If you like pictures of dogs, and a random woman talking about her dog, then you are in luck my friend.
This is Bob, he’s my English Springer Spaniel.
Bob is 5 years old, and will turn 6 on the 20th December 2018! (Incoming doggo birthday pictures…) Before I get started with telling you about my project with him, let me let you get to know him better.
Bob has many friends – even more than are in this collage. His favourite friends are the ones he walks with everyday, which includes (but is not limited to – remember!) Bridon (left) and Barney (Top right). The other two beautiful doggies are Tyler, who belongs to my friend Sophie, and Barney the other spaniel.
Bob likes to do many things. My mum makes him dog food from her dog cookbook, meaning he gets special cakes for his birthday which he LOVES to try and eat all in one. He likes the snow, and the mud. His absolute favourite hobbies though? Laying upside down, and snuggling. Oh, and he zooms. He zooms really fast.
I can remember the day that Bob was picked up by my mum and brought home like it was yesterday – and that’s not an exaggeration. I was at school at the time, so I had to wait the full 6 hours of the school day to come home and see him. There I was, telling all my friends at school “I’m getting a puppy when I go home!” So excited. When I got home, he immediately was bouncing around and he came to sit right in my lap, with my legs crossed. He fit in the small gap between my legs perfectly, and he fell half asleep.
Over the years, as my mental health has gotten worse (and better, sometimes) he’s been there for me in different ways. Sometimes just having him around has been a massive help for me, because I don’t like being home alone for too long or left by myself. It also meant that I could go on walks but never feel vulnerable. He grew into quite a large spaniel, meaning that he can be pretty scary if he barks and growls loud enough. Other times, he’s been a good help when I’m having panic attacks or dissociating. I can use his fur for sensory advantages, or sometimes it just cheers me up to see his tail wagging and him sat at the end of my bed.
When I got diagnosed with BPD, it was mainly myself that taught me how to deal with it because of various other issues I won’t get into. So I figured recently that since Bob is already naturally inclined to help me, and he’s averagely smart (He can sit, lay down, roll over, play dead, you know how it is) why don’t I teach him to be my emotional support dog?
I know what you’re thinking, Chaz, that’s not even a thing in the UK. You’re right, I will never be able to register Bob as my legal emotional support dog (stupid, is the most kind word I can use to describe that) but I can still teach him the tricks like I taught myself the tricks. They aren’t “trainer approved” and I’m most definitely not a dog training expert or dog expert of any kind. However, the tricks I’m teaching him to do will help me with MY problems and they will also make a stronger bond towards myself and Bob.
The tricks I’m teaching Bob over the next few weeks are listed below. I’m going to list them, tell you what each one does for me and how it’ll help me, and then tell you how difficult I think it’ll be for him to learn it.
*TRIGGER WARNING FOR TALK OF SELF HARM AND PANIC ATTACKS*
1. Paws up/Paws down.
This is one that is popular among the online communities I’ve found where people have spoken about what kinds of things their emotional support dogs know how to do. It basically means you’re teaching your dog to get up on the chair, sofa, or bed with you… and then get down again. It can vary whether you have a small or big dog, if you have a small dog sometimes it can mean they sit on you.
If you have a big dog, sometimes it means they just put their paws up onto your lap, etc. For myself and Bob, we’re doing this so that he gets up on the couch and places one paw on my shoulder as a comforting technique. A helping hand, if you will! I don’t think this one will be too difficult for him to learn as he already paws at people when he’s begging for something, so we may see quick progress!
Cuddles is something that Bob already loves doing, but he’s very indecisive about it. He likes to cuddle but it’s very much in his own way, and I would like to teach him how to do it in a certain way which I can use when I’m upset. For this, I’ll be using the paws up command to get him onto the couch with me, and then using the cuddles command to get him to nuzzle his head into my chest or on my stomach. He will also be trained to stay there, until I say “paws off”. This will help me if I’m sad or upset, and also he’ll get cuddles. Shouldn’t be too hard…
This command is actually quite an important one, and I’m going to use it for a very specific reason. When I’m in my room and I’m panicking or upset, sometimes I’ll self harm. I won’t be able to call out for my mum or dad because I’m too weak, too tired, or scared to tell them what’s happened. It’ll be easier for me to either have Bob upstairs with me, or even go downstairs and tell him to speak.
This means he’ll bark loud enough for my parents to hear, and I can keep him barking until they come to where the sound is. Bob barks a lot when the doorbell rings or when he’s going out for walks, which is how I’m going to teach him to bark on command, however I don’t know how much he’ll be able to pick up on it.
Whenever I kneel down on the floor to pet or hug Bob, he runs away. I know, I’m really THAT bad apparently. So I’m going to teach him that when I’m kneeling down on the floor and say “hugs”, he’s supposed to jump slightly with his paws on both of my shoulders in a hug position. Even though this one sounds cute and more of a ‘fun’ one to learn, this will help me because I don’t really enjoy hugs from.. humans. That sounds mean, but they make me uncomfortable most of the time. Therefore, getting my dog to hug me? Perfect solution.
I’m hesitant to call this one DPT, because like I said, I’m not a professional so I couldn’t possibly teach my dog REAL DPT. Deep pressure therapy is used in many service dogs, and it’s basically where your dog either lays their whole body across a certain point on your body, or presses their elbows into a certain point on your body in order to calm you down. For this one, I’m using the command “help” because when I’m dissociating, I’m usually laying on the floor. Coincidentally, I almost always say things like “help” or “help me” because I’m terrified and/or disorientated.
This means that I can teach Bob the word “help” means to lay between my legs (with me laying on the floor) and with most of his upper body on my upper body. He’s quite heavy, meaning this will help me stop panic attacks, and also the heaviness of him may help bring me around from dissociating. (Also, it’s cute to have a dog laying on top of you.)
Kisses is more of a fun one, however it does also mean that when I’m dissociating, he can lick my face. I do something called sensory overloading (Read about it HERE) which means adding a dog lick to all of the other senses I’m using will be helpful. He doesn’t really like to kiss people though, so maybe this might be slightly harder than the other ones.
For now, those are the ones I’m going to focus on. He already knows how to put his head down into my lap and things along those lines, so if I need comfort that’s what I can do in the meantime. I started teaching him for 30 minutes yesterday (24/04/2018) afternoon, and he seemed to be picking some of them up pretty quickly. It will take a good few weeks for him to know them all by heart, but I’m excited to see him learn and grow and also to have that extra support from him.
One thing I will mention before I sign off, is that I’m also going to teach him to respond to the sound of crying and/or whining. I will usually be able to speak when I’m upset or panicking, at least one or two words to tell him what to do, but it will be cool if I can teach him to just respond when I’m upset automatically.
Clarification again that I am NOT a professional, the way I’m teaching my dog is the way I’ve decided works best for us. This is not medical advice or advice on how to train your dog to be a legal support dog!
I’ll update you in a weeks time with some data and information on how Bob is doing with his training. Hopefully this journey is just as exciting for everyone else than it is myself!
Chaz & Bob x