By Kate Naito
We all know that vision loss is a normal part of a dog’s aging process. Nevertheless, when I woke up one morning this September to find my dog Batman suddenly blind, both he and I were in a state of total shock. Since then, we’ve both adjusted to his blindness, thanks to a few factors:
After going blind, Batman seemed to have forgotten every command I’d taught him, not only the ones using visual cues (like the hand gesture for “stay”) but also solely verbal ones (like “leave it”). The solution? Start from scratch, using clear verbal cues and lots of treat rewards to make training fun for him. Within a few weeks, we had re-learned nearly everything.
We have also expanded our training vocabulary. When Batman is trying to find me, I cheer “warmer, warmer” as he gets closer, and in a lower pitch, “colder, colder” if he veers in the wrong direction. He also is learning a “stop” command, to prevent him from walking into potentially dangerous places.
A blind dog still needs to play and be stimulated, perhaps even more so. Treat-filled toys like Kongs or Busy Buddy toys provided some enjoyment during the first few dark days, when Batman was panicked and depressed. These toys also encourage him to sharpen his sense of smell, so I continue using them several times a day.
Although Batman’s off-leash days are over, he can still enjoy his walks. (After all, the best part of walks is the sniffing, right?) Surprisingly, it’s all thanks to a retractable leash. Though I never recommend this kind of leash for sighted dogs, the constant leash tension allows a blind dog to know where you are in relation to him. I found Batman was much more relaxed on our walks when he could locate me this way.
For a cautious blind dog like mine, it’s important to let him know that you’ve got his back while walking, which means telling the neighbor with the somersaulting puppy or outgoing toddler to give you space. It may also mean taking slower, shorter walks until your dog adjusts at his own pace.
Despite all the changes, we maintain the same schedule and doggie “rules” as before. Even a bind dog can sit politely for his dinner, or be left home alone for short periods.
Perhaps the most difficult thing for me was to keep in mind that my dog is still my dog. Sure, the context has changed significantly, but Batman is still the same loving, quirky little guy he’s always been.