Adopting a non-seeing dog or caring for a dog who’s going blind may be less worrisome – and more rewarding – than you might think. Here’s some sound advice (and a few nifty tricks) to put both you and your pooch on sure footing. – Global Animal
PawNation, Mary Burch
Meet Mary Burch, American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Director and Paw Nation’s columnist addressing questions on animal behavior. Dr. Burch has over 25 years of experience working with dogs, and is one of fewer than 50 Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists based in the United States. She’s the author of 10 books, including the official book on the AKC Canine Good Citizen Program, ”Citizen Canine: 10 Essential Skills Every Well-Mannered Dog Should Know.”
I have a bichon frise that’s going blind. I’ve heard of dogs being trained to help as a seeing-eye dog for their “siblings.”Do you have any advice on how we can do this? The dog going blind is 6 and has been with us since birth. The other bichon frise is a rescue dog that gets along with her “sister” well.
It’s great that you are already planning on ways to help your pet adjust to the changes in vision. Here’s a link to a story on Paw Nation that is just exactly what you’re asking about, i.e. one dog in the household being the guide dog for a dog who is blind.
There are some things you can do to get started. Remember, your blind dog will now see the world through the other senses of smell, touch, and hearing.
1. Establish a daily schedule with routines so the blind dog knows what is about to happen. This includes keeping meal times, play and exercise time, and bedtime routines fairly consistent. It is also important to keep everyday objects in their same places (e.g. the blind dog’s food dish or bed is always to the right of the other dogs’).
2. Be sure to use verbal cues throughout the day to tell the blind dog what is happening. For example, “Lets go for a walk!” or “Time for dinner!”
3. Have the helper dog wear tags or a bell on her collar so the blind dog can hear when she is nearby or is approaching.
4. You can play games with both dogs that engage other senses such as using toys that have bells, or involve finding treats.
5. Take both dogs for walks together so the blind dog can follow (or be next to) the scent of the sighted dog. You could try a coupler, a short piece of leash that joins two dogs, and eventually fade this once your blind dog knows the drill.
6. Teach the sighted dog the command, ”Go get (use the dog’s name here).” If the sighted dog is clueless the first time you say this, you can start a few feet away, give the command, and take the dog to the blind dog. Over time, you will get further away (in behavioral terms, this is called shaping), until you can send the dog across the room to the blind dog. Then, you can call both dogs to come to you.
7. If your dogs don’t come when called, teach this behavior to one dog at a time with a treat. AKC Canine Good Citizen training will teach basic skills such as coming when called. For more advanced skills (such as the “go get sister” command), consider getting one-on-one help with a Canine Good Citizen trainer near you.
Good luck! It sounds like you have two great dogs.
For a true account of one person’s experience adopting a blind dog, see this heart-warming story: Woman Gains Insight From Adopted Blind Dog