As her loyal fans know, CAPS Spokesmodel Beatrice has had difficulty seeing over the last few years. So, when she heard that the chance to educate others about dogs with vision problems was available, she asked her CAPS family to do just that.
Every year, many owners are told that their loyal companions are losing their vision or are already fully blind. This can be an emotional diagnosis and there is much to consider to ensure that both dog and owner are able to live life to the fullest.
In order to make this possible, Cathy Symons, author of “Blind Devotion,” has provided much insight and assistance through her books and other programs. She understands that both ethical and daily factors must be considered, but that with enough patience, life can be full for everyone.
The first and perhaps most important thing to determine is whether the owner is able to commit both mentally and physically to working with the dog on all levels. Is the quality of life for the dog going to be good and sustainable? Do they have a good veterinarian to work with and rely on?
If the answer is yes, then the rest depends on what stage of blindness the dog is in. For dogs with low vision, this means that they can see shadows but not much else. Blindness is the end stage and sadly these dogs lack perception of color, light, depth, motion, form and have no blink reflex. This can make their world scary and can cause once playful and happy dogs to become more anxious, fearful and even aggressive. This is also when they need their owners the most.
Cathy has many good suggestions for helping blind dogs work through their daily lives, both inside and outside the home. The first is that owners will need to develop new commands for the dog to learn and follow. These commands are meant to help dogs literally navigate through their lives safely and with as much ease as possible.
While this new language will take time to master, there are other things that can be utilized immediately. As they cannot see where to go when someone is talking to them, loudly slapping a thigh while calling a dog’s name allows their hearing to guide them to where they need to be. It has also been suggested that clicker training works well in the same sense that it allows for their hearing to be their guide.
Owners must also understand that blind dogs can no longer see normal clues given by other dogs and may be singled out and picked on if in a pack environment. They must understand that simple tasks such as taking a walk or going out in the yard alone can be dangerous situations. Making sure dogs always walk beside owners and not in front ensures that they are not going to encounter something first, just as making sure that the yard does not have anything they can bump into, trip on or fall into.
There are activities which owners and dogs can do together that are meant to stimulate the touch, taste and smell senses – smell being the new primary sense. Some are even helpful for the dog’s safety, such as the “hand target” game where the dog is taught to touch its nose to the owner’s hand. Along with helping to activate the coordination part of the brain, it also can be used to guide them out of danger. Providing toys with different textures, rug runners for them to walk on and giving them massages helps in stimulating touch senses. Providing treats with textures and smells helps promote taste senses. It has even been suggested that classical music, conversation and toys with sounds help train their body to external rhythms. Lavender aromatherapy seems to work for many dogs as well.
For blind dogs, the simple act of walking can sometimes be worrisome and some may prefer to become sedentary. Cathy suggests that along with providing a safe and easy to negotiate environment, swimming, playing with other dogs and brain games can sometimes revitalize their interest in being part of the world around them. Reike may also be a good addition to the regimen as it not only stimulates energy but enhances the human/animal bond.
With the growing amount of animals living longer due to modern medicine, there are now a variety of products on the market directed towards helping animals who are blind or otherwise in need. Three notable products are the Littlest Angel Vest, the Optivisor and Toegrips.com. There is also a wonderful product called Tracerz which consists of pre-scented markers that are put on key locations and objects around the home or other facility. These allow the dog’s sense of smell to recognize certain markers and eventually associate the markers with specific items such as a food bowl or the corner of a table.
We have all heard the expression “Love is blind,” and unconditional love for a pet that just happens to be blind is proof of this. Beatrice is the perfect example that with lots of love and dedication from a human, dogs can remain happy and active.