Monday, January 25, 2010

NIKKI's Magic Leash

NIKKI is rapidly becoming the best physical therapist assistant around! Again today she helped a very reluctant preschooler become more proficient on the playground. The very timid 4 year old does not really care for the playground. Lindsey, her physical therapist, tells me that this little girl typically tries to find every excuse in the book as to why she can’t go on the playground. Today NIKKI was brought in to see if she could coax the 4 year old to do a little more. Lindsey used NIKKI as a motivator, asking the little girl “What do you want to show NIKKI next?” This sweet little girl climbed steps (reciprocally!), ladders and pulled up onto a very high step. Lindsey reported that the improved mobility on the playground that we saw today was not typical. Sliding down the slide was also made easier when NIKKI’s leash is available for holding (instead of a hand). When nothing else works…try the magic leash.

For NIKKI’s next act, she gets the award for the dog with the most patience. We took the NIKKI Gets Dressed activity from last week and dressed NIKKI instead. The educational activity working on concepts such as color, sequencing and the use of augmentative communication devices was a hit. Words can’t describe this activity so let me just post the picture of NIKKI “dressed” and ready to go out to play in the "snow". I know, I know, she looks like she is about to go to the Eiffel Tower instead of out to play in the snow. But she was a good sport and the kids loved it! Au Revoir! Sharon

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thanks for the Golden Retriever Day....

“Thanks for the golden retriever day”…these are the words of Sam as we finished our session today. He is the little guy I wrote about in the blog titled “Golden Trader”. NIKKI and I visited Sam again today to continue work on the playground. Nancy, Sam’s physical therapist, tells me that since NIKKI’s last visit when we worked on the playground Sam has maintained the skills that he demonstrated with NIKKI. Nancy also tells me that when Sam is walking in line with his class his teacher will occasionally remind him to walk like he did when he had NIKKI and her leash. Apparently this little reminder helps him to increase his speed and keep up with the class. On the playground Sam no longer needs to hold on to Nancy or other adult to climb the ladders and slide down the slide. Nancy said that it seems that once he realized that he could do these things with just NIKKI’s leash he started to do more. So today Sam maneuvered the uneven terrain of the playground and the equipment with just a little verbal prompting. He was happy to have NIKKI watch from the bottom of the slide or ladder. Since NIKKI seems to be such a motivator for Sam, Nancy wanted to work on the bus steps again. She wanted Sam to use just one hand on the banister to come down the steps. Since holding the dog and leash are difficult in the tight space, we gave Sam one of NIKKI’s “favorite” treats to hold in his left hand while using the banister with the right. He then could give her the treat when he was off the steps. The top step was the hardest but the last 3 he did really well and with just one hand on the banister. It was really neat to see the improvement that Sam has made on the playground and with walking in line with his class. Perhaps NIKKI gave him just the little confidence he needed to be more independent.

I have to tell you that I work with some really awesome people that totally support what I am doing with NIKKI. Amy is a speech therapist and assistive technology specialist. She has created many of the educational activities that we have been using this school year. She has developed a social story to teach the students in a special education classroom how to approach a dog. She has developed several activities that focus on the educational and speech goals of the students that NIKKI visits that don’t have the need for physical therapy. Today, along with Julie, a speech therapist who is also very supportive of NIKKI, we worked on prepositional concepts – like over, under, beside and inside. Amy read a story about clothing items that we wear in the winter (in the format similar to Brown Bear Brown Bear). The kids hid the Cheerio in/under/beside the clothing item and Julie prompted the students to use an augmentative communication device or their voice to command NIKKI to “find it”. Once NIKKI found the Cheerio, Julie prompted the students to say where NIKKI had found the Cheerio (under the sweater, inside the shoe). It’s a wonderful and fun way to learn those needed concepts.

Another wonderful person that I work with is Amelia. She is a teacher of children with autism. Amelia has developed some really awesome activities for her students and NIKKI. My favorite and one I have used over and over is the Venn diagram. A Venn diagram is two large circles that intersect in the middle and is used as an educational tool to sort items (in this case what humans can do, what dogs can do and what they both can do). Amelia developed card that depicted all of these different things and the kids sort them into the appropriate circle. She even further developed this activity for the Smart Board. Today’s activity focused on winter clothing, colors and where the clothing items belongs on the body….in this case the model of NIKKI. The students listened to a story set to a familiar song. They had to find the colored clothing item and “pin” it on the dog. This activity was awesome.

So today was a “golden retriever day”. Golden because I got to use a cool dog to help kids gain needed skills. Golden because I am so blessed to have the opportunity to work with such wonderful, creative people that truly love the students and their jobs. And golden because we made a lot of kids smile today. Just another golden retriever day.


Friday, January 1, 2010


New Years Day. Always a good day for a little reflection….and sleep. It is 6:30am. Only 6 ½ hours ago that glass ball dropped. I am certain NIKKI and Watson (my black lab) were up watching that ball drop too. I guess that ball thing means nothing to them– even when I took them outside late and gave them a small treat/bribe to let me sleep in a little longer. I think it is a conspiracy. Watson – the older dog lays there, often sighing loudly as NIKKI pokes her nose in my face. I know he wants me up as much as she does but he is going to allow her to do the dirty work. So I am awake. Why not blog…..right? And since it is New Years Day, I will reflect on the past year just a bit and declare some resolutions for the New Year.

NIKKI and I became a real team this year. She and I really learned each other. We seem to sense each others needs better. She watches me more intently and I am clued into her cues. In most ways this is wonderful. She and I know each other so well I am confident that we can work in any situation. A trust has been built. But with this, a little separation anxiety has developed. To accommodate this, I plan our visits so that she can be by my side at all times or I take her home.

We have been taking some advanced obedience classes and I really think the information gained through this class has led us to be where we are today. I learned a ton about positive dog training and how to handle NIKKI without yanking a leash and firm commands (my previous method of dog handling!) I also learned how to teach NIKKI some new tricks. Tricks are really good when working with the kid’s….and adults too. It really doesn’t take much to impress people. The kids just think it is cool and most adults are amazed by the obedience….often reflecting on their own dog’s inability to do any of the things that NIKKI can do. My intention for the New Year is to teach NIKKI a few new tricks….like playing dead (a frequent request), balance a treat on her nose (this will be a challenge – NIKKI does not like this!), to find a hidden treat and to put hand signals to her tricks. (I am sure there will be more…it is just too early to think about what else we can learn!)

And I hope to increase our work as a rehabilitative assistance dog. NIKKI has proven to be a motivator for kids during their therapy sessions. I don’t think the research can prove this but it is very obvious that kids work harder when the dog is around. Every speech or physical therapist that I work with tell me how much harder the kids work when NIKKI is around. Dogs certainly have a place in a therapist’s bag of tricks when trying to help kids learn new skills. Kids talk louder and more with NIKKI. Kids walk faster and will try more with NIKKI. Kids can learn things like positional concepts when working with NIKKI. Not so normal kids become the coolest kids in the school when they have NIKKI’s leash. If we make a difference – even a small difference -then it is worth it.

So before I mislead you into thinking NIKKI is the perfect dog….let me tell you about a few of the other things I have learned about NIKKI this year. I have learned that NIKKI loves to stare at rabbits. When there is a rabbit in the yard it is a stare down until I go and chase the rabbit away. NIKKI doesn’t like to go for her daily walk. She prefers to go back to bed when the leash comes out. I insist on these daily walks. Once I find her and get her out there she is a fabulous walking companion. NIKKI likes our cat Sammy. She loves to torment this 13 year-old cat. Sammy is usually tolerant – until the other day when she got a double swat with the clawed paw. NIKKI (and Watson) love to let us know when someone is at the door, walking by the house or if a leaf blows outside. They bark in unison and feed off of one another. Luckily NIKKI knows “quiet” but Watson has yet to master that term….he responds better to the frustrated “shut up!” NIKKI is also highly food motivated. This love for food has gotten her in trouble – twice. Let’s just say that I learned how to induce vomiting this year and I think this new skill will come in handy with NIKKI in the future.

It has been a wonderful year. NIKKI is wonderful dog and through NIKKI I can give of myself. Giving of myself to others is what I believe is my purpose in this life. Stay tuned….I will try hard this year to keep this blog updated with NIKKI’s new tricks and some of the cool things she is doing with the kids. Happy New Year!