It's difficult to tell people how to care for a blind dog, unless you have actually lived with one. Canine behaviourists can help give you useful suggestions and you can look up advice online, but one of the best sources of information is from owners of blind dogs. It's the small things you notice on a daily basis that can make all the difference.
I've got a blind dog, she wasn't born blind, she lost her sight at the age of five. I can't speak for those owners who have a dog that has been blind all their life. These dogs don't know any different, and tend to cope very well, they just need a few adjustments.
Dogs who go blind after beginning life with their sight can find things a little more difficult. That being said, from my experience, it's incredibly impressive how well they adapt to their new world. Dogs aren't like people, who complain a lot and can voice their worries, they tend to just get on with things.
I want to help dog owners with dogs that are starting to go blind, or suddenly lose their sight. So here's an insight into what owning a blind dog is like and some helpful tips to take on board.
The home environment
If you are living with a blind dog, then you need to try and keep their home environment consistent. Remove any hazardous objects that your pooch could bump into and injure themselves, and consider putting a baby gate up to prevent them from going into potentially dangerous parts of the house.
Try not to move your furniture around to much, and be mindful of things you put down on the floor. Your dog will memorise their surroundings, and if you place a new object down, like a pair of shoes or a shopping bag, they will probably bump into it or trip over. You need to adjust your habits just as much as they do. You will remember not to do silly things like leave a door half open, as they won't see it and will walk straight into it.
Our dog had trouble with the stairs when she first went blind. The problem wasn't getting down the stairs, but not knowing where the top of the stairs began. So she didn't end up stumbling down a few times. Then we put a mat at the top of the stairs, so she knows when she steps onto it, the stairs are coming soon. It's actually quite sweet watching her go down the stairs, she sticks her paws out, carefully feeling for each step.
To be honest, on the whole, our dog is absolutely fine in the house. She's figured everything out and knows her way around. You may find your dog occasionally gets a little disorientated and loses track of where they are. So it can help to have a safe place where you can take them to so they know where they are again, like their bed or a spot in the corner of the room.
Nighttime can be a bit daunting, so again, try and keep the area where your dog sleeps consistent. We have her in the spare room, and she cries at night if we put anything new in the room or move things around a lot.
Out on walks
Before our dog went blind people said, 'you won't be able to let her off the lead at all'. I did feel sad knowing she won't be able to tear through the woods at full speed anymore. But things have turned out better than I thought. No, she can't go running in and out the trees like she did before, but she still goes off lead.
When we want to give her off lead exercise we take her to the same woods, woods which she knew before she went blind. Now, she sticks to the path, and she might bump into the odd thing, but she trots along slowly so it doesn't hurt if she does, and I keep a close eye on her. We have a word that we say if she's about to walk into something.
We use 'wait', but you can use whatever you want. When we says this, she stops in her tracks, and realises there's an object in the way. A few people have recommended getting a bell to have on me while I'm out walking.
This may help a lot of blind dogs, but she responds so well to my voice that at the moment we don't need one. When you have a blind dog you start noticing just how smart they are. Our dog manages to stick to the path fairly well. How? She knows when she's veering off the path as the ground gets softer and she brushes into grass and shrubs. If this fails her, she simply walks behind me, or follows our other dog.
I wouldn't recommend letting all blind dogs off lead, because some just cope a lot better than others. We're lucky because our dog is very confident, and going off lead in places she knows doesn't seem to phase her.
On the lead
Another thing people have said to me, is 'you should try and walk the same route every day so she knows where she is. ' I haven't done this because, with my guidance, she doesn't seem to mind exploring new places. Imagine you were blind, wouldn't it be boring if you walked exactly the same route every day. Their smell and hearing becomes heightened, so personally I think it's nice to walk in new places where they can engage their other senses and enjoy a variety of different sounds and smells. But others may disagree.
Whilst out on walks you literally have to guide your dog everywhere you go. You have to concentrate at all times and watch out for obstacles on your dog's behalf. Watch out for things like benches, lampposts and parked cars. Our dog tends to just walk off the curb every now and then, so make sure you can easily steer them back on course and be mindful of cars and traffic.
Consider a canine companion
Before our dog went blind, we made the decision to adopt another dog. We searched far and wide to find a dog with the right personality. I wanted them to bond before our dog went blind, which thankfully we managed to do. Our new pooch is quite young and hasn't quite grasped the concept yet. Some dogs will literally guide their blind companion around.
I pictured having another dog that acted as a guide dog, but it hasn't quite worked out like that. However, what he has done is helped her confidence. She gets a bit depressed and down at times, and will just sit in her bed all day. But he doesn't let her. He encourages her to get up and play, and to be more active.
Sometimes whilst out on walks, if there's an obstacle, she's let him go first and then follow him. I think just having another dog with us out on walks puts her at ease. Some dogs don't need another dog around, but many benefit from the presence of canine company. It makes me feel better leaving her at home when I go out knowing that he's there with her.
Interacting with people and other dogs
Our dog hasn't really changed the way she interacts with other dogs thankfully. Other than she sometimes bumps into them before saying hello. Still, I don't think she would appreciate a dog jumping all over her and being too full on, so you do need to supervise interactions.
She is a little bit more wary of people. The best piece of advice I can give when it comes to people is to make sure you tell them to talk to your dog before approaching them. Then they know someone is there and are usually happy to receive some strokes and a good fuss. If your dog is a little nervous, you may want to get them a lead, collar or bandana that says 'blind dog', so that people know before they approach.
Engaging their other senses
If you have a blind dog, it's a good idea to try and engage their other senses as much as possible. For example, instead of feeding their dinner in a bowl, let them go and sniff out their dinner to awaken their sense of smell. Buy them new Dog Toys that have different textures and take them places where they can experience different sensations (as long as they aren't too fearful), such as playing in the sand, swimming, and exploring places with different smells.