I was reading over Christmas, The New Spirit 4 Aussie December Newsletter and came across a great article about living with blind dogs, When 4 Senses Have To Make Up For 5.
This article interested me as just recently i had helped a Aussie Rescue Group transport some blind and deaf dogs to their new homes. Over the years I have been involved in training deaf dogs and blind dogs but had not really stopped to think about some of the things you would need to know if you shared your home with a blind dog. The full newsletter can be found here.
In our last newsletter, we had a great article about how to work with your deaf Aussie or other deaf dog. This time we'd like to talk about blind dogs. Now blindness can come from old age or juvenile cataracts. In those cases, the vision degrades slowly and the dogs make their own adjustments to their environment. Most do very well as it is a slow process and often you might not even be aware of the diminishing vision until the dog can't find its way back to you during off leash obedience or agility training or you vet informs you of what is happening. With cataracts, surgery is an option, depending on how advanced it is and how much work you are willing to do to help your dog heal. With Aussies, there is another and sneakier source of blindness. This is a recessive gene associated with the gene that gives us merles. When 2 merle dogs are bred, every dog in the litter has a 25 percent chance of being born blind or deaf or blind and deaf. This is why reputable breeders do not breed merles to merles. But the issue isn't quite as clear as that because your tri or bi colored Aussie might have had a merle parent. Again, reputable breeders know the pedigree of the parents and the grandparents of the dogs they breed to try to prevent this problem. Once a merle/merle dog is born, they can be partially deaf or partially blind, in which case training is the same as for seeing/hearing dogs. We've talked about the deaf dog so now I'll give some hints about working with a blind dog. First understand this: blind or not, deaf or not, what you have is an Aussie....smart, energetic, loyal and loving. He doesn't know he has a 'handicap' and therefore you shouldn't treat him as handicapped or feel sorry for him. Of course, you'll want to keep an eye on him if he's playing in an unfenced area. He's not going to see that play bow from your other dogs or the lifted lip that says 'back off'. So monitor your dog until the resident dogs figure out that yes, he'll bump into them and no, he won't see a visible warning or an invitation to play.
When evaluating a blind dog to add to your family, take time to watch its reactions to activity around it. If you sneak up behind and rub his butt, he should just turn and look for more attention. If he spins and snaps, go find another dog. That dog is going to be too reactive to take to a family environment. Walk him around the area, particularly outside and watch reactions. Is he courageous, walking everywhere, bumping into things, then figuring out how to back up and try a different route, is he listening to people coming and going, cars passing? Then you have a smart, curious, energetic pup. Take him home and be prepared for the most devoted, loving dog you'll ever have. In the house, on the first day, it might be helpful to walk him on a leash through the house to figure out where the doors are. Then let him wander. Yes for a few weeks he'll be like a bumper car, bouncing off cabinets, door frames and furniture until he's memorized everything. The one thing that takes a bit of extra training is stairs. Put him on a leash and walk him up the stairs, counting the steps out loud. Let him visit the rooms then take the leash firmly in hand and make him walk slowly down the stairs, counting them out loud. Do this a couple of times and he'll soon be flying down the stairs with the rest of the pack as if they were racing the Indy 500. If you have to move, be sure to do the stairs thing again. I went from a 12 step contemporary home to a 15 step old farm house. We heard a crash when my Aussie counted to 12 and stepped off...Oops
Do all your normal obedience training. He should, first and foremost, learn to come when called. This is absolutely vital, especially when you start letting him play off lead. He should learn the basics of sit, stay, down, leave it and drop it. Even without vision, his nose will lead him to the most interesting things and you might want to call him off from the activity. Blind dogs excel at obedience as they are not distracted by people walking by or balls rolling past. Of course it also means this won't be your frisbee or flyball companion. That's when you get your second Aussie! Blind Aussies are not handicapped; blindness is not lethal as long as you keep the dog out of the street or dangerous areas. They are courageous, fun, loving pets. My blind Aussie Tyson is a major fundraiser for New Spirit, attending events, walking among the crowds and rolling over for tummy rubs. Go ahead and adopt one if you are willing to do the same basic training you'd give your seeing Aussie. Oh...and don't rearrange the furniture without warning your
~Martha MacDonald ~