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Blind Animals Awareness Week

This is not a national "thing" as far as I'm aware but this week I consulted on 4 blind and partially sighted animals displaying or involved with problematic behaviour.

Day one, animal one. Blind Cockerpoo, completely blind. Presented for aggressive behaviour towards groomer and generalised same aggressive behaviour towards veterinary personnel and occassionally his owners. Triggered by people trying to impose potentially painful procedures. The dog is motivated to stop them, with underlying fear of pain, anxiety about pain due to not being able to predict the procedures and frustration about not being able to stop their advances reliably enough. This was my fourth visit to the dog who has an elderly owner whom I'm assisting in gradually reintroducing grooming procedure through systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning. I am additionally using mild attention seeking behaviour - the dog whines to get attention - to initiate procedures and then stopping after a set number of repetitions e.g. hand runs with coat detangler, and or when the dog becomes tense. This is a more natural "start button" behaviour that is easy to harness. Approximations of the clippers and nail trimming procedure predict food. Predictability of procedure as well as control over onset are very important to help this dog stay calm throughout behavioural modification

Day two, animal two. Another dog. Middle aged Dachshund with SARDS. Completely blind as well. Walks into his companion, another dog the same age, and triggers aggressive behaviour from that dog which has on occasion escalated to a one-sided fight. The second dog won't let go easily. The second dog was used to being able to tell the blind dog that he was too close, and the blind dog would give him space. Trouble is those signs were visual. The blind dog can't see them, so doesn't read them, and also walks into his companion whom he cannot see. This frustrates the second dog who becomes irritated and uses aggressive behaviour to make his blind companion back off - which he is learning to do slowly. The treatment will be to help the second dog adjust to his buddy's sight loss. The blind dog is adjusting well by and large. Praise for the second dog for letting the blind dog move away, and deliberately calling him away and praising him pre-emptively are also part of the strategy, among also management of how the owners give their attention and at meal times.

Day three and animals three and four. Cobs this time, each with partial vision loss. The first was presented for aggressive behaviour: bites and kicks on other horses at the field gate, and redirecting that behaviour onto the welfare centre staff as well. The mare was motivated to get space around her at the gateways as well as preferential access to the gate as well. She had underlying emotions of anxiety, because she couldn't see too well, and frustration because the other horses and people did not always get out of her way or might even retaliate in some way. Placing her with just one other horse and with specific behaviour trained personnel was the first step taken by the organisation. Then systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning to people and another horse around the gateway got underway as well as rewarding calm behaviour and using grazing and finding treats on the floor to help promote calmer, exploratory behaviour with positive emotions.

Horse four was also presenting with aggressive behaviour surrounding being caught and handled - people not other horses are the problem. Like the cockerpoo on day one, this horse is partially sighted with a handling issue caused by pain, it's a coincidence to be partially sighted (or blind in the case of the dog) and means some adaption of training, but otherwise the principles of desensitisation and counter conditioning remain the same. This horse fears hoof care, and being caught and handled predict that possible eventuality - so the aggressive behaviour is seen in the field and when approached by people. Training the mare to approach the halter to come out the gate for feeding and retraining touch and handling - pairing each with food and using relaxation as a "start button" for the procedures, along with verbal signals before movement to touch are setting the mare on the road to success.

It's almost tempting to feel sorry for each of these animals because of their blindness, but each are adjusting and coping in their own ways. Their behavioural support makes their sightless world more predictable as well as giving beneficial stimulation and it's a delight to work with them.

Jenni Nellist Clinical Animal Behaviourist

Jenni: 07974 569407

1 Orchard Close, Port Eynon, Swansea, SA3 1NZ

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