Older and Wiser: Tips for Living with a Blind Dog

Most of us don’t like to think about our dogs getting older and the heartbreak which will inevitably follow. It’s easy to be in denial about a dog aging and cling to the idea that they will live forever and attempt to ignore the signs of aging. It’s also common to put stiffness, slowness and disinterest down to your dog being old and leave it at that. While it is sadly impossible to turn back the clock for your dog, by accepting that he is getting older you put yourself in a position to make changes that will make his last years as fulfilling as possible.

Age brings new difficulties and problems for dogs and owners; in these posts I will look at ways to alleviate the problems and help your dog get the most out of their golden years.

What to Do if your Dog is Going Blind

If you know your dog is going blind there are things you can do now to help him or her adjust:

03092012_Damien_speech_bubblesTrain Verbal Cues

You might think your dog knows verbal cues, after all we all teach our dogs ‘sit’ ‘stay’ and so on. But would your dog respond if he couldn’t see you? Often people train their dogs with hand signals as well as verbal cues as dogs tend to respond to these more readily. Even if you have not taught hand signals, dogs still pick up on our body language, position, facial expression and context as well as verbal cues when working out what we want them to do. If your dog is going blind he is going to lose all these visual cues so the sooner you can teach him to respond to verbal cues the better.

To retrain your dog using verbal cues simply insert a verbal command before you use the gesture or hand signal which he already knows. Try to use verbal commands which sound very distinct and alter the tone you use for each command as dogs respond well to tone of voice. Each time you ask your dog to ‘sit’ for example, give the verbal command with as little body language as you can manage, followed directly by the hand signal and a treat when he obeys.

The dog will come to learn that the sound ‘sit’ is always followed by the hand signal and will start to sit when he hears the cue. Gradually lengthen the time between the cue and the hand signal until your dog is reliably sitting after the verbal cue. At this point you can begin to phase out the signal.

Train New Commands

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It will quickly become apparent that you can teach your dog commands to help him cope with not being able to see. ‘Stop’is important if your dog is about to get into a dangerous situation, as is a ‘down stay’ from a distance if he can achieve it. ‘Up’ and ‘down’ for steps are also very useful. The onset of blindness is also a good time to brush up on leadwalking; trying to ‘steer’ a blind dog through a busy street is not easy and if he is responsive on the lead it will be ten times easier! It might be a good idea to start using a harness, which will give you more control: you can even get harnesses that let other people know your dog is blind. If you are going to let your blind dog off the lead it should be in a safe place and he must have cast-iron recall (unless he’s so slow you can easily catch  him). Remember he doesn’t know what’s in front of him, and it could be a river, electric fence or a busy road.

Keep his Environment Familiar

Blind dogs adapt surprisingly well to their surroundings and acquire a mental ‘map’ of places and routes they know well. Having said that, if your dog is already familiar with the layout of your home, changing it frequently will be stressful for him, so try to keep redecorating and new room layouts to a minimum.

Help him Navigate

plan_revised_111710Think about investing in stairgates if you dog is no longer confident navigating the stairs. You can also consider dabbing scents such as essential oils in different parts of your house such as steps, doorways and top and bottom steps of thestaircase, or use these specially designed scented stickers. (Ever since BlindDog wandered into our neighbour’s house one summer, we keep a potted herb by our door so she knows which house is hers.) You could also use plants in front of obstacles in the house and garden so the dog brushes the plants before he hits the obstacle. Putting down woodchippings would work well to indicate outdoor obstacles (trees, washing lines etc) and rugs or carpet tiles for indoor obstacles: the dog feels a different texture underfoot and learns to change direction.

Finally, try to be consistent about which doors are kept open or shut and try not to leave things lying around. It’s not fun for your dog to be constantly tripping over and walking into things (although I can’t promise never to have laughed. Sorry!)

Communicate through Sound

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Your dog is going to have to learn to navigate and communicate through sound, and you are going to have to learn not tobe embarrassed by this in public! You can train your dog to come to you or follow you by either clicking your tongue or fingers as in this video. This is also a good way to alert you dog to your presence, or to wake him up so you don’t startle him. It could also be a good idea to attach bells to other pets, small children and even yourself so your dog knows when they’re nearby.

Your dog is relying entirely on sound and smell to locate you, so using loud distinct sounds will be useful over longer distances. Try clapping to get your dog to come to you, or train him to a dog whistle. Incidently, clicker training also works well with blind dogs as they respond to the clear sound and it helps them know exactly when they’ve done the right thing.

Finally, it is important to remember that a blind dog has lost a secondary, not a primary sense and with a few adjustments and a little practice, most blind dogs can live full and happy lives.

Check back soon for more posts with advice on living with elderly dogs.

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Lessons from BlindDog

Many people find it useful to turn to the teachings of Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus and others for direction and guidance. Like many dog owners I know that inspiration, enlightenment and sound life philosophy are often closer to home. Here are the philosophical teachings of BlindDog:

  1. Greet the dawn with much barking, for it is an new day and with the new day comes breakfast.
  2. Bite the hand that feeds you: it is the most efficient way to get the food.
  3. With a warm bed, a steady supply of food and belly rubs, anything is possible.
  4. If you run into a wall, door or other obstacle, do not be downhearted. Turn by 90 degrees and the way will become clear.
  5. Value worldly possessions above all else and be diligent about concealing the choicest chews, bones and empty food cartons.
  6. Sit and you will be rewarded.
  7. Patience, and a worried stare, is a virtue in the face of food that is out of reach.
  8. Value those you love and emit a continuous, high-pitched whine if something prevents you from being right next to them.
  9. When out of the house, spread your philosophy on every available lamppost.
  10. When in doubt, have a nap.

Bake your own Dog Treats: Cheese and Pumpkin Seed Biscuits

Cheese and pumpkin seed dog biscuits

Ok, I admit it, I did it again. I baked for my dog. Last time I baked dog treats I was convinced it would happen very infrequently. But this time I couldn’t resist making miniature cheese and pumpkin seed biscuits, which look like tiny almond biscuits, but are dog friendly. They went down very well with BlindDog and taste pretty good to humans too! Here’s how to make them yourself:

Ingredients

For 60 small biscuits

40g of cheddar or other cheese, finely grated

30g pumpkin seeds, chopped (plus extra to decorate)

100g spelt flour (or plain flour)

1tbs olive oil

1 egg, beaten

Egg wash (for the glaze)

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 C
  • Place the flour in a mixing bowl, add the pumpkin seeds and cheese and mix
  • Stir in the beaten egg and olive oil so the mixture begins to combine into a dough
  • Add a little water and mix until a smooth dough is formed
  • Lightly oil two baking trays
  • Roll out the dough onto a floured surface to the thickness of a pound coin (i.e. 0.3cm or 1/8 inch)
  • Use a small cutter to cut out the biscuits (I used a bottle top) and place them on the baking tray
  • To decorate, brush the biscuits with egg wash and place a pumpkin seed in the centre of each biscuit. You could also try grating more cheese over the top
  • Bake at 180 C for 20 minutes

Do you bake for your dog? Let us know what recipes your dog enjoys in the comments.

Best Toys for Blind Dogs: Scented Toys

In my last post I looked at toys which are great for blind dogs because they use sounds which help blind dogs follow and interact with them. Another way of helping your dog locate its toys is to use toys that have a strong smell.

1031 Old Soul Orbee GroupThere are some great scented toys on the market, such as the durable range of rubber toys by Planet Dog which are mint scented. The Orbee Tough for senior dogs is particularly good, it’s high contrast colours make it easier for partially sighted dogs to spot it and there is a place to put treats, peanut butter cream or cheese  for added interest. It’s also worth checking our the eco friendly range of vanilla scented dog toys by BecoThings.

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You can scent your dogs toys in different ways. For soft toys like plush toys or rope toys, try adding a small amount of scented extract,such as vanilla or mint to the toy. You could even add a different scent to each toy and train your dog to identify them by name.

For hard toys and squeaky toys try placing the toys in a zip-lock bag with strong smelling food such as a pig’s ear or dried liver, for several days so they absorb the smell. You can also try soaking solid toys in meat stock for a few hours. The scent will eventually wear off so you will need to refresh it every so often.

BristleBoneFinally, any toy which you can use with food will smell so enticing that any dog will want to interact with it! You could try the iconic Kong, or one of the great products from BusyBuddy which you can combine with edible chew treats.

Using these methods, there’s no reason your blind dog can’t enjoy almost all the same toys as a sighted dog. You can help your dog rediscover tug toys, chew toys and plush toys again, by following the tips above and spending time encouraging him to play again.

Best Toys for Blind Dogs: Noisy Toys

A lot of people have come to this blog looking for advice on living with a blind dog, and in particular toys that are  suitable for blind or partially sighted dogs. Most of the interactive toys that we review are suitable for blind dogs, deaf dogs and dogs with all 5 senses, and they have been tried and tested by BlindDog.

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Many owners of blind dogs are worried that they will lead limited and unhappy lives as a result of their disability, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Most dogs adapt very well to having reduced vision and carry on enjoying life as they did before. Having said that, there are some ways of making it easier for your blind dog to continue playing.

chuckle500Part of the reason it can be more difficult for blind dogs to play is that they have trouble finding their toys in the first place, or they losethem part way through playing, so I have collected a list of toys which make playing easier for blind and partially sighted dogs. Another reason a dog who is newly blind or gradually going blind may lose interest in playing is that they may lose confidence and become depressed. There are plenty of ways to enrich your dog, even if he can no loner see, and by encouraging your dog to engage in play you can help him gain confidence and adapt to a world of smells, sounds, and touch.

WIGGLY-GIGGLY-JACKToys that make a noise while they are being played with can keep your dog interested and make it easier to find if it gets out of reach. Try the Wiggly Giggly range of balls, jacks and dumbbells which are motion activated and make a giggling sound (plus they don’t require batteries!). Along the same lines is the Babble Ball which comes in three different sizes and has a very sensitive motion detector, so your dog can activate the toy simply by walking past. You can choose between ‘wisecrack’ and ‘animal sound’ versions. There’s also the Busy Buddy Chuckle, which is a noise-making bone and treat dispenser in one.

Various toys and balls with bells inside are also available, which are also easy for your dog to find, but you  need to keep an eye on yourdog while playing with these toys because the bell could be swallowed if it is dislodged. There’s also this lovely rattle toy from Petsatges, again for supervised play only!

1085 Orbee-tuff Whistle BallIf your dog loves playing fetch but can no longer see the ball, this whistle ball could be the answer. It makes a whistling sound when thrown so your dog can follow its direction and is vanilla scented to help your dog locate the ball using its nose.

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Finally, try getting your dog to play with any toy with a squeaker; you can add a scent to help your dog find these toys. Movement and high pitched sound are two things which can activate a dogs prey (and play) drive, so if your dog can’t see one, give them the other. If your nerves can’t stand the sound, try this great squeaky toy from Kong – it has an off button!

For more ideas have a look at the great reviews over on www.blinddogtoys.com and look out for our post on Scented Toys.

5 Easy Ways to Give Old Dogs a New Lease of Life

Has your senior dog lost interest in playing and spending time with you? Does he sleep all day and want to turn around to go home when you take him on walks? You probably think that these are just signs of old age, that your elderly dog is slowing down as he gets older.

Age may have something to do with it, but the chances are that your dog is stuck in a rut and his inactivity is because he is bored; he could even be depressed. Age, disability and health problems might mean your dog can’t do all the things he could when he was younger, but there are still ways to make his life more interesting.

Plus, keeping your dog mentally and physically active will help keep him fit and happy for longer and could help stave off canine cognitive dysfuntion.

bb_dogwalking1. Go Somewhere New

Walking isn’t just about exercising your dog, it also gives them a chance to explore and discover new places, new smells and new people. If your dogs regular exercise is a potter in the garden or a walk round the block then you can improve their day by varying where you walk or going somewhere new at the weekend.

 

 

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2. Give him a Puzzle Feeder

You can’t get your dog to do the crossword but you can give his brain a workout by giving him treats or his meal in an interactive dog toy. Try the Buster Cube, or Nina Ottosson’s dog puzzles, or make your own out of an empty milk carton or toilet roll. For dogs who no longer play as much as they used to, toys which dispense food are a great way of getting them interested.

 

3. Teach your Old Dog New Tricks

Training doesn’t stop being important just because your dog is no longer a puppy, or because he knows the basic commands. Training is a great way to bond with your dog and keep him mentally active. Start by giving your dog a refresher course in the commands he already knows and then gradually introduce new tricks. How about teaching your dog to push the door closed? Or to balance a treat on his nose? It’s also a good idea to check that your dog can respond both to voice commands and visual signals in case he is losing his hearing or eyesight.

 

Treat game

4. Play a Game

Your dog may no longer be up for fetch and tug games, but why not teach him one of the variations on ‘find the treat’, or play hide and seek with him, or teach him to find your keys? Once you put your mind to it the possibilities for rainy day activities are endless!

 

 

Dog ice lolly

5. Try New Treats

Giving your dog treats is an easy way to make him happy, but it’s also a good way of adding some variety to his day. It’s easy to get into the habit of giving your dog the same treats at the same time of day, but why not mix things up by buying a new flavour or type of treat, or giving him small amount of human food to try? This doesn’t have to be unhealthy, lots of dogs like fruit and vegetables: try pieces of carrot or apple. Why not give your dog a frozen treat or an ice cube so they can experience a new temperature and texture? Also giving your dog something to chew on regularly can help clean his teeth, relieve stress and give his jaw some exercise. Bear in mind that older dogs have weaker jaws and teeth when looking for chews and chew toys.

Bake your own Dog Treats: Salmon and Parsley Bites

As mentioned previously I have just dipped my toe into the strange world that is cooking for your dog. It probably won’t be a regular thing, but I thought I should share the recipe here, along with our verdict, in case any body else wants to try their hand at baking dog treats.

I have adapted the recipe from Henrietta Morrison’s book Dinner for Dogs.  I chose salmon because it contains high levels of omega-3 which promotes a healthy skin and coat as well as brain function.  I added parsley because it contains vitamin C, is supposed to help with bad breath and makes the end result look more interesting.  The original recipe called for plain flour, but many dogs are wheat intolerant and it can make others itchy, I have gone with spelt flour because if you’re going to the trouble of cooking for your dog, you might as well make it hypoallergenic.

Ingredients

200g tin of salmon or tuna in oil

(1 tbs olive oil. If, like me, you could only get salmon in water)

Handful of parsley, finely chopped

1 egg, beaten

100g spelt flour (or plain flour)

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C.

2. Tip the salmon with it’s oil (or drained salmon with olive oil) into a bowl and use a fork to break into small flakes. If you find any pieces of bone either remove them or crush them into small pieces with the fork.

3. Add  the parsley and the beaten egg and mix well.

4. Add the spelt flour and mix until it comes together in a dough.  If you are using spelt flour rather than plain flour you may find the dough is quite wet and you need to add a little more flour until it is easy to work with.

5. Knead the dough and roll it out on the work surface until it is around half a centimetre thick.  Use a small cutter to cut out shapes, or cut into small squares with a knife. Place the treats on a lightly oiled baking tray and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

6. Leave to cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Our Verdict

The treats were fun and easy to make and BlindDog was in the kitchen looking hopeful the whole time I was cooking.  The treats looked pretty good when they were finished and given Henrietta Morrison’s mantra of never feeding her dog something she wouldn’t eat, I felt obliged to try one. It was actually quite good, especially with the addition of the parsley, although the idea of a fish flavoured biscuit was a bit strange.

BlindDog chomped on the treats with relish so it was definitely a thumbs up from her.  The recipe does make a lot of treats, easily more that BlindDog should eat in two weeks, so I have put half of them in the freezer.

If anyone else has tried cooking for their dog, we’d be keen to know how you got on!

A Real Dog’s Dinner: Should You Cook for your Dog?

Dinner for DogsToday I baked for my dog. To give you some idea of the severity of this situation I hardly ever bake for my other half, for my friends or for myself.  But today BlindDog got freshly baked salmon and parsley biscuits and this is a dog who will eat anything and everything put in front of her, including things she finds on the street.

The only semi-rational explanation I can give for this sudden onset of baking madness is that I have been morbidly curious about Henrietta Morrison’s cookbook for dogs ever since it came out.  The book, called Dinner for Dogs, along with the dog food brand Lily’s kitchen, which was founded by Morrison when her dog Lily went of her food and Morrison realised how poor the quality of most commercial dog foods is.

The whole concept goes hand in hand with the whole food and organic revolution in the human food market, and Morrison’s reason for starting Lily’s kitchen and writing Dinner for Dogs was that she wasn’t prepared to feed anything to her dog that she wouldn’t eat herself.

The book is full of ‘easy’ recipes to cook for your dog from cupcakes to birthday cake, from everyday stews to Christmas Dinner.  Morrison also translates some common ingredients of dry dog food and reveals that a lot of commercial brands contain ingredients that are unwholesome sounding and difficult for dogs to digest.  She also gives a good comprehensive list of ‘human’ foods that are suitable for dogs along with their benefits (although this section gets a little ‘health-food shop’ in places).

Every time I look at the book I have to add the mental hashtag #firstworldproblems because, to be honest, most people have other things to worry about. And I don’t think I’m going to ‘try to cook for your dog at least once a week’ as Morrison suggest because I’m too busy aiming to cook for my other half that often! Morrison herself admits that the recipes included in the book are intended as a supplement to a nutritionally balanced dog food and should not be the dog’s sole diet.

The main benefit of this book is educating people who don’t feed their dogs well, by highlighting the pitfalls of feeding a low quality dog food and the dangers of feeding your dog the wrong kind of human food. Some of the recipes might be nic

e for a special occasion but there’s no way I’m going to be cooking for BlindDog several times a week! Even though the recipe I tried was easy and fun to make, and even though BlindDog loved eating the result, I couldn’t help feeling that I could have spent the time better by actually doing something fun with her.

bone-shaped-homemade-dog-treats

The book is at best a bit of educational doggy fun which is helping promote the Lily’s Kitchen brand and at worst something to make doting owners feel inadequate. I would advocate feeding the best quality dog food you can afford and investing in your dog by spending time with her.

You can find the recipe for Salmon and Parsley Bites here, along with our verdict.

Product Review: Training Treat Ball by Good Boy

Treat BallThis was the first interactive toy we tried with BlindDog and overall I think it was £5 very well spent. The basic concept doesn’t require much explanation: the ball is hollow, with a opening in it and when you fill it with treats or dog food, the dog has to roll it around to get them out. The main benefit of this particular treat ball is that you can adjust the size of the opening to vary the difficulty or so you can use different sizes of treats or kibble.

The ball looks quite big next to BlindDog (It’s 12cm tall) but that doesn’t stop her at all, and I think it would be suitable for all but the very biggest and tiniest dogs.

The treat ball doesn’t come apart, but the adjustable opening makes it relatively easy to fill with kibble compared to treat balls with one small hole.  Filling with BlindDog’s ration of 1/3 cup of kibble is very quick and while it would easily hold a lot more food it would take a little longer.  I try and feed at least one of BlindDog’s meals from a puzzle toy every day so from that point of view the toy is perfect.

The best aspect of the training treat ball is it’s entertainment value.  BlindDog loves playing with it and will keep coming back to it after the treats are gone (hoping it’s refilled!?). In terms of physical exercise, she will chase after it all round the house, and I think it must be great for improving her dexterity and what I can only describe as paw-nose coordination!

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Interactive Dog Toys: Unlocking your Dog’s Potential

chess gameLate in life, BlindDog has become a convert to the concept of the interactive dog toy, and she’s converted me along the way. Let me tell you why.

An interactive dog toy is any toy where the dog has to engage its brain to work out how to get treats or food out of the toy. Arguably the dog has to interact with any dog toy, but truly interactive dog toys require a lot more thought (and usually a yummy reward).

The main reason BlindDog has embraced the trend at the ripe old age of ten, is that she is what experts call food motivated, and what I call greedy.  She will do anything for food.

Secondly, as she was a rescue dog, she never really learned to play when she was younger (with the exception of one specific squeaky toy, now long since lost), which is a shame as Bichons are usually very playful. So wrestling and chasing with toys that give her FOOD is a good replacement.

Also, as she can’t see very well any more, it’s great for her to have toys which smell of food and rattle from the dog biscuits inside so she can easily find them. I make no apologies for the fact that most of her toys were chosen to be as noisy as possible!

The reason I’m a die-hard fan of interactive toys is that I know when she plays with them she’s getting a great physical work-out, and its important for older dogs to have frequent gentle exercise throughout the day so as not to put to much strain on their joints.

Its also really easy to use interactive toys to feed your dog’s daily ration and keep them occupied at the same time.  This is great if your dog is on a low calorie or prescription diet and has to avoid other chews and treats that you might otherwise give them to keep them out from under your feet.  Your dog is having fun, using up energy and not eating anything ‘bad’.

Yorkie with mini buster cube

Finally, interactive toys are great for exercising dogs’ brains, something that is so important when your dog’s main ‘job’ is snoozing onthe sofa! People often forget that small dogs need a brain work-out too, not just bored border collies and labradors. I had always thought BlindDog leant more towards cute than clever, but she has been so quick to work out some of her puzzle toys that she’s clearly not just a pretty face!

Interactive toys can be expensive compared to other toys and for the uninitiated it can be difficult to know what to buy. But the enjoyment they bring to your dog (the break they give you) are priceless!  There’s also nothing to stop you using your imagination and making your own.  To help you chose what to buy, BlindDog and I will review some of the best interactive dog toys.