by Tracey Ison RVN
Have you ever considered the number of decisions that your dog makes every time they go for a walk and how instrumental you, as the owner, are in shaping those decisions? I currently own three dogs, one of which, Scout, was born severely visually impaired and this presents additional challenges on our daily walks.
Blind or visually impaired dogs require their owners to be their eyes, to help them to avoid hazards, to steer them safely around obstacles and to maintain their confidence at all times when out and about. For these dogs it can be a scary, unpredictable and noisy world out there when they are surrounded by darkness.
Observation is key to helping dogs like Scout, and watching him and learning from him pays great dividend. But as much as we were instrumental in Scout’s basic training, he taught us heaps in return.
Scout was initially walked on a harness with a double-ended lead. One end was clipped to a ring on the back of the harness, the other end to a ring on the chest piece. This gave us the ability to steer Scout gently around obstacles (bins, cars parked on the pavement, lampposts etc). Scout soon learnt that gentle pressure on the lead meant that there was an obstacle coming up and his pace would slow. Initially a tasty tit-bit was offered for each successful negotiation of an obstacle.
We quickly learnt that Scout needed to hear our voices when we walked to know that we were always close - cue general chatter about the daily news and weather! Our other two dogs also wore additional metal tags on their collars and the constant jangling as we walked ensured that Scout knew he had company. (If Scout was our only dog, I would have attached bells to my shoes to create the same effect.)
Scout prefers to walk alongside fences and walls and he seems to use them as a guide, helping him to maintain a forward motion. Scout can also detect areas of shade as he passes through them (we assume he senses a slight drop in temperature). He has learnt that there is a potential obstacle there and will slow down to be guided around it.
On familiar routes, Scout has “mind mapped” the walk: he knows where the kerbs are and where the interesting sniffing places are (sniffing is his favourite activity!). Scout even taught himself to listen to the beeps at pedestrian crossings, waiting to cross safely every time!
Scout meets a lot of people and other dogs on his walks. He is introduced very carefully to unfamiliar dogs as he greets a new dog by wrapping his paws around them, which some dogs can find quite unnerving.
Walking a blind dog certainly enhances your own awareness of your surroundings and makes every walk an enjoyable experience.
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This offer is available until 31 March 2019.
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