I remember a vet telling me years ago that most old dogs are quite blind and deaf but their owners don’t know because dogs navigate their way around their own home and familiar streets so well, (using other senses such as sound and proprioception). All good as long as you don’t move home… which I did.
Dealing with a blind dog seems relatively easy as my dog, Danny, is blind and deaf and geriatric and has increasing dementia… as well as being still amorous… an interesting and challenging combination.
I am surprised at how well Danny has adapted, he has found his way around very quickly.
To keep things simple, let’s suppose your dog is “only” blind, or has diminishing sight (meaning, we are only dealing with one diminished sense, sight).
Dogs see the world differently to us… they perceive colours grey, yellow, blue, they don’t see the red spectrum, as we do. So… if they correctly bring back their yellow ball after you have thrown it, it’s not because they can distinguish red from yellow balls by sight, they detect their ball by scent.
In practical terms, for helping your dog with failing sight to navigate around the home, there are plenty of things to try:
- Have strong contrasting colours, different patterns on the floor, wherever you can
- Dark and white carpet or mats, or bold design, obvious definition shapes and colours, as opposed to all one colour mats or carpet
- Different textures and thickness… carpet, rugs at beginning of rooms, so dogs know when they enter one or another, also at top and bottom of stairs, and
- Aromatherapy… have different scents in each room, or at doorways, so your dog knows when he is entering a different place. Their sense of smell seems to stay strong for a very long time!
Exercise for Blind Dogs
Its really important to keep up exercise, walking, whatever the dog is used to (nb if dog is quite blind, or old or frail, be careful of introducing him to anything new e.g. swimming… don’t suddenly throw him in a swimming pool because swimming is good for his joints (true), but a brand new environment can also be terrifying and defeat the purpose.
Walking, socialising, lots of smells, outings, will stimulate your dog’s brain, her balance, help keep her agile, alert and interested, will keep the weight down and remind her she is still part of the family… she’s the same dog, just with poorer vision.
Don’t give too many treats because you feel like spoiling your friend… rather, keep the treats to delicious, low fat such as chicken cubes or jerky, and make your dog work for the treats by hiding them and teach him to hunt for the treats.This is scent training, an actual sport, with varying levels of difficulties, you can adjust for whether your dog is an athlete or elderly or blind…. great stimulation for the brain and body.
Dogs have such an acute sense of smell, perhaps it becomes even sharper as their sight fades, the other senses get stronger? Other parts of the brain take over? Just a thought…what do you think?
More relevant than ever, use it or lose it.
Other Tips for Blind Dogs
- Use a harness rather than a collar, as you will need to guide them more, and don’t want to be pulling on the neck to guide them up and down steps, on and off footpaths.
- Keep on short lead, keep close to you so they can smell, feel your leg, brush against you.
- Use sound to navigate… your voice, snap fingers, clicker, whistle, call their name.
How to Keep Your Blind Dog Safe
- Protect their eyes and face from walking into things, e.g. sharp corners, plants, rose bushes, thorns, any items in a new area…
- Their depth perception is not as good so… they will be hesitant on stairs. You may need to do some serious fencing off, roping off, put in baby gates to avoid them falling downstairs, or guide them up and down the stairs… i.e. don’t let them tackle the stairs alone
- Stay within the confines of a safe park or area when out, they will get easily disoriented and wander off, and
- Also avoid injury for yourself, often your dog will be right behind you, just to be close to you… she can’t move out of the way quickly, don’t want to both be needing medical help after a fall.
Your dog will probably be needier, and most likely want to be around you, closer, so give him more touch, massage and cuddles.
Keep up stretches, or now is a good time to learn if you’re not sure how (you can use this dog stretching video as a guide). Dogs will naturally contract, tighten up as a reflexive thing, they don’t feel safe striding out if they cant see, also if one side is more compromised, they will become more lopsided to compensate e.g. turn more to the better side.
Other animal companions are a great idea, just be careful about introducing new ones, for all sorts of reasons:
- They may not get on
- Your dog may feel threatened, usurped, passed over, or…
…they may fall in love with their new companion. There are so many pics and videos of one animal leading his blind friend around… all species… cats, dogs, horses, in the wild.
You will just have to try, let them meet, introduce slowly, supervise… depends on individual personalities and circumstances.