Whether your dog loses their sight or is born blind, living with a blind dog is just as enjoyable as living with a sighted dog. A blind dog can have a rich life full of fun and love just as well as a sighted dog. This is because dogs don’t rely on their sight as much as humans do; smell, hearing, and touch are more important to a dog than sight.
You will have to make a few adjustments for your blind dog, but nothing out of the ordinary that you wouldn’t do for a sighted dog. The main difference is to train using vocal and touch cues rather than hand gestures. Just because your dog can’t see doesn’t mean they can’t learn! Dogs are smarter than some give them credit for and adjust relatively quickly to being blind.
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First steps when your dog goes blind
When my Husky was diagnosed with Glaucoma, I was distraught! She was just under 3 years old, and she had to have her left eye removed. Unfortunately, we were told that her right eye would also develop Glaucoma in the future. She was so young and full of energy I didn’t know how she would cope.
I focused on her directional training cues and am so glad I did. Unfortunately, she had to have her right eye removed less than 2 years later. However, when she had her second eye removed, the directional cues were thoroughly embedded. She was used to hearing the vocal cues around the house and when we were outside. I used the cues when she was on-lead as well as off-lead.
The most significant adjustment was the one we, as her guardians, had to make. We must tell people who approach her that she is blind; if they reach out to pet her, it may startle her. On the other hand, Luna is such a confident, happy dog; most people don’t realize she is blind because she moves around confidently. I think her confidence comes from feeling secure with us because of her training.
The main point for your blind dog is training. Training directional cues such as:
- Walk on
- Up step
- Down stop
- Slowly – I use slowly as a cue that an obstacle is coming up
If your dog is quite confident in their training, they will feel safer going out and about. If your dog feels safer, it will have a lot less anxiety. It will also allow you to feel more comfortable when you’re out with your dog. For example, in a safe environment, my Husky can go off-lead as she responds to cues off-lead and on-lead. She also enjoys swimming in our local river and Loch! You can see Luna on some of her adventures on my Facebook page.
What causes a dog to go blind
There are various reasons that a dog will go blind. It can happen because of an illness, accident, or genetics. Although some common medical conditions such as Glaucoma, cataracts, and SARDS cause blindness in our dogs, these conditions do not only affect older dogs. In addition, some dogs are born blind.
If you notice your dog becoming disorientated, anxious, or bumping into things, please make an appointment to see your vet. Sometimes problems with their vision can hide an illness. Any concerns about your pet should be addressed to your vet; they are the best person to help.
How to walk a blind dog
A harness is much better to help guide your dog than a collar and lead. Additionally, a harness puts much less pressure on your dog’s neck. Walking to the heel may not always be possible, but you can keep your dog close by petting them and giving treats. Holding a treat in your hand helps too, as your dog will be able to smell it and have something to focus on.
Walking a blind dog is quite similar to walking a sighted dog. The main differences are a slower pace to allow plenty of sniffing – this helps them create a scent map in their minds and verbal cues for any obstacles you may encounter.
I am a lot more ‘present’ when walking my blind Husky. The pace is a bit slower, and because I watch for people and obstacles, my mind tends not to wander as much as it used to. Also, I verbally reassure her that I am here if I sense she is a bit anxious or something startles her.
Can a blind dog enjoy a good quality of life
A blind dog can have an excellent quality of life. Your blind dog can thrive and have a great life if you are a caring and patient guardian. Teaching your dog the verbal and touch cues will significantly reward your dog and you. You can enjoy walks together and build and strengthen your bond. A blind dog can be an excellent companion.
The key is to take things at your dog’s pace; like us, they all learn and adjust at different rates. If your dog seems anxious, then slow down and go back to something that your dog is comfortable doing. Allowing your dog time to adjust to the change is essential, and you will have a much more confident dog if you don’t rush things.
My blind Husky has an excellent quality of life. She goes out every day for long walks, gets to go off-lead in safe places, and swims in the river and Loch almost every day. We go to new places to explore, and she loves it. Luna enjoys people saying hello to her and making a fuss. Luna loves to meet new dogs and engage in playtime.
Her life hasn’t changed since she went blind. Sometimes we forget that she is blind because Luna gets on with life and misses nothing! Luna can hear the fridge being opened from the other side of the garden, and she’s there tapping you with her nose!
Tips to help your blind dog
Again, every dog is different; some dogs will adjust to their blindness quicker than others. So take things at your dog’s pace. You don’t want to cause additional stress and anxiety for your dog, but at the same time, you don’t want to coddle your dog. Instead, you want them to adjust and become as independent as they can.
Remember, your dog can’t see your facial expressions or body language, so it’s essential to vocalize everything for them, and using a happy tone reassures them that you are pleased with them and they are a ‘good dog’.
It is also a good idea to speak to them and tell them that you are ‘coming in for a pet’ before touching them. They can’t see you moving your hand towards them, so give them a bit of notice before you touch them, or it may startle them. A startled dog may snap or growl, so it’s a good idea to get everyone into the habit of announcing themselves to your pooch before petting it.
You can also purchase a ‘Halo‘ for your dog. It attaches to the harness and prevents your dog from bumping its head on things. My Husky wasn’t interested in this; she found it annoying. However, Luna has developed quite good spatial awareness without this device.
Some basic tips are:
- Vocalize – reassure your dog that you are there and are happy with them
- Train and use vocal cues
- Keep your dog’s bed, food, and water in the same place – try not to move it
- Try not to rearrange your furniture often, and guide your dog around any new layouts
- If your dog isn’t used to stairs, use a stairgate to block them
- Make sure that your garden is secure and that there are no areas where your dog can get hurt, such as a drop, a pond, or a gap in a fence
- Use a harness and lead rather than a collar and lead
- Use a lead when walking and when introducing your dog to new areas
- Walk in areas where your dog is comfortable
- Allow plenty of time for sniffing on the walks
- Alert people who approach or will be working with your dog that your dog is blind
- You can get leads, collars, tags, and harnesses that have Blind Dog printed on them
- Toys with bells or rattles are good as your dog can track them to play with them
- Scent work is a great activity for your blind dog
Training a blind dog
It is essential to train your dog, whether it is sighted or blind. However, training a blind dog isn’t very different from training a sighted dog. A blind dog will be less distracted than a dog that can see what’s happening around it, so it may be easier to train a blind dog.
You can train your blind dog using vocal and touch cues. It will be easier to use food in training. For example, in training the sit cue, you would hold the treat in front of their nose and then raise it; as the dog’s head rises, their bottom goes down. When their bottom touches the floor, say ‘sit’ and reward the action. With all training, repetition and reward are key.
For a blind dog, you want to use a strongly scented treat and issue lots of praise for the desired action. Although you should measure the treats used in training as part of your dog’s daily food allowance, you want to train your dog not to make it overweight.
Take the training at your dog’s pace. You want to set your dog up for success. If your dog is starting to get frustrated or anxious, go back to something that your dog is secure in doing.
A blind dog can bring just as much joy to your life as a sighted dog. With a few adjustments from you, your dog can live an enriched life.
My Husky was blind before she was 5 years old. She adjusted to her blindness rather quickly and wanted to continue her life as usual. A few days after removing her second eye, she wanted to go off-lead in the woods! For a dog with no eyes, she can glare! Luna still enjoys going on adventures every day. She is calm, confident, and friendly. People are often surprised when they see that she has no eyes, simply because she moves around confidently.
Luna went blind at the worst possible time for us, she had her eye removed in October, and we had to leave Jersey in December. I was worried about how she would cope because we had to pack everything up and get it shipped to the mainland. Luna was wonderful. I carried on with her routine, and we guided her around the boxes. She was terrific and managed to adapt and move around the unfamiliar layout much easier than I thought she would.
We stayed with family for six weeks, and she was happy to explore the new area. Then, when we finally moved to our present home in Scotland, she quickly adapted to the new location. After a few lead walks around the neighborhood and she had a good scent map in her mind. All in all, she has taken the entire situation in her stride.
I understand that not every dog will adjust quickly to being blind, but patience and reassurance will benefit your dog and your relationship.
I hope that you found this article helpful.