The story of a boy living with Type 1 and his family's journey to raise and train a diabetic alert dog.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Closed Bedroom Door

It happens night after night. Well okay, there are some nights when it doesn't happen but most nights Austin's bedroom door ends up closed. Austin claims he always opens it before he turns in for the night, so how it ends up closed is an ongoing debate in our house. It wouldn't be such a big deal if it weren't for the fact that Bo sleeps with Austin but alerts to us in the middle of the night.

If the door is shut Bo can't get out of Austin's room to come to our room and alert. So, being the persistent alerter that we've trained him to be, he improvises. He will whine and tap his feet behind Austin's closed bedroom door. The noise he makes doesn't wake Austin but it does wake us. (He learned the whining and tapping when we used to put a gate at Austin's door at night to keep him (Bo) from leaving his room.)

Recently, we've been tweaking Austin's overnight basal rates in tiny increments.  We haven't gotten his overnight number where we want it to be, so Bo's been doing a lot of night work -- sometimes alerting multiple times in one night. Last night, he alerted to a high of 170. The night before, Austin had a pod issue and he had a persistent high. Bo caught the high in the 200s and re-alerted again as Austin's blood sugar soured into the 300s.

Not all trained Diabetic Alert Dogs work at night, we are fortunate that Bo is a strong night alerter. I attribute his strength in this area to a few things. The first is the amount of time and energy I invested in scent training at night. Night after night, I'd wake up with him at 2 am and train. Plus, I always used the highest value food reward and his favorite toy and games in night training. It was exhausting work but it paid off. Second, Bo gets a nap early in the evening before heading to bed with Austin. The nap allows him to sleep lighter than without one. In fact, on days when he doesn't get an early evening nap he is more apt to miss an alert in the middle of the night. Third, night alerts provide a nice snack for Bo.

Given, he works for all his food. He doesn't have a food dish. He is a healthy weight and gets the calories he needs but he isn't overfed -- a snack in the middle of the night is an incentive to get up and let us know when he smells a low or high.

Have a question about night alerts? Leave your question in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Sweet Spot

Austin had just walked in the house tonight, when Bo came to me in my bathroom and alerted. I was washing my face, so I sent him to go 'show' Austin. He left and came right back and alerted me again with a paw swipe. I told Austin to check but it took me going out to him in the kitchen for him to do it. He was 85 -- that's what I consider the sweet spot for Bo's low alerts.

I told Austin to take a snack and Bo got rewarded before I went back to what I was doing.

About 40 minutes later, while I was talking to Austin in my room, I got another alert from Bo. Austin checked immediately and he was 71.

Austin had not taken a snack at 85, instead he suspended his insulin. That wasn't effective. This time, I watched him drink a juice while I rewarded Bo with cheese.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

His Nose is a Wonder

Bo's nose is a wonder to me. If I could have one super power, it would be to have a nose like his. To smell what he smells -- the scent of Austin's blood sugar diving, soaring and holding steady. I want a soft breeze to carry secret messages to me and circulating air to shout to me like they do to him. I want a deep inhale to tell me when Austin's sleep is safe and when it's not.

Today, while Austin was downstairs watching a football game I sent Bo to find him. Bo had been with me and I wanted him to check-in with Austin. On my command, he left my side and went to Austin who was eating. He alerted to Austin before running upstairs to find me. Once he got to me in my room, he pawed my leg and bowed in front of me.

I didn't know he had already alerted Austin, so I told him we'd check and headed downstairs. Austin was in the process of checking by the time I got there. The meter read 55.

The work Bo does for us changes our lives. It makes our lives better. It keeps Austin safer.

Austin didn't feel the low. He had just finished lunch and was eating a yogurt when Bo alerted. He would have bolused for the yogurt if it had not been for Bo's alert. Instead, he took glucose and waited 15 minutes before rechecking.

Monday, September 11, 2017

High Alert and Spilled Pretzels at School

Bo ready to go to work at school with Austin.
Bo and Austin worked together at school today. Bo alerted to a 200. He also alerted to a 118 but Austin didn't wait 15 minutes to re-check, so we don't know if it was a false alert or an alert ahead of the meter. Austin felt like his blood sugar was dropping and because he was going to lunch, he ate without waiting and rechecking.

When I asked Austin how Bo did working in the cafeteria, he said Bo did good but not so good when they encountered spilled pretzels in the hallway.  Bo got a pretzel before Austin saw the spill. Austin said once he gave the leave command, Bo complied and left the pretzels.

Leaving food in public is something we are continually working on with Bo. Ideally, he would not put his nose down to sniff food on the floor or ground. A service dog (SD) should not be going for food like this -- it's not safe for the dog and it's not good SD manners.

Bo and Austin on their way into school.
Bo doesn't go for food that falls on the floor in our house or homes of people we visit but in public he will try to go for food on the floor or ground. I think this may be because we did more more training on leave at home when he was younger than we did in public. Dogs don't generalize like humans. So, it's important to train commands in different places and spaces to help dogs learn. In the case of leaving food, a dog must learn leaving food that's fallen on a kitchen floor is the same as leaving food on the ground on the street or any other place.  From what I've seen, and from what Austin tells me, there are a lot of opportunities to practice leaving food while working at school. I look forward to hearing from Austin about Bo's progress in this area as they spend more time together at school.

All in all, it was a successful day for boy and pup at school today.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Alert During A Meal

Bo ready to play after a low alert.
Yesterday, while Austin was eating breakfast, Bo alerted. Austin was on his second English muffin and I figured his blood sugar was rising. I was inclined to have Austin bolus for his breakfast but he checked instead. He was 81.

Bo got a puppy party with cheese before he brought me a toy to play his favorite game. The pup's nose helps us day and night to keep Austin's blood sugar in a safe range.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

First Day of Sophomore Year

Sophomore Year (Austin 15, Bo 5) 
Today Austin took Bo with him to school for their first day together as sophomores. Bo alerted to a high of 190 and re-alerted at 230. Austin says they worked well together. My heart is happy with this news.

Austin's teachers had this to share regarding Austin and Bo in their classrooms today:
"I have Austin S2 and frankly I didn't even know that Bo was in the room until I was walking around class and saw him gracefully lying below Austin's feet."
"I just met Bo last block. It is clear that Austin and Bo are a team and it was an effortless transition having Bo in class."
"We didn't even realize Bo was in class today until half way through, so the two of them have his presence down to a science - very impressive! "
AM Drop Off at School
I've always believed the biggest compliment to our service dog (SD) team is when someone says s/he didn't notice Bo. If Bo is doing his job well, he will go unnoticed most of the time. By this I mean, he will be tucked tight and out of the way of traffic; he will be quiet and settled on place; he will alert discreetly and only escalate his alert if, for some reason, Austin is not responding to him.

Knowing boy and pup are working as a team on their own in a highly distracting environment like high school fills my heart with joy and pride. Knowing Bo is catching out of range blood sugars that otherwise would have gone undetected (until a scheduled check) is reassuring and comforting. We know when Austin and Bo are together 24/7 during the summer Austin's A1c is the lowest. The more time they are spending together during the day at school, the more likely we'll see A1c results that ensure Austin's long term health and well being.
Loading Up in Car for School

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Today I Turned Five

Today I turned five.

I found a green ball.
I chased the ball.

I splashed in a big puddle.

I went for a walk.

I got new toys.

Gil and Syl got me a football.

I ate a special frozen treat.

I had a birthday party with my humans.

Our five-year-old pup. August 23, 2017.