How to Help a Blind Dog

Four Methods:Assessing Whether a Dog is BlindMaking a Blind Dog ComfortableHelping a Blind Dog Navigate its HomeTraining a Blind Dog

As a dog owner it is distressing to find your pet has lost its sight. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon problem because of genetic diseases, such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy which notoriously affect the collie breeds and certain spaniels, or because of diabetic cataracts interfering with vision.[1] However, the good news is that most dogs are good at adapting to blindness. If your dog goes blind don't despair, there are plenty of ways you can help it cope with its blindness and help it to lead a full and happy life.

Method 1
Assessing Whether a Dog is Blind

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    Pay attention to your dog's eyesight, as you do with your dog's overall health. Dogs that slowly lose their vision over weeks, months, or even years, have a chance to adapt. They are so good at compensating with their other senses that sometimes an owner doesn't notice. An owner may only realize something is amiss when the furniture is rearranged, the dog bumps into the sofa, or the owner changes the dog's regular walk and the dog is reluctant to move.
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    Look for specific signs that your dog is losing its sight. You want to make sure that your dog is having problems with its eyes, and not other issues. Clues your pet may have impaired vision or be blind include:
    • Difficulty locating objects: Taking a while to find things that the dog should be able to see on the ground, and locating them mainly by sense of smell. Pay attention to zig-zagging to-and-fro while sniffing heartily, rather than locating them immediately by sight.
    • Seeming 'lost': If you are at a distance in the park and call your dog, a partially sighted or blind dog may stand stock still and 'stare' around as if lost. Try waving your arms and see if the dog then finds it easier to locate you or not.
    • Bumping into things: Try placing unexpected objects in the dog's path, such as placing a suitcase in the middle of the lounge where the dog would normally walk in a direct line from one door to another.
    • Reluctance to move when in a strange place: Being in an unfamiliar place results in many blind dogs being hesitant to move because they are fearful of their footing.
    • Clumsiness: The dog may bump into objects, trip on small steps, or even tumble down unfamiliar staircases.
    • Dilated pupils: This is not a universal sign, but look to see if the dog as large round black pupils in bright light. If the retina is damaged the message from the back of the eye that to the brain, telling the pupil to constrict, does not get through and the pupil remains large, which is inappropriate in bright light.
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    Consult your veterinarian. If you suspect your pet is loosing its vision you should seek the opinion of a veterinarian. Your vet may refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist for a definitive diagnosis. Being forewarned that the dog has poor and deteriorating vision gives you a head start in helping it to cope and adapt.
    • However, conditions such as PRA are progressive and there is no cure. It may be a good idea to have realistic expectations about what referral will achieve.

Method 2
Making a Blind Dog Comfortable

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    Commit to making the dog's environment comfortable. The environment the dog lives in should be as comforting as possible. The dog is likely to spend a lot of time within the familiar safety of the home. There are lots of things you can do to help the dog navigate around the home and feel confident.
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    Remove obvious hazards. Take a look at each room from a dog's eye view and look for things that could injure the dog if it ran into them. Look for sharp edges, such as table legs or the glass edges of coffee tables. Improvise a way of protecting the dog should it knock into them.
    • Children's safety devices can be useful, such as rubber tubing to wrap round sharp edges or padded corners that fit over table edges.[2]
    • Things like electric bar heaters should be removed. While the dog will sense the radiant heat, if the dog is startled and moves in haste it may run into the heating elements and get burned.
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    Don't Move Furniture Around. Now is not the time to go for a radical makeover and move around all the furniture. The dog will be familiar with the layout from previous experience and use that memory to move around.
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    Keep the place tidy. Dogs can trip and fall just like people. With any luck the dog won't seriously injure itself but it may lose self-confidence and be more reluctant to move around freely if it fears falling over.
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    Do not startle your blind dog. Since a blind dog cannot see you coming, it may be easily startled. This may frighten the dog, which in turn may make it jump and possibly snap out of fear. It is especially important that children understand this and never approach a blind dog without talking to it first and making sure that it has registered their presence.
    • When approaching a blind dog, speak to it first. Once you have the dog's attention, reach out your hand in a fist for the dog to sniff. Avoid putting your hand straight onto the dog's head, as this can startle them.
    • Get into the habit of talking to your blind dog as you move around the house, so that it knows where you are.[3]

Method 3
Helping a Blind Dog Navigate its Home

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    Use auditory markers. It can help the dog to orientate itself if you leave a radio switched on low volume in each room, but tuned to a different channel, say a voice channel in one room, classical music in another, rock music in the third. This way the dog will learn to associate certain rooms with certain sounds and orientate itself more easily.[4]
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    Use different textured rugs. As the dog walks from one room to another it may not know which room it is entering. Put a different textured rug at the entrance to each room. This helps the dog 'feel' where it is and know using the touch of its paws on the rug, as to which room it is about to enter or leave.[5]
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    Put a bell on other pets. If you have other pets, put a collar and bell on them. This helps the blind dog to know who is around, where they are, and helps to avoid surprise.
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    Put plants on ground level to mark hazards. Consider putting some plants beside particular hazards, such as sharp corners. This will help the dog because it will feel the plants leaves, gets an early warning of where it is, and avoid the hazard.[6]
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    Make adjustments in your yard, as well as your home. For instance, place a wind chime by the back door. This will help the dog to locate the door after it has finished in the yard.[7]

Method 4
Training a Blind Dog

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    Adjust your dog's training if it goes blind. When you train a sighted dog it is common to inadvertently (and deliberately) use hand signals. Also, the dog will use sight to locate you in the park when off lead. You will need to change the way you train and interact with the dog.
    • Losing its sight can make the dog appear to become disobedient, whereas in reality it is just likely confused and disorientated.
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    Take the obvious precaution of keeping the dog on a leash when out and about. This is especially important when walking beside roads, as the dog will not see hazards. The dog is also more liable to be startled and bolt, and then lose its bearings, so keeping control with a leash is essential.
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    Have regular one-to-one training sessions with you. This helps builds the dog's confidence and reassures them that you are in charge. In addition building a solid, "Sit", "Stay", and "Come" give you a good degree of control over the dog when you are out and about. If the dog learns to obey your instruction instantly, this allows you to be the dog's eyes and keep him out of trouble.
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    Consider clicker training the dog. The penetrating click-clack of the clicker will help the training and also help the dog to locate you. Consider using a whistle when out and about, as the high-pitched noise will help the dog to locate you in a busy environment, where there are other noises competing for the dog's attention.
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    Be aware that blind dogs are more vulnerable to attack from other dogs. This is because the blind dog doesn't see and read the approaching dog's body language, which can result in miscommunication that is interpreted as a challenge by the approaching dog. Try not to react fearfully around other dogs as this makes the blind dog anxious, but be prepared to intervene at an early stage and ask the other dog's owner to put their pet on a leash (and explain why) before things escalate.[8]
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    Be aware when traveling by car, your blind dog may be caught off balance when you turn sharp corners. It is good to give the dog verbal cues that a corner is coming, such as a new spoken command "Corner", so that it can brace itself. Blind dogs soon pick up these cues and learn to compensate.[9]
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    Use toys that crinkle, rattle, or squeak, so that the dog can locate them. Also, the dog will develop an excellent sense of smell, so consider laying scent trails with a favorite toy or even food that the dog can follow to a reward.[10]
    • Don't forget to play with your dog. Blind dogs like to play, however, they can feel insecure when tearing around in case they bump into something. Consider getting a large rug or runner, and play with the dog on this mat. It will soon learn where the edges are and know it is safe to stick within it's area.

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Categories: Animal Rescue | Animal Care and Wildlife Occupations