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

Monday, May 29, 2017

For the Love of Bo

Prior to my journey I had no dog training experience, never owned a dog, nor was a “dog person.” What I lacked in experience I made up for in sheer grit. I knew it was going to be work. I had no idea how much work it would be. I knew it would be at least two years before I'd know if the puppy I was training had the drive or temperament to be a service dog. I had no idea the amount of tears or triumphs I would experience on the way to finding out. I knew I would love our pup regardless of the outcome; I had no idea just how strong that love would be or how much joy it would bring.

My story is one a mother’s will to defy the odds to help her child live independently with a life threatening disease that requires constant vigilance — a story punctuated by adversity, perseverance and triumph. It's a love story in the truest sense. 

Video: With Me Off Leash

Bo is trained to walk at our left side and to keep our pace. 'With me' is the verbal command for this trained behavior. It's commonly known as 'heel.' When he is working on a leash, his leash should be loose. He should not pull ahead or lag behind but instead stay on his mark at our leg. 

In this video, Bo is walking with me OFF leash. You see he maintains his position at my left side, keeping pace and visually checking in with me. When I stop, he stops and sits without any verbal prompting. We use food reward based training to teach Bo to walk at our side on and off leash. One of the most helpful training tips I got related to training 'with me' was to be sure I was giving Bo his food reward on his mark.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Kid with the Dog

Last Thursday, I attended a meeting at work without my cell phone. The one hour meeting ended up lasting two hours. When I got back to my office, I had missed two calls — one from Austin and one from the school nurse. They were trying to reach me because Austin's blood sugar was 500 and he had small ketones.

In his condition, he couldn't walk home from school as planned, so he needed to be picked up. With me unreachable and his typical ride home out of town, Austin called our neighbors — Syl and Gil. And, as they've done so many times before, they swooped in and saved the day for our family. Syl was there to answer Austin's call and Gil was there to pick him up at school and bring him home. When I finally returned the missed calls, Austin was home and his blood sugar was on a downward trend.

Later that evening as I reflected on the incident, I couldn't help but think how Bo could have prevented the dangerous high and ketones, if he had been at school with Austin. I have no doubt Bo would have alerted in time to treat the rise in blood sugar before it got to an unsafe number. He also would have continued to alert, leading Austin to re-check. Bo wasn't at school because Austin has not wanted to resume taking him to school since he stopped attending with him in December. Austin says he wants to bring Bo back to school but so far he has not.

During a recent appointment with Austin's endocrinologist, Austin shared his feelings about bringing Bo to school expressing the extra work involved with being responsible for a dog at school. Later in an unrelated conversation with me, he made a reference to 'being the kid with the dog' at school. I know taking a dog to school is a big responsibility. I also know having a dog at school draws a lot of unwanted attention. I've chosen to leave the decision of whether or not to take Bo to school up to Austin. When we are going out in public, I always ask him if he wants to bring Bo or leave him home. Lately, he's opted to leave him home. Today, Austin had a medical appointment for an acute illness. Like I always do, I asked him if he wanted to take Bo to the appointment. I expected him to say, no. To my surprise, he said yes.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Service Animal Pamphlet Features Bo

Bo is featured on the front cover of Concord Hospital's Service Animal pamphlet.  I may be bias but I think he visually represents service dogs (SD) well. What do you think?

The hospital produced pamphlet addresses ADA law and outlines what patients and visitors with service dogs can expect during their visit or stay.  The pamphlet will be available in public spaces at the hospital and its medical practices. The contents of it is also available on Concord Hospital's Web site.  I'm hopeful it will serve as a tool to educate people about the ADA law and inform on how healthcare professionals at the Hospital interact with service dog teams.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Service Dog Education and Advocacy

Bo as Service Dog Ambassador
Last week I had the opportunity to talk to a great group of fourth and fifth grade Cub Scouts about service dogs. Austin was asked to give the presentation but declined, so I gave it with Bo. The week prior, I had joined friends who raise Guiding Eyes for the Blind puppies for a similar presentation to a Girls Scout Troop. 

My presentation focused on education and advocacy. I started my talk with a discussion about what makes a service dog different from a pet dog. I then talked about the different types of service dogs and had a nice conversation with the boys about Bo's job as a Diabetic Alert Dog. I was so impressed with the their knowledge and questions. Many boys had heard of diabetes and even knew it was a disease that related to a person's blood sugar. Smart kids! 

Before we left, I invited the boys to hide a scent stick for Bo to find. I took Bo outside the classroom while they hid the scent stick. When I returned with Bo, I gave him the command to 'find low' and the boys enjoyed watching him use his nose to find it. Bo also got to demonstrate some of the commands he knows and take a picture with the den. 

The boys showed excellent service dog etiquette and did not touch, pet or talk to Bo — understanding when a service dog is in public the dog is working and must stay focused on its handler to do its job well.

I look forward to doing more service dog education and advocacy in the future.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Checking On a Schedule

Checking on a schedule means not relying solely on Bo to alert us to a high or low blood sugar. We check on a schedule because while Bo alerts reliably and consistently, we recognize he is a living being and like all living creatures he is not perfect.

Today, Bo didn't alert when Austin was playing basketball. When Austin came out of the locker room, Austin checked-in with Bo. A check-in involves Austin saying hello to Bo, petting him and getting close to his face. I watched boy and pup during the check-in and didn't observe any pre-cursors to an alert.

After Austin finished his check-in, Bo didn't give an alert. Despite Bo's non alert, Austin checked his blood sugar because we always have him check after he engages in physical activity. Austin's blood sugar was 108, a safe number that's not in Bo's reward range threshold. Once again the pup proved his nose knows.

We could easily fall into a pattern of relying on Bo's alerts to tell us when to check Austin but we don't. Bo's alerts help us catch lows and highs between schedule checks; they don't serve to replace those checks. However, it always feels good when we check after a non-alert and the number on the meter validates Bo's nose. We are fortunate; we've got a pup that knows his job and likes working.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Video: 'This Way' Command

We use the verbal command 'this way' to cue a 180 degree direction change.  We mostly use it on loose leash walks. Today, while on an off leash walk with Bo and Lilly, I captured this video of Bo responding to my command 'this way.' If you're able to zoom in on the video, you can actually see him change direction the moment I give the command.