Caring for a blind dog

Looking after a blind dog isn't that different from a sighted one, but there are some things that you can do to make life a little safer for your new charge, and some things that can make life more interesting by providing alternative stimuli in place of sight. If you have a blind dog already and have other suggestions/ideas, please let us know!

No matter how it seems or feels right now, your dog's blindness is much harder on you than it is for him/her! Eye sight ranks only 3rd in importance compared to smell and hearing to your dog.

Our dogs pick up easily on our own feelings. Even though you are feeling sad for your dog, try to talk to him often in a "cheery voice" as if nothing has changed, and try not to "baby" your baby!

If you are bringing a new blind puppy or dog into your home and you have time, provide the dog with something with your scent on it for a few days before bring your dog home.

Safety and environment

  • If you have other pets at home you can get "jingle bells" at any craft store (small pets - a cat collar w/bell) that can be added to the collar of other pets so your blind dogs can easily tell where they are.
  • Sew 1 or 2 "jingle bells" onto an elastic pony tail band (used for hair) to slip onto your own ankle, or attach bell to shoe laces, so your blind dog can hear where you are walking.
  • Having a "home base" is helpful as they learn to "map" the house and garden - it may be useful to put your dog on a short lead to gain confidence while they learn their new environment. Bed, crate, or food bowl makes a good "home base" and if he/she becomes confused can start out again at home base.
  • Leave a TV or radio playing softly near the pet's bed (or wherever they spend the most time when you are gone) the sound is soothing, and may help prevent excess barking. It also helps them to orient themselves if the sound is always coming from the same place.
  • If your dog uses a crate - turn it on its side, so that the door opens "up" and you can bungee the door in place. This way your dog doesn't need to worry that the door may only be partially open. Only the square crates will work this way but you can still use bungee cord to keep doors open sideways if you have a non-square crate.
  • If you have a smaller dog, avoid picking him/her up to "help" them get to food or other areas. They need to learn on their own, and actually become very confused when picked up and set down.
  • If your dog hesitates learning to "map" the house, get down on all 4's with him, as this is TREMENDOUS fun for pup and you can slap door, floor, furniture with your key word: Ouch! or whatever..!
  • Get down on the floor and crawl around at the dog's eye level to find anything that might be dangerous. Do the same in your garden - look for low branches etc that could poke the eyes. Corners of coffee tables are particularly hazardous in the home.
  • If you have young children that need to understand that things are "new" for their doggie, have them put on a blindfold and crawl around, so they can *see* that things are different now for their friend
  • Some dogs do become "depressed" at first when they go blind (this is normal!) but you can help by trying to keep up their routine as normal as possible. If they love to go for walks... go for a walk etc.
  • If your dog wore a collar for walking before, now is a good time to try a harness. You will have more control if the dog balks, with less stress to the neck & eyes... important with glaucoma.
  • Use a short lead to avoid tripping over the leash. Not usually needed, but you can thread the dog's leash through a few feet of PVC pipe to make rigid leash for "directing" in a specific direction.
  • Sharp corners on coffee tables, furniture legs etc. can be padded with bubble wrap, fabric batting, or foam pipe insulation from the hardware store.
  • If you've always enjoyed moving your furniture around... now would be a good time to pick your "favorite" layout... and keep things in the same location for your blind dog. Keep floors clutter-free!
  • Scent important areas....doorway/doggie door to go outside (vanilla extract, citrus, pine or furniture polish) place "scent" down low on the door or frame for best "sniffing". Scent any "danger" areas with more unpleasant scents like citrus.
  • Use "scents" to help sparingly; your carpet, furniture etc. already "have" a scent to your dog (and probably a good thing we don't know about them!) don't change the already very familiar.
  • Use a baby gate or a decorative fireplace screen to block stairs until your dog has mastered them.
  • Scenting the top landing of stairs (telling the dog no more stairs up) and the bottom stair (no more stairs down) can be helpful, or place a carpet mat at both top and bottom of stairs.
  • Teach stairs by placing a "treat" on every step or two. Stand in front of dog, holding collar or harness, and gently encourage (without pulling), practice until he is able to go up and down smoothly.
  • If you have wooden stairs that can be slippery, purchase non-skid adhesive strips for the edges of each step to give your dog more confidence in using the stairs without fear of slipping.
  • If you use a ramp make sure it has "raised edges" to prevent your dog from slipping off the sides.
  • A carpet "runner" down a hallway, concrete basement floor, etc. can make a great "runway" for playing ball indoors. Your dog will know that as long as he is on the "runway" it is safe to go full blast!
  • Carpet sample squares are "cheap" and while your dog is learning the layout of the house put carpet squares in the doorways going into each room to make it easier to find the door openings.
  • A wind chime near the backdoor (or doggie door) can be helpful to your dog in getting headed back to this door after going outside. Door mats at all outside door entrances are also very helpful.
  • Use both real and silk plants in the house and yard as "feelers" - the plants gently touch the dog before running into something hard. Use around porch posts, on cabinet corners, around trees, etc.
  • Plastic place mats placed under the food and water bowls will help your dog "feel" when they are right up close to the bowls.
  • There are a number of companies that make "pet fountains" that make it easier for your dog to "hear" the water running when they want to drink. This is not essential but the sound comoing from the same place will help you pet orient themselves in a room as well as making sure they know where the water is located.
  • If your dog bumps his nose/head often you might consider making your own hoop harness a plastic tie collar or you can order a custom hoop vest called the Littlest Angel Vest.(See photos)
  • For eye protection when outdoors, hiking etc. where there are low growing shrubs, twigs etc. Doggles can protect the eyes, or an Eye Shield. Start them wearing for short periods w/treats to get used to them.
  • Socialization is so important, especially for blind puppies, but even adult dogs recently blind can also develop some fears. Visit pet stores... dog parks & other places where your dog can socialize!
  • When pup is out socializing, let people know that he is blind so they don't reach out to pet unexpectedly.
  • Thankful Paws offers "I'm blind" collar covers, vests, bandana etc. as well as "blind dog" apparel (hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts) for "humans" too!
  • If your dog is extremely anxious at first, there are some natural products that can be used to calm him. Calms Forte ; Bach's Rescue Remedy or D.A.P.™ (Dog Appeasing Pheromone)
  • Try to have something familiar to the dog - toy, blanket, bed, etc - for comfort when going to a strange new place.
  • If boarding your dog, make a special sign to have added to their kennel saying "I'm blind" to make sure all caregivers know your dog is blind.
  • Adding 1 - 2 feet bark chips, mulch or landscape rocks around trees or other dangers in the garden will let your dog feel a texture change on the ground to warn that something is ahead.
  • Remember to carry shovels, rakes and other yard tools (as well as bags of shopping!) up high, as your blind dog may run up to greet you and can't see what you are carrying.
  • If bringing a new dog home introduce him/her slowly to the blind dog (can separate using a baby gate) sighted dogs do learn something is different with a blind dog, and many will be a seeing-eye friend!

Commands and training

  • Start teaching your dog new "help words" (your choice of words) like "Stop" - "Step up" - "Step down" - "Easy" - "Careful" - "Danger" - "Right" - "Left" etc. Just start to say the words right from the start and they will quickly associate "stop" with bumping into something and so learn to stop.
  • If you want a blind dog to step of jump down from a small height such as a step, tap on the floor so that they can judge the distance by sound.
  • Hearing your voice is very soothing, so talk to you blind dog often. Let him know when you are walking out of a room etc. Even just some "silly chatter" is enjoyable to him, but remember to sound cheery rather than worried!
  • Remember to speak to your dog when you are approaching to touch (especially while sleeping) to prevent startling him/her.

Stimulation and play

  • If your dog loved to play ball... try "scented" tennis balls (available at most pet stores) , or scent your own tennis balls with vanilla, or even a bit of bacon grease or other food.
  • Rubber balls with an internal bell are great for ball-orientated dogs.
  • Throw a ball down and allow it to bounce close enough for your dog to follow the sound, or try kicking the ball through grass or gravel.
  • Latex toys also work great for fetch as they have a unique sound when they hit the ground, and most bounce several times, giving dog extra time to find them.
  • Teach your dog "new" things to make life even more fun! Try clicker training, a great training tool and confidence builder.
  • There are many treat balls on the market that will allow your dog to roll the ball around to dispense treats, and even some that let you record your own voice to hear as they roll!
  • A Kong toy is a great way to keep your dog happy and busy!