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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bo Meets Other Service Dogs in Training

We've got a boy and his pup who love the snow.
The recent snow has provided the perfect winter wonderland for walks in the woods. On our most recent trek, we encountered two women with three Labrador Retrievers who are training to be service dogs.

I had briefly met one of the woman during a socialization outing with Bo at Lowe's, so it was a serendipitous event to run into her again on our walk. Bo, the smallest of the four, romped and played with the larger pups, while we talked with these two lovely woman about their work with Guiding Eyes for the Blind dogs.

One of the woman observed Bo relieving himself and commented on how it was good that he didn't lift his leg. She told us that Guiding Eyes dogs must not lift their legs when relieving themselves. I also learned that their pups earn their service dogs vests at six months and at that time they start more intense socialization training. Our encounter came at the end of the trail, so our walk together was brief but we will likely meet up again with the pups for more walks in the future.

Following our outing, I took Bo to puppy play group for more exercise and play. The play group provides a safe environment for young dogs to interact with other pups and learn how to listen to and respond appropriately to dog feedback. I take Bo to this one hour session twice a week and it has been fascinating to watch his development.

After puppy play group, we went over to Home Depot where we practiced loose leash walking with the distractions of strangers and unusual sounds and sights. Bo was tired at this point and I found this was a plus when it came to the loose leash walking. It was an extremely positive experience in terms of people respecting his working status. Many people walked by and commented to each other he was working. There was one HD employee who did ask me if I had permission to be in the store with a dog. I confidently answered him yes and then he proceeded to ask me who gave me permission. I cited NH RSA 167:D (trainers of service animals). He then told me (in a question like way) that I was going to pick up any mess the dog had. My answer to him was a strong "absolutely." That seemed to satisfy him and he stopped asking questions.

I really wanted to tell him that by speaking to me, he was interrupting the training session and thus prolonging our time in the store but I didn't. We were on our way after about 10 minutes in the store and when we got home, Bo was ready for a long nap.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Diabetes Doesn't Know a Holiday, Nor Does Diabetes Alert Dog Training

Today may be Christmas but Bo's training continued business as usual.

Low Blood Sugar Alert

Bo is learning to paw swipe when he smells a low blood sugar scent. He is progressing really well in his training. In this video, he is smelling a low scent sample in my hand and is paw swiping in return for a food treat.

Target Training
In this video, Bo is learning to touch a red tape target on the wall with his nose in return for a food treat.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

NH RSA 167-D: Service Animals and Search and Rescue Dogs

Our State's law provides certain rights to service animals and their trainers, and that law coupled with the Americans with Disabilities Act provide a protocol for business owners, their employees and service dog owners and trainers to follow. I've been trying to familarize myself with the law, so I can articulateit if necessary. The opportunity arose on a recent outing to a sports complex.

I was challenged by the facility's general manager who told me his facility was privately owned and thus was not a public facility. (You see the law provides rights and priviledges with respect to access to public facilities.) After an attempt to bring up the law on my cell phone device failed, I acquiesced to his assertion and I left the facility with Bo.

Since then, I've reached out to our State's Disabilities Rights Center seeking clarification on the definition of public facility. According to the 167-D:1 Definitions the definition is as follows:

"Public facility means any place of public accommodation and any street, highway, sidewalk, walkway, public building, and any other place or structure to which the general public is regularly, normally or customariliy permitted or invited."

If you train or own a service dog, I welcome your insight as to how to effectively influence/address uninformed business people who do not want to allow you and your working dog into their place of business.

Video: A 4-month-old Pup Training to be a D.A.D.

This video, by the Service Dog Academy, is inspiring and I love watching it over and over.

Bo Reaches a Training Milestone

We reached a milestone in Bo's training this past week that encouraged and excited us about Bo's future as a diabetes alert dog for Austin. For me personally, it was a validation that the training I've been doing with him is working. At just 16-weeks-old, this week, Bo found a low scent sample hidden out of his view.

We began doing scent work with Bo when he was 8-weeks. It involved pairing Austin's low scent with a food treat. Sometimes the sample was in a small container and other times it was sandwiched between paper bowls, that had been modified to allow the scent to escape. This week, I hid the scent sample, in the container, on my body, and gave Bo the "find it" command. To my extreme surprise and delight, he found it!

After a several successful finds on my body, I removed the sample from the container and I hid it out of view under the edge of a rug. I then released Bo from his stay, brought him to the general vicinity of the sample and once again, gave the "find it" command. He did it! You might imagine the excitement we both experienced. He was happy to get his treat and I was blown away by what he had just done. We continued this game a dozen or so more times, and each time Bo was successful. The next morning, we tried it again and ever since he has been successfully finding samples hidden on my body, as well as in various location around the house.

We are spending a minimum of 20 minutes a day scent training and up to 30 minutes on days I'm not at work. It's a significant time commitment that requires effort to fit into early morning and late evening time slots, but the results are worth every ounce of my energy and every second of my time.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Look How Much Bo's Grown!

An older, bigger version of Bo.
 It's been two weeks since the last blog post and just look how Bo has grown!

Okay, I'm kidding. This isn't Bo but rather an older, bigger one of his kind. Our fun-spirited neighbors, Gil and Syl, sent us this photo last week. They took Bo in as their own, while we spent the week at Disney for Pop Warner's SuperBowl 56. (Austin and his football teammates won the NE regional title and advanced to the national competition in Orlando, FL.) The decision to leave Bo behind, while we took Austin on this once in a lifetime trip, weighed heavy on me. However, the experience taught me that in Diabetes Alert Dog (D.A.D) training, like in life, things happen that are not part of the plan.

Suspending Bo's training for six days was definitely not something I planned for, or even considered, when I began my journey to train a D.A.D for Austin. In fact it was so far from my plan, the reality of it left me feeling guilty for wavering on the promise I made to myself to commit 100% to all that was involved in training Bo. I also felt uneasy about leaving him behind even though in my heart I knew it would be best for him. (He is definitely not ready for commercial airline travel or hotel accommodations.) The angst I felt left me seeking advice from other experienced D.A.D trainers.

"I totally get your overwhelming sense of panic," said one trainer. "You will come back and pick-up your training plan and begin afresh. You might have to back up a little with your criteria/maybe asking less duration or distance or distractions on any given task, but you and Bo will quickly progress right back to where you left off. And, you might find that Bo is refreshed by the break and enjoys a little latent learning."

"Refreshed by the break," really? I never even considered our smart, little learner may appreciate a day, let alone a week, off. Oh, the comfort these words brought to me. It was going to be okay. Putting Bo's training aside wasn't the ideal situation but nor was it the end of the world. Hearing these words from someone who was invested in training like I was, was just the reassurance I needed.

Bo in his down while Gil is eating.
We missed Bo every day we were gone and we imagined what his reaction would be once we returned. We joked about how he might be having so much fun at Gil and Syl's house that he may not want to leave. Each day, we looked forward to Syl's updates and pictures with anticipation and delight. We felt pride when we heard that he learned something new, like giving his paw to shake, and we felt sorry when we heard he caught conjunctivitis or was asked to leave puppy play group. (Note: He redeemed himself today at play group.) We did not take Bo with us physically but he was always with us in our hearts and in our minds.

His daily training has resumed and I'm feeling refreshed! I think Bo is too. Ten minutes following the completion of a successdul target training session, Bo returned to the target I had left taped to the wall, only to touch his nose to the target spot and look at me. Now that's what I call a sign of being refreshed and ready to learn more!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Parking Bo

Helen demonstrating how to "park".
During our training session with Helen last Wednesday, I learned how to "park" Bo.  It's a maneuver that teaches Bo to sit and go down and prevents him from jumping. The formal name for the command is the relaxed down but I much prefer the more casual "park."

I had the opportunity to practice parking Bo at dinner during Thanksgiving and at the football stadium today. I was happily surprised with how well it worked. I put my foot on Bo's leash to limit his ability to jump up and he went down and relaxed by my side in return for treats.

I also learned how to teach the wait command. I totally enjoyed watching Bo learn this command. It took him a very short time to learn what Helen wanted him to do. It was so cool to watch him figure out what behavior would be rewarded. You could see in his body language that he was thinking. His eyes were flinting back and forth between Helen and the food reward he was waiting to receive. His head was cocking slightly and his body posturing between sitting and down.

Learning to wait.
We will use the wait command when we need Bo to hold-on for a second. I am practicing by having him wait for me to open the door before approaching it and to wait for me to put his food puzzle into his crate before he enters. Helen explained the importance of releasing Bo from "wait" at his side, rather than at a distance. To my surprise, he is understanding that he has to wait for me to be at his side and give the "with me" command before he is released.

This smart little pup of ours, combined with Helen's AWESOME one-on-one training, makes me look like quite a skilled dog owner out in public. In fact, this afternoon at the football stadium a young boy commented on how "smart" Bo was because he was walking at my side on command. The boy exclaimed, "My dog is older and he would never do that. He would just pull me along." (Of course, I don't think the boy noticed the food treats that I was giving Bo each time he hit his mark on the side of my leg.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Anticipation, Enthusiasm and Hope

The past few days I've found myself wondering what it will be like when Bo gives his first alert to Austin's blood sugar. Will it be an alert for a high or a low? Will we recognize the alert or will it take us a few seconds to figure out he is alerting. Will the alert be on a reading within the scent sample ranges that we are training on or will it be out of that range? Will we cry tears of happiness or will we jump with joy? Will the moment be etched in my mind to never be forgotten in my oldest of ages? Today, I can only imagine what it will be like but one day I will know. I look forward to that day with a feeling of anticipation, enthusiasm and hope like that of which I awaited the moment of Austin's birth.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Downward Dog: Bo on His Yoga Mat

Bo's Yoga mat is portable and easy to clean.
Now 12-weeks-old, Bo is consistently demonstrating his understanding of the commands sit, down and go to your mat and is also chaining these commands. In other words, when I give the go to your mat command, he not only goes to the mat but he sits, goes down and stays without me asking him to do any of these things. He then stays on the mat and waits for his reward and for me to release him. Following our session with Helen on Friday, I've been gradually increasing the distance I've been placing between the two of us.  I've also been been increasing the duration of time between the stay and reward/release. This week we will work toward me leaving his sight for a few seconds and him holding his stay on the mat.

Happy boy, happy pup!
We practiced the go to your mat command with some significant distractions Saturday at Austin's football game. Bo did well staying on his mat beside me as people walked in front of us cheering, clapping, running and looking at him. (Oh the attention he gets when we are out in public. I could dedicate an entire post just to this topic.) I rewarded and praised him generously for being calm and staying next to me on the mat. (When Bo is alerting and ready to work in public. His mat will be where he rests when in a restaurant or in class with Austin.)

There were several times when the distractions were too much and Bo left his mat. During those learning opportunities, I lured him back with a treat and we tried again. I didn't pack enough kibble to treat him through the full game, so once I ran out we changed our focus to sitting with a Busy Buddy chew toy.  I stabilized the toy while he worked to eat the gnaw hide discs.
Bo the diabetes alert dog in training in a sit position on grass.

This week, I'll be adding loose leash walking to our training activities. I learned the mechanics of how to train Bo on this type of walking during our recent session with Helen. Given her experience and skill, Helen's demonstrations are incredibly graceful and fluid. It takes choreography to get the correct body posture, hand positioning, and marker and reward timing. It wasn't easy for me. What was really nice however, is how Helen uses positive praise with her humans too! It's helpful to hear when I've gotten it right!


Diabetes Alert

As part of diabetes alert training, we've been playing 101 Things to Do with A Box. This game is an exercise in thinking creatively for dogs. The idea being for every interaction the dog has with the box, he hears a marker (click from a click or verbal marker 'yes') which is followed by a food reward and verbal praise. I have enjoyed watching Bo find new ways to interact with a plastic storage box in return for a reward. I can see how this game helps to raise a thinking dog.  A trait that will be critical to Bo's success as a D.A.D. for Austin.

We have also been playing a game of find it with kibble. I throw the kibble in the air with the command "find it."  Then I hide the kibble with Bo watching me and I give the command to find it. The goal is to work up to hiding the kibble without Bo seeing where it's hidden and for him to find it.

We continue to collect Austin's low blood sugar scent samples and to use them in conjunction with feeding Bo pieces of kibble out of a set of paper bowls modified to hold  both the sample and kibble. We want Bo to associate the low blood sugar with a food reward. The idea is to condition him to equate the low scent with a food reward. 

Bo's Growth

  • 12-weeks-old
  • 21 lbs

Sunday, November 11, 2012

School Yards Are Not Just for Kids

Bo exploring the tree stump steps.
This weekend, I took Bo to the Peter Woodbury School Community School Yard to exercise and socialize. The newly built school yard features a natural landscape, garden, outdoor classroom, covered bridge, raised board walk, as well as a multi-level big toy. It made for a clean, safe and interesting outdoor experience. The same materials and textures designed for great sensory exploration for children, are also great for a pup being trained to be a service dog.

Bo liked running thru the tall grass.
At the school yard, Bo especially liked the tall grassy meadow areas and the rock gardens. He ate grass, found sticks to chew and ran in the open space. He found a couple empty water bottles, which he carried off proudly to chew-up. He also found a deflated soccer ball; it provided entertainment as well. I used treats to lure Bo up the steps of the big toy. The steps had holes in them and were made of metal, so they had an unusual sound and feel.

The Messy Materials section of the school yard was filled with wood scraps, tree stumps and branches, as well as the building creations of students. I clapped blocks together and tapped branches to get Bo's attention. He walked around sniffing the materials and attempted to jump on a raised block creation. When it toppled over he was taken back for a moment but then continued exploring. This area was one of his favorite and we returned to it several times to investigate. The video shows him sniffing and exploring in the Messy Materials.

If it Takes a Village to Raise a Child, What Does it Take to Raise a Puppy?

Bo has his own pillow at Syl and Gil's house
It may take a village to raise a child but to raise a puppy it takes fabulous neighbors. Our neighbors, Gil and Syl, provide Bo with love, attention and exercise when we are at work and Austin's at school. Each day I leave for work, I leave knowing an adventure awaits Bo in a few short hours when Syl comes to our house and brings him to hers. There he runs, plays and gets lots of love. Our family is so grateful for Syl and Gil and incredibly appreciative of their unconditional kindness. Everyone should be so blessed as to have neighbors like the two of them.

Bo in his toy box at Syl and Gil's house.

Austin will tell you he feels right at home at Syl and Gil's house. In fact one day, upon returning from their house, he announced their house is like, "home-away-from- home." If Bo could talk, I know he'd say the same thing. At their house, he has a toy box filled with all kinds of toys, he also has a blanket, pillow and he gets to meet new people. Time spent with Syl and Gil is no doubt playing an important part in Bo's socialization and raising.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hair Stylists, Estheticians & Dog Trainers

I've always thought it would be great to be a hair stylist or esthetician because you work with clients who are happy to see you. (I mean really, who doesn't look forward to a salon or spa appointment?) And now, after seeing Bo interact with our obedience and public access trainer, Helen Nicholls, CPDT-KSA, CDBC, I realized this holds true for dog trainers as well.

Bo got treats for going into the tent.
Last Friday, Bo had his first training session with Helen and it was great. He LOVED her and and so did I. Not only is she professional and incredibly knowledgeable, she has a gift for explaining concepts in a way that is understandable to a novice dog owner. Combine her professional skills with her friendly personality and her quick wit and you have a truly positive and fun learning experience for both human and pup.

Our training focused on teaching sit and down with verbal cues and hand signals. Our neighbor Sylvia joined me for the session, so she got to see and hear first hand Helen's teaching instruction. Bo did really well figuring out what it was we wanted him to do and when I didn't give the command correctly, he was very forgiving to my mistakes.  Our homework this week is to practice these two basic commands and continue with socialization activities. Next week, we will learn the command for "go to your place."

Following the instructional session, Helen took us all into her gym where she had set-up a child's tent, soft tunnel, baby gate and crutches. Bo got treats for exploring each one and Helen explained to me and Sylvia how each aided in his socialization. She also explained to us what it meant to be a temperamentally stable dog, as well as answered my questions about the stage of a pup's development know as the "fear period."
Bo was interested in the umbrella.

Helen walked with crutches and Bo was inquisitive; Helen opened an umbrella and Bo was interested; Helen lured Bo over a horizontal-orientated baby gate and Bo bravely walked across the uneven footing. Bo was having a blast and I totally loved watching him play. The last toy Helen brought out was her horse lunge whip, with a soft toy tide to the end. She demonstrated for us how we could exercise Bo while sitting in our living room or standing outdoors.

That's right... a simple piece of tack equipment can provide entertainment and exercise for Bo, while at the same time protecting human hands and feet from the mouth of a teething puppy. Bo loved the play so much, and the idea of letting him get his energy out in a way that didn't involve my hands, feet or other body part, was enough for me to go out and buy a whip. We purchased two one for Sylvia's house and one for ours  at Griffinbrook.  They have been a hit with both boy and dog.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Look Who Got His Service Dog Vest

Bo gets lots of attention in his vest.
Bo's service dog vest and patches arrived on Friday. I gave him the vest when I opened the package and he carried it around the house and then mouthed it before I put it on him. The patches were sold separately so we asked our wonderful neighbor, Sylvia, if she would stitch them on for us. Thanks to her kind heart and sewing skills, the vest was ready to wear Saturday morning.
Walking on the beach.

On Saturday, we took Bo to Hampton Beach to experience the sand and water, as well as the sights and sounds of the boardwalk. We figured dogs would be allowed on the beach in late October, but found out they are not per RSA 7301.08. A quick online search of "7301.08" and the phrase "service animals" returned information on RSA 7301.08(b), which states: Service animals shall be exempt from all prohibited areas. With this information, we headed for the sand.

Hearing music on the street.
Bo tasted the salt water, chased the receding waves, and carefully navigated his way across the jetty wall. When we finished on the beach we headed to the boardwalk and then got back into the car and went to Porstmouth for dinner. Walking in downtown Portsmouth provided many opportunities for Bo to experience people, bicycles, strollers, musicians and even a horse and carriage.

Other socialization activities included:
  • Visiting Manchester Airport and meeting "Sisky" a bomb sniffing dog, seeing luggage on wheels, and experiencing  a turn-style revolving door.
  • Attending a football game at Gil Stadium and hearing music and announcements over the public announcement system. Walking and running on the stadium bleachers.
  • Walking along a rock wall at the Village Green and climbing rock stairs.
  • Meeting other dogs and people while on a walk in the Village Green.
  • Visiting the Bedford Fire Department and seeing a firefighter in his fire gear.
A dog and his boy.
As part of his diabetes alert training Bo has been having low parties with Austin. This involves Austin blowing on Bo when his blood sugar is between 75 and 85 mg/dl and Bo receiving treats while this is happening. The idea being to associate the scent of Austin's low with the pleasure of getting treats. We are also capturing scent samples from Austin when his blood sugar is in the 70-80 mg/dl range.

A reader suggested a post from Austin. Would you like to hear from Austin? If yes, what would you like his perspective on regarding raising Bo?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Teaching & Learning Sit

Bo sitting for a treat.
If I do dare say so myself, Bo has successfully learned the sit command. I read several dog training books prior to bringing Bo home and "sit" was one of the easier commands to teach because of a dog's natural inclination to relax on its hind legs when enticed with a treat above its head. Earlier this week, I put what I read into practice and much to my delight it worked!

I now have a 8-week-old puppy who sits on command and patiently waits for his treat in return.
As you can imagine, the people who have observed Bo's obedient behavior were completely impressed with his intelligence and demeanor. I'll be honest, it sure is a nice feeling to receive compliments on Bo's intelligence and temperment. However, what's even better is knowing that my prayers have been heard and our family has gotten a puppy that is demonstrating early signs of being well-suited for service work.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Elevators, Wheel Chairs & Stairs Oh My!

It was another week of firsts for Bo! He went on an elevator ride, saw a woman in a wheel chair and used stairs — all for the first time. On Tuesday October 22, I took Bo to the Elliott Hospital with hopes of exposing him to people using wheel chairs, walkers and crutches.

Bo practiced entering and exiting an elevator.
 We ended up meeting an elderly woman in a wheelchair, riding an elevator, climbing cement stairs and ramps, and seeing an automatic door open and close. Bo welcomed these experiences with bravery and curiosity and I treated him generously each time he demonstrated his courage and inquisitiveness.

People commented on how calm and cute a puppy he was and he brought smiles to not only the people who stopped to pet him and say hello, but also to those that simply passed by us.

Other socialization activities this week included:
Exploring at the frog pond.
  • A play date with another dog and meeting three small dogs on a walk.
  • A visit to the frog pond at the Village Green, which included seeing the water fountains, a family of ducks and a young mother and her toddler. The mother and child were from China and Bo helped to break the language barrier between us. 
  • Seeing a fire hydrant; Bo was hesitant and afraid of the hydrant which was triple his size. Kibble treats helped entice him closer to the hydrant to find out it wasn't going to hurt him.
  • Staying quiet in his crate under the table at Shorty's restaurant while Austin and I ate dinner.
Bo has been learning the meaning of touch this week as part of diabetes alert training. He is also eating kibble out of a paper bowl that has been modified to hold a low scent sample. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Will Work for Food

Bo is learning the value of persistence by working for all of his meals and treats. If this conjures a picture in your mind of a pup on the side of the rode with a "will work for food" sign, you're not alone. That's what I first thought when I read about dogs working for their food.

Bo eating from his Kong level one food puzzle.
I learned however, it's a concept based on the idea that nature made dogs to hunt, scavenge and forage for their food not have it prepared and delivered in a bowl. Working for food involves the use of food puzzles, which require a dog to shake, paw, roll, nibble or lick the puzzles in order to get the food. A meal that would typically take Bo five minutes to eat out of a bowl, can take him 10-15 minutes to eat out of a puzzle. Persistence pays off when eating from a food puzzle. If he keeps working at it, and doesn't give up, he will be rewarded with a full meal.

Bo eats his meals in his crate.
Persistence is an important trait for a Diabetes Alert Dog because a person with a low blood sugar may not respond on the first alert. It could take multiple alerts and an escalation of alerts, before a response.  Using food puzzles is one way we are developing the trait of persistence in Bo.

How do you practice perseverance in your daily life? What drives you to keep going, rather than giving up?

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Boy and His Dog

Austin with Bo on homecoming day - October 13, 2012.
 Our family welcomed Bo, our 7-week-old, yellow Labrador puppy, into our hearts and home on October 13, 2012. At his homecoming, he weighed 10 lbs and was the largest pup in his litter. We chose him for his calm and mellow temperament and his pure cuteness. 

We fell in love with him instantly and we are hopeful that with lots of love, training and patience he will grow to be an extraordinary companion and service dog for our son Austin, who at the age of 4.5 was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

The First Week: October 13-19, 2012

Socialization is one of the most important elements of raising a service dog. Knowing this, we didn't waste any time and got right to introducing Bo to a variety of people, places, sounds, sensations and smells. The following is a list of just some of Bo's experiences this week:
  • Octoberfest celebration at our friends' home in Hooksett - children and adults of all ages were holding, petting and playing with Bo.
  • Shopping trip to Target
  • Meeting our neighbors Sylvia and Gil and exploring their sunroom and front deck.
  • Visiting the Bedford Safety Complex and taking a ride in an ambulance - the noise of the sirens and vibrations of the ambulance didn't phase Bo one bit, he was cool as a cucumber.
  • Lexi and BoVisit to Lowe'sPlaying with Leo, a Golden Retriever, and Lexi a Black Labrador Retriever.
  • Shopping cart rides at Target and Lowe's and being pet and picked-up by employees and customers.
  • Experiencing the sounds of a parking lot.
  • Walking over drain grates, wood pallets, wood beams and rocks.
  • Feeling rain drops and seeing blowing leaves.
  • Hearing the sounds of a garage door, car engine and vacuum cleaner.
So, what socialization experience do you think we should tackle with Bo next?