Google the golden retriever is a dog of many talents
- Credit: Archant
Pupils are delighted by a dog that can read, takes off your socks and tidies up his toys.
The pupils of Esthwaite Primary school in the lovely Lake District village of Hawkshead are in for a treat when Google, a Golden Retriever, visits their morning assembly. In fact, he is very much the star of the show, as he demonstrates his many talents and tricks with a calm demeanour and a dash of humour.
Sandy Childs, Google’s owner, introduces her pet as an assistance dog and with the help of a willing volunteer – the school secretary – demonstrates how Google can help disabled people by picking up keys, unzipping and pulling off jackets and tackling a chore that only a best friend would do – pulling off socks. The clever canine also delights his young audience by showing how he can switch lights on and off by pressing a large button light and open doors by pulling on a tag fixed to the handle.
Sandy explains how Google can also craftily use his skills to his own advantage. ‘When a puppy came to live with us two years ago, Google opened the door and then shut the puppy out having realised that it was much more peaceful without him!’
Eight-year-old Google is an old hand at working with children and has been visiting schools for seven years. One of his roles is to lend a sympathetic, furry ear to children who lack confidence with reading. Google’s calm presence, and the fact that he listens without judgment, has given many children the confidence to read aloud and develop literacy skills. He also acts as an inspiration for writing activities where Sandy uses photographs or Google’s diary as a basis for developing language skills and creating stories.
During the school’s special assembly Sandy shows us that Google really is top dog when it comes to reading. On cue, he reads individual cards with written commands and diligently obeys each one, barking when he reads the card saying ‘speak’, offering Sandy his paw when he reads ‘paw’. In all, he can read 12 words and, judging by the gasps of surprise, not only the children, but the staff, are clearly impressed. Google even wins a spontaneous round of applause and takes a timely bow.
Sandy explains: ‘I always say to the children that if a dog can do that, just think what you can do. Behaviour is often much calmer when Google is around and he quickly picks up on people who are upset. Often children find it easier to talk about problems like bullying or bereavement when they have a dog by their side. Google can help in counselling sessions and has even encouraged a selective mute boy to speak.’
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Google, who is also known as Mr Bear, shows that he has a fun side too as he drops balls into a basketball net and, with the encouragement of the pupils, places quoits on a pole. He even tidies up afterwards, placing his toys carefully in a box.
Google then takes time out and settles contentedly with the children to watch a short presentation about his life. He obviously enjoys the attention while the children learn about his hobbies which include surfing on a body board, digging, eating ice-cream and walking or swimming with his doggy pals. And then it’s time to take a final bow and raise a final delighted laugh as Sandy balances Tango, his favourite toy, an orange orangutan, on his raised backend. Google then mingles with his audience who have clearly been inspired by this remarkable visitor. Pupils chatter happily about their own dogs and make a beeline for Google. Year 1 pupil Catalina tells me that she is already planning to teach her dog to put her toys away. Sophie, aged 10, adds: ‘He’s really sweet. I was surprised that he could do all those things, especially read. I think that I would like to train pets for the disabled when I’m older.’
Google’s ability to calm, motivate and inspire learners never ceases to amaze staff too. Joyce Hallam, the headteacher sums up Google’s visit: ‘The children were spellbound by the dog’s ability to do such a range of activities to support those in need. It is important children are aware of the positive ways that animals can be trained to help people with disabilities and it broadens their horizons.’
Google is also no stranger to celebrity life. When O2 began to roll out their 4G networks in 2013 Google was chosen as their poster boy and his photograph was seen on billboards and the sides of buses. Sandy also proudly tells me that he is the ambassador and demonstration dog for Dog Aid, a charity that supports people in training their pet dogs to become qualified Assistance Dogs.
Recently the pair moved to Little Arrow, between Torver and Coniston, where Sandy is now running a Bed and Breakfast business and dog friendly holiday cottages, at her home, Wheelgate. Google is already welcoming visitors, writing a new diary and enjoying forays into the surrounding countryside. He is always accompanied by Jeeves, the Golden Retriever pup that once plagued him. The young dog is now a firm friend and waiting in the wings to take over when the time comes for Google to retire. w
Sandy and Google are sponsored by the Kennel Club Bark and Read Foundation. If you would like Sandy and Google to visit your school please contact them on: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com.