People who know me or have been to my classes will know that I have an older rescue Weimaraner named Bella. Bella suddenly became blind when she was 9 years old, and we had to visit a specialist ophthalmic vets we have weekly visits and they still have no idea what caused the sudden inflammation and pressure build up in her eye’s. They removed her right eye as there was no chance of saving it and it was clearly causing her some discomfort. Her remaining eye although inflamed inside the eyeball was saved with a course of steroids over the course of many months and she is now on an immune suppressant medication as it seems her immune system is what is causing the inflammation, this inflammation has caused damage to her eye and the sight in her remaining left eye which also has a cataract, this makes her mostly blind.
So what problems did we have with Bella suddenly becoming blind and how did we overcome them?
Initially in the house we covered the corners of tables so if she bumped into them she wouldn’t hurt herself. Over time we removed the cushioning and we just don’t move things around much, Bella has mind mapped the house and garden and knows where everything is and bar a few little bumps every now and then, when she is at home you would never know that she can barely see.
Getting in and out of the car was an issue and as this was something we needed to do to get to vet appointments we had to overcome this quickly. Bella used to be more than happy jumping in and out the back of my car, but suddenly it seems the thought of this was enough to see her run to the kitchen or upstairs rather than to the car like she had always done. To get to my car there is a small step and a gap that she would jump, so how did I solve this problem, by getting a ramp that she could slowly walk up so that she no longer had the fear of missing the car or falling down the gap, you can see the video of her learning to use the ramp, she is tentatively using her feet to feel her way along it until she is in the car where she was rewarded by some food scattered on the floor.
What about on walks I hear you ask?
Well Bella always had a very good recall and although she is a friendly dog, my dogs have never been the kind to run up to people or other dogs to say hello instead preferring to stick with me or play together but Bella did wander off a bit and would bump into trees and trip on holes in the ground. So that she would always know where I was I took to wearing a bracelet and talking to her a lot more on walks so that she would hear me should the wind be in the wrong direction, and she wasn’t able to smell me. I also got some Morris bells and clipped them to my other dogs collar so she would also know where he was as he was running around.
I do let her off lead in some locations that she knows well but I also keep her on a short lead and she wears a white bandana that says “blind dog”.
Being blind has affected Bella’s confidence with dogs she doesn’t know in her older age this is because she is now an arthritic 12 1/2 year old with Lymphoma . She was always a lovely friendly girl who was great with pups and older dogs but now the loss of her sight has meant that she has lost the confidence she once had and strange dogs running up to her or running past her shock her and this can cause her to react, she will either try to defend her self or run away which isn't easy when you joints don't work lie they used too. Yes I have on occasion been seen running across a field with my younger dog in hot pursuit of Bella because something has scared her. but she still used her nose and loves to do a little bit of training and most of all she love a good old snuggle on the sofa under a blanket.
I used place boards in a save environment with no sound distractions to help her learn step up and step down cues for going up and down steps and pavements and also the reverse cue when I need her to walk backwards in a straight line, She already had left and right cues from her previous training in Gundog work and agility, her previous reward based learning made this new training fun and easy for her to understand. This is why when I teach I like to use both hand signals and verbal cues to help our dogs learn and work with clients to proof both types of cue so that they are already in a good position should their dogs ever loose their sight or hearing.
So when I see dogs like this little chap named Bertie who is in Exeter, Little valley animal shelter which is not far from Bristol. I understand what he needs and not that not every one is able to give him that. It’s been a learning curve for us with Bella. But for the right person Bertie could be a great little companion who would still enjoy walks and training and you may even in time be able to let him off the lead to run around with other dogs.
So if you have space for a little dog with lots of character who needs a little extra time and space why not give the shelter in Exeter a call and ask to see Bertie.
ITV West country have also covered his story in the hopes of finding him a home which you can read here.
Clair Litster-Huckle has a BSc (Hons) in Animal Behaviour and Welfare and an MSc Animal Behaviour and Training and has studied Canine psychology and Canine diet and nutrition.