Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Landscaping for Blind Dogs

As a person who used to be into serious landscaping, I find creating a yard that is user-friendly for a blind hound and still somewhat attractive a HUGE challenge.
When Ray first came to live with us, I limited changes to removing things from the yard that could poke him in the eye and keeping the patio furniture pushed out of the way. But after a couple of years of watching Ray in action and seeing his patterns, I have slowly but surely been renovating the yard to be more Ray-friendly.

Extra yard for Ray to run
Since Ray pees on everything, the vegetable garden became more than a little useless. It would either have to be fenced-in or it would have to go. After a couple of years of indecision, and with a bit of regret, the veggies were retired and that section of the yard was over-seeded with grass. Ray now has a bit more open yard to run in and I have more spare time in the summer. (click on photos to view text)

One of Ray's best features (and I hope I don't jinx it by talking about it) is that he has self-designated places to poop. There are two sections of the far back yard that he uses routinely, but in the summer, these areas become less desirable to Ray because of the growth of perennials. So, in the summer, Ray switches to his less-than-ideal (from our perspective) summer-pooping locale, the lawn.

Schematic of the poop path
In order to preclude this from happening, I added the poop-path; stepping stones that traverse the sea of perennials that crop up every year and hinder access to Ray's chosen bathrooms. Although this was somewhat successful last summer, more perennials popped up in unexpected places and made access not as easy as Ray would like. So last fall, I did more rearranging and purging of the obstructions. I am hoping for better results this year.

Up for adoption, the cauldron; 
perennial wood poppies included
Last fall we also removed some hardscapes. The concrete birdbath was relocated to the front yard after Ray got excited about something, went offtrack of his usual memorized path, and nearly knocked himself cold by running into it at full-speed. We also relocated the thing that we fondly refer to as the 'cauldron;' a planter made out of a recycled truck tire. We inherited this unique, indestructible landscaping element from a friend and have had it for years. It serves a dual purpose; in the spring and summer it's a planter, in the fall we fill it with bones and skulls and it's a Halloween decoration. The cauldron is residing in a temporary location in the front yard and is currently up for adoption.

Ray's navigation aid (fence) 
bordered by pesky trees
Because Ray uses the fence as his navigation aid, I have been relocating plants that get in his way (i.e. take a beating) to other places in order to give him a clear run. Unfortunately, a couple of large trees also block Ray's path along the fence. He knows where they are and slows his gait to navigate around them.

Stepping stones to come...
Ray also has a route that he consistently uses to get the fence in the far back, if he gets a bit off track, he tends to run into one or another of the trees that border this passageway. I removed a swath of daffodils that grow up every spring in that area, and which seem to confuse him, and this week plan on laying some stepping stones so that the path is bordered by the remaining flowers. That way, with the stones under-paw, Ray will always know where he is in space and be able to avoid crashing into the harder-than-he-is trees.

This week, in a moment of uncharacteristic optimism (aka insanity), I ordered Zoysia grass plugs for the back yard. This type of grass, if I can get it established, is particularly hardy and grows into an incredibly dense, thick mat which I hope will be able to prevent digging and
Not-so-tall fescue.
withstand dog-paw traffic. It has the added benefit of being Ray's preferred grass type to flop on while traversing the neighborhood. The current tall fescue has shown itself to be wussy in the current situation and I have given up on trying to re-establish it.

Hey, when are you going to move the rock?
Doe, di, doe. Doe di doe.


  1. I think it's pretty great that you would alter the landscape to suit Ray's needs! Does he know how lucky he is?

    Love that cauldron! It's so unique!

  2. Geez, now I feel bad that I haven't done anything much for my blind trio! I am always surprised at how well they navigate and miss the trees in our yard. The only time we had a problem was when Brook ran, at full speed, head first into the shed. She almost knocked herself out. Literally.

    1. Do you have many trees in your yard? I've seen the photos you post on your blog and your yard looks so nice and open.

    2. We've got a pine tree (lower branches cut off), a good sized maple and a huge maple near the deck. Since the yard is so big, they do have lots of room to run.

    3. Yeah, Ray has to deal with 15 BIG trees in a smallish back yard. He does pretty well, on the whole. Just those couple give him a headache (snicker).

  3. Loving them comments - especially the rock .. how come you've not put some kinda blow-to-the-head softening material around the pesky obstacles (trees, rock etc) which you could also apply your artistic talent to decoratively & Ray could scritch (not pee) against? I could feel poor Ray's noggin post-birdbath, our sighted terrier did that after a particularly poor ball throw from yours truly and suffered for it in the short & longterms :0( Did Ray howl and/or grimace like Conor?

    1. Well, the trees along the fence are not really the problem. Ray knows those and slows when he nears them. Although, truthfully, I'd like to take at least one of them out of his way so that he can RUN along the fence without slowing.
      It's those two trees that I've labeled in the photo with the path through the daffodils that are the real problem. If Ray is scampering when he heads out the back door and towards the back fence, he gets a bit off-track and hits the tree on the left. If he feels that he is off-track and overcorrects, he hits the tree on the right. I want to put a path down so that he KNOWS where he is and can shoot straight back at a good clip. I want my blind dog to be able to RUN in his own backyard without knocking himself silly.
      I've only heard Ray yelp a few times. Once with the birdbath, once when he hit a tree HARD with his nose pad (when Murphy was here and they were playing), and once when he accidentally ran into Bert when he was playing with Ernie and Bert bit his snout and made Ray's nose bleed (that one started a fight - Ray was MAD). If he hits things with his noggin, nary a peep escapes him. But his nose is a bit more sensitive.
      As for the rock, Ray does not really have a problem with it. It's not in his usual running path along the fence but I would move it to the front yard if I could. I've thought of having a Rolling Rock (a brand of beer) rock-rolling party to see if I could get enough brawn here to shift it but the thought of potential injuries to guests stops me.

    2. Rolling Rock rock-rolling party sounds awesome - Google how the Egyptians did it? 'er indoors was pondering about scenting the trees to keep the hound on the straight n narra?

    3. I know the website that the doggy eye doctor recommended suggested perfume on edges of doorways as a signal for blind dogs. And I did bring some to the dog park when they installed the blind-dog obstacles (agility training). But the trees are kind of a different deal. They are only a problem occasionally when he gets excited or exits the back door at a run. I think putting down a few stepping stones will take care of things. Once he knows that he's supposed to be on the path to avoid the trees, he'll be fine. (I think). He's a smart dog.
      I will Google Egyptians. : D

  4. Hello! We have a lovable 3 y/o blind dog with her sweet, sighted sister- both rescues. we have had both dogs since they were 4 mos old and the blindness has come gradually through congenitally detaching retinas. We have moved and the new yard is open for a complete overhaul. I am contemplating wide, wandering paver paths. Both dogs love to run and chase each other- three trees are the only hazards. The yard is completely fenced. My questions:
    1. would changing the ground around the trees (ie: a wide mulch layer) be a good enough "clue" that she is approaching a tree
    2. Also, would changing the outer ground area by the fencelines keep her from running headlong into them (I see a wide river rock swath outlining the yard?

    Thank you!

    1. I think the things you're thinking about would probably work. Although, Ray never ran into the fence, I'm not exactly sure how he knew where it was. He used a lot of different clues to get around, some of them were definitely underfoot. One thing that I noticed was his ability to memorize a layout. Whenever we would go to someone else's house or yard, he would pace and pace and pace until he had everything set in his brain. Over time I learned that if I moved something out of his way or changed something to make it easier for him to navigate (at least I though it would), it took him a really long time to rewire his brain to accept the change. So unless it was absolutely necessary I tried not to change anything. So if your blind dog has already memorized the layout of her new yard, you might just consider leaving it as-is.
      Good luck with everything!