DEAR DIDI: Our four year old pit mix will play with toys if we interact with them but if we throw the toy and ask him to fetch he loses all interest and walks away. He runs into things around the house fairly often so we are wondering if he has a balance or coordination issue. How PETS we work on this? We adopted him when he was a year old and he is so calm and such a joy to us. Our other issue, unrelated, is that he growls intensely at anyone that comes to our home even if he has met them before. He calms down once they pet him but we are concerned about the aggression. Any suggestions for us? — worried parents in Modesto
DEAR WORRIED PARENTS: Please take your dog to a veterinary ophthalmologist. Your two issues may seem unrelated, but I suspect that they are not. What you are describing is frequently the symptoms and signs of a dog with limited eyesight or complete blindness. Dogs often adjust to blindness fairly well and it is not unusual for the owners to be unaware of the disability. If you don’t move major pieces of furniture in your home, the dog may know his way around quite well and rely on hearing, smell and feeling under his feet. A specialist can quickly, easily and probably fairly inexpensively, evaluate your dog’s eyes for you. Many of the same eye afflictions that affect humans can be found in canines. It is better to know as soon as possible in case some sight can be saved.
Your dog may not be able to play fetch because the movement of the thrown toy is usually what drives a dog to chase it. They bring it back to us because they figure out that we will throw it again. If your dog can’t see the toy, there would be no interest in it once it is leaves your hands. If you find that your dog is indeed blind, you could add a scent to his toys so that he can find them. Start with short distances until he figures out the game. I would recommend Clove, Anis, or Birch. These oils can be found at a natural health store such as Nature’s Corner in Manteca. It only takes a tiny drop on a toy! You could also find a toy that emits a continuous electronic sound. Your dog can use his ears to find it. Be sure to make a noise yourself so he can find his way back to you after he grabs the toy!
It is absolutely common for a blind dog to growl at people that visit the home. Being blind is scary. He can’t assess right away whether the visitor is friend or foe. Once the person pets him, he is able to smell them and recognize that he has met them before and everything is ok. If his vision is only 90% gone he might be able to see large movements and shadows which take him by surprise. His reaction may be to bark or growl at the movement. Some dogs become very aggressive once they lose their vision. If you are concerned about it I would have a canine behaviorist evaluate him after he has seen the ophthalmologist. Blind dogs can lead perfectly normal and very fulfilling lives, so please don’t give up on him. Things just need to be done a little differently to help him adjust!