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!