From Lap to Laundry: Papillon Service Dogs

By Debi Davis

“Mommy, Mommy!” the child squeals, seeing my little 9 pound Papillon fetch the cell phone for me. “Look at that doggie. He wants to talk on the phone!”

Talking on the phone is a behavior I haven’t taught him yet–it’s up there with cleaning out the toilets and doing the dishes. But it’s one of the few things he can’t do for me.

I’m a double amputee with vasculitis, and I use a wheelchair for mobility. Because I get dizzy when I bend down, Peek has been trained to do ground-floor chores for me. In the USA, dogs like Peek specifically trained to assist people with disabilities, are granted full access privileges to public facilities, the same as guide dogs assisting their blind owners. Peek is allowed to accompany me into restaurants, stores, in airplane cabins uncrated and even in hospital visits, when I’m an in-patient.

In spite of their diminutive size, Papillons make excellent service dogs. They are alert, enthusiastic about learning, and love nothing more than the opportunity to spend every waking hour with the person they love. It’s a good life for my working dog, who embraces his job with great enthusiasm.

He loves doing the laundry, pulling out the warm clothes from the dryer, placing them in the basket, then tugging the basket into the bedroom for me to fold the clothes. Quietly munching on his bone until I call him to put the folded clothes away, he leaps to my voice cue to go back to work, and places the folded clothes into the drawers. When all the laundry has been put away, he then takes the basket back to the closet, and closes the door.

In the kitchen, Peek’s also a great help. He opens and shuts all the lower cupboard doors, the drawers, and opens and shuts the refrigerator door for me, by pulling on a dishcloth I have fastened to the door handle. He brings me paper towels, carries the kitty litter bag to the trash can, and picks up all the things that have dropped on the floor, like those inevitable pencils, paper clips and pennies.

Tidying up the house is also a breeze with Peek at my side: he picks up newspapers, dirty clothes, errant towels, hair curlers, envelopes and magazines, and places them in a basket to be taken where they belong, saving me the agony of bending over, and getting dizzy in the process.

Out in public, Peek becomes a marvelous assistant. In restaurants, he lies quietly on his pad under the table, and is ready to fetch anything I might drop, such as my napkin, my spoon, or pocket change. When we are ready to leave, he retrieves his pad, gives it to me to put in the backpack I carry on my wheelchair, then scoops up his leash from the floor and places it in my hand.

When my hands are full of packages, Peek opens electric doors by jumping on my lap, reaching up and pawing the handicap door opener button. Once the door opens, he hops off, fetches his leash, and follows behind me until he’s through the door, then takes up his normal heel position beside my chair.

When we get home, Peek helps put away the groceries, then puts the folded grocery bags in the bin under the sink for me. Exhausted, we both flop down on the bed, and I usually realize I forgot to ask Peek to make the bed that morning. So before we take a nap together, Peek and I make the bed together. He gets on his side, grasps the sheets, pulls them up, then repeats the exercise with the comforter. He jumps down to the floor, retrieves the feather pillows, and drags them back up on the bed, putting them at the bedstead. I do the same on my side, and in 2 minutes, the job is complete. In 4 minutes we’re both asleep.

Peek is one of many toy dogs doing mobility assistance work for a person with a disability. But there are other types of service work that Papillons can do just as well. They make excellent “signal” dogs, or “hearing-ear” dogs, because they are so alert. A signal dog works with its hearing-impaired owner, alerting the owner to sounds in the environment, both at home and in public.

At home, the trained signal dog will paw the owner when the doorbell, the microwave, or the alarm clock goes off. It will also lead the owner to the nearest exit in case the smoke alarm goes off, a lifesaving gesture. Signal dogs also alert their owners to their names being called, and take their owners to the source of the voice. While in the car, the signal trained Papillon can paw the owner if a police or ambulance siren is heard.

The service dog who works with psychological and emotional disorders is also doing a valuable service. Imagine living with agoraphobia, and not being able to leave your house for years. Often, all it takes in such a situation is to have a companion dog along to help get a person back into the ebb and flow of life again.

Not all Papillons are suited for service work, however, just as not all Papillons excel in the breed ring, or the agility ring, or in obedience work. Normally, the dog who enjoys obedience training, has a calm disposition, and is not easily excitable or frightened, has the best chance of succeeding as a service dog.

But even the timid, quiet dog who doesn’t care for outside attention can be trained to be a home-service dog, doing retrievals for those with arthritis, with bad knees, with aching backs, or by doing hearing-ear work for those who must take out their hearing aids at night. There is no end to the creative ways our little dogs can help us at home.

Most of us, at some time in our lives, will either be living with some type of disability, or will have friends and family members who are. A Papillon service dog could do wonders for those people, giving them real assistance with daily life, and still get the joy of being a full-time companion. When trained with humane methods, and treated with respect and love, the service Papillon leads a wonderfully fulfilling life. There is no more important job in the world.