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A different kind of normal: changing the "poor thing" headset!

When you own a blind dog (or four!) you become very used to people looking at your active, happy, dog and referring to them as a "poor chap"... or the more de-personalised "poor thing".

Charlie socialising on equal terms

Initially, there is an inclination to explain why there is nothing "poor" about your dog, but a certain level of irritation does arise after the umpteenth time.

After almost three decades of owning and caring for blind dogs, the temptation is to just stroll on muttering darkly under your breath

I know this could be avoided if the people we meet were not told of the dogs' sight issues, but in the first place two of my dogs very obviously have no eyes and, secondly, it is just a sensible advisory to anyone saying hello to sightless dogs - most of whom dislike unexpected pats on the head which they cannot see coming, even if they are not reactive to them.

There is an automatic assumption that dogs must be terribly handicapped without sight. The reaction is not confined to strangers - the majority of people whose dogs lose vision, or who take on a blind dog or puppy, will initially feel the same way. Owners will wrap furniture legs in bubble wrap, use halo's to prevent any possible bump, and generally treat the dog as disabled in multiple other ways.

You may be asking why this is wrong? What is the problem with offering compassion and care?

Put simply, the problem is that this mindset disables the dogs.

In extending our compassion we almost always anthromorphise, assigning our human perceptions of sight and existence to our canines.

Disney has a lot to answer for!

Sight is the human primary is the least important dog sense. Our sense of smell affects our taste, arouses positive or negative memories, and can warn us of danger or draw us to pleasure, but anyone who has endured the blocked nose of a common cold can tell you that loss of smell is a hindrance but not life resricting.

Dogs are different. The reality of the canine world depends on sense of smell as the primary source of information. Each sniff conveys a hundred messages. Without scent, a dog is truly handicapped ..... blindness is just an inconvenience.

Check out this excellent TED video for a more in-depth explanation

As owners of blind dogs, it is vital that we do not anthromorphise. Thinking a dog has lost its primary sense generates a "poor thing" attitude, and as a result the dog will actually learns to be disabled. The owner who caringly annoints furniture with strong scents, to "help" a dog in the house, is blithely unaware that every chair leg or mat already had a distinctive and familiar odour to the dog which has now been overlaid with an unfamiliar pungent scent. Any chance the dog had of navigating using familiar smells will be seriously compromised.

Understanding how differently dog perception functions, and that the primary sense of a blind dog still works perfectly to compensate for sight issues, creates a "can do" headset which means owners can start to enable.

If you have been thinking of your own dog as a "poor thing", don't feel too bad... it is a natural compassionate reaction, and thousands of well qualified dog trainers fall into the same trap.

All that matters is that you now know different and can change your mindset today, to enable your pet.

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