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Guide dog Niksi: It's always amazing and fun to come to campus

In this Walk in my shoes (or paws) interview, we meet 3-year old guide dog Niksi, HR Specialist Mari Tammisaari's most important colleague. When wearing her guide dog harness, Niksi is at work and doesn't want any distractions, but without the harness she's keen to get to know everyone.
Labrador Retriever Niksi looks into the camera.
Niksi often works in Väre. Photo: Tiina Aulanko-Jokirinne.

What path did you take to Aalto?

(walking without a guide dog harness and carrying a teddy bear in her mouth)

I'm a Labrador Retriever, more specifically a hunting breed. After I was born, I spent my first year and a half in the farmhouse of a volunteer foster family. Then I went to a guide dog school for six months, where my courage, health and love of children were thoroughly tested. I was also taught to be a little less interested in other dogs. I passed all that.

I first visited Mari in December 2022, and in February 2023 I moved in. I always come to campus with Mari because guide dogs are welcome everywhere.

What is your favourite place on campus?

(free of her harness, she bounces excitedly when she’s allowed to greet a person passing by)

Dining halls and kitchens! I'm really greedy. I walk around and grab everything on the floor, from chunks of lettuce to whatever else is there. I know I should concentrate on guiding, but food is just irresistible. And my favourite people are just about everyone I get to say hi to.

Guide dog Niksi with an official look.

What do you do for a living?

(with an official look)

I'm Mari's mobility aid, so I'm at work whenever Mari gets going. I can find all sorts of things, including lifts, stairs, doors, cafeterias, escalators, toilets and crosswalks. I can also walk on the right and left side of the road and, for example, follow the receptionist.

I also do volunteer work at home. There, too, I vacuum crumbs from under the table and wash viili containers and similar things so they can be put straight into the plastic waste.

What was it like to start working at Aalto?

(squirms excitedly)

Eager, but that’s how it is every day. When our work taxi pulls up in front of Väre, it's always just as amazing and fun.

What would you like the people on campus to do in terms of greeting you?

(looks long and hard into my eyes)

As difficult as it is, we can't say hello when I'm wearing my guide dog harness. I'm responsible for moving safely, and it's really important to focus on that. I do try to catch people’s eyes every now and then, but it's not something you should respond to. Just ignore me and give your attention to Mari. You can always stop and talk to Mari.

Guide dog Niksi looking right in the photo.

How does it feel to walk on Niksi's paws or slippers?

(wags tail)

I'm so excited to be doing this job! I know it’s meaningful, and it matches my education and skills. Mari loves me and I love her. I want to be both happy and useful.

But I don't have slippers. It's been such a cold winter that during the coldest days I haven't been able to go out in my guide harness. The pace is too slow for me – I can't keep warm, and I start limping from the cold. When it's freezing, I can run free in the backyard without a harness.

What would you like to develop at Aalto?

(lies down)

More canteens and dogs on campus! There are also some accessibility issues that could be improved. For example, in Dipoli, if you want to leave Kaleva by elevator, the intermediate door is locked, and you have to call a guard. That’s unnecessarily complicated.

Guide dog Niksi looking left in the photo.

You seem to have a very good grasp of Finnish orders. Have you heard any strange noises on campus?

(straightens up and hides under the chairs)

Retuperän WBK is spooky. Once, I was in the auditorium when the band suddenly came in with a terrible bang. I started shaking and we had to leave immediately. No offence.

There’s also been research related to dogs at Aalto. What do you think about things like holographic ball games for dogs or virtual walks?

(looks appraisingly into the eyes)

I wouldn't care for that, thank you very much. I've been taught since I was a puppy that balls are not very interesting. Someone even tried to play football with me, but it just doesn't interest me. My sense of smell is the most important thing to me, and sniffing stuff while doing the rounds is the best. I understand that the virtual walk lacks all the lovely smells and messages left by other dogs.

Aalto researchers are also developing a brain imaging device for dogs and cats, with the aim of unlocking the secrets of their minds. How does that sound?

(raises her head with curiosity)

Oh, that’s interesting! Then I could share more ideas with people. Now, I'm just trying to get my message across with my eyes and tail. Though that’s often already enough to make my opinion clear!

Niksi is swimming in a pool together with her guide dog brother.
Photo: Mari Tammisaari.

We heard that you have a strong opinion about break exercise and stretching. Could you be more specific?

(extends her paws for a long stretch)

It's always worth stretching. Dog stretching is something I always do before I get moving.

What is your dog life like in your free time?

(writhes around excitedly just before the harness is put back on)

I like curtains. It’s nice to walk under them. I love swimming in the sea and the dog pool.  Meeting my dog friends is wonderful. Every day, I play with my toys and get lots of scratches. My favourite treats are carrots and buttermilk. At home I sleep and snore – and apparently my paws smell like popcorn. I’m a very happy dog.

Campus photos and interview with Niksi and Mari: Tiina Aulanko-Jokirinne, finetuning dog language: Sedeer el-Showk

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