First impressions count. But what if that first impression was super-scary? Such as a strange hand reaching out of the darkness to roughly pat your head.
It doesn't take a giant leap of the imagination to realize how frightening this situation is to a blind dog. Without the prior warning of seeing someone approach, a blind dog is likely to be frightened...very frightened. No matter how sweet their temperament, a dog caught off guard may snap or bite out of fear, so it really isn't fair to put them in this position.
With a little forethought, it's easy to greet an unsighted dog in a way they're comfortable with. Indeed, these rules can be applied to any dog you want to meet, but are especially relevant to a dog that's already disadvantaged. The rules consist of three simple steps: Speak, Sniff, Stroke
Blind dogs don't like surprises and yet can't see you coming. The thoughtful person is aware of this and makes sure the dog hears their approach. This is simply done by speaking in a firm but reassuring manner, to let the dog know you're there.
Digressing slightly, if you own a blind dog it's a good idea for you to wear a bell on an ankle in the house. This helps the dog hear where you are as you move around, and gives them a sense of comfort and security.
As you speak to the dog, watch their reaction. If they back away, tail between the legs, their body language tells you they feel insecure and want to be left alone. If your reason for approaching the dog is merely to pet them, then respect their reluctance and leave them be.
However, if they sniff the air, tail is raised, and step cautiously towards you with happy body language, you have the green light to move onto the next step.
Approach slowly, speaking all the time, taking care not to rush closer and confuse the dog. Don't loom over the dog, but crouch down an arm's length away. Form a fist, with the palm facing down, and hold out your hand at nose level. The idea being to invite the dog to get know you a little better.
Let the dog make the decision that it's safe to approach and take a step closer. If the dog is reluctant for any reason and cowers away, give them more time or walk away. Also be alert for signs of anxiety, which include:
Turning the head away
Lifting a paw
Rolling over to display the belly
A low stiff, wag of the tail (this indicates inner conflict)
These signs are your clue the dog is worried. Again, give them time to adjust and don't force your presence on them.
The dog has listened to your voice, sniffed your hand, and merrily wags their tail. Congratulations! You have made a successful introduction and the blind dog would like to be friends.
But before you reach out and pat their head - Stop! No dog likes being petted on the head, as it makes them feel threatened. Instead, aim to stroke the chin, side of the neck, or back. And avoid patting, this is quite an aggressive gesture that is more a human thing than a dog greeting. Instead, aim for long, firm strokes that will have the dog cooing with pleasure.
Speak, Sniff, Stroke.
Remember, the welfare of the blind dog is paramount. Always ask their owner first if it's OK to say hello, and then introduce yourself to the dog before approaching. With the dog aware of where you are, extend a hand to be sniffed. Only if the dog is relaxed and wants to be friends should you stroke them.
Follow these three simple steps to ensure a happy dog. Indeed, these rules apply to all dogs, including sighted ones, as key to human-dog harmony and happiness.