When it comes to clearing snow, most people wouldn’t mind a little help.
But Dean and Grace Edwards of Sunnybrae, near Salmon Arm, probably have the most unusual snow shovelling helper around.
Morgan, their six-year-old Newfoundland dog, loves to help clear snow. Not only can she use a hand – or in her case – mouth-held shovel, she can also operate the family’s mechanical snowblower.
“The snow shovel was no problem to teach, because she knows how to take stuff and hold it in her mouth,” says Dean. “But the snowblower took about a month. She was happy to jump up there and the noise and vibration didn’t bother her a bit, but teaching her to walk on her back legs, that’s a difficult thing to learn.”
Morgan is not your average 126-pound pet dog. Training is a hobby for Dean, but Morgan has been his star pupil. Morgan is a grand champion purebred Newfoundland, with titles in numerous doggie disciplines. These include multiple titles including water rescue, obedience, rally obedience and draft dog, which is where dogs pull a cart through a series of obstacle courses.
“I knew when she was 10 weeks old, she was special. I had a puppy kindergarten course in a book and she was picking up every thing and doing it perfectly in two or three tries. She is my fifth Newf – the other ones were also trained– but Morgan just had that special something.”
In a world where titles are added to a dog’s registered name, Morgan has more letters than the alphabet.
Her registered name is: VNCh CKC/NDSS UNX, GCh Nautica’s Not a Secret Anymore, CD, WRD, DDX, TDD, ThDn, CGC, Can. CDX, DDX, BDD1, BDDX2, WRDX, RA, CGN, ThD. In addition, Morgan, who is also fondly known as Miss Goo, for her typical Newfoundland propensity for drooling, is a registered St. John’s Therapy Dog, who visits seniors in retirement homes.
Morgan has a typical mellow Newf temperament. The dogs were bred to be excellent companions, especially with children, and also for water rescue, at which Morgan excels. She has passed all water tests except the hardest level, which she will attempt this summer. These tests involve towing boats and swimmers in trouble to safety. Her biggest challenge is to swim under an inflatable boat and rescue a person pretending to be a drowning swimmer.
This easy-going temperament is not always ideally suited to obedience work, but the combination of praise and cookie rewards has helped Morgan learn a huge repertoire of skills and tricks.
“She would never have learned if it was a negative experience for her, the old-style of pull and jerk, but when you break out the cookies, she is really happy to work and you can really tell she likes to learn new things,” says Dean. “And I love teaching her stupid tricks, she really enjoys the attention she gets.”
In addition to her work helping with snow shovelling, Morgan also helps around the house. She can fetch Dean’s beer from the fridge and get a bag of pretzels from the cupboard, not to mention closing the doors afterwards. She also puts things in the garbage and will push a vacuum around the house, although vacuuming is her least favourite chore, jokes Dean.
And was it a dumb move to teach Morgan, who loves to eat, to open the fridge or the kitchen cupboards?
“She never goes in there when she’s not told,” says Grace. “I think she knows if she does it when she’s asked, she gets a cookie. If she’s not asked to do it, she won’t get any reward, so it’s not worth her time. She knows it’s food she’s getting out of the fridge, but I don’t think she’s ever realized that she could just eat it herself.”