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  • Writer's pictureVera Marney

KEEPING THE WORLD BIG FOR A BLIND DOG (Part 3) - Tips on how to help a blind dog navigate his new world with confidence

Updated: Jan 19

In July 2023, Logan, my 7-year old American Cocker Spaniel, lost all of his sight in the remaining eye suddenly due to congenital cataract and his retina detaching. He lost his other eye two years ago after cataract surgery caused glaucoma and the eye had to be removed (see Parts 1 and 2).


It was of course a big adjustment for him - and indeed for me. After discussing treatment options with specialists which didn't have encouraging success rates, and after seeing how well Logan adjusted to his new blind life, I decided that it was in his best interest to leave things as they were and instead to help him navigating his new world with confidence.


So what management and training have I implemented to best help Logan - initially and permanently.


Here are some tips and ideas that I have found are helping Logan a lot to adjust to and navigate through a world without the help of his sight.



PREPARATION in ANTICIPATION


We knew that Logan was eventually going to lose his sight altogether, what we didn't know was how long it would take. Unfortunately it happened a lot quicker than we hoped for, but I made sure that I prepared him as best I could so when the day arrived last July, we weren't completely left in the dark (excuse the pun). It is so important to anticipate events if possible, not just like in this case an expected disability, but a lot of puppy training and general training should incorporate preparing your dog for unexpected events and situations. It'll make much easier for the dog to cope with it.


All my dogs have a good foundation in obedience training which came in really handy as Logan already knew quite a few of the cues I'd need for him to know - I will mention them in detail below. But simple things like being able to wait, stop immediately when asked, walking to heel etc. are important when managing a dog without sight.


In addition, I started naming behaviours that he automatically did when he could still see where he was going so I could then help him when his sight was gone. These cues included words like "step up" and "step down" for steps, as well as "slowly" and "careful" to indicate there were obstacles ahead of him. Luckily, having grown up with blind friends and also worked for a blind gentleman, I am aware what sort of cues would be useful for Logan. Many are not dissimilar to how we would help guide blind people verbally.



GENERAL HELP


There are a few things I have changed to help Logan in general which I feel really gives him confidence.


  1. Talking a lot. I am not a naturally very talkative person around my dogs, especially on walks, but I have had to change that. Talking more often helps Logan to keep track of my whereabouts and makes him feel secure. That's just generally chit chat to my dogs, but also specifically to Logan when I see he has lost my location.

  2. Floor space. Many sources mention to not move any furniture around and make sure that things never change in a blind dog's home. There is of course a lot of truth in that, however, I didn't want to be trapped with my furniture layout for the next 10 years... I have found that when I move something and I literally show it to him (guide him to it and let him locate and sniff it), he is quite capable of mapping the new situation and it is rare that he bumps into anything. Obviously I don't swap things around on a daily basis, but I will move things if need be. Now Logan is very adaptable (partly due to his training and partly due to his general nature) and not all blind dogs may be, so every owner needs to do what works for them.

  3. Meeting dogs/people. I find that Logan is absolutely fine meeting people, though he will sometimes jump at them and not always aim correctly. So it is best to keep faces out of harm's way and be very calm around children as scratches from paws may be more likely. Meeting dogs is a little different for Logan. He is fine with dogs in general, however, he has definitely become a bit more nervous of dogs he doesn't know and meets on walks. Because he can't see their body language or movement, he tends to bark now, and I don't really let him meet unknown dogs on walks now. Again, this will vary much between dogs and every owner needs to adapt to what their blind dog can cope with. It is particularly important if the other dog is very bouncy, that would definitely scare Logan now, so I don't risk his confidence and tend to stay away from unknown dogs.



SPECIFIC HELP


  1. Touching a blind dog. It is good practice with any dog to tell them that you are going to touch them and where. It makes it more predictable for them. It is even more important with a blind dog that can't see your hand (or a vet or groomer's hands) coming towards them, and it must be quite disconcerting to suddenly feel touched without warning... I know blind people get startled in these situations and find it quite uncomfortable and so do dogs. So tell your blind dog what you are going to do, in time he will learn the different words and you won't damage their confidence. So I will tell Logan "I'll wipe your eyes", "Eye drops", "Ear drops", "Paw", "Cleaning your teeth" etc. He learnt very quickly what was what and is quite happy to let me do what I need to do.

  2. Teaching cues. As I have mentioned above, if you haven't yet, teach your dog cues that will help him navigate his environment safely. Here's a TikTok video I made about the cues I use with Logan when out and about.

  3. Bells: some owners have bells attached to them all the time, but I find that Logan is pretty good at keeping track of my and the other dogs' locations indoors and in the garden. But I do find wearing a bell on walks helps him to know where I am. So that's definitely a good idea.

  4. Paws: dogs pick up a lot of information from the surface they walk on, and blind dogs of course even more so. When we walk along a road or a well defined path over a field or through the woods, the information from his paw pads will tell him whether he is on the path or off of it. The same applies to different surfaces in the blind dog's home like tiles, carpet, rugs etc. I feel it is important to keep the fur on the paws well trimmed in longer haired dogs to make sure that they get as much sensory information from their paws as possible. Check this TikTok video that I made a while ago.

  5. Walks: and whilst we are talking about walks... It is of course important that your blind dog gets enough exercise just like any other dog. When Logan first went blind, I didn't actually walk him for a couple of days as I wanted to give him a bit of time to adjust to the house and garden environment first. Then for a week or two, I took him on walks he was very familiar with and that were easy to navigate, like road walks or along well defined path. Once he gained his confidence, I started taking him on more challenging routes again. Now we can walk anywhere we like and he will confidently either navigate on his own or under my guidance where needed. In familiar environments he is also more than happy to wander away from me to explore, though I do need to keep an eye on him as he gets worried if he loses me. Here's a TikTok video that covers this.

  6. Noisy toys: Logan loves to play with balls and toys, but of course that's much harder without sight. He has actually learned to listen to the thump a toy makes when it hits the floor and he is quite good at locating a toy that way. He is also happy to still play tug and I just have to be mindful as to how I move the toy. I have also got him a couple of balls with a bell inside, so he can track it really easily with his ears when it rolls along the floor. He absolutely loves his noisy toys. There are quite a lot of variations of noisy toys, so do have a look for one that your dog loves. Here's a TikTok video I made about noisy toys.

Black American Cocker Spaniel walking to heel
Logan walking to heel at an obedience competition

  1. Activities: if your dog is used to being active perhaps doing pet dog training classes or competitive sports, then losing their sight may well mean that they can't continue with what they are used to. However, not all is lost. Although Logan can't continue with our competitive obedience and agility training, there are many other options. A good pet dog trainer will be able to accommodate a blind dog, so if you are already attending general classes, hopefully you can continue with that. Scentwork is an amazing way of giving your blind dog a new satisfying hobby, be it tracking, man trailing or sniffer dog type training. Trick training is another excellent way of continuing working their brain, and they absolutely love it. Oh, and whilst I am here: at WAGGING TAILS Dog Training, we actually have an online option available for Trick Training where your dog can learn 18 tricks from the comfort of your home. Go check it out if your blind dog needs a new hobby. You might be surprised how much your blind dog loves learning new things regardless of their age or breed. Here's a TikTok video of Logan's Novice Trick Title.



OTHER TYPES OF HELP that Logan doesn't need at present


  1. Devices/equipment: there are devices available that are put around a blind dog's neck like a collar and they detect obstacles. There are also "halos" (hoop harness) available which are like a frame around the dog's head so they don't knock their head on things. I am lucky that Logan feels very confident in the house and garden and he doesn't rush around too much, so he can easily cope without such equipment, but they may be helpful for some blind dogs.

  2. Scents: some owners feel it helps their blind dog to use different scents in particular areas like doorways for example. I have seen the question asked a lot whether it helps, but not seen a lot of answers. Do you use it with your dog, and if so, do you find it helps? I feel with Logan he doesn't need it. There are enough different smells for him I think to be able to distinguish the various areas, but then I live in a small bungalow and it may be different in a bigger house.

  3. Bells on other pets: some blind dogs may benefit from having small bells on other pets in the house so they can work out where they are. I don't need it with Logan as he is very good at detecting where they are and where I am. My other dogs also don't mind if he bumps into them, and one will do a little growl if Logan tries to lay in the same spot.

  4. Calming products: some newly blind dogs may become more anxious and would benefit from a calming supplement. If that's the case, it's probably best to check with your vet what they would recommend.



Every dog reacts differently to becoming blind depending on whether it is gradual or sudden, whether they are generally confident or more nervous, how they cope with new situations, how much training they have had etc. But us owners can help a lot to make the transition to this new dark or fuzzy world easier, so our blind dogs can continue to enjoy their life to the fullest.


Feel free to leave comments or to contact me directly via our website WAGGING TAILS Dog Training.



Vera, a dog trainer, and her blind American Cocker Spaniel Logan
Vera and my blind American Cocker Spaniel Logan




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