SIGHT LOSS AND REACTIVITY IN OLDER DOGS
SPECIAL CATCH-UP WITH A SPECIAL BOY ❤️
We've missed seeing one of our old-timers, Flynn. He used to come to classes every other week and had made some lovely progress. He could be in the hall with other dogs and his mum became so skilled at handling him that he sometimes took-on a Buddy-dog role with new dogs in class.
When his mum first came to us he was very uncertain about new people. He was also noise sensitive and struggled with traffic and other dogs, so walks could have many tense moments!
In those early days, he used lunge and bark at noises and traffic. These reactions had stopped in classes and reduced significantly at home.
Then, a couple of months ago we noticed that he was regressing in class and his mum felt he was becoming a lot more barky at home.
REDUCED EYE SIGHT
When I first started working with him, I suspected that some of Flynn's behaviour was down to restricted vision - he seemed to have limited capacity to see from his right eye. He would twist his head to pick up treats, to look at people and to pick up balls. He often struggled to track treats if he hadn't seen them land. His right ear was often held at an angle and he seemed to have tension in the right side of his jaw.
Flynn was vet-checked and the vet felt there could be limited vision in his right eye but there is no sight test for dogs so it was difficult to assess how restricted his sight may be.
We decided to treat him as a dog with different needs and so the work we've done with his mum and Flynn has been slow and gentle and very much at his pace.
SIGNS OF DETERIORATING SIGHT
When he started lunging and barking in class again, he also took some time to recover and seemed to have difficulty working out where the sound that had triggered him came from. He wasn't reacting to dogs and people so much any more - it was all about noises. But his reactive barking was big and loud and showed signs of considerable stress.
We had a couple of online sessions so that I could assess his biomechanics and his sight. Then we had him vet-checked to make sure that everything else about him was OK and that his arthritis meds didn't need tweaking.
We decided he needed his world to become small and safe again, so we stopped classes because he was becoming so uneasy with noises in the village that are beyond our control. Dunholme is quite noisy for a sensitive dog, with garden machinery, chickens, traffic noises, cyclists and church bells coming at him from all sides...
His mum also reduced the length of his walks and walked in familiar places because the deterioration in sight meant he was getting tired very quickly. He needed a route that was quiet and predictable to feel safe.
He gets at least one Sniff Trail a day to increase his sniff capacity and develop his cognitive processing which leads to enhanced emotional regulation.
He's been on a Small World regime for a few weeks and I caught up with them both at home this weekend. He was much more relaxed and calm. We went for a small, familiar walk and it was lovely to see how closely his mum and Flynn work together.
She is very good at anticipating when something may bother him and gives him safe distance when needed. That safe distance has got smaller again, because his mum has managed him so well and rebuilt his confidence. I was really pleased to see him take himself away when he saw a bike and sniff the bottom of a hedge to calm himself down.
He's become a bit clingy (which is typical in dogs with sight deterioration) and he tends to look to his mum for reassurance, so he is understandably less resilient than he was.
But he has the tools he's learned as a Thinking-Dog. Instead of barking and pacing at noises outside the home, he's playing with a toy. Instead of barking and lunging at dogs and bikes on walks, he's taking himself away and sniffing to calm.
THINKING-DOG AND SKILLS FOR LIFE
Thinking-Dog training teaches our dogs the skills they need to cope with life when it gets a bit tough. Like any dog, a Thinking-Dog will go through changes and any deterioration in health can end-up with several backward steps in a previously reactive dog.
We give our families and dogs the strategies to help them through these periods of regression and, because our dogs have learned how to self-calm and regulate their emotions, any sliding backwards tends to be short-lived.
It was so good to see how well Flynn is doing. He's a very loved older boy (10 years 😊) and landed on his paws when he came to his mum.