Have you ever scent trained a dog? Do you have experience with a blind pet?

submitted by Today

My 10 year old pup is going blind. We've been in the same house for most of her life and she's doing ok, but I'm worried it's going to get more difficult for her. She's not the smartest, but she can sit, lie down, and shake on command. I've read several articles about scent training but would like to get tips from someone who has done it. I'm thinking of using 4 different scents for bed, toys, stairs, and food/water - i know she can smell the food, but i want to make sure she can find the water bowl when she's outside. Is that too many?

One article recommended marking a path on the floor/ground so she knows where there's a clear route. Another suggested marking furniture/obstacles so she knows where to avoid.

If you have any experience with this and can offer tips, i would appreciate it. Also, if you want to share any happy stories about your VI pets, i would love to hear them. It's heartbreaking to see her misjudge the doorway or bonk into things.

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krakenmat , edited

My dog went blind a couple of years ago, and here's a brain dump of what I've learned over that time.

It's going to be hard for your dog. She'll likely be sad, maybe even depressed. She won't understand what's going on, or why, only that it's bad. She will need your love and understanding, even when she's doing things that don't seem to make sense, such as running away because she thinks it's caused by you or your home. Having said that, she also is blessed with whiskers as well as hearing and smell that is way better than a humans. Dogs' eyesight is also much worse that humans'. Our vet told us that normal human eyesight is 20/20 and a normal dog's eyesight is 20/100. That means that we can see clearly (read-ably) at 100 feet, a dog has to be 20 feet away to see. Dogs are also red-green colorblind. Having said that, it will still be the loss of an important sense and she'll take time to adjust. She'll bump into things a lot until she learns to be more careful. Pad anything that is sharp and around her height, like corners on coffee tables etc... You can buy corner pads targeted at parents. Keep your home neat and tidy and consistent. She'll learn where everything is and how to navigate by feel over time, but don't make it harder by leaving baskets of washing, bags, shoes etc in the way. Being able to trust her memory from the last time she walked a particular path will help her to adapt. It took about a year for our dog to stop bashing into things. She does this kind of weaving thing with her head now, using her whiskers to feel for obstacles. She also seems to have learned to turn her head at the last moment to avoid a knock while the rest of her body decellerates.

Provide tactile cues for her. I live in a house and we have a different type of doormat outside each door. I also installed 'bump dots' that they use for providing tactile feedback for vision impaired people at the top of our stairs so that she knows before she's about to fall down them. I saw that article about scent training, but to be honest I think it's probably a waste of time. I believe dogs can smell the differences in each room anyway. If you think about it, you probably can smell the difference between your bedroom and your kitchen, and their sense of smell is 25-50 times better than ours.

Start teaching your dog some new commands for while she's on the leash. We use 'step' to indicate that there's a rough patch like a pothole or speed-bump or something like that, as well as 'step-up', 'step-down' and 'bump' for when she's about to walk into something. We use 'free' to tell her that there are no obstacles nearby and she can trot or run safely. She knows them all now, but to be fair doesn't always seem to listen. I've found saying her name first and giving her time to process the implications helps. I might say 'Lucy, step-up' about five feet before reaching a gutter when crossing the road. She'll then do a silly walk until she finds the gutter.

We found she became much less exploratory and adventurous. She used to like to go new places, but now she prefers to walk the same familiar route. That's OK. She also now loves going places where she can just listen and smell to life going on around her, like a dog-friendly coffee shop. I get the feeling that being out in the world is much more exhausting for her. It seems to take so much concentration to walk down a busy street, even on a leash, that she'll sleep all afternoon after an outing.

Start playing games that rely on sound and smell rather than sight. Our dog loves it when we try to creep around her silently and she has to work out where we are. Our goal is to touch her on the flank. Hers is to touch us with her nose. It's like the kids game Murder in the Dark. You can also play this game in an open outdoor area, but running rather than creeping. We also don't throw a stick any more, but rather throw a succession of rocks into the river. She swims towards the sound of the splashes. We also scatter treats on the floor and say 'find-it' to cue her to use her nose to try and find them.

I highly recommend a coat saying that the dog is blind. We humans are a self-entitled bunch and it's amazing how we expect other people's dogs to get out of our way. I had no idea until my dog went blind. A coat makes it clear to others why she just walks into them and people will give her space on the street now. It also cues other dog owners to more closely monitor their dogs behavior. Just be ready for some people to ask 'so is the dog blind, or you?' while you are looking them in the eyes. I've come to see it as a kind of informal intelligence test. :) . You'll also get succession of 'Awww, how cute'. I'm not sure how being disabled is cute, but whatever.

If you have an iPhone I also suggest getting an airtag for your dogs collar. It gives you the comfort to know that if she does get lost you can find her because it's less likely that she'll be able to find her own way home. We've had to use it a few times now.

I don't think it's fair to put the dog down just because they have gone blind. We don't euthanase humans who are disabled, and it's possible for a disabled dog to still lead a full life. It will mean however that you have to accept your new role as a seeing-eye-person.

Good luck!

Today [OP]

Thank you so much for the tips and encouragement. We adopted her 9 years ago so she seems to be doing pretty well with the house layout. I've noticed her following the edge of the rug as a guide to her bed. She's coming upstairs more recently which scares me but she's very cautious. She can still see light and i think she's coming up to let us know the sun is up. I will put a rug at the top, bottom, and landing to help alert her that she's approaching them.

I put air tags on her little brother and sister because they're escape artists. She doesn't normally leave the yard, but she's begun following the little ones around the house/yard (maybe because of the collar jingle?) so it would probably be a good idea to tag her. I'm going to start working with them on coming to me for a treat when the collar beeps.

We don't take her out a lot as she's always been anxious in public, with a tendency to growl and even nip. We suspect her vision has always been poor as she always seemed startled by quick-moving kids or dogs. We probably need to start doing more regular walks to keep her entertained/simulated.

I'll try some new commands with her and see how she does. She did well clicker training with a few basic things so i hope she can pick up some new ones. We've been working on not leaving our shoes out and keeping kitchen chairs pushed in. She's doing ok in her normal areas, but sometimes misses the door if it's dark out or if we don't hold the door all the way open.

Than you again for the tips and encouragement.

Boozilla

Do you have a regular vet you like and trust? I'd call them for advice. They may have a really helpful booklet or other training materials they can provide.

Today [OP]

We're using a new vet because ours just closed. They've been around for a long time and we have several friends who use them so i feel pretty good about it. We took her in early May, right after we noticed the change in her. It came up very quickly - just a month before that she was chasing a squirrel along the fence and barking at dogs on tv. They talked to us about keeping her happy, recommended we try ocu-glo supplements to possibly slow it down, gave us trazadone to help her not get upset when kids come over, and mentioned cataract surgery but said most people don't do it because of the cost.

Call me Lenny/Leni

I've helped with it in school if that counts. The dogs trained were medical dogs, trained to help point things out like certain cancers, certain mental conditions, etc. some of which people had no idea going in could be detected. At least one was blind due to being albino, he had to be separate because we had dogs being trained to detect blindness, but things worked out if the cues were distinct enough.

Flummoxed

That's very interesting! Could you tell us more about this? Was this a specific college program or something? What do you mean by, "if the cues were distinct enough?"

Call me Lenny/Leni

Depending on what is being trained, it's normal in training to exaggeratingly mark (to the dog) what they're seeking out during training, so that the intended effect can be grounded. Think the potty training seats kids put on their toilets, but not exactly like that. It's a middle/high school thing, I've never been to college.

Flummoxed

That is really cool: I wish my school had had something like that! Thank you for the info.

Today [OP]

Thank you for sharing! That's really cool that you got to do that! Did you end up going into that field?

Call me Lenny/Leni

It's connected enough to my field of choice that I could probably be seen as having potential in such a job, but no, I did not go for anything which involved me preparing for that.

Lifecoach5000

I have no professional tips at all, but I occasionally play a game with my dogs called “find the thing”.

I take them into the bedroom and let them each smell the bone/treat or whatever, then I close the door.

Then I walk a path while rubbing the treat on the ground to make a smell “trail” then hide them in various spots.

I then open the door and tell them to “go find it!” And observe how they sniff around to see if they can pick up the trail scent. One of them is better at it than the other one, and yeah it’s just a silly game and not any kind of real training exercise but we all seem to enjoy it.

Good luck with your dog - sorry you’re having to go through this. One of mine is getting up there as well and I know her vision isn’t doing too well either - not to mention the arthritis 😞

foo

My dog isn't blind but he loves hide and go sniff. It's a good engagement activity for all puppies

Today [OP]

Thanks!

Today [OP]

Thank you! That's a great idea! The vet suggested we find new ways to play to keep her from getting bored. Our girl is only 10, but we've noticed her slowing down in the last year. The vet gave her an arthritis shot - it's $70/month and we didn't notice much difference, but she quit running last month with the vision issues so that's probably part of it. Thank you again for the find it game idea.