Then come the questions: What do I do? How do I cope? How does my dog cope? The good news is a blind dog and its owner can successfully travel the journey; this article will explain some of the ways.
Each year hundreds of dogs lose their sight, either from disease, accidents, or just old age.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), diabetes, glaucoma, automobile accident, or fireworks disaster can rob a dog of its sight.
The understanding of having a special needs dog may rob an owner of his/her confidence.
However, that understanding, and the ultimate decision to move forward, can also result in a greater bond between dog and owner, a deeper connection, and a stronger sense of self and purpose in both dog and owner.
My dog Sage was only 1 ½ years old when she was diagnosed with PRA, a genetic disease of the retina.
I had adopted Sage from an animal shelter and I had no idea at the time that she was losing her sight.
I learned many lessons along the way, how dog and owner can successfully adapt together, and how brave and determined a special needs pet can be.
Living with a special needs dog is just that...
There are adjustments both pet and owner must make, and it's up to the owner to help the dog adjust.
Just as Seeing Eye dogs (guide dogs) assist blind people, so too, must a sighted owner assist the blind dog.
However, blindness does not mean complete dependence.
Dogs adapt quite readily to losing their sight, especially if the loss is gradual, and other senses, like hearing and smell, heighten in the animal and help the dog compensate for the vision loss.
Even though a dog's adaptability and aptitude are strong, the dog owner can help in several ways.
Don't move the furniture - or at least don't move it often.
Blind dogs learn quickly where large items are placed, and they use that memory to get around.
Having the sofa in one spot for several months and then relocating it to another will cause confusion, and the dog will bump into that piece of furniture more readily when it is moved.
If you do move furniture, help the dog learn the new placement by walking the dog on a lead around the room and gently brushing the dog against the piece of furniture.
Help your dog understand the room's new layout by walking the dog on the lead several times.
This "routine" will become set in memory.
Be creative with different scents and textured materials to mark specific areas in your home -- just make sure it is safe for your dog.
You can use different scents of flavored extracts or even something as simple as hanging a car air freshener or potpourri sachet on a door.
Using different scents in each room may help your dog distinguish different rooms in your house.
Throw rugs and decorative pillows are a great help for marking different rooms of the house and for outlining where the pieces of furniture are located.
For example, putting a throw rug down next to each recliner in the living room can help the dog keep from bumping into those recliners.
Also, since blind dogs do run into things, and corners of tables or hallway walls can impose injury, cover these corners with padding like a soft fabric to lessen the impact on your blind dog's face or body.
Additionally, indoor/outdoor carpeting, wind chimes and cedar chips or decorative bricks can help guide your blind dog along its way outside while in the yard.
Use bells or jingling tags on your other pet(s).
Not only does this help your blind dog to find and/or follow your other pet(s), but it will also keep your blind one from being startled by the other four-footed members of your family.
You can also use bells on your shoes (and those of the other members of your human family) to help your blind dog find you and to follow you more closely on walks.
Don't underestimate the power of gentle touch and voice.
Both help reassure your blind dog.
Dogs love the sound of their human's voice, and that is especially true for blind dogs.
Hearing you say its name kindly and tenderly gives your dog security.
Additionally, teaching new commands, such as 'step-up', 'step-down' and 'stop' (very useful for navigating stairs and taking walks!) not only keeps your dog's mind alert, but also provides extra security for you and your blind dog.
Touch is calming for a blind dog, and the gentle rubs near the ears, under the chin, and on the belly remind your dog that it is loved.
Affectionate voice, encouragement and training, plus tender touch provide the sense of security a disabled pet needs.
Sense of smell is keen in blind dogs, especially those of hunting and working breeds.
Finding the food and water bowls may not be too challenging, especially if those items are kept in the same place at all times.
You may want to consider using a tabletop fountain as a water bowl -- the sound of running water helps orient a blind dog and helps it find the water bowl.
Some dogs like drinking from running water as well.
This tip can be especially helpful if you and your blind dog move to a new home.
If you decide to use this idea, get a simple fountain with a large bowl - less mess and more room for your dog's mouth and snout! So, how does one live with a blind dog? Almost exactly like one lives with a sighted dog.
There are adjustments both dog and owner must make, but as long as the dog knows it is loved and cared for, that it has a stable home with its human "pack", and that it has consistency in life, a blind dog can share a wonderful companionship with its owner for many, many years.
Moving furniture in the house often is not a good idea, and catching and fetching a Frisbee probably isn't a top sport.
However, living a happy life is still very possible for a blind dog.
Creativity, consistency, and courage are the keys.
My blind dog Sage is now nine years old and has lived with blindness for six of those years.
Her tail continues to wag despite her handicap.
I've grown to love and appreciate her more through the blindness experience.
I respect my dog's courage, determination, and zest for life.
We share a deeply rooted bond for which I am most grateful.
Traveling the pathway of blindness together, dogs and their owners can learn many things from one another.
If you're like me, as a blind dog owner you will come to realize you are the one who learns the most, especially about facing obstacles and living life.
It's a challenging yet incredible journey that can be successfully navigated together.