Coping with a blind dog......

an interesting thread from Compuserve's PETSFORUM


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Subject: Blind Dog
From: Chris J Sutherland
To: All
Date: 03-Sep-94 19:45:51

We have an 11 yr. old Schnauzer who's recently gone completely blind. We love him a lot, and we need to know how to help him cope? Any thoughts, eg., climbing stairs, walking outside, playing with him, etc.
Thanks in advance!
Chris
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Subject: #826097-#Blind Dog
From: Dave Donahue 73524,2132
To: Chris J Sutherland 74462,2763
Forum: PETSFORUM Sec: 03-Dogs' World
Msg #: 827278
Date: 04-Sep-94 21:35:45
Hi Chris,

I have a 2 year old male that has been blind since birth and if I didn't tell you that when you first meet him you would probably never figure out he was blind. I believe a dog that's blind from birth has a natural advantage over one who goes blind later. Their other senses develop to a higher level than a sighted dog, at least that appears to be the case with my dog. He hears things and smells things long before my other two. I can take frozen liver treats out of the freezer and the two sighted dogs won't move an eyelid, not Po. I don't know if it's the sound of the plastic bag or a scent, even though it's suppose to be scentless if frozen. He's up and moving before I reach the counter. And he only does it if it's liver treats, not if I'm removing something to defrost for dinnner. We had to teach him how to handle the stairs and some other things so here's my suggestions. Keep in mind that your dog doesn't have those other highly developed senses so you have to help him in the beginning.

1. Don't coddle or overcompensate. Make him stand on his own four paws. His ability to cope and adjust may surprise you. Just learn to be patient. It takes a long time for a blind dog to do even the simplest things. Po might take 10 minutes just to come down a set of stairs. Don't get in the habit of carrying him, make the dog do it.

2. Buy some expensive perfume, without an alcohol base and dab little spots on the corners of furniture, backs of chairs and places where the dog is likely to bump into things. Also, put a drop on each step in the center so he can sniff the next stair. Why good perfume? It smells nice and without the alcohol they use in less expensive lines and sprays it won't evaporate so quickly. In the beginning use enough so that even you can smell it if you get close to the spot, though even that should be a tiny amount. One drop from an eyedropper. Later you can mark the rooms every three or four weeks.

3. Teaching stairs. Place the dog on the first step from the bottom and coax him down with a tasty treat placed on the floor just out of reach. Once he masters the first step, move him up to the second and place the treat on the first, and so on. Once he understands he can go down the stairs he'll get confidence and be motoring up and down at will. Use the same one step at a time routine for going up the stairs. When you start the first step use the word "Step" to tell him there is an elevation change. Later when walking him outside and you come to a curb or elevation change, say Step, and he'll know he has to pay extra attention.

4. Games. I learned how to play with Po from one of my other dogs. At first when he came here as a puppy, they couldn't understand why he didn't pay respect to them as alphas when they would posture and growl at him. Since he didn't understand dog body language, they might as well have been speaking dog greek to him. In the yard they would try to get him to play tag by running at him and bumping into him. Since he couldn't see them coming they would body slam him, knock him over and continue on. I could see he was getting frustrated and I seriously thought about banning him from play with the older dogs. I'm glad I didn't because I witnessed the most amazing thing. My senior male Pan Tu was tagging Po one day with the same results. At one point Po had been spun around and was facing the opposite direction. Pan Tu stopped and looked at the puppy, and barked once as if to say, "Over here dummy". Po immediately turned toward the bark. I swear I saw a light in Pan Tu's eyes come on. He quietly moved ninety degrees in an arc and barked again. Po turned. Once more Pan Tu moved and barked. Po turned. Suddenly Pan Tu takes off in a big sweeping arc and comes barreling full speed at Po. Five feet before he tags him, Pan Tu starts barking like "Here I come", and as he bumped him and moved away he continued to bark. Po now had a chance and took off after the barking Pan Tu. By the second time Pan Tu did this my other dog joined in, and that's how they now play. The point here is that you have to learn to vocalize everyhting and adapt, and be willing to watch and take a cue from the dog. When he gets confused slow down a little and allow him to regroup.

4. Lastly, and it seems most obvious but sometimes we forget these things. Learn to verbalize everything. If you start to walk away and you want him to come, say come, pat the side of your leg and continue to do so, so the dog has a sound bearing on you. Whenever you approach, call his name or stomp the floor so he doesn't get surprised. Tell strangers to talk to him as they approach and give the dog an extra chance to smell them.

I hope this helps. If you have questions or see a behavior you don't understand let me know. I'm not an expert in these things, but I have spent a lot of time observing dog behavior, and my dog's blind behavior and can usually figure out what my dogs are trying to say or do. Good Luck.
Dave
There are 3 Replies.
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Subject: #827278-#Blind Dog
From: Vicki Rodenberg/Staff 72074,676
To: Dave Donahue 73524,2132
Forum: PETSFORUM Sec: 03-Dogs' World
Msg #: 827615
Date: 05-Sep-94 05:07:34

What a wonderful post, Dave! I wish I'd had that information when I had Casey, a young adult dog that went temporarily blind from eye disease. (He was able to recover partial sight later.)

Casey was so laid back that his handicap didn't bother him a lot. I can relate to the communication problems with other dogs. Casey was actually a puppy I'd raised and sold. When he returned, blind, we integrated him back in with our other dogs. The posturing, etc. happened and Casey was oblivious. I could see the tension in the other dogs at first thinking this guy was thumbing his nose at them. Our alpha bitch was dumfounded. She tried all her stuff and he just wasn't responding. I thought I was gonna die laughing when, in desperation, she pulled her lips all the way back and gave him a clear view of her pearly white teeth. "See these, chump? Be advised I know how to use 'em!" When he didn't respond even to that, she rolled her eyes, shook her head and walked away, her expression saying "this dog is NUTS!" And that's how they treated him from then on, like he wasn't quite right in the head.

Stairs....Casey didn't have a problem with them at all. In fact, his bravery on stairs -was- the problem. When he came to a flight, he had no idea if it was one step or ten and he didn't care. He just went. After helplessly watching him tumble down a long, steep flight of stairs one day, I took to carrying him. Maybe if I'd known then what you do about teaching blind dogs to do stairs, I wouldn't have the hernia that 70# dog gave me!

Furniture....he was pretty good about that, too, even though I'd never thought of scenting things. It was when we rearranged stuff that he had trouble. He'd bump into something he didn't expect to find and just freeze, waiting for someone to show him where he was.

Like I said, his problem was fortunately temporary. He never saw well again but he saw enough to make his life a little easier. We'd tried some surgery although the eye damage was so severe, we weren't hopeful it would help. I remember taking him outside to poddy one nite during his recovery. I turned on the yard light and Casey looked up at it! I spent the whole next day waving things in front of his face because I didn't believe he could really see.
Vicki
There is 1 Reply.
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Subject: #827615-#Blind Dog
From: Dave Donahue 73524,2132
To: Vicki Rodenberg/Staff 72074,676
Forum: PETSFORUM Sec: 03-Dogs' World
Msg #: 828384
Date: 05-Sep-94 20:57:49

We too went through a phase where we we sure Po had some sight. His behavior couldn't be explained any other way, could it? Like parents hoping for a miracle cure, we wanted to believe he could see. I put him in a dark room and turned on a 500 watt flood lamp and got no reaction....the first time. The second time I thought he started to turn toward it. The third time he came running over to where I had moved it. How did he know where it was if he couldn't see part of the bright light? Well, I won't hold you in suspense, he smelled it and I think sensed the heat. Those lights generate a small smell and a lot of heat.

Back in early June we bought a four vinyl beach chairs at WalMart and set them up on the concrete pad outside the patio door. The first time Po went out the door, down the steps and took three steps, he walked right into one of the chairs. He jumped back and bark, then shuffled forward to sniff the chair. When he walked away I took one of the chairs out on the grass put it between me and Po and called him to come. He came lumbering over, and within one foot of the chair he suddenly turned and went around it. I did this again, same result. That fast he learned the scent of the chair and he has never walked into one again. Amazing!

Sometimes he does bang into things, but only when he is very excited. If the other dogs jump up and run barking at the front door, Po tries to run with them. When he tries to move too fast, I think his brain cannot process the scents and sounds fast enough and he runs into things. Slow him down and he's fine.

One of the things I forgot to mention with stairs, and your post jogged something, was counting. In the beginning Po seemed to hestitate at times as if he was unsure of where he was. So I started counting the stairs for him, changing my voice a note lower for each stair as he came down and vice versa going up. I don't know if he can count or sing, but one of those two things clicked for him.
Dave
There is 1 Reply.
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Subject: #828384-#Blind Dog
From: Kim J. Laird/Staff 71302,3005
To: Dave Donahue 73524,2132
Forum: PETSFORUM Sec: 03-Dogs' World
Msg #: 828649
Date: 05-Sep-94 23:43:01

One of our dogs went blind early from cataracts... and the little terrier we'd gotten just a year ago who loved him with all her heart began to lead him around. I'm not sure how much of it was deliberate on her part. It may be that he was just using her scent to be able to navigate around the house, especially when someone was at the door and they could bark! We used to watch her run him into the doorframe when they were making mad dashes to the door.

He was a good old boy though, and never seemed to mind the mishaps. Now that the terrier is 14 years old, my sister's two year old lab-mix leads the terrier around the yard and herds her back to the door at night.... interesting how dogs will take care of each other, isn't it?
There is 1 Reply.
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Subject: #828649-Blind Dog
From: Dave Donahue 73524,2132
To: Kim J. Laird/Staff 71302,3005
Forum: PETSFORUM Sec: 03-Dogs' World
Msg #: 829467
Date: 06-Sep-94 21:26:59
>> interesting how dogs will take care of each other, isn't it?<<

They're a lot like family aren't they. My dogs worry about who got the biggest biscuit, who got fed first, who got a walk and who didn't, and who got to ride in the car. There are times when my males come running over to me when my female is trying to clean her face. "Dad, she's irking me, make her stop." Yet when there is a problem....

When Po was a puppy we had a big snowstorm. The wind was real howling, but the dogs all wanted to go out for potty duty. Well, Po followed them to the back part of the yard, about 50 feet from the house and when the two older dogs were done they ran back in. It was that miserable, even for a Chow. Po suddenly found himself in the back part of the yard and with the snow blowing and wind howling and he couldn't get a bearing. I saw from the door he was starting to panic. I tried calling him, but it looked like he just couldn't hear me. With the door open and me yelling to Po while I started to put some boots on, Pan Tu ran out the door, waded through the snow to Po, and then just stood there right beside him until I got out there. I guess that's why we love these animals, they are so much better beings than most of us.
Dave
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Subject: #827278-#Blind Dog
From: Megan Shelby/Staff 73232,1644
To: Dave Donahue 73524,2132
Forum: PETSFORUM Sec: 03-Dogs' World
Msg #: 827626
Date: 05-Sep-94 06:44:13

Dave --

What a wonderful note! Boy, is Po lucky to have you.
Meg
There is 1 Reply.
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Subject: #827626-#Blind Dog
From: Dave Donahue 73524,2132
To: Megan Shelby/Staff 73232,1644
Forum: PETSFORUM Sec: 03-Dogs' World
Msg #: 828383
Date: 05-Sep-94 20:57:47

>> Boy, is Po lucky to have you.<<

No, we're lucky to have him. This is a really special dog. When I first rescued him, he was 10 weeks old and in a shelter already. I tracked down the last owner and found out his story. He had been shipped in from the mid-west to a pet store in Woodstown, NJ before he was six weeks old. He had severe entropion and he was lame. His rear feet are turned outward causing him to waddle much like a duck, and he has hip dsyplaysia. The pet store was going to destroy him when a clerk decided to take him home. She and her boyfriend had the dog for three weeks when they split up and Po went with the boyfriend. He rents a trailer home and then finds out he can't have a dog. He took the dog to three shelters before he found one that would try to get him adopted. That's where I found him.

We fostered him for eight weeks, had the entropion corrected for his comfort, but the blindness was a genetic flaw, missing optic nerves. We found him a great home with previous Chow adopters. We were brokenhearted when he left, but we already had two Chows and wanted to continue to foster. For several months everything was fine, then things got bad. Po began to have episodes of unprovoked aggression. We recommended all the standard training cures, the alpha program, and even had extensive blood work done up. The only thing that showed up was thyroid. The aggression continued to worsen. He finally came back to our foster home for observation and determination. You know what that means, right? I took him to my vet, to a neurologist, and finally in desparation to a homeopathic vet. No improvment. He had reached a point where he would be sound asleep growling and lifting his lip! If you walked within five feet of him he would jump up snapping. The only thing that kept him alive through all this was his blindness and immobility.

One saturday my wife and I attended a seminar on thyroid deficiencies and the autoimmune system. It was arranged by Delaware Valley Akita Rescue as a fund raiser. The speaker was Dr. Jean Dodds. During the morning session she starts describing a violent aggressive behavior pattern she has handled in thryroid dogs who were on heartworm medication. It was Po's behavior pattern down to a T. We took him off Heartworm and he started to get better. Fearful of contracting heartworm, we tried the daily form instead of a monthly dose. Thirty days after the start of the daily dose he began to get aggressive. We stopped the medication it and he got better. Today he is the sweetest big baby we have. We decided to officially adopted him and now he's ours.

We don't expect him to have a full life, at best four or five years. His hip dsyplaysia was bad enough to be apparent at 12 months, and without heartworm medication we run an additional risk. His system cannot handle any medication so allergy season is tough on all of us. I've never written his little story before, but this is a remarkable dog. He's blind, he's crippled, he has allergies and can't take medicine, and through it all he thinks he is a regular dog who can do anything all the other dogs do. And the greatest irony is that these same illnesses are what probably saved his life. If he was a sighted, mobile chow he would have been justifiably put down as dangerous before we had a chance to discover his problem. Sorry I was so long winded, but this is a very special dog and we are lucky to have him.
Dave
There are 2 Replies.
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Subject: #828383-Blind Dog
From: Marge Levine/CA (Identch 74642,3524
To: Dave Donahue 73524,2132
Forum: PETSFORUM Sec: 03-Dogs' World
Msg #: 828691
Date: 05-Sep-94 23:54:34

You are very special people!!! I am so glad you found each other, what a wonderful story I hope you have many years of happiness with each other. I have taken my dogs to Dr. Jean Dodds, she is a wonderful doctor.

Your story will encourage people to look for unusual answers to the problems in their animals.

Thanks for writing it.
Marge
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Subject: #828383-Blind Dog
From: Megan Shelby/Staff 73232,1644
To: Dave Donahue 73524,2132
Forum: PETSFORUM Sec: 03-Dogs' World
Msg #: 828915
Date: 06-Sep-94 08:12:12

Long winded? Forget it. What a beautiful story.
Meg


Last Updated: May 25, 1995