to which it can retreat.
When Sage first became blind, she used a large crate that we purchased and set up in the spare bedroom. As she adjusted to her blindness, she simply retreated to the room and either lay on the floor or in the crate. As time passed, she stopped using the crate but still occasionally retreated to the bedroom.
10 – Consider a Second Dog
Consider a second dog if you don't already have one. Some blind dogs do well with others of their kind, and some sighted canines actually become “seeing eye dogs” for blind ones (don't expect your sighted dog to be your blind dog's guide but don't be surprised if that takes place). Dogs are social creatures, and another dog can be a very good companion for a blind one, especially in a household in which both adults are absent for many hours.
Putting these ideas into practice and continuing to encourage, train, and spend time with your blind dog will help both of you live more effectively with the disability of blindness. Remember that blindness is not fatal; this fact will help you cope better with the news and therefore, assist you in helping your beloved dog. Although Sage and I did not expect the journey of blindness, we accepted and faced the challenges. We enjoyed 11 years of blessed companionship, including traveling and exploring. You and your blind dog can also create and share a rewarding life together – using the tips provided above, I believe you will!
More Training Videos for Blind Dogs
Deaf/Blind Dog Training – “Come”
Teaching “Down” With Your Deaf and Blind Dog
Training a Reward Marker With a Deaf/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 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. Gayle is a former conservation and humane educator, she now 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
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