Today I met a blind dog, a wonderful thirteen-month-old German Shepherd called Bear. He lives with Stan, an equally lovely young Golden Retriever.
Both dogs are a real tribute to their owners. It was lovely to be greeted so happily and politely by both dogs.
Blind Bear occasionally but increasingly feels threatened by certain other dogs on walks. If this weren’t the case they wouldn’t need me at all.
Being blind, Bear feels more vulnerable
It would be hard to tell that Bear was very nearly totally blind if you didn’t know. He was born blind so doesn’t know what he’s missing. However, it’s understandable that he must feel more vulnerable if another dog is suddenly upon him with little warning.
Small or excitable dogs are the worst for him. Very unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago a Jack Russell attacked him, making his nose bleed.
Being his eyes
In Bear’s case particularly, the ‘other dogs’ situation requires more than working on his encountering dogs alone. The main thing is for Bear to be able to totally trust the person walking him as his Protector – and his eyes. For the person to be his ‘rock’, he must see them as calm and confident in times of trouble. There are things they can do at home to reinforce this. How they react to any barking is relevant, for instance.
On walks, it’s up to his person to make sure he comes to no harm. This is much more important than being polite or worrying about what people might think. If another owner knew that Bear was blind, they might call their dog back sooner and it would save some explanation. I suggest a high-viz jacket with ‘I’m Blind’ in large print.
We discussed walking Bear on a long line for now and teaching him to ‘get behind’ them should an off-lead dog run up. They will also teach him an ’emergency recall’ with a whistle. He ran off once when spooked and disorientated – ending up back home having crossed a main road. Clever considering they always go to the park or woods by car.
Good news! “A Dog!”
Bear should now associate encountering other dogs they meet with only positives from his humans. To compensate for his lack of sight, coming back to them should become his default action when either he senses another dog or when they see one first.
This isn’t calling him back in a panic or avoiding dogs. They should act like they rejoice in seeing “A Dog!”
Bearing in mind he may not know the dog is there unless it’s up-wind from him, they should always call him saying “A Dog” and feeding him something special.
Once back beside them they can decide what to do. Should they let him go to play, or should they go off in another direction?
If it’s a dog he knows or likes, they can release him and drop the long line saying with great enthusiasm it’s “A Dog”! They will say it again when they catch up with him. In this way Bear will learn what ‘A Dog’ is.
We will also experiment with a clicker. At the point where Bear is back beside them they will try two things:
- Clicking if or when he orientates in the direction of the other dog and then feeding him, while also using the ‘Dog’ word.
- Clicking if he orientates to his person (turns his head to them). This deserves a jackpot of several treats.
In this way they will be teaching their blind dog to give his attention and trust to them when there is another dog about – quite a big ask and a trust they must not betray.
Eventually, trusting his person and not feeling vulnerable, he should be able to cope a lot better with a loose smaller dog.
He also will no longer rush up to other dogs in a playful manner that don’t want to know.
It was interesting to see Stan curling his lip to Bear because he’d had enough of being jumped on – and of course Bear couldn’t see it. Another dog may give polite messages that it’s not happy being approached, but Bear can’t read them.