By Josh Weiss-Roessler
No one wants to think about their four-legged best friends getting older, much less having to deal with something like losing two of their senses. Unfortunately, the reality is that hearing and vision for many dogs significantly deteriorates with age, and some even end up going blind, deaf, or both.
Don’t despair if this happens to your aging pup, though. As many owners of special needs dogs have already discovered, it’s quite possible for him or her to continue to live happily and safely for quite some time.
What it does mean, however, is that both of you are going to have to learn some new tricks. Like what? Read on!
You dog may have lost his sight and hearing, but that still leaves taste, touch, and — most importantly — smell. Even when they can see and hear, the most significant way that dogs interact with the world is through smell. Sniffing around tells them where things are and what they are, and when you use this in combination with touch, your older dog will have a much easier time living normally.
If you have stairs in your house, a baby gate is going to become your dog’s new best friend. It’s also smart to block off pools and take care with any sharp objects and edges, because they won’t be as easy for your dog to avoid. Additionally, while it’s vital to let your dog run around and get exercise, you never want to let her off leash in an area that isn’t fenced in and, preferably, familiar.
Give them a space and keep it that way
In order to help your dog easily find the things that he needs on a daily basis, create a space for him in your house and make sure that you don’t move anything around. This should include his food and water dishes; kennel, pet bed, or other place for him to rest; and a favorite toy or two.
Vibration is your friend
You know that touch is important, but you might not realize that vibration can be just as valuable — and help you to be a bit more hands-off. For example, there are vibrating collars you can purchase that will help you to replace words you used to train her, like “sit,” “stay,” “no,” and so on, with sensations. Additionally, you can direct your dog by doing things like stomping or clapping, and doggy water fountains let her “feel” where her dish is.
Create an in-house trail
If you have a larger or well-trafficked house, carpet runners can help your dog know which room he’s in and find what he’s looking for. Alternatively, you can create a “sniff path” by putting air fresheners with different scents in each room to give different areas of the house unique identities.
Make feeding time hands-on
You don’t have to literally spoon food into her mouth, but with deaf and blind dogs it can help (especially early on) to bring them to their food bowl and touch their chin to the edge of it. Most dogs will get the idea quickly, and this also helps to teach them how to get to their bowl on their own.
Let people know
You should tell any visitors to your home about your dog’s unique situation. Why? Because they won’t know how to interact with your dog unless you tell them, and it’s a lot easier for people to change their behavior than it is to force your dog to adapt. Beyond this, you may want to purchase a special collar or bandana that lets people know your dog has special needs just in case he does ever get lost and need help.
In the end, remember that this is the same best friend you’ve come to love over the years. You can still play together and enjoy each other’s company, it’s just going to mean bending a little bit for both of you and embracing the things that are within his or her abilities.