How to Handle a Blind Dog

How to handle a blind dog who doesn't like to be touched? The Dog Trainer has an easy solution.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
2-minute read

I recently heard from a listener whose super-cute dog had just gone blind. The dog wasn’t having much trouble adjusting – except that she got startled when people touched her, because she couldn’t see their hands coming.

If your dog is blind, your keys in this situation are to protect and to notify. In a way, whether a dog is sighted doesn’t matter – no dog has any obligation to play petting zoo. Dogs may be tired, cranky, shy, or just not feel like interacting at a given moment. Your blind dog can hear and smell the person who wants to pet her; if she approaches that person and solicits petting, then she’s not likely to be startled when petting happens.

On the other hand, if your dog stays next to you or even steps behind you, it should be clear that she’s not seeking to interact with the other person. Respect that choice – period.

When contact is necessary, as at the vet’s office, notify her with a “warning cue.” I’ve described warning cues before – they’re just what they sound like: a word or short phrase that you use to let your dog know that something is about to happen. Warning cues are most commonly used for unpleasant events like medicating infected, painful ears. If your dog gets a warning cue before she’s medicated, and is never medicated when she hasn’t gotten a warning cue, then she doesn’t have to worry every time you approach her that something unpleasant is about to happen.

To practice at home with a blind dog, try this. Once or twice a day, say your warning cue (“Vet,” maybe?), touch your dog as the vet might during an exam, and then give her a treat. Say “Vet,” open her mouth, and give her a treat. Say “Vet,” palpate her belly, and give her a treat. Say “Vet,” pinch her thigh to imitate an injection there, and give her a treat. Do just one rep at a time, especially if your dog is uncomfortable with handling – you don’t want to stress her out.

If you’re thinking that a “Vet” warning cue sounds like a good idea even for a sighted dog, you’re right!

Blind dog image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).