It is a good day to talk about Maisie, particularly her job: assisting me with life!
I won’t repeat Maisie’s whole story – you can see that HERE – and last year’s National Dog Day post HERE – but this year I will go into more detail about how Maisie and I work as a team, what she’s been taught to do, and how she helps me.
One thing I want to mention: with all of my dogs I speak to them, I don’t bark commands at them for the most part. For example, “Come over here and sit down” rather than “Come! Sit!” And I haven’t had a dog yet that wasn’t smart enough to understand plain English. Still, sometimes there are things I want her to do that can be explained with just a single word, though usually spoken conversationally rather than commanded. And this also has a purpose…
As an example: She knows to “go home”, this was in the event that I got turned around or confused in one of the larger campgrounds on a walk. Normally, “let’s go home” will turn her in the right direction and get us on our way back to the RV. But one day I had an asthma attack on our walk, we were several blocks away, and I didn’t have a puffer with me. She knew I meant business when I said, “Maisie, home! Now!” Kinda like I did when my mom used my real name instead of my nickname when I was a kid…anyway, that day she took the lead and half-pulled me through campsites (usually a no-no!) directly back to the motorhome. She is obedient to conversational “commands” but sat up and took notice when I barked at her! (Note that I’d never said “NOW!” to her, or used that tone with that command – it was definitely her instinct kicking in as well as my words that day – maybe even more her than me!)
Some other walking commands are “Step-stop” which I use when going up or down steps, mostly. Since I have a mild vertigo going on almost always, I take extra care with steps. This way she will take one stair at a time, stop while I either step up/down next to her, or use her to steady myself (NOT LEAN ON HER!), or get myself into position to move without hurting myself. But she also does step-stop on level ground; I used that when she was learning to heel and was losing focus, and continue to use it in certain circumstances.
And speaking of “heel” I don’t use that word. (I can never remember it when I need it, for one thing!) I tell her, “Maisie come around” which brings her to my left side, and then, “Walk easy” which means she doesn’t have the lead, I do, so she needs to slow herself to stay at my side, watch for gait changes/turns/stops, and even backing up which I rarely do but on a good day I can, just to keep her in the habit.
So when Maisie walks with me it isn’t just accompanying me, she also has to stop for me to steady myself or catch my breath or whatever, help me up or down stairs or slopes (using “pull” to give me a little boost up, or “easy” to help me go down without losing my footing), and so forth. Note that she also will do these things when I’m using my walker, though she still needs more practice when I’m on my scwalker*, as the whole dynamic changes…but that will be a future post.
Speaking of “pull” (usually more like, “Come on, Maisie, pull gurl!” – not “PULL!”), she is great about knowing the difference based on context. For example, going uphill she will lean forward into her harness to offset my boosting myself, but when I need to take off my socks or jeans she will pull them over my feet – or a shirt over my head, or whatever – and hand them to me; she’s never shown any confusion when I’ve used the same command in different situations.
Probably what she does most for me is pick up things I’ve dropped, find something I’ve misplaced, and carry something somewhere. She knows the things that always fall, like my wireless mouse, and just picks them up and hands them to me without comment. The most common thing I misplace is the remote control for the TV, it gets lost in the covers – or goes overboard! – frequently so she knows, “Uh-oh, the ‘mote!” and rolls her eyes and sighs and finds it and returns it to me. She carries when, for example, I’m moving my laptop, beverage, and phone from the front of the motorhome to the rear; I can say, “I forgot my glasses” and she’ll get them (in the case) and carry them along with me. Just for a few examples.
She knows dozens of words for objects but often I will drop something that doesn’t have a name she knows. In that case, I will just say, “Uh-oh! Get it…” and she will bring whatever is new to that spot. I have various things next to my bed on the wheel well for example, and if I drop something that isn’t usually there – a spoon, we’ll say – she’ll take a quick inventory and then grab the spoon and hand it to me. (I love how she manages little tiny things, like the back of an earring…she’ll pick it up with those little front teeth, press her nose right into my hand, and eject the tiny object with a little “pffft” – it’s so cute!) She also will “get the other one” – if I ask for a slipper, or a croc, or whatever she brings one, then waits for me to tell her to “get the other one”, usually after I’ve put the first one on.
Over the head of the bed is a compartment that has a door the opens upwards, with a thingy (strut? IDK) to hold it open. From either the bed or standing next to it I hook my back scratcher under the handle and pull the door up, where it stays while I get what I wanted; then, so I don’t have to reach/stretch/twist my spine, I can tell her just “get it, gurl!” and she will half-stand on her hind legs to grab the back scratcher and bring it down to my level so I can close the door. It always closes with a bang which she hates so I never ask her to do that part.
She knows the difference between “wait” and “stay”, waiting until I get down the steps to go outside until I’m on terra firma and tell her “ok”.
OH! One big thing is my legs which are often very painful. I sit with my legs stretched out in front of me and tell her, “Maisie, get on my yegs” (just how I say it, don’t know why) and she will stretch her body along them, where her body weight (80#) and heat gives me some relief. Now if I could only teach her to give me foot rubs…hahaha!
There are a lot of things that she doesn’t do often, that I’ve only taught her and used a couple of times, such as picking up laundry that missed the basket, and dropping it in; since she learns so quickly, while anticipating what I will be asking of her, these things are easy and once she does them she may or may not use them again. And there are things she hasn’t been taught to do, but seems to know that I need, so she does them. Offhand I can’t think of an example but it’s happened often enough over the last 3+ years that it’s a thing.
She knows “under” so that I can have her lay down out of the way when I’m sitting for a while; I usually have her lay down under the table that’s next to me. But while playing ball the other day her tennis ball rolled under the car while she was looking at a squirrel. Then she couldn’t find it. But when I pointed to the car and said, “It’s under there” she instantly recognized the word and looked under the car, then crawled in to retrieve it.
My physical issues include mild vertigo (from my stroke in 2008) that is exacerbated by uneven surfaces, etc. a “hockey stick” leg that juts out to the side at the knee and is very unstable, arthritis that started in my thoracic spine 40ish years ago and now is everywhere from jaw to feet, cardiovascular disease (prinzmetals angina) – which she can’t really help with, other than to bring me my purse which contains my nitro and aspirin – and after-effects from my stroke that would take a whole ‘nother post to describe! So there are many many ways that she’s been able to help me, which has taken some of the burden off from Pete. She’s definitely made my mobility and stability issues easier to manage, as well as some of the more subtle things that come along with those, and the stroke. In addition, when my emotions about all this try to drag me under, she’s always there.
There is, of course, SO much more! But I think this has given an accurate picture of how Maisie and I get through our days together. And that’s why I wanted to honor her on National Dog Day today. I hope you have enjoyed reading this!
*My scwalker is a mobility device I use if I have to walk more than a very short distance. There are a number of issues I have with walking, due mostly to my spine, and my scwalker has been my “legs” for the last couple of years. I’m much more stable and balanced when using it. See also With A Little Help From My Scwalker.