How to Care for a Blind Dog
By Debbie Marks, Blind Dog Rescue Alliance
Debbie’s blind Bichon, Frosty
At some point, a dog owner may hear the scary words from their vet that their dog is going blind. That’s what happened to me… and I had no idea what to do. Several years ago, I adopted a senior Bichon named Frosty. About a year after his adoption, our vet noticed that Frosty’s eye pressures were somewhat high, and we saw an ophthalmologist. Frosty was diagnosed with glaucoma. We were able to control his pressures with drops several times a day for quite a while. But the time came when the pressure in one eye was no longer controllable, and Frosty was in continual pain. His eye was removed. A year later, his other eye had to be removed. Frosty was now completely blind.
Frosty began bumping into things in the home he’d been in for years. I didn’t know how to help him. An online search led me to a blind dog owner support group on Yahoo, and they, in turn, led me to the Blind Dog Rescue Alliance (BDRA). BDRA helped me to learn that blind dogs can, and do, have wonderful, active, exciting, and joyful lives, just like sighted dogs. I learned that being blind did not define Frosty, that he was still the same loving little boy he always was. I decided to volunteer. Maybe I could help someone else.
Tuffy, Debbie’s blind Pomeranian foster
After I joined, I decided I very much wanted to foster a blind dog, and so I went through BDRA’s foster process. I had my personal and vet references checked, and a home visit was completed. I was nervous about getting my first foster dog, but quickly volunteered to foster Tuffy, a completely blind Pomeranian with unregulated diabetes. How would I deal with a blind dog who’s never been here before? How would I ‘show’ Tuffy the house?
While blind dogs adapt very well to almost any home situation, there are some things you can do to make your home safe and comfortable for them. Check your home before bringing in a blind dog, or if your own dog has gone blind. You’ll need to gate the stairs, pool, and any other areas where your dog can fall and injure himself, and you’ll want to pad sharp corners or other obstacles, such as with pipe insulation. When introducing a blind dog into your home, as you would with any dog, be careful with your introductions because a blind dog cannot read another dog’s signals. I introduce a new foster dog to my current dogs through the chain link fence of my back yard.
Shelby, blind Border Collie available for adoption
I learned not to pick Tuffy up and put him down somewhere else, but to guide him to show him what I wanted him to know, such as where the water was or how to get outside. Otherwise, he had no idea how he arrived there. I learned to keep a new dog’s harness and leash on until he learns the lay of the land and I learn his behavior as well. And I started talking to my dogs – a lot – so they always had a sense of where I was. I also learned that as much as I didn’t like to see a dog bump, bumping is a normal part of a blind dog’s learning, or mapping, his surroundings.
Surprisingly, I also learned that I can move the furniture, although I do keep their water in the same place. There will be some bumping as the dog maps the new layout, but he should be fine within a day or two. And please remember to protect him from sharp corners and other areas where he may get injured!
Some people use different textured mats to designate different areas, or safe areas, that the dogs can feel with their feet. For example, I use the rubber outside welcome mats to designate the “safe” path from the back door of the house to the ramp and then to the lawn. Others prefer to use scent.
If you have other dogs, you may want to put jingly tags on them so the blind dog knows where they are and is not startled. I also learned to use vocabulary – in addition to the usual SIT and COME commands, etc., I also teach UP, DOWN (for steps up and down, curbs, etc.), and STOP (as an emergency word – a dog needs to stop right away). Some people also teach RIGHT and LEFT and SLOW/EASY, so that the dog knows to go slowly and carefully as something is in his way. Whatever is most comfortable for you will work!
Blind dogs should not be left outside unsupervised, and recently, the BDRA board of directors has voted to prohibit the use of electronic/invisible fences. And even though you might feel badly, a blind dog also needs discipline just like any other dog! But most of all, I learned that a blind dog is a dog first, regardless of his blindness.
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Reprinted with permission from the Blind Dog Rescue Alliance.
Debbie Marks is the Secretary of the Blind Dog Rescue Alliance, a group of volunteers spread throughout the United States and Canada dedicated to helping blind and visually impaired dogs by: rescuing dogs in shelters, assisting blind dog owners, and educating the public about blind dogs. For more information, to donate to the 501(c)(3) organization or to see blind or visually impaired dogs available for adoption, please visit their website at BlindDogRescue.org
To contact the Blind Dog Rescue:
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