As dogs get older and are living longer, some of them may experience some sort of loss of hearing and/or vision. While our dogs have other senses they can rely on, it can be disorienting to dogs and stressful and overwhelming for owners. If you have a dog that is aging, it’s important to support your dog to safely navigate their home and continue to do the things they enjoy most.
There are some lifestyle changes that can be adopted to help dogs adjust to their decreased hearing or sight and be more comfortable in their day-to-day life.
When you have an aging dog who is beginning to struggle with reduced vision loss or hearing, it’s important to keep consistency in your dog’s routines. When dogs begin to lose one of their senses, they can more easily become disoriented which can lead to stress and anxiety. Keeping your dog’s routine as predictable as possible can help dogs adjust more easily to changes in hearing or vision and exhibit fewer signs of stress.
The good news is that most dogs who begin to lose their hearing or vision adjust quite well and can enjoy most of the activities they did before thanks to these slight lifestyle adjustments.
Cues to Teach a Senior Dog
Old dogs can absolutely learn new tricks, so if you have an older dog who is losing vision or hearing, it’s not the time you want to slack on training. Training certain skills can help impaired dogs feel more confident even as their hearing or vision continues to deteriorate. It can also support these dogs with feeling more connected to their owners. A few specific skills that can be useful to focus on teaching or refreshing include:
Cues To Teach Deaf Dogs: Be sure to focus on teaching visual cues to your dog for skills they know or new cues you are teaching. Because your dog won’t be able to hear a verbal cue, you’ll need to introduce a visual cue so that your dog will know what you are asking for. Teaching deaf dogs a visual recall when they can see you is especially important so you make sure they don’t stay too far even in the house and yard.
Cues To Teach Blind Dogs: For dogs who are going blind, one of the most important things you can teach your dog is a solid stay cue. Teaching your dog to stay is beneficial for times that your blind dog may be approaching stairs or something that could hurt your dog. It’s also useful to teach blind dogs cues for jumping up and down that can be useful when out on walks when there are curbs your dog will need to navigate.
Avoid Startling Your Dog
One of the big challenges that come with having an aging dog who is losing vision and/or hearing is that they can be easily startled. When sleeping or relaxing your deaf dog won’t be able to hear you approaching and can become frightened if you suddenly reach out to touch them. Similarly, dogs with reduced vision may not be aware of who is in the room with them and can become frightened if suddenly touched. When dogs get startled, they are more likely to out of fear snap or even bite.
Whenever possible, try to avoid waking your dog to not startle them. If you do need to wake your blind or deaf dog it can be helpful to gently move the bed they are laying on or lure them with food to wake them up without directly touching and startling them.
Gently Supervise Play
Dogs that are becoming deaf or blind should not be allowed to play off-leash unless they are in a fully enclosed and dog-proofed area. Because your dog won’t be able to hear you or see obstacles in their way it could otherwise lead to injuries. A long leash line is a great way to give your aging dog more freedom to safely explore when you’re at a park, beach, or another new area. This can give your dog the space to sniff and explore, but also allow you to monitor where your dog is and prevent them from falling off something or getting injured.
Enrichment is key to keeping all dogs comfortable and happy. Scent games and putting treats or kibble into snuffle mats can be great ways to provide play and enrichment outlets for your dog as their vision and sight decrease.
Support Don’t Coddle
Most of us think of our dogs in their prime, and it can be a challenge to wrap your mind around your dog’s new limitations. You want to keep your dog safe, but this can lead to dog owners coddling their dogs. Although the intentions are good, they can be emotionally harmful to dogs. Instead, it’s important to support an aging dog by helping them navigate the world with their new limitations on their own terms.
Give your dog opportunities to play and explore, so long as it’s safe for them to do so. While you might be mourning who your dog was before they lost their sight or vision, dogs exist primarily in the moment. In many cases, people struggle a lot more than dogs do. In fact, pets often adjust to their newfound limitations quickly and find ways to enjoy the same activities.
If you’re uncertain about what is safe or appropriate for your dog, talk with your veterinarian about what things your dog can continue to participate in.
Make Household Changes
When you have an aging dog who is experiencing vision loss, you should avoid moving and rearranging furniture in the home whenever possible. Because your dog can’t see they have memorized where things are in the home and moving furniture can lead to your dog bumping into things more frequently which can lead to injuries. Changes like this can also be disorienting for dogs and cause an increase in anxiety. If you do need or want to change the location of furniture in your house, lead your dog around the home and help them understand the new layout.
When dogs lose vision, they may especially struggle with depth perception which can make navigating their favorite furniture challenging or dangerous. To help senior dogs, especially those who are losing vision, it can be helpful to use dog ramps or stairs to help dogs get on and off beds and couches. But even if your dog knows how to safely navigate the stairs, it’s best to prevent your dog from having unsupervised access to stairs to prevent them from potentially falling. Additionally, using gates at the top and bottom of the stairs is an easy way to keep your blind dog from slipping on steps.
It can be hard watching your dog get older, but with some simple adjustments, you can reduce stress for both of you and keep your dog safe. By maintaining routines and continuing to teach your dog new skills you can help your dog have a high quality of life—even as their hearing and vision decrease.
As tempting as it is to shield your aging dog from any pain or challenges, it’s better to find ways to support your senior dog to continue to do things on their own. With safety measures in place, your dog can be happy and comfortable as they age.