When we first brought home our new puppy, she was merely eight weeks old, a sweet ball of fluff, bouncing around, playing, eating then exhausted adorably falling asleep at our feet. Who can resist a puppy? Those endearing eyes make my heart melt, a happily wagging tail, always ready to play and be affectionate; a dog can bring great pleasure to a family. We house trained and taught her the basic commands, and the most important word of all: "no" which became frequently used, particularly when any piece of furniture resembled a tempting chew toy, but she quickly understood she had dog toys and everything else was off limits.
Having taught dogs before, I trained our new addition to the family in a similar manner. Each verbal command was accompanied by a visual signal. Little did we know at the time, how useful training a dog to recognise words and visual commands would be in the long term. Dogs, just like their owners, age, and with the ageing process, hearing and sight can become impaired. They always say a person chooses a dog that resembles themselves, and although we share a few character traits, I would hate to think I look like a Dogue de Bordeaux.
Once diagnosed with Parkinson's at age 44, we noticed our dear canine friend transform slowly, without special training, she appointed herself as my "assistance dog". Somehow her natural instincts took over. She sensed something was not quite right with me, my change in gait, shuffling feet, I would often lose balance and fall over. She seemed to know when I was in pain, staying right by my side, not leaving me for a moment. A sweet natured dog towards our family, her sudden intuition to protect and look after me was quite remarkable.
Any dog owner can no doubt distinguish between the different barks displayed in various circumstances. For instance, if our dog is barking at an unfamiliar person, in other words a possible threat to her human family, there is a specific clear identifiable bark for an intruder. Over the years I've seen her a few times in action, a scarier sight would be hard to find and I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end. She has an entirely different bark when finding a cat, hedgehog or other small creature which at great peril has unfortunately entered our garden and greeted by our over enthusiastic dog with great excitement and intrigue. Then there is another bark, one solely used in times of distress. This bark is like no other, and its penetrating recognisable tone is unmistakable. The first time I heard this particular bark was when I was choking on my morning pills and couldn't breathe. Our dog came to my rescue by raising the alarm and fetching my daughter.
However her favourite duty which she takes great delight in fulfilling with boundless dedication and enthusiasm is being my personal vacuum cleaner on four legs. Whether sitting at the table where sometimes I drop food, or whilst preparing meals in the kitchen, invariably something ends up on the floor. She cleans up without hesitation, whatever I drop. Shame I can't teach her to wash the floors or hoover - now that would be amazing!
A couple of weeks ago I had a bad cough leaving me with no voice at all for a few days. My husband, grateful of a reprieve from my endless chatter, enjoyed the peace and quiet. Have you ever tried answering the phone when all you can do is listen and the person on the other end cannot hear you at all? I suddenly found myself in a predicament; alone at home with our dog, who no longer in her prime is a little hard of hearing, I had no voice at all, the Internet was down, and I can barely manage to text messages on my phone due to lack of dexterity in my fingers. Talk about feeling cut off from the world. Luckily I was able to communicate my requests to our dog using the visual commands we had taught her as a puppy. Through visual dog commands and a bizarre episode of charades with my family, we managed to converse.
My dog has a face only a mother could love, she incessantly drools, snores loudly and smells (so I've been told). Due to Parkinson's I have no sense of smell, so it doesn't bother me! We have become inseparable and together 24/7 for over eight years; family and friends now know and accept, "Love me, love my dog"!