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

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Today I Turned Six

I turned six today.
I got a special birthday treat from my Mama.

I ate my birthday treat.
I posed for a lot of pictures.
I took a picture on a BIG chair.
I played ball.

I went for a walk with my humans.
I visited my Gil and Syl.
I played tug with Gil.
Our six-year-old pup. August 23, 2018.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

High Alert at a Basketball Tournament

Austin had a basketball tournament yesterday and Bo was there working. The tournaments are loud, crowded, busy places with lots of different types of distractions. Bo had early training at basketball games and is rock solid among the cacophony of whistles, buzzers, balls, crowds and cheering.

Yesterday, we watched the game from the balcony and Bo placed on his mat in front of me. When Austin finished his game and met up with us, Bo alerted immediately to a high of 200. Austin had been low going into the game and, not wanting to go low during the game, he ate 50 carbs without bolusing anything. As a result, he went high. With Bo's alert, he checked and corrected before meeting back up with his team.

Squirrels, Birds & Other Distractions

On a walk with Bo this morning, we encountered a squirrel running in front of us, a bird on the ground ahead of us, and a dog barking at us. Bo's response to these three different distractions was the same -- he looked at them and then he looked at me. His response is a trained behavior.

We began teaching this behavior when he was a puppy and continued the training into his adolescents. Today, we reinforce the behavior with food rewards and praise. When we began training him to look to us when he encountered a distraction, we would say his name and when he looked at us, we'd reward him with food. Now, at five-years-old, he doesn't need us to say his name. He simply will see a distraction and look to me or whoever is holding his leash. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Service Dogs & K9 Working Dogs Together in Public

We recently attended a college basketball game with Bo and had an experience with a K9 working dog and handler that changed how we'll work in the future.

We were seated in ADA seats at the mezzanine level of the school's large basketball pavilion. Bo was tucked at our feet and out of general view. The K9, working on a long lead, scented Bo and began approaching him. The dog's handler didn't realize what was happening.

We tried to alert the handler of what was happening and kept repeating that we had a service dog but what we were saying didn't seem to register with the handler because he didn't call his dog back or restrict the leash. As a result, the dog was able to continue his approach toward Bo. We resorted to body blocking with our hands and legs. If you're unfamiliar with body blocking, it's a technique to simply take up space to prevent a dog from doing so.

We used our our hands and legs to put protective space between the two dogs. We did not touch the other dog however, the handler perceived our actions as doing so and shouted "don't touch my dog." While the appropriate response would have been, "yes sir." My instinctive response was to tell him our dog was a service dog. He sternly replied that his dog was a working dog and repeated, "don't touch my dog!"

Bo didn't break his down stay and it was a non-incident in that regard but it rattled all of us, especially me. I ruminated over the incident for the rest of the game, as well as days after. I kept thinking about what I could have done differently. I came up with this list:
  1. If we're working in a space where K9 dogs may also be working, I'll approach a security officer when we arrive and ask that any K9 handlers be alerted to the location of our service dog team. 
  2. I'll request the dogs' handlers not allow their dogs to approach our service dog. 
  3. I'll also ask the event staff closest to our seats to keep an eye out for other working dogs and inform handlers that they're approaching a service dog team. 
  4. And, while ADA seats were recommended because we were attending the event with a service dog, I'll choose regular seating in the future. The mezzanine was busy with foot traffic, Bo would have been better protected in the bleacher seating. 
In the spirit of providing useful information, I called the college's ADA office and shared our experience. The representative I spoke with was receptive to my feedback. I explained what happened and suggested K9 handlers be advised that they may encounter a service dog in the ADA seating area. I also expressed my empathy for the handler, adding I understood the instinct to protect one's working dog. I made a point of mentioning how I appreciated the fact, that after the incident, the handler kept his dog in a tight heel when he passed our team.

In the end, it came down to two handlers with their dogs' best interest in mind. Next, time I'll be better prepared for the unexpected. I'm grateful for Bo's training and his rock solid work; he exemplified a trained service dog beautifully.

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.