Updated: Mar 13
Oh, Zorro. The most over-enthusiastic assistance dog in the world sometimes, I fear!
This month, Zorro has been learning to do some pretty useful things. One of those things is helping me pick things up when I drop them. He's been working on different textures (metal, plastic, fabric, leather, silicone etc.) and also different sizes of objects, some more difficult than others. We're now working on him doing this when we're out and about, especially with distractions which make things a bit trickier for him.
Here's a little montage to give you some idea of what I mean...
He's also got pretty good at alerting me when my heart rate is too high- something he's never actually been formally trained to do. He's very good at it, and now I'm training him to sniff out and find my orange medical pouch on command so that I don't have to stand up (which would put me at risk of passing out if my heart rate is too high). He does this using scentwork. Basically, I've put a cotton pad containing a few drops of frankincense oil (which is safe for dogs) inside my fabric medicine pouch. Because this scent is so distinctive, Zorro can sniff it out wherever it is, whether it's on the kitchen sideboard or in my handbag. Don't worry, any medication is safely tucked away inside dogproof containers inside the orange pouch, so Zorro can't accidentally ingest any when he's bringing it to me!
Here he is in action...
Of course, these things are never foolproof. While Zorro is getting very good at his jobs, he's still learning that I don't want him to do them ALL THE TIME. We had a very funny incident the other day when I was changing the baby's nappy- I dropped the nappy and asked Zorro to pick it up for me. When he got a treat for doing it, he thought this was the best new game ever, and proceeded to bring me every single nappy in the packet one by one, running to and from the bathroom to fetch them. He was like some sort of deranged child at a school relay race. By the time I finished changing the baby, I was buried in what looked like a snowdrift of nappies, with a very happy dog sitting in the middle congratulating himself on what a helpful boy he'd been.
I now find it difficult to deliberately put anything on the floor, as he will pick it up and INSIST I take it back immediately. If I won't, he puts it on the sofa next to me, so by the end of each evening I'm usually covered in slippers, toys, bags and anything else he feels it was his job to return to me.
Basically, while he's excellent at the assistance stuff, he's not so good at being off-duty.
We're working on it!
It's not all work for Zorro. He has his own hobbies, too: he's doing his Level 2 Scentwork classes on Thursdays which he loves, and I'll talk about that more in June's roundup once he's finished the term. He also loves to play (he's only a year and a half old, after all), and is getting better at learning to rein himself in when other dogs aren't so keen on his rambunctious attempts to molest them. Earlier this month we went to London to meet my in-laws, and as it would've been a bit too overwhelming for Zorro this early on in his training, he went to stay on a farm with a lovely couple called Tina and Mike. Zorro had the time of his life running free with all of the other dogs all weekend, and was apparently very well behaved (to our relief)!
Then there's the beach, which Zorro finds tremendously exciting.
Here's an example of a typical beach walk with Zorro...
Zorro's Guide for a Brilliant Beach Walk:
Get down onto the sand and IMMEDIATELY dig a hole.
Bark in the hole.
Lunge, barking wildly, at any other dog on the beach who has a ball, because it must be MY ball and I NEED it.
Get told off by my mum for being an idiotic liability. She gives my my favourite seahorse toy, because she knows I can't bark while my mouth is full. I still try, though.
Carry my seahorse around the beach proudly and for all to see.
Take my seahorse in the sea to check it still floats. Bark at it so that it knows I am still its boss.
Nearly lose the seahorse to the tide, and have to swim after it to get it back.
Panic. Run up and down the beach digging holes, putting my seahorse in each hole and barking at it to tell it off for trying to escape me.
Laugh at the unsuspecting pensioners who keep falling in the holes I have dug all the way along the beach. I care not about them. They are not my mummy.
Get to the beach cafe. Mum puts my special jacket on. Now I must be a GOOD boy.
Visit the beach cafe and show off to everyone what a good boy I am.
Irritably stare down anyone who tries to touch me. I reject their pats. I AM TOO BUSY FOR YOUR NONSENSE.
Walk back across the beach on a loose lead, perfectly at heel next to the buggy, ignoring the other dogs playing and running around me. I don't even care that I no longer have my jacket on. I am a GOOD boy.
Continue to be a good boy all the way home in the boot of the car, only occasionally trying to reach through the dog gate to lick the baby in the back seat.
Get home and decide that being a good boy is boring. Steal and eat a colouring pencil to release my inner moron.
Spend the rest of the evening pooping rainbows.
For such a clever dog, he can be a real idiot sometimes. We're working on it!
Zorro is being trained by the charity Paws for Support. For more information, click here!