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Blind Dogs

Dogs can be born without sight, lose it to an injury, or it may erode over time as they age. While bringing a blind dog home could seem daunting, they can live full and exciting lives with a couple of adjustments to your home. If your dog cannot see, it is vital for you to be their advocate. It is also important that you set up their environments, as well as their interactions with other people and animals in a way that allows your dog to remain relaxed and comfortable. 

Setting Up a Safe Environment

A very important first step is setting up a safe environment for your blind dog. They will learn to navigate your home without running into objects, but it will take time. There are many ways for us to make the learning process easier and safer for them. 

  • Blind-Dog-Proofing | Similar to baby-proofing your home, you will need to blind-dog-proof your house. Pay attention to sharp edges on furniture and cover the corners with padding. If you have furniture arranged in a way that protrudes into walkways, consider rearranging the home to allow clear paths. Make sure you like the arrangement you pick, because once your dog has learned the layout of your home, changing it will require them to relearn the traversable paths and can potentially cause them stress, as their world has suddenly changed. 
    Stairways, especially those leading down to a lower level of the home, can be dangerous for a blind dog. Block access with baby gates or by shutting doors. There are many types of baby/pet gates available for purchase. This will likely be a permanent addition, so pick one you like that is easy for humans to move through. Plenty are aesthetically pleasing and can match your home décor.
  • Texture | To help your dog learn to navigate your home, use different textures on the floor. Focus on adding a unique texture for doorways, entrances/exits, and room transitions. This does not mean you have to change the flooring in your home. Instead, try using bathmats, small area rugs, plastic rug liners, etc. Once you put down a texture, leave it down. Your dog will learn what each texture means and will be able to move around your home more comfortably. 
  • Scent | Not all homes allow for us to change the flooring texture in desired locations. Another option is scent-marking. Use different scents to mark areas of your home. Make sure whatever scent you use is dog safe, isn’t a scent that you wear, and isn’t something that is in another product you use. For example, if you use a lavender-scented kitchen cleaner, don’t also use lavender to mark the front doorway. 
  • Sound | Dogs are very skilled at hearing and identifying different noises. Putting a chime or a bell on doors is a helpful way to let your dog know someone is entering or exiting a certain doorway. Sound will also be very useful for teaching your dog cues (see below under training for more information). 

Introducing Your Dog to Your Home

When bringing home a blind dog, set them up in a single room that can be their safe space throughout their time in your home. This room should have their food, water, bed/crate, and several toys. Before introducing the dog to the rest of the home, allow the dog time to decompress and become comfortable with your family and the room itself. 

When your dog is comfortable in the single room and with you, you can begin the process of allowing them to explore the rest of the home. Do so by walking your dog around your home on a leash. You can scatter treats on the floor to help encourage them to move slowly, explore, and sniff around. If you scatter the treats throughout the walkways of the home, this will help them learn the layout. Watch them closely to help guide them away from walls or objects. Every dog is different, and while some will be confident and ready to explore any room you give them access to, others may find this experience more stressful. If your dog is showing signs of being uncomfortable (see our resource on dog body language) take them back to their safe space. During the next exploration, make sure to stop before they show signs of fear or stress, and slowly build up the length of exploration over time. Introducing your dog to your home could take several days. Be patient and follow your dog’s lead. 

Introducing Your Blind Dog to New People

With a dog who cannot see, sudden petting or touch could be more frightening for them than a dog who can see, as they don’t know it’s coming. To help your dog feel safe and have positive experiences with new people, you will need to guide all your visitors through appropriate interactions. Plan for any introductions to new people to move slowly. Ideally, introductions should be done in an environment that your dog is already familiar with. Always allow your dog to choose to approach and initiate the interactions. Have the visitor sit and remain stationary, give them a handful of high-value treats, and have them speak softly to your dog. You can also feed your dog treats during this process. Allow the dog to choose if/when they approach the visitor. Expect the dog to take more time sniffing the visitor. While the dog is sniffing, the visitor should remain still and not attempt to pet. They can drop treats but should not touch or pet the dog. After the dog is done checking out the visitor’s scent and is showing relaxed body language (see again our dog body language resources), the visitor can offer treats from their hand along with gentle petting. Continue to observe your dog’s body language throughout all interactions. 

Introducing Your Blind Dog to Other Pets

Just like you would with any new animal meeting your resident pets, plan for a slow introduction process. Make a plan prior to bringing the new dog home. Decide the best way to set up the environment in order to keep the animals separate during the first few days or weeks (depending on the individual animals and their comfort levels). Even when the animals are separated, both the blind dog and resident animals will know the other one is there due to scent. 

Consult our resources on dog-to-dog and dog-to-cat introduction for additional details about introducing your animals, as the process for introducing blind dogs to other animals is very similar. It is important to keep in mind that your blind dog can’t read other animals’ body language, so you need to be prepared to help support both animals during these first meetings. This may include redirecting one or both animals away from each other to allow additional breaks. When introducing to another dog, initially allow your blind dog to choose when to approach. The key to all introductions is going slowly. It may be helpful for the resident animal to wear tags that jingle or a bell to help your blind dog know that the other animal is approaching or on the move. Over time, many blind dogs come to use their seeing housemates as guides and a support system when navigating the world. 

Training

Training for a blind dog is just as important as training for a dog who can see, and the process is, overall, very similar. A blind dog can still hear and smell, so you can still use treats and a clicker (or make your own sound/word) for training sessions. You just won’t include physical hand motions. It is highly recommended to teach your dog a reliable cue that either means “stand still” or “lie down”/“sit in place.” If your dog gets away from you, it might not always be safe to call a blind dog back. For example, if there are many large objects to run into between you and your dog, there are people walking with other dogs, or if there is a street with cars separating you. Instead of telling your dog to run back to you, a much safer approach is a cue that tells your dog to remain in the same place so you can come to them instead. Check out our resource on clicker training for additional details on this training method. 

Blind Dog Enrichment

Blind dogs have all the same needs as a dog with sight; it is important that we provide them with both mental and physical exercise daily. Blind dogs can be given many of the same enrichment items as dogs with sight, since the majority involve scent. Below is a list of several examples, and you can find even more ideas and details in our resource on enriching your dog’s life. Keep in mind that when providing your blind dog with enrichment, you must do so in a safe space. When dogs engage with toys or food, it can be an exciting event that may lead to jumping, spinning, or bouncing around. While this is great exercise and engagement, it is important that it happens in a space without hazards (ex. no stairwells, sharp corners, nothing they could topple over and break, etc.). 

  • Toys | Blind dogs enjoy playing with toys and benefit from it just as much as other dogs. Keep in mind the best toys for blind dogs include scent, sounds, or unique texture. Luckily, many dog toys already include at least one of these aspects. Toys that squeak, bones, or chews are great options. There are also toys designed specifically for dogs without sight, such as balls that make repetitive noises, allowing your blind dog to follow the sound and engage in a game of fetch. When you are playing fetch with your blind dog, it is vitally important that you are in an open space and throw the ball in a direction without hazards (ex. large rocks, curbs, holes in the ground, trees, etc.).
  • Treat dispensing/puzzle toys | Whether or not a dog can see, their sense of smell is impressive. Dogs benefit from opportunities to use their sense of smell, like when we give puzzle toys. Different varieties of toys that dispense food are a great way to provide your dog with mental enrichment.
  • Nose work games | There are countless games you can play with your dog involving their sense of smell. Many of these games take little to no training or experience. Check out the following link for details on how to start these games with your dog: www.puppyleaks.com/canine-enrichment

Helpful Products

There are products and specialized equipment available for blind dogs. Below are several products you may find helpful.

  • Halo harness | Muffin's Halo provides a ring around your dog’s head to help them avoid bumping into walls or objects. 
  • Blind dog identification | There are many individuals who see a dog and come running to pet or touch them, sometimes without any warning for the guardian at the other end of the leash. We can do our best to protect our furry friends from a sudden intrusion, but there may be times when our management fails. Having your dog visibly identified as blind can help stop those dog-petting enthusiasts. Search online to find a variety of harnesses, leashes, sweaters, etc. that say “I’m Blind.”  
  • Scent markers | You can purchase scent markers specifically made for blind dogs. They contain essential oils that are dog-safe and distinctive to reduce the risk of being similar to other smells in the home. 

 

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