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Living with a blind dog
Being told by your veterinarian that your new puppy is blind or that your elderly dog is going blind can be devastating news. You wonder if you and your dog will be able to adjust and unfortunately many owners make wrong choices based on a lack of knowledge or worse, on misinformation. New adopters may attempt to re-home or even abandon the puppy, while long-time owners of a dog whose eyesight is deteriorating may euthanise the dog. Your dog deserves a chance to cope with his life in the dark and the opportunity to brighten your life.
If you have a new puppy who is blind, it’s your job to help the pup become familiar with the layout of your house. When you first bring him home, lead him through the house on a loose leash. Tension should only be applied if the dog is heading into danger. Use scent markers and mats with different textures to mark doorways or obstacles the dog can bump into. Make sure to block off access to stairs in your house or yard until the dog is accustomed to and comfortable using them.
If your dog is still having difficulty getting around; a “hoop and harness” can help to keep him from bumping into objects. The harness fits securely around the dog’s waist and the hoop goes around the front of his head. This works in much the same way the white cane a visually-impaired human uses: the cane will touch the object and warn the human of the presence of the obstacle while the hoop on the dog will come into contact with the obstacle first so that he can turn and avoid a collision.
Your elderly dog will already know the layout of your house so do not introduce or move furniture or other objects unless you plan to teach your dog the new layout of the home. Your dog will adjust to navigating around the house based on his memory as well as using his senses of smell, touch and hearing which all become elevated when he loses his sight. Your dog may have trouble locating his water bowl so you can try a dog bowl water fountain—your dog will be able to hear the water which will lead him to his bowl.
A blind dog is just as playful as a seeing dog and there are lots of games and toys that will help you to interact with your dog. Use toys that can be combined with food, such as The Buster Cube and Kong toy.
These can be stuffed with treats that are dispensed when your dog plays with them. Hiding treats and encouraging your dog to hunt for them will be a great outlet for his energy and will aid in satisfying his natural predatory drive. You can hide and use your voice to get your dog to come to you. This will help you both to bond and teaches your dog to come when you call.
Select toys that activate the hearing as well as the sense of smell of the dog. Non-toxic scented toys such as Jolly Critters dog toys are vanilla-scented making them easy for the dog to locate. Toys that make sounds such as those that squeak or the Talking Babble ball that makes funny noises when played with can entertain blind dogs.
When your dog is sleeping, do not step over the dog or try to move him because he may be startled awake and bite out of fear. Rouse your dog using your voice. If your dog is in the yard, always secure him if you need to open the gate. He may wander out into the road and get lost or will not be able to see your car coming into or leaving the garage. Be extremely cautious as you can accidentally run him over.
Most blind dogs are very sensitive to movement and they may be hesitant or defensive when meeting other people or greeting other dogs. Any dog—and especially blind or deaf dogs—should always be allowed to approach a person at his own will and be given the time needed to smell the air and pick up the scent of the person. The person should talk to the dog from a distance so the dog knows the person is there.
When introducing your blind dog to other pets, have your sighted pets on leashes so you can control them, and have your blind dog off-leash so he can run away if he is scared. Fitting bells to the collars of your other pets will help your blind dog to hear them so he cannot get snuck up on.
Blind dogs can live normal, happy lives. Most dogs adjust to blindness quickly and they can do almost all of the things that a seeing dog can do. You just need to have patience and teach your dog to get around. As the saying goes, love is blind.
Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2017
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