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

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.