A golden labrador named Duffy recently became the world’s first dog to do a load of laundry.
Like other service dogs for people with disabilities, Duffy actually already knew how to load and unload a washing machine. But dogs couldn’t start machines until a UK engineer created a voice-activated washer. Bark, and it’s on.
“Most manufacturers rarely develop products to suit the needs of the disabled user, so we wanted to address that,” says John Middleton, founder of British commercial laundry company JTM Service, which worked with the manufacturer Miele to design the custom machine. The team started researching ‘single-program’ laundry machines, which start with a single button, since all of the digital controls on a typical machine can make it difficult to operate for someone who can’t easily move around. Then they learned about support dogs, and decided to create a machine specifically for the dogs.
“We worked with dog trainers to find out what the support dogs could do, and found that a common command is ‘Speak,’” Middleton says. “So on command from the owner, the dog can bark to start the machine. The dogs also know how to use their paws on a switch, which is how they unlock the door at the end of the cycle. A pull-toy opens the door. Because it’s a single-program washing machine, the dog doesn’t have to decide which program it’s going to use– it starts automatically, and the detergent’s automatically injected from the rear of the machine so the dog doesn’t have to worry about putting soap powder in.”
This probably isn’t something you could get for your pet, unless you happen to want to spend extra cash– the machines are all custom made for each dog. “The dogs will be different heights, different breeds, and might know different commands,” Middleton explains. So we’ll make a machine bespoke to each requirement.” So far, the company has only made a prototype machine for Duffy.
Up next, perhaps, will be voice-activated washing machines that people can talk to; Middleton says he’s already had interest in the idea.