Seeing-Eye Role Reversal
March 25, 2015 11:18 AM   Subscribe

One of my dogs has suddenly developed some vision issues, and is having some trouble adjusting. It's breaking my heart to see her bump into things and become disoriented. Have any mefites gone through a transition like this? What are your tips/tricks to becoming a seeing-eye human?

From what my vet was able to discern, my terrier mutt Lindy has lost vision in one eye. It's not glaucoma, and the eyeball itself looks fine, so we are stumped. We have an appointment scheduled with a veterinary ophthalmologist to find out more, and to see if there's anything that can be done. In the meantime, I'd like to find ways to help her find her way.

Things that we have figured out:

Toys (somewhat) -- fetch = bad; extra-squeaky things placed under a towel/blanket to dig out = good.

Treats -- dropping them on floor = bad, other dog finds way faster. Tapping the floor when we put the treat down, or touching it gently to her lips = good.

Movement -- we really have to watch our step, because she will not move out of the way anymore.

Things I need help with:

Walks -- she's doing better, she mostly keeps up with her older fur-brother (pic in profile), is a little tentative on wet pavement. However, she has slammed into a curb, and walking in the snow yesterday was a big challenge... she didn't seem to see piles of snow, and would walk into them nose-first, then get confused. She'd also walk right into/through snowbanks instead of around or over, like before, and also become disoriented.

Stairs -- she can see where our indoor stairs are, and after climbing the first few very tentatively, will get it and not have an issue. We've had a repeat problem with our outdoor front stairs, she will charge to get in the house and run smack into the first concrete step (again, nose-first), which seems painful. How can I help her out there? Any verbal commands to work on?

Other things -- she routinely bumps into the other animals/people that live in the house, but it is mostly gentle and doesn't seem to bother her too much.. I have seen her take some harder hits and trip over things, and get puzzled.

She's only had this issue for about a month or so, and I understand that it will take some time for her to figure things out on her own, but if there's any sort of communication tricks that you know of that will help that along, I would love to hear them.

posted by Fig to Pets & Animals (12 answers total)
One of our dogs has lost significant eyesight in his old age. He had longer to adjust than it sounds like your dog has, but I think your dog will adjust also. He used to get confused pretty often and even now he's more tentative than he used to be. He'll ask to be let in the back door, then when I open it sometimes he'll just stand there until I invite him in. He makes mistakes that he never used to, but, like I said, it does get better. Good luck to you and your dog.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:24 AM on March 25, 2015

Best answer: I think Rolling Dog Farm has some resources on their site, but it sounds like from their blog that generally they just try to keep the dogs' areas collision-safe (so no stacks that will tumble, no sharp corners) and consistent, and the dogs learn very quickly how to be very clever and naughty (see several recent blog articles about blind dogs learning to sneak through the fence).

(Warning: if you delve into their history links, there's some fairly hard-to-read information about mistreatment of horses. But their blog is generally kept light, even though they always have a couple of dogs going through cancer and/or eye treatments, and there's a lot of good tips scattered through there about day to day life with a house full of mostly blind (and some deaf too) dogs.)
posted by Lyn Never at 11:29 AM on March 25, 2015

Best answer: Oh, and if your dog won't chew them up (they're very fun to chew), pool noodles or pipe insulation make good bumpers, if you have sharp/rough architectural features that can't be moved.

You can use noodles, rugs, tiles, and things like that to indicate a warning zone too, like if you have a coffee table with a base smaller than the top, put rugs around the perimeter so the dog can learn that touching the rug means the table is near.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:33 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Dogs adjust pretty well. With the curb issue on walks, my parents taught their blind dog that a gentle upward tug on the leash meant a curb was coming.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 11:38 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

We had an elderly dog that lost his sight, saying the word up before steps/curbs really helped, and the word careful when he had to slow down and take care. Also we had to be extra careful about not moving furniture in the house, don't leave shoes on the floor, don't leave cabinet doors open etc. We put some pool noodles cut in half on corners he tended to walk into. Also we upgraded treats to that stinky easy to find by smell alone fake bacon stuff.

I would have invested in something like this in his early days, when watching him walk into things broke our hearts, but after about 3 months or so he was pretty confident on his home turf & took to following the wall to get around as long as we kept his main paths clear. Child safety gates to keep them away from stairs/drop offs are handy too.
posted by wwax at 12:10 PM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My dog Tolly had sudden retinal detachment when I was in college. My parents had no clue until she started walking into trees. She remained a primarily outdoor dog for several years after becoming blind. Our other dog became her seeing eye dog, and based on sound cues she just followed her everywhere. Within their fenced in yard, she seemed to have good spatial orientation and didn't trip or fall. Walks were hard unless she was on a very short leash. She had always been terrified of thunderstorms, and remained that way, and we had to be very careful then, keeping her in the house in a single room she knew well, because her fear had always made her do dumb things like run through screen doors and jump over fences. After the other dog died of dignified old age, Tolly mostly lived in the house, where she mostly followed my mom everywhere.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:17 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Verbal and physical (leash) commands can be helpful, especially when outside. Sheepdogs are controlled from a distance almost exclusively on sound commands.

But at home you want to enable your dog to navigate herself. This page has some tips about how blind dogs can navigate a room and be helped.
posted by zennie at 12:34 PM on March 25, 2015

Best answer: My Max has lost his sight in both eyes. It was rough to watch, but he seems to be 100% adjusted to it.

We have to talk to him more. We take the same walk every day. It took about a week of saying "step!" at curbs before he got it and started putting his little paw in front of him to feel if he had to go up or down. (it's adorable.) I announce what room I'm in, because he knows where the rooms are, just not where I am. I give him treats by announcing that it's coming, putting it in my palm and lightly tapping under his jaw with my finger. He's learned to wait for the tap rather than go crazy searching.

Most importantly, I say "Who wants pettins?" before petting him so that he's not being touched out of the blue. A small side benefit is that my sighted dog knows all of the names of our rooms now and comes running for "pettins." Goofball.
posted by kimberussell at 12:37 PM on March 25, 2015 [12 favorites]

If she has lost sight in one eye, that can negatively impact depth/3D vision. That may be part of why the stairs have become such a big problem.

Maybe you can add colored tape to the edges to make it more obvious that it is three dimensional?
posted by Michele in California at 12:58 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I lived with a small dog for a while who was both deaf and blind. He wandered around like a happy little Roomba.

He navigated both by bumping into walls and by the texture of the floor under his feet. So you could put down rugs as navigational aids.
posted by aniola at 3:40 PM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks a lot all, you've given me some really great ideas!

In the last two days, she's figured out a pretty ingenious way of approaching the first front stair from the side, where it's even with a small hill in our yard. Once she makes it there, she knows to feel out for the next stair. This has convinced me that she's awesome, and is definitely capable of adapting.

As a thank you, here's a pic of both Figlet and Lindy being cute.
posted by Fig at 5:31 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Update #2 - she had her opthalmologist visit, and was diagnosed with the same retinal degeneration as hydropsyche's dog. The vet said she might keep whatever sight she has now, or she might be on her way to complete blindness. Thanks again for all of your help, its definitely going to be a slow , unexpected adjustment for the entire Fig pack.
posted by Fig at 10:18 AM on April 25, 2015

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