Love is blind: Owning a blind or visually impaired dog
Top tips for taking care of dogs with sight impairments
Owning a blind dog can be a hugely rewarding experience.
Whether a dog is born blind or has lost their sight through age, illness or accident, they are amazingly adaptive to life without sight. We currently have a few dogs who are looking for their own ‘guide humans.’ This might seem like a challenge at first, but with our top tips you can help a blind dog live life to the full.
Helping a blind dog to navigate
- Help your dog stay safe by padding sharp corners (i.e. coffee tables).
- Place mats next to entrances/exits, or under water/food bowls to help your dog learn to feel for these places with his feet.
- Try to keep furniture in the same place in your home so your dog can learn to navigate their usual environment.
- In new and unfamiliar places, keep them on-lead and go slowly so they can acclimatise. It’s best to use a long lead in public so there is no risk of panic should your dog become separated from you.
- Warn your blind dog about obstacles in the environment by having a special word such as "careful" when they look like they might knock into something. With repetition they will learn to slow down and feel around with their feet when they hear you say "careful".
Living with a blind dog
- Be consistent with any rules and routines you have put in place for your blind dog, so they can be confident and unlikely to become confused about their environment and interactions.
- If you have other pets in the home, keeping a bell on their collars can help your blind dog know where they are.
- Touch should always be positive for any dog, especially blind dogs so try not to interact with your blind dog when you are feeling frustrated or angry about anything, as they might sense this feeling from you and become worried or confused as they can’t understand why you are feeling this way.
- Instead of allowing people to come straight over and pet them, always allow your dog to approach a person in their own time, and only if your dog chooses to.
- Blind dogs can get anxious if you have left the room without them noticing, always tell your dog that you are leaving. You can use a special word or phrase such as “back soon”!
Training a blind dog
Training any dog takes plenty of patience and time. With blind dogs, you will also need plenty of imagination because sound, touch, and smell are key with a dog that can’t see.
However, keep in mind that most blind dogs will be startled if touched when they are asleep or not expecting it. You can help your dog to get used to this by gently touching them and immediately giving them a treat. Most blind dogs soon learn that being surprised is not necessarily a bad thing!
Occasionally a dog might become aggressive when surprised, as a means of communicating that they are worried and need to be left alone in order to feel safe. If your dog reacts in this way or appears to become increasingly more startled when practising this, you should stop right away and contact a qualified behaviourist to support you reduce your dog’s anxiety.
Here are a few ‘hands-free’ ways to train your dog without touch:
- Use food to lure your dog into the behaviour you would like them to do.
For example, to teach a sit you can put a treat near your dog’s nose so that they can sniff it, then slowly lift it over their head – their bottom will naturally go down as they follow the treat with their nose – as soon as it touches the floor you can reward them by giving them the treat.
- Teach your blind dog specific words that are instructions.
With the ‘sit’ for example, as your dog’s bottom hits the floor when you’re luring them with the treat say “sit”. After several repetitions they will associate this physical action with the word ‘sit’ – you can now ask them to sit without having to use the treat to lure them, but you can still give it to them as a reward! You may want to teach them commands like: step up/down, this way, wait, forward etc.
Rehome a blind or visually impaired dog
Alex | Terrier Cross | Evesham
Energetic, toy-loving Alex suddenly went blind overnight earlier this year. Despite this, Alex has been coping well and has quickly learnt how to get around. He's around four-years-old and has previously lived in a home before. He's looking for a quiet home with minimal visitors (and minimal furniture layout changes!) and a secure garden. Our Canine Carers have been working with him to learn some important commands like "step up" and "wait" to help him to navigate.
Olive | Staffordshire Cross | Leeds
Sweet Staffy Cross Olive is an independent older girl who loves to potter and explore the garden, followed by cuddling up on the sofa. This leading lady would like to be the only pet in the home. Olive loves people and can live with older children. Despite being 10-year-old, she still enjoys going out and about on her walks. Olive is in a foster home at the moment so it's best to get in touch with the Leeds Rehoming Centre first if you are interested in Olive as she won't be available to see at the centre.
Blitz | Lurcher | Newbury
Blitz is a playful young Lurcher with a great enthusiasm for fun and life. Like any three-year-old, he loves to play with his toys, throw them around and chase them or play games of fetch with you. He has a medical condition that means sadly over time he will lose his eyesight. Despite this, he’s still a happy and bouncy lad who has progressed well with his basic training. He could live with another dog and children over 14. As he is quite young, he will need his new owners to build up any time he is left alone slowly whilst he settles in to his new home.