When you think "puppy", an image of a clumsy little guy pops into your head.
They have feet a little too big for their body, bouncing around, and with a tail that wags frantically once they see you. But not all puppies can see you—they're born blind. Some dogs lose their sight due to accident, illness, or just old age. Blindness affects many dogs, but it shouldn't affect their quality of life or the love they receive. Here are some tips for living happily with a blind pup.
If you have a sighted dog that becomes blind, you don't need to make too many adjustments to your lifestyle. Check your dog's travel path in the house for pointy furniture corners or other sharp objects he could run into. Move or cover anything that could hurt your dog if he accidentally runs into it.
Use a child gate to block off any stairs. Carrying your dog up and down stairs is the safest way for your dog to change floors. However, if your dog wants or needs to go up and down stairs, and he's used to them, put a rug with a different texture than the floor at the top and bottom of the stairs. Your dog will quickly associate those rugs with the stairs and act accordingly.
Unless your dog is in a safe, enclosed area, you should never let your blind dog go outside without a leash. There are just too many dangers he can encounter when he can't see. He may have trouble interacting with dogs he doesn't know if he can't see visual cues of dominance from other dogs. He could also fall in a hole or step on something sharp.
Your dog will continue to obey most of the verbal commands you give him. If he followed visual commands, you'll need to re-teach him those with a verbal cue. Some commands may need to be modified or replaced. Your dog won't be able to heel well if he can't see, but you can train him to walk beside you or in front of you. He will no longer be able to fetch, but you can replace fetch with a game of hide and go seek, as long as you use an object with a strong scent.
Like people, dogs with sight read their human's faces as well as hear their voices. Remember to praise and pet your dog often. He can't see you smile any more, so he needs positive reinforcement that's he's still pleasing you.
Dogs born blind
Training a blind puppy isn't that much more difficult than training most other puppies. In some ways it's easier, since he's less likely to be distracted. As with all puppies, training requires a lot of time, a lot of patience, and consistency.
Puppies have poor eyesight, so they naturally depend more on their sense of smell and input from their feet when they're very young. To help your puppy learn his way around the house, one option is to put rugs down for his travel pattern. You can put different textures of rugs by his food and water bowl and the door where he goes out. Another option is to put a different scent of air freshener in each room.
Make sure his crate or safe place is always available and that he knows where it is. Talk to him and pet him often: he's going to be very dependent on you, and he needs to know you're on his side.
Also, let your dog know when you leave the room he's in. Dogs understand more than many people give them credit for. Although your dog may not understand full sentences, he can learn words like "mail" or "trash" or "laundry" or "work." Knowing where you are will help him feel safer, more secure, and help him relax.
Of all their senses, dogs depend least on their sense of sight, unlike humans. You and your blind dog can have as close of a relationship as you could have with any seeing dog. Being blind is just one of the things that makes your dog the special, unique, one-of-a-kind, best dog in the world that he is.
Pam Hair is a pet industry copywriter with Fuzzy Friends Writer, where she combines her three passions: a love of animals, a strong desire to help other people, and the joy of writing. She has been a pet parent over the years to dogs, cats, and a variety of rodents. Currently she and her husband share their home with two guinea pigs.