If your dog is born blind, losing sight or has limited vision due to disease, genetics or injury, she will need a lot of help, support and confidence building. Here are a few tips to make her life easier.
I have written this after experiencing two of my own dogs go blind. My older Labrador Retriever Bella
started to go deaf at 8-9 years of age. I then taught her and used sign/body language to communicate with her. However at the age of 10 years, she began to go blind too and could not see my body language very well. I had to think of other ways to help and support her.
My other dog Kiwi began to loose her sight at the age of fi ve years. She underwent blood tests and saw a specialist. I hope my own experiences will help other people support their dogs, having blindness.
- Your dog may prefer the comforts, familiarity and security of staying at home. If this is the case, give your dog time, it may be that she has not yet come to terms with the loss of vision and may not be ready to venture out into the strange dark world.
- If your dog is fearful of strange or different environments, it may be that your dog feels secure in familiarity. Try to walk or exercise her in familiar territory, if possible away from other dogs and people she does not know.
- When you do start to venture out, try to take it very slowly. Begin with short walks in the same area, building up the time and distance of the walk very slowly at the dog’s pace. If you see her showing signs of getting stress such as panting, lip licking, trying to turn around to go back, rubbing her body against you, standing still and not wanting to carry on, lagging behind you, whining or barking, then help your dog out by ending the walk and taking her back home where she feels safe.
- Try to keep your household and garden furniture in the same place, so that your dog becomes familiar with where everything is. Make sure all sharp edges or holes in the ground are covered and any children’s games or toys are picked up afterwards. Hide or cover all electrical wires your dog may trip on. Keep all low cupboard doors closed so that your dog does not walk into as she cannot see them if they are opened.
- If your dog is partially sighted, she may find it more difficult to see at certain times of the day. Dogs see best at dawn and dusk. According to studies, dogs see their world in colours of white, yellow, blue, indigo and violet. When they are partially blind, these colours will be easier seen at dawn and dusk rather than mid-day when day is at its brightest and colours and shapes of white and yellow may blend in and become harder to distinguish.
- Do not step or reach over your dog. This can be very frightening for her. She does not know what you are doing and partially sighted dog may only see a movement going over her, which is very threatening. Walk slowly around your dog, talking softly to reassure her. If you are going to stroke your dog, bend at your knees and not the waist. Bending at the waist means you are bending over your dog from above, which is very frightening for the dogs, especially with limited sight. Bending at the knees means you are bending down to the dog’s level, your dog will feel much more secure if you stroke her this way.
- When you stroke your dog, make sure you are stroking her slowly, calmly and gentlly. Do not slap the dog on her sides. Often we like to slap our dogs on the sides as an act of affection towards them, but this is very threatening to a dog and may be seen as a punishment rather than our intended affection.
- If you are using baby gates or dog gates in your home, your partially sighted dog may not see the gate if it blends into a light background. Place blue tape across the gate so that the dog can see if the gate is open or closed.
- If your dog is blind and cannot see doors at all, you may need to use language such as telling your dog if the door is open or closed every time she approaches a door. Get used to talking to your dog. Dogs are highly intelligent animals and can grasp language amazingly well.
- Teach your dog ‘left’ and ‘right’ commands, so that you can guide your dog around an obstacle when needed. When out on a walk, each time your dog turns right, say to her ‘right’. Each time your dog turns left tell her ‘left’. Your dog will soon get to learn which way you want her to turn.
- You may fi nd your dog may trip you up a lot as she needs the security of leg hugging. Your dog may need the security of touching you. If your dog is like this (many blind dogs are), then you may need to talk to her more for reassurance and make sure you walk very slowly when your dog is with you.
- Your dog will benefi t from knowing where you are all the time. Separation may cause anxiety. If you can and if it’s safe to do so, take your dog with you to your regular places. Keep her on leash so that she does not wander off and get lost. If you have someone who can babysit when you are out, this will also help your dog to feel more secure. If you cannot do either, give your dog a safe, secure area to rest in, that is warm, with water, some toys and perhaps something she can chew such as a stuffed kong or chewy.
- Talk to her all the time whenever you leave your dog alone, tell her where you are going and how long you will be away.
- If your dog needs to go upstairs, take time to teach her to count. Tell her there are two steps and count them as you go up, 1 and 2 and so on depending how many steps there are. If there are fi ve steps, tell your dog there are five steps, lets go up 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and fi nish.
- The equipment you use on your dog is important. Many dogs come to prefer a soft padded harness. This can give your dog the feeling of being in a secure wraparound or blanket. The centre of your dog’s back is also the centre of balance. If the harness is the correct type for your dog and the leash attachment is at the centre of the dogs back, she may feel more balanced and secure being led via the centre of balance rather than the neck which may be a sensitive area for some dogs.
- A long leash about two metres long may be the preferred length for your dog. This will give her the opportunity to sniff and explore her environment. Your dog will need to sniff and explore, it is a necessary part of her life and more so in blindness as she will be developing and using those other senses a lot more.
- Remember dogs are born blind and it is two weeks after they open their eyes. In that world they depend on their other senses for everything, they need scent and touch to fi nd their mother and to feed. They depend on touch to keep warm and their senses to fi nd one another in the litter.
- Your dog may have loss of sight but her brain will most likely be just as active as always. So, do not stop playing with her. However, the games will no longer be visual games but nose-work games. Your dog will still enjoy games such as hiding treats around your garden or in your house, a kong stuffed with her dinner, a treat ball filled with nice treats, some seaweed from the beach to sniff and play with. Old cardboard boxes stuffed with surprises such as soft toys, treats or nice smelly things to sniff. Old shoes or slippers of her own to explore. These are just a few ideas, but be creative and safe and talk to your dog.
(Nicole N S Mackie is an animal therapist with specialisation in small animal nutrition, dog behaviour, communication and psychology, having experience in veterinary nursing, with qualifications in animal science, canine behaviour, canine psychology, dog training instruction, nutritional advisor of veterinary nutrition and a graduate from the International Dog Behaviour and Training School in the UK.)