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Sunday, 18 March 2018

What does your dog do? (4)

She undresses me

I remember being asked, at my Canine Partners assessment visit, whether it would be useful for a dog to help me get undressed. I dismissed it as something I could do myself and thought no more about it. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it is one of the most useful things that Liggy does for me. Sure, I can do it myself but I hadn't realised how much energy it would save me and how much better my back would be if I stopped fighting with my clothes and let her do all the hard work for me.

My favourite thing is when she takes my pyjama jumper off. I've got one of those big fluffy over-jumper thingies that I use instead of a dressing gown but the sleeves stick to my pyjama sleeves, making it really difficult to remove. Liggy makes light work of it though. For today's video, I didn't think taking pyjamas off was a very good idea, so we went for the removal of coat and saloupettes.

She also takes off socks, shirts, hoodies, cardigans, etc. Her latest trick is to remove my socks and then run straight round to the other side of the bed and put it straight in the wash basket. I think that is just brilliant!

Saturday, 17 March 2018

What does your dog do? (3)

Sticks and crutches

I had a few people, last week, tell me they enjoyed watching Liggy retrieving small items off the floor. It is quite amazing how she can pick up even really tiny things and give them back to me, without eating them. However, I find it equally amazing, given her relatively small size (for a lab) that she can pick up big items like my walking stick and crutches. This was one of the first tasks she learned when we came home. To help her know where to pick them up, we put blue tape round. This is also helpful because metal can feel a bit strange on her teeth, so the tape feels soft, which she prefers. Anyway, this video was taken at Christmas (hence the tree). At that time, it was just a game but now, it's another of those tasks that I wonder how I ever coped without.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

What does your dog do? (2)

Yesterday, I showed how Liggy comes downstairs on a morning and lifts the footplate on my stairlift. The next thing she usually does, is perhaps her easiest task of all but she does this a lot for me, at various points throughout the day. She does it a lot at work. She does it in church. She does it in restaurants...

Being unobtrusive

Photo of Liggy lying quietly in her bed

It would be easy to forget the value of this one because it's not a task at all really. However, can you imagine what my work life would be like if Liggy wasn't able to settle quickly and quietly, wherever I need her to? In reality, she does a fair bit of this in my office...

Liggy lying quietly in my office

In the morning, she generally lies quietly while I have my breakfast and a couple of cups of coffee. Then we change rooms and she lies quietly again while I do physio. Of course, if something were to happen... if I were to drop something, she would be up in a shot!

Retrieving dropped items

It's pretty much impossible to video this in a real situation because even though I drop things all the time, I rarely have my phone to hand and ready to video it. She is just too quick for that. Here's a quick clip of her retrieving some items. I picked a pencil, a highlighter pen and a loyalty card. A pencil is thin but otherwise, not too tricky. She does pens too. The highlighter pen is quite tricky because it's slippery and a funny shape. The loyalty card is really thin and small. If she wanted to, she could probably eat it... but she knows it's mine and it doesn't smell of food, so she hands it straight back to me.

At some point, I should count up how many things I drop during a normal day. Keys, pens, money, cards... That's why this was her first task that she learned. I would guess that this is the most commonly taught and used task for Canine Partners.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

What does your dog do? (1)

I wish I got a pound for every time I'd been asked this question. I'll be honest, sometimes it's a bit annoying. I only get half an hour's lunch break and I don't have time to throw in 5 conversations about how amazing Liggy is, even if I would love to.

A while ago, I did a whole load of posts about PIP. I took a section per post and it took ages to get through. Well, I'm going to attempt to do the same here in answer to the question, "What does your dog do?"

First thing in the morning

Liggy is like me, an early riser. She loves waking up and greeting me with one of her growing pile of soft toys. This morning, it was her rugby ball (Ikea - dirt cheap). Once I'm up, we come downstairs. It goes a bit like this...

When we first came home, I wondered how the stairlift would work. There wasn't one on the onsite training and it was the first new routine I had to work out for myself. I had discussed it with Cat, Liggy's trainer, and we'd decided I would put her in a sit, make her wait and then call her when I get to the top/bottom. In reality, she found it difficult to sit for that long on our slippy floor. I don't know whether her hips are a bit double-jointed but when she sits, her legs slide out and she does the splits. It's the same in shops, so now we use a 'down' more often unless it's on concrete or carpet.

First thing in the morning, I'm trying to be quiet so that Neil can sleep, so I keep commands to a minimum. Liggy knows the routine though. The only thing she needs a command for is to break her wait and let her know she's safe to 'lift it' (the footplate).

Lift it

This was Liggy's second task that I taught her by myself. I used a clicker to train her to do it. It took ages for her to work it out but I had listened to Cat's instructions and tried to build it up gradually and always end with the finished result. So first, I just put the footplate in the up position and got her to touch it with her nose. Then I pulled it out a little and got her to push it closed. The hardest bit was when it was fully down. She couldn't work out how to get her nose under. So we took another break, went and played and came back to it later... and she just suddenly did it. I threw a party (and treats - all over the floor) and then she just wanted to do it again and again. Each time she did it, I added the command, 'lift it'. I don't know if she really knows the command yet. I think it's more that she hears my voice and knows it okay to do it.

This task is helpful to me, as I don't have to bend or try to balance on one leg whilst lifting it with my other foot. Plus, Liggy loves it. Did you see her tail wagging?!!

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Wow! Liggy has rendered me silent!

I've only just realised, it's over two months since I last posted. I really thought that I'd be on here more frequently, posting updates of Liggy's antics, but in reality, I've forgotten about this because I've been so taken up with my new friend. So, now seems a good time to share what life is like with my new Canine Partner.

At home

I'm an early-bird. I usually wake naturally between half past five and six o' clock in the morning and I'm full of the joys of spring. Okay, my body takes a little while to kick in but in my head, I'm ready for action. Until recently, I've been alone in this. Neil and the boys like their sleep, so I have to get up quickly and quietly so as not to disturb them. Now... now I get a morning greeting that is simply wonderful! The second I wake up, Liggy is off her bed and at my side, tail wagging ten to the dozen.

In spite of her enthusiastic 'good morning', as soon as we come downstairs, she goes back to sleep for an hour or so while I eat and consume vast quantities of coffee. She comes into her own, when I go up to get showered and dressed. She knows the routine now... I sit on my bed and she sits in front of me. I offer her a sleeve, a trouser leg, a sock... and she tugs gently until it comes off. If it's something small like a sock, she brings it back to me and puts it in my hand. I have to say, I hadn't thought about a dog helping me undress but it has been really helpful and takes the pressure of my lower back.

In the evening, after work, Liggy absolutely loves coming home, especially if Neil is home before us. She leaps around and dances round in circles like a mad dog. She has a thing about carrying a soft toy when she is happy or excited, so she runs in, grabs the nearest teddy or soft ball and parades it around with utter pride. Recently, she has taken to emptying her toy box and having a very quick play with each toy before leaving them all scattered around the house. Later, we have a game where she picks them up, one by one, and puts them back in her toy box. Hopefully, this game of putting things in a receptacle will eventually extend to the washing machine and tumble dryer.

When I go upstairs, I usually use my stair lift. It took some practice to get Liggy to wait at the top or bottom while I travel and then come and join me, but now she does it automatically. Even better, I've taught her to lift the footplate up, out of the way, when I've finished with it.


I remember when Cat, Liggy's trainer, first rang me, she said that Liggy would be a good match because she is clever and active and loves doing tasks, but she will also settle really quickly and sleep while I'm in meetings. Well, she was spot-on! Mostly, Liggy is off-lead at work. She is free to potter around the offices and do what she wants. In reality, she chooses to lie on her bed in my office until I drop something and then she is up in a second and picks up whatever I dropped and gives it back to me.

Some of my colleagues wanted a way of interacting with Liggy, so I bought her a little bag, small enough to carry bits and pieces around. Every now and then, someone will call out, "Send the bag!" I give Liggy the bag and tell her who to take it to. They help out by calling her name. Then she returns it to me with something in it. She clearly thinks this is a great game, as she then stares me out until I restock the bag and send her off with it again, tail wagging away.

Out and about

Okay, so nobody is perfect and as they told us at Canine Partners, she is a dog, not a robot. She has a personality and some quirky behaviour. Generally, she is great to take out with me. In restaurants and shops, she is as good as gold! She walks nicely, lies quietly, helps me take my coat off and picks up anything I drop, even my crutches!

Her Achilles Heel is wind! When it's windy, she finds it difficult to focus on anything except how exciting leaves and sweet wrappers are when they blow. In the grand scheme of things, it's not a big problem for me, as I wouldn't choose to spend long battling windy weather anyway but it's something we are working on with her.

This week, she has also had her first proper experience of snow. At first, she wasn't very keen and just kept sniffing at it with a suspicious look on her face. By Wednesday though, she was playing on the field at work with a colleague and me and she was loving it! I kept throwing her ball and she ran and then skidded and rolled around in the snow to get it. Then we substituted snowballs instead of her rubber ball. This was hilarious! I threw a snowball and she caught it - she's getting good at catching - but then it melted in her mouth before she could give it back to me. She was completely baffled by the mystery of the disappearing balls!