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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Leaving a Kong to Alert

Bo was eating his dinner Kong a little while ago when he dropped the Kong to alert to me. I didn't respond to him immediately to see if he would re-alert or go back to his Kong. He left the Kong on the floor to re-alert to me. Once I got Austin's meter he followed me to Austin and continued alerting to me with paw swipes a I was checking him. Austin was high.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Eve Alert

Type 1 Diabetes is unsympathetic to the fact that Christmas Eve is one of the most, if not the most, difficult nights of the year for children to fall and stay asleep. I tucked Austin into bed last night hoping I would be able to check him at midnight and 2 pm without waking him from his sleep.  I knew if he needed treatment it was going to be really difficult for him to fall back asleep, given his excitement for Christmas. 

At 12:15 Bo alerted to me. I checked Austin and he was 92. His target blood sugar for sleep is 160, so I gave him juice. The check coupled with the need to drink juice woke him fully. At 1 am Austin (who was still awake) called out to me. Bo had alerted to him.  (One paw touch on Austin's back and then when Austin didn't respond, a second paw touch on his back.) When I got to his room, Bo was at the gate waiting for me. As soon as I removed the gate, he alerted to me with a paw swipe to my leg. I checked Austin and he was 196. I was about to recheck when Austin realized his pod had fallen off his body. Bo got chicken for his alert and Austin got a site change. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

If Someone Would Have Told Me...

If someone would have told me two years ago that I would one day set-out to train and raise a service dog for my son, I would have laughed in disbelief. In fact, my likely reply would have been, "you're crazy!" You see, before Bo, I was not much into dogs. They were nice for other people and their families but not for me and mine.

Each time Austin asked for a dog, I would rationalize my decision not to get him one with examples of why our family would make horrible dog owners. We would be too 'soft' and surely the dog would not listen to us and end-up poorly mannered. He would chew shoes and furniture, beg at the table, jump on guests and make messes in the house. I was certain our family was not cut-out to raise the type of dog that I considered well mannered — dogs like the ones my sister and brother-in-law had always raised. My mantra to Austin was a litany of responsibilities and concessions one makes when they choose to bring a dog into their home.  He would have to walk the dog and pick-up after it. He'd have to feed and water it and adapt his schedule to be home to let it out and get exercise. And of course, like any 9-year-old child, Austin assured me he would happily do all these things. Despite his sweet appeals, I held firm on my position. Until one summer morning in 2012, when I had an epiphany that changed everything.
To be continued...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Scent Training

Bo's Nose Knows
Bo is alerting to Austin's lows and highs with consistency and accuracy. He is alerting not only during the day but also at night. He is alerting at home and in public. He is alerting to family members and directly to Austin. Despite his demonstrated success in these areas, we continue to do scent training with him every day. 
Scent Stick

Training sessions typically last 20 minutes and involve games of hide and seek with a scent stick, as well as a variety of scent training activities. One such activity involves presenting him with a low scent sample and asking him to show the alert chain for a low, which is a paw swipe followed by a bow. Another activity consists of presenting him with a muffin tin of tennis balls and asking him to touch the ball with the low scent hidden under it. When we play hide and seek with a scent stick, he is given the command to stay while we hide the stick in a room out of his view. We then release him from his stay and give him the 'find it' command. Once he finds the stick, we give him the command to 'bring it,' which prompts him to bring the stick to us and drop it. For each successful find and retrieve, he is rewarded with a high value food like chicken, cheese or hot dog. Bo loves playing this game and it serves to build and reinforce his drive to alert. We do this scent training when Austin is not at home, so as not to confuse Bo with the scent of Austin's live blood sugar. 

When Austin is home we do real time scent training with Bo. This training lasts seconds but often occurs multiple times a day. It involves Austin blowing on Bo when his blood sugar is 175 or higher or when his blood sugar is under 100. Austin blows on Bo and asks Bo to show him the alert chain for low or high depending on his blood sugar.  The command we use to cue the chain is 'show me low' and 'show me high.' Bo is rewarded for showing the appropriate alert signal. 

Our scent training sessions are part of our daily routine and always will be. They are fun and enjoyable for Bo (as well as us) and they serve to keep his nose keen to the scents we want him to recognize. Additionally, the sessions help further his desire to alert by reinforcing him with his favorite foods and lots of attention and love. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Training Under

This picture of Bo under our dining room bench represents progress in training the command 'under.' Bo responded to the command quickly when we were training him to go under our dining room table but he didn't respond as quickly when we asked him to go under low clearance objects like a bench or chair. He would go under with the lure of a treat just far enough to get the treat, and then he would immediately back out. With consistent training he is now going all the way under the bench and remaining in a down stay. Tonight when I was working him, he stayed under the bench while I left the room. 

Another Low Alert to Austin at Night

Austin called out to me again last night to come and check him. It was midnight. Bo woke him up from sleep to alert. I checked and he was 89. He had played basketball in the evening and this low was the result of the delayed effect exercise has on his blood sugar.

This morning at 6:45 am I was in Austin's room picking-up the juice boxes, cotton, alcohol wipes and other items on his night stand when Bo alerted to me with a paw swipe and a bow. I checked Austin and he was 81. Bo got carved chicken and Austin got out of bed sooner than he wanted in order to eat breakfast.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Night Alert to Austin

At midnight Bo woke Austin from sleep with paw swipes. Austin called out to me and when I got to his bedroom door Bo was sitting on the bed at Austin's head. Once I got to the edge of his bed, Bo started paw swiping me. I checked Austin and he was 226. Bo may have tried to whine at Austin's door but the bedroom door was shut ... something Austin did after we tucked him in for the the night... and if he did -- we didn't hear it. The fact that Bo woke up from sleep and alerted and that he woke Austin from sleep is truly encouraging.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Low Alert at Dinner, High Alert Before Bed

Bo alerted while we were eating dinner this evening. He came out from under the table for this alert. We thought Austin was going to be high because he was eating dinner but he was 75. This alert came only minutes before we were getting ready to bolus him for his meal. Later in the evening Bo stopped chewing his Busy Buddy gnaw hide bone to come and alert to me. I checked Austin and he was 181.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Morning Alerts

Three morning alerts already today. One at 5:21 am. Austin was 68. The other came at 6:53 m and he was 85. Austin got juice at both alerts and Bo got carved chicken. Then at 8:18 am as I was folding laundry at the table, Bo came up to me and pawed my leg ever so gently.  He stood there looking at me and I asked him if we should check. I got the meter and went to Austin who was sleeping in his bed. As I sat on the edge of his bed and got the meter out, Bo pawed my leg and bowed in front of me. Austin's blood sugar was 91. Bo got a reward for his low alert and Austin got breakfast in bed. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bo and Ellen

When Bo cannot be with us during the week because we are working and Austin is at school, he spends his days with our wonderful neighbors and friends — Gil and Syl.  They have been taking him since he was 10-weeks-old and they have truly welcomed him into their home as their own pup. 

Ellen and Bo
At their house, Bo has the opportunity to play, exercise, socialize, practice commands, sleep and even work. That's right, he has the opportunity to do the work we have been training him to do — alert on low and high blood sugar. This is because one of Syl's friends, who visits her daily, lives with Type 1 Diabetes. Her name is Ellen. Bo was not trained to alert on her, it's something he began doing on his own. I love the fact that Bo can do his job even when he can't be working for Austin. We will not reward Bo for third party alerts when he is with Austin because we want Austin to be his main focus. However, when he is away from Austin and at Syl's house, he is rewarded for alerting on Ellen's lows and highs. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Video: Austin Working Bo at School

Social Visits at the Vet

We have been doing weekly social visits at our animal hospital and Bo is becoming quite comfortable with not only the space but also the humans and dogs. On a recent visit, he decided he wanted to sit on the bench and not the floor. I guess that's to be expected from a dog that's allowed on furniture.  I couldn't resist snapping this photo of him. 

On our visit today, he didn't know what to make of a mop bucket on wheels. A member of the staff was cleaning the lobby floor when we arrived but didn't bring the bucket out until we had taken a seat. Upon seeing and hearing the bucket, he barked. I opted to use it as a training opportunity. The staff was wonderful and patient as I worked him from a distance at first and then gradually decreased the distance between him and the bucket. It didn't take him very long to realize there was nothing to fear. We are so fortunate to be at a veterinary practice where everyone from the front office staff, to the techs and doctors are supportive of our efforts to train Bo for Austin.

Austin Working Bo at School

We spent an hour training at Austin's school before class started. The Before School Program that Austin attends was in session, so it provided an opportunity to train in school with a small group of kids. We began the session in the main corridor. Austin put Bo in a down stay and rewarded him as adults and students passed by.
We then walked to Austin's locker where Austin practiced putting Bo in a down stay at his side while he used his locker. I seemed to be the biggest distraction in the space, so I moved out of sight. There was no one in the hallway corridor and both boy and pup worked well together.

Austin wanted to work Bo around students, so we made our way to the cafeteria where kids were seated at lunch tables. Austin walked Bo around the perimeter of the space and both boy and pup did beautifully. I was impressed with Bo's focus in the space which provided many distractions. Austin found a seat at one of the empty tables and gave Bo the under command. The table's cross bars didn't allow for Bo to get completely under the table, so he kept him at his side in a down stay. Before we left the cafeteria, Austin approached a table of his friends and gave Bo the down command. Austin talked with his friends and Bo stayed in a down. Austin's friends did a fantastic job ignoring Bo and allowing him to work. 

In a classroom, Austin sat at a desk pretending to work while Bo was in a down stay at his side. Bo began whining in his down stay. Whining is often a precursor to an alert when Bo is either in a down stay, tethered or in his crate. Knowing this, I went to release Bo to see if he would alert to me. He didn't give a paw swipe but he got agitated and barked. (This is not the behavior we want for an alert but it is one that we see in some circumstances.)  I had Austin check and he was 250. We used the opportunity to go thru the exercise of Austin blowing on Bo and asking Bo to show us his high alert, which is a paw swipe. We did this several times and each time he properly paw swiped, he got a food reward. 

The session wasn't perfect as Bo didn't paw swipe to alert on Austin's high and he went to smell a piece of pencil on the floor. Nonetheless, it was a productive and beneficial training session. Bo and Austin worked as a team showing both patience and understanding towards each other. Additionally, Bo demonstrated progress in his comfort and ability to work in this complicated environment. 

Morning Alert

This morning Bo woke at 5:31 am asking to be let outside. While I was up, I checked Austin. Bo did not alert; I just wanted to check him. He was 156, a nice number for the hour.  At 6:40 am Bo alerted with a paw swipe and a bow -- the alert chain for a low. I asked Bo if we should check his boy and he gave me 'the look'. We checked and Austin was 90. We reward Bo for low alerts under 100, so he got one of his favorite food rewards and Austin got breakfast. Love, love, love that pup of ours and can't imagine life without him.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I Wouldn't Be Telling the Truth If...

We took Bo to Austin's hair cut appointment this morning. He stayed in a down stay for about 20 minutes but never settled to a relaxed position with his head on the floor for more than a few seconds. The distractions were few, so I worked him without treats. He remained in his down stay as I left his side to look at products. He also remained in a down stay as staff and customers walked past him.

After 20 minutes, he began whining quietly. I waited for a few seconds of quiet and then cued him to stand and walk with me. We went to Austin getting his hair cut and he jumped on me and barked. He did not paw swipe, so I made an assumption that he was demonstrating adolescent dog behavior rather than a futile attempt at an alert. After walking him out of the salon and placing him in the car, I checked Austin's blood sugar. He was 144 with no insulin on board.  (Note: Bo was in the car for about 5 minutes. The temperature outside was in the mid 40s and Bo was in our complete view the entire time. ) 

Bo has demonstrated this behavior before when I've been working him in public. As you can imagine, the behavior concerns me. It concerns me because in order for Bo to work in public he will need to be able to settle quietly for extended periods of time. After all, if his training is successful, he will end up working along side Austin one day and most of his time will be spent by Austin's side being well --- bored.

I wouldn't be telling the truth if I said training sessions like the one today don't cause me to worry about Bo's ability to work in public, because I do. What I don't do however, is allow the worry to stifle me or keep me from giving 110% percent to Bo's training. I am committed to doing everything I can do to provide Bo with the skills he needs to be the best that he can be. His steady progress and willingness to learn keep me hopeful and optimistic that the challenges we face today will one day be mere blips in our journey.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Training at the Animal Hospital

As part of Bo's ongoing training, we will begin weekly visits to our local animal hospital. The purpose of this training is to desensitize him to the stress associated with a veterinarian visit. The training will start with one visit a week that consists of me bringing him into an exam room, a hospital staff member greeting him with me, and then the staff taking him to another room. He will be given high value treats like chicken, hot dogs or cheese while he experiences the sights, sounds and smells of the procedure area. He will then be walked back to the exam room where I will be waiting for him. He will get lots of praise and treats upon his return. 

Once Bo is demonstrating a comfort level with this weekly routine, the staff will perform the routine with the addition of a stressor that represents a scenario he might experience if he was being treated for a medical condition. For example, they may weigh him, open his mouth, touch his ears, hold his paws or take his temperature. Again, he will receive high value treats throughout the experience and immediately following the experience. 

This training is especially important as Bo ages and no longer has the need to visit the hospital as regularly as he did in his first year. (His vaccine schedule is now yearly.) We want to 'vaccinate' him from developing a fear of the hospital experience, which can occur when an animal associates the stress of medical procedures with a hospital visit. 

We want Bo to be comfortable going to the animal hospital. Weekly visits that turn into monthly visits, should help in building and maintaining his comfort in such an environment. We are very fortunate to have a local animal hospital staff that is supportive of this training and eager to assist us.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Trusting Bo's Nose

Today, I had a lesson in trusting Bo's nose. While I was at the dining room table and Austin was in his room, Bo got off his Kuranda cot to alert to me. His alert was a paw swipe to my leg as I sat at the table. I asked him if we should check his boy and proceeded to check Austin's blood sugar. I checked and Austin was 148. This is not a number we reward Bo for, so I gave Bo the 'all set' command. (We reward for alerts below 100 and above 175.) Twelve minutes later, Bo alerted to me again. I gave him the 'all set' command again but he didn't settle. In fact, he continued alerting with a paw swipe and then escalated his alert by using a low, deep vocalization. He was being persistent, so I told him we would check again. I got Austin's meter and rechecked and his meter read 174. The time between Bo's first alert and this reading was 14 minutes. Clearly, Bo's nose was smelling Austin's blood sugar rise at a rapid rate. This experience served as a reminder to me of how important it is to trust Bo's nose. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Crate Alert

Bo was trying to tell us he smelled a high this morning from his crate. I was getting ready to bring Austin to school and Bo was whining rather loudly from his crate. This is not typical behavior. Thinking nature was calling, I put him out on his tether, while I ran inside to gather my lunch. After a minute, I went back to find him waiting for me in the garage. I took him off the tether and brought him inside where he alerted with a paw swipe. Austin checked and he was 185. This alert allowed for Austin to get a correction before school that we otherwise would not have caught. The experience has got me thinking about working on teaching Bo an alert signal to use when he is inside his crate.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

One Year Anniversary

October 13, 2012
One year ago today we brought Bo home and began our journey to raise and train him to be a diabetes alert dog for Austin. We set out on our journey with high hopes grounded in the reality of knowing our success was dependent on many factors outside of our control. Factors like if he was responsive to D.A.D training and public access training, if he would turn out to be temperamentally stable, and if he and Austin would form the bond needed to make them a successful team.

October 13, 2013
Today, Bo is alerting to highs and lows. He is alerting at home, in public and has even alerted several times in a vehicle. He is alerting remotely and for third parties. Recently, he has started waking from sleep to alert. He is not perfect but he is demonstrating steady progress and a willingness to do the job we are teaching him. We remain committed to daily training and hopeful for his successful passing of the Canine Good Citizenship test and public access test at some point in the future.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

This Is Not About Sympathy, We Do Not Need Sympathy

Today we join members of the Type 1 Diabetes community in posting a day in the life of Type 1. This post is not about sympathy; it's about raising awareness of Type 1 and advocating for a cure.

This is our story but it's not unique. It's the story of thousands of families across the country and throughout the world whose children live with Type 1. Read it and share it and let your network of friends know these children did not do anything to cause this disease. Let them know, no amount of exercise or nutritious food will take this disease away from them. Let them know, the prevalence of Type 1 is increasing and researchers don't know why. Let them know, insulin is not a cure. Let them know, we need a CURE.

This is the face of Type 1 Diabetes.
A Day in the Life of Type 1 
October 5, 2013
1:30 am - I wake to check Austin's blood sugar. He is high 218. I give insulin.
3:30 am - Daran wakes to check Austin's blood sugar. He is high 196. He gives insulin.
6:49 am - I wake to check Austin's blood sugar. He is 159. We leave alone.
8:29 am - Austin check's before football practice. He is 131. He eats a snack.
10:35 am - Austin checks after football practice. He is 140. He leaves alone. Exercise will kick-in.
11:13 am - Austin eats lunch and he gives himself insulin to cover what he eats.
11:23 am - Austin decides to eat an apple (not part of his lunch) he gives himself more insulin to cover the carbs of the apple.
11:35 am - Bo alerts to me. Austin checks and he is 159. He leaves alone, he has insulin on board.
12:46 pm - Bo alerts again. Austin checks and he is 123. He leaves alone.
1:00 pm - Bo alerts. Austin is 190. He gives himself insulin.
1:57 pm - Bo alerts to me. I check Austin and he is 86. He eats a snack.
2:19 pm - I check Austin to make sure the snack raised his blood sugar. It did. He is now 108.
4:30 pm - Bo alerts. I check Austin and he is 139. I leave alone.
5:05 pm - Austin eats dinner and gives himself insulin.
5:55 pm - Austin eats some more food than what was on his dinner plate. He gives himself more insulin to cover the carbs in that food.
6:39 pm - Austin eats again and again gives himself insulin.
7:36 pm - Bo alerts. I check and Austin is 103.
8:04 pm - Bo alerts. I check and Austin is 64. Austin takes glucose to raise his blood sugar.
8:19 pm - Bo alerts. I check and Austin is 102. He gets a snack.
8:44 pm - Bo alerts. I check and Austin is 126. He gets a bedtime snack. His target bedtime blood sugar is 160.
10:15 pm - Austin is in bed. I'm still awake. He calls out to me to check him one more time before he falls asleep for the night. He doesn't feel high or low. Bo has not alerted He just wants to be sure his blood sugar is at a safe enough level for him to go to sleep.

Austin makes living with Type 1 look easy. The reality is living with a disease that infiltrates every aspect of one's life is exhausting and down right difficult. He is strong and he is brave and he never asks for sympathy. He does ask for one thing and that is a CURE. We are hopeful a cure will be found in his lifetime. Until that day comes, he will live with Type 1. Help us advocate for a cure by raising awareness of this disease. The more people understand Type 1 is an autoimmune disease and not a disease that can be fixed by diet or exercise, the closer we will get to funding and finding the cure.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Behaving Politely Around Other Dogs

As part of our work to prepare Bo for test 8 (reaction to another dog) of the Canine Good Citizen test, we have been practicing working him with the distraction of a dog nearby. The test description reads as follows:

Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries, and continue on for about 10 feet. The dogs should show no more than casual interest in each other. Neither dog should go to the other dog or its handler.

To give Bo the opportunity to practice behaving politely around other dogs, we meet with individual dog/handler teams. The exercise starts with the teams at opposite ends of a defined space. The dogs are on leash and not allowed to meet. The teams walk by one another with distance between them and the handlers praise and reward the dogs for following at the handler's side and not barking or going to the other dog. After a few minutes of this work, the two handlers (again at opposite ends of each other) remove the dogs' leashes and give them the command to 'go play.' The dogs get to play as a reward for their good work. After a few minutes of play, the handlers call their dogs to them, leash them and then repeat the exercise. The distance between the handlers and dogs is decreased as the dogs demonstrate their ability to work with the distraction of another dog in close proximity.

I practiced this training with Bo three times this weekend. Each time, involved a different handler/dog team. We are fortunate to have made friends with several Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB) puppy raisers in our community. Three of them offered to meet with their GEB dogs to do this work. The batting cage at our local athletic field provided a perfect space for our training sessions.

Austin attended one of the sessions and while he was working Bo through the exercise, Bo alerted. I saw the alert immediately and told Austin I thought Bo was alerting. Austin told me that he recognized the alert also and was waiting to see if Bo would alert again. Before Austin finished telling me this, Bo alerted a second time to Austin. I took Bo while Austin checked his blood sugar to find he was 58. Austin ate sugar and Bo got treats and a lot of praise.

The fact that Bo alerted with the distraction of another dog in close proximity is very encouraging to me. Austin didn't feel this low and he was asymptomatic. Ideally, Bo would have alerted before Austin got below 80. Nonetheless, the fact that he alerted at all (with the other dog close by) shows his willingness to do the job we are training him to do and that's encouraging.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Video: Bo Alerting

Night Alert

Bo alerted in the middle of the night this weekend. I was surprised and excited about this alert. Most nights Bo sleeps in Austin's room with a baby gate at the door to keep him from wandering around the house. We began gating him in Austin's room  at night when he was a young pup. This was to build the bond between boy and pup. Recently we have allowed him to sleep in our room on his Kuranda cot or on the bed.  Saturday was one such night.

As usual I got up to check Austin at 2 am. But not like usual,  I didn't wake Bo to join me in the check.  When I got back, he woke and stirred but fell back asleep. One hour later, he left our room and went to the kitchen to get water. When he returned he stood on my side of the bed and whined. I knew he was trying to tell me something but I wasn't sure if he had to go outside or if he was alerting.) I got out of bed and he paw swiped my leg. The two of us went to the kitchen to get Austin's meter. When we got to Austin's room, he paw swiped me two more times as I was checking Austin's blood sugar. Sure enough Austin was high with a blood sugar of 213.

Austin told me after Bo got water and before he went to my room, he had gone into his room and stood at the side of his bed. Austin invited him to jump up into bed with him but Bo did not join him. Instead, he left Austin's room and came to the edge of my bed and whined. This night alert is a milestone in our journey and one we are very excited about. It doesn't mean we will stop waking in the middle of the night to check Austin but it does mean we may be gaining some night help.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Teaching 'Find and Bring'

Yesterday my neighbor, Syl, and I met Helen for a training session. I had three goals in mind for the session. The first one was to learn how to refine Bo's retrieve, such that he would find an object and bring it to us. 

'Find and Bring'

We started with teaching the retrieve using a Nylabone fetch stick. (The stick has openings on both ends, which will allow for the hiding of low scent samples.) The toy was new and Bo had never seen it before, so Helen started by building Bo's drive for it. She did this by playing a short game of tug with it. Once he was excited about it, she had him drop it and she threw it and gave the command 'find it.' When Bo went to the stick and picked it up we both praised him and encouraged him to come back to us. Once he got near Helen, she dropped kibble and when Bo dropped the stick to eat the kibble, she clicked. Helen advised that I control when Bo can play with the stick in order to maintain its value level.

Today, I practiced what Helen taught us in a batting cage at one our town's sports fields. The enclosed cage provided a safe ideal-sized space for retrieval training. Bo did well but he was tired and lost interest in the game after a few retrieves. The next time I couple an exercise session with a training one, I will be sure to start with the retrieval work, rather than ending with it.  

Training Bo to retrieve reliably is important because it's a skill he will use as part of advanced scent training games. We will be hiding a low scent sample in the Nylabone stick and ask Bo to 'find it'. Once he finds it we will want him to return to us with the stick. Currently, when Bo has found a hidden scent in a scent stick he will paw swipe at it but he does not return it to us.
Once he is doing this reliably, we will hide a stick with a low scent and a stick with no scent and ask him to 'find it'. The goal will be for him to return to us with the stick that has the low sample hidden inside of it. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Do You Have This Misconception About Children Living with Type 1?

I believe a common misconception about children living with Type 1 Diabetes is that they are 'use to' getting shots and therefore are not afraid of getting vaccinations. I saw this misconception play out at the pediatrician's office with Austin this afternoon. Austin was very anxious about his 11 year vaccination shots. He had been worrying about getting them for months leading up to today's appointment. Trying to relieve some of his stress and set his expectations, I told him he would only be getting three State required vaccines. When we got to his appointment the medical assistant explained there were five shots that his doctor recommended. This news was extremely upsetting to Austin and he cried upon hearing it. As much as he tried to hide his upset when the doctor entered the room there was no hiding his teary, red eyes and sniffles. 

Instead of showing empathy, his doctor suggested that the shots would not be a big deal because Austin is use to getting shots.  That message may have been intended to make Austin feel better but I don't think it did. In fact, it might have even made him feel worse. I think people, doctors especially, should recognize that just because a child lives with Type 1 Diabetes and has to endure multiple finger pricks, shots, and or site changes every day, it doesn't make vaccinations, blood draws or IVs any less scary or painful. 

And now for the tie-in between this story and Bo... 

This evening Austin was in bed and in pain from his tetanus shot. He called me into his room to talk with him. I sat on the edge of his bed and offered up some TLC. While we were talking, Bo came up to me and paw swiped my leg. I checked Austin and he was 100; it was 7:49 pm. (We reward Bo for lows that are 100 or lower.) We treated Bo and Austin ate some popcorn. Austin and I then started playing a game of Monopoly. Bo was on his mat at my side but shortly into the game he got up and went to Austin. He was sniffing around Austin. I didn't direct him back to his mat but instead just waited. He then came around the table to me and nose bumped my leg before paw swiping me. We checked and Austin was 89; it was 8:13 pm. Bo got another low party and Austin got another snack. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Watching Out for Other Dogs While Working in Public

We worked Bo at the outlet malls this afternoon and the experience reminded me how important it is to protect Bo from other dogs.  We walked into one store and there was a dog and its owner in the front of the store. The dog was in a down stay and I noticed it before we opened the door to enter. I had my clicker and treats ready to 'click and treat' Bo past the dog. I had a tight heel on Bo. He saw the other dog and was doing fine until the dog got up and started walking toward him. (The dog's owner was not paying attention and did not notice her dog was breaking his down to approach us.) To Austin's embarrassment, I firmly exclaimed, 'Keep your dog away." The other dog didn't bark at Bo and the owner kept the dog from reaching Bo (once I said something) but the experience made me realize how important it is for me to always anticipate the worst and be ready to react. The idea of Austin handling Bo through such a scenario is scary to me because I don't know if he would be able to react quickly or be as bold with his words. 

Not long after this incident, we encountered another dog in the outside mall area. Again, I saw the dog in advance of passing it with Bo. I was prepared to 'click and treat' Bo past the dog. Bo was doing great and then the other dog started barking wildly and trying to make its way to Bo. That got Bo's attention and he stopped walking with me for a moment and looked at the other dog. He didn't bark and I was very happy about that. 

Overall Bo did really well at the outlet mall. Being the weekend before the start of school, the place was a mob scene. There were lots of multi-sensory distractions and Bo did great with all of them. At times, he pulled on the leash (the leash was attached to his Freedom Harness rather than his Gentle Leader)  but overall he walked 'with me' and represented service dogs in training very well.  When we got home he was happy to take a frozen, food-filled Kong into his crate and relax. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Video: Bo Alerting

Today I captured this video of Bo alerting. Bo's first paw swipe is at the start of the video. He then goes to Austin and sniffs him before coming back to me and paw swiping again. Finally, he bumps my leg with his nose and paws me before letting out a bark. Unfortunately my phone battery died and the video got cut short. Austin's blood sugar was 80 when we checked. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I Never Would Have Expected this Alert

Bo caught a low this evening that I never would have anticipated. Before dinner Austin was 234. He ate a meal of pasta, bread and meatballs. Following dinner Bo alerted to me while I was sitting at the dining room table and Austin was downstairs playing. I thought for sure I would be dealing with a high. I grabbed Austin's meter and went to check him. To my surprise, he was 88! I gave him a 12 g carb snack and gave Bo a low party for his terrific work. After the low party, I told Bo 'all set' and put him on his mat by my side. Twelve minutes later, he paw swiped me again. I told him 'all set' again but instead of settling on his mat, he started barking at me and looking at me like he wanted me to do something. I got Austin's meter and went to check him. This time he was 72!

It's alerts like these that truly amaze me. I never would have checked Austin so shortly after a high carb meal, plus Austin didn't show any signs of being low. Bo missed some alerts on highs today but this low he caught was absolutely awesome! We love our pup!

Staying in Place

Bo is spending more time practicing staying in place on his yoga mat and on his Kuranda cot. Today, we also practiced him staying in place while two separate visitors came to our door and entered our house. It was difficult for him to stay on his Kuranda, in view of our company. Once our visitors left, I paid him for his good work with treats and lots of TLC. The purpose of this training is to get Bo used to staying in place for extended periods of time when he is working.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Classroom of Distractions

Fifteen of Austin's friends joined us at school Friday for a training session with Helen. The kids came with their book bags and pretended to be working at desks, while Austin worked Bo under Helen's direction. While Helen talked to the class about Bo's job, Austin had Bo in a down stay at his desk. Austin also practiced walking around the desks with Bo off leash. This proved to be a challenge for Bo given the food that some kids were invited to eat. So, Helen had Austin pick-up Bo's leash and walk him between the occupied desks and chairs. 

One friend was asked to come up to Austin at his desk and pretend to look at a book. The friend walked past Bo and stood next to Bo while talking with Austin. Bo did great with this distraction. He didn't break his down stay and he stayed quiet and settled from the time the friend approached to the time he returned to his seat. 

Austin practiced handling Bo at the lockers outside his classroom. Helen asked half the class to pretend to put away and take out books from the lockers, while the other half of the class looped walking past Bo and Austin. Again, Bo did excellent with this exercise. He stayed focused on Austin and was not bothered by the distraction of the kids walking past him and around him. 

Austin's friends left the classroom before our training session with Helen was over. Once they left we debriefed with Helen and Austin gave Bo a short play time in return for his hard work and concentration. Following the playtime, Bo alerted to me. We checked Austin and he was high. Bo got a high party and then Austin put him in a down stay while we finished our session with Helen. By this time, Bo had spread out on the floor and had his eyes closed. One of the parent observers asked if Bo would have a bed in the classroom. Helen explained that he would not. I added that while we want Bo to be settled and quiet in class, we don't want him to fall asleep on the job. 

Helen told us she was really pleased with Bo's work. She even admitted he did better than she expected.  She advised us to train in school with kids again before the start of school. She also suggested we pick an alias name for Bo. The purpose of an alias is to ellicit less of a response from Bo when kids walk by him and say his name.  (Of course Austin's friends will know his real name.) Austin wants Bo's school name to be 'Rudolph.'  What do you think Bo's alias should be?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Alert with Get Help

Bo alerted directly to Austin this morning with a paw swipe to Austin's leg.  Austin was sitting at the dining table with his iPad and I was in another room. When Bo alerted, Austin sent him to get help. Bo came running to me, stood directly in front of me, and looked at me like he wanted me to chase him. (The same look and stance he has when we are playing 'gonna get you.'

I didn't know he alerted to Austin and I didn't know Austin sent him for help but I did know he wanted my attention, so I started walking down the hallway with him. I stopped and he circled back to me. I followed him to Austin at the table. Austin told me Bo alerted and that he had sent Bo to get help.  I checked Austin and he was 66. Nice low Bo!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Video: Austin Working Bo Under Voice Command Only

Austin is practicing working with Bo under voice command. This work is in anticipation of situations in public where Austin will need to have control over Bo without holding his leash. During a recent trip to Lowe's, Austin asked to work Bo using voice command only. I gave him the okay and followed behind the two of them as they navigated the aisles side-by-side. There were low distractions and Bo did an excellent job listening to Austin for most of their walk together. Food on the floor continues to be a very difficult distraction for Bo. In video below, you see it's a piece of food that distracted Bo from his focus on Austin.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Heartfelt Confession from a Son to His Mother

I am sitting across from Austin at a restaurant table. At home, when we sit for a meal we are perpendicular to each other; we both have to turn our heads to make eye contact. Today, that's not the case; we are face to face. Austin's eyes are laser-locked on mine. I can feel my breaths become more shallow as I anticipate the flood of words and emotions I know he is about to release.

"I feel like when you are training Bo, you do not pay attention to me," he blurts out. "I mean when you are working Bo, you walk straight and you focus on him," he clarifies. "I can't talk to you and well, I just want to be able to walk with you and talk."

His heartfelt confession pierces me and like the thorn of a pricker bush, it causes my body to wince and retract. My instinct is to rationalize, explain, justify — anything but be silent. I fight my impulse to respond with words because I know, at this moment, silence is necessary for the both of us. I remain quiet and listen to the echo of his words in my head.

The fact of the matter is, I'm guilty as charged. When I am working Bo in public, my sharp focus on him is my biggest strength and my biggest weakness. It allows me to stay tuned into his body language, anticipate his behavior and respond accordingly. Yet it prevents me from engaging (in a meaningful way) with the people and environment around me. Sometimes those people are strangers, sometimes my friends but most of the time they are my husband and son.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Working at Target

I had to pick-up diabetes supplies at our Target Pharmacy this morning, so I took Bo with me. This was the first Target trip where Bo worked without getting treats. We went directly to the Pharmacy and Bo went down once I stopped in the pharmacy area. He waited quietly as people walked by and as shopping carts were navigating the aisles near us. When it was our turn to approach the counter, I went to his side and looked at him and he stood and followed me closer to the counter. When I got to it and stopped, he went down with his head on the floor. He stayed until I gave him the 'with me' command. I then took him thru the store to pick-up one more item and he did great. He stayed by my side and he only was distracted by a few crumbs and paper on the floor. Once I got the item I needed, we headed to the check-out line. Bo again, went down when I stopped in the line, and waited as we proceeded thru check-out. Once we got to the car, I praised him for his good work and gave him kibble.  Our sweet pup is growing up and he is showing us his willingness to do the work we've been training him to do.  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

High Alerts

Austin was at the beach with his Gramma for two nights. He just got back this afternoon. Since he has been back, Bo has alerted three times. Each time Bo alerted to me. The first time Austin's blood sugar was 162. We rewarded Bo for this alert with hot dog pieces. One hour later he alerted to me again. This time Austin was 152. I didn't reward this alert with a food reward because it can be an okay number for Austin to be at even though it's not his target. Just moments ago, Bo got off the couch where he was with Austin and came over to me. I was sitting at the dining room table; Bo paw swiped me. I asked him if we should check and headed to the kitchen where we keep Austin's pack. Bo followed me to the kitchen. As I was getting the meter set-up, I asked Bo to 'find it" (meaning the low or high scent). He went directly to Austin, looked at me and put his paw on Austin. We checked and Austin was 275! 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Vacationing with Bo

We took our first vacation with Bo this week. It was a three night, four day getaway to the beach. I was concerned about how he would do in the hotel, in public, at the pool and at restaurants. He surprised me with how well he did do. The following are some of the highlights. 

Boardwalk and Arcade

Our first stop was Hampton Beach for an overnight with Austin's Gramma at her rented beach cottage. We set-up Bo's crate on the porch and he seemed to make himself right at home. We walked him several times throughout the day and night to give him plenty of exercise. We crated him for two - three hours during the day, so he could rest while we went to swim in the ocean. On one walk, we took Bo up to the boardwalk. It was crowded with people and noisy with music, motorcycles and arcades He did great despite the number of distractions. When we took him near an arcade entrance, he entered without hesitation. It was super loud and chaotic and he didn't mind at all. In fact, we left the arcade because it was too loud for me. I think Bo would have stayed longer if it weren't for me being ready to leave. While visiting at the cottage, Bo alerted to me. Austin's number was 132, so we let Bo know his boy was good and we left his number alone. We rechecked Austin again shortly after and he was 137. I logged this incorrect alert just as I am logging the correct alerts.  (Note: When I log alerts, I include the date, time, BS number, where Austin was at the time of the alert and if Bo alerted to me or Austin.)  


We left the cottage on Monday for three days at the seaside town of Ogunquit. On the way, we stopped for groceries and new sandals for me. Conveniently, there was a Marshalls in the same strip mall as the Market Basket.  Austin and I took Bo into Marshalls to look for shoes and boy oh boy did Bo do awesome work. In the store, when I stopped to look at shoes, he went down and settled by my side without any command. He settled to the point of resting his head on the floor. I dropped his leash, gave him a stay command and shopped for my sandals. Austin was nearby looking at electronic gadgets and Bo stayed on the floor between the two of us. He broke his down stay after about 5 mins but went back to it on command and stayed until I released him. I was really surprised and pleased with his work in the store. He even rocked the check-out line, which had a display of dog items, as well the the eyes of two female shoppers in line ahead of us.

Ogunquit, ME

Bo did some of his best public access work while we were in Ogunquit. My plan was to exercise him heavily in the morning and then let him rest in his crate for 2-3 hours in the afternoon, when we went to the pool or beach. I brought his lunge whip, which was terrific to have. I also took him on walks and played fetch with him on the grass behind the hotel. The space was perfect because it was clean, secluded and quiet. The way the buildings were located, it created somewhat of a courtyard feel and I was able to let Bo run and play without the distraction of hotel guests.

We took Bo with us downtown both nights we were in Ogunquit. We used his gentle leader and we got to practice 'behind me' a lot on the crowded brick sidewalks, He got lots of attention from people on the streets and for the most part he did excellent ignoring all the direct eye contact and other distractions that presented. He did bark at one dog and its handler. The handler was approaching Bo and talking to him, despite my obvious desire to ignore her and keep walking. I believe if she had not done that, I would have been successful at helping Bo ignore the dog and person and passing without being vocal.

One day, we took Bo with us to a restaurant. He stayed under the table at my feet without any food treats for the entire meal. I was so proud of Bo and so grateful for Helen -- who has taught us how to train Bo for public access. We couldn't accomplish all that we have if it were not for Helen. 


Bo did alert while on vacation in Ogunquit.  He alerted at the hotel pool -- Austin was 78. Another time, I came into the hotel room where Austin was with his friend playing. When I sat on the bed Bo alerted to me. We checked and Austin was 69.  We treated Austin and Bo and then 30 mins after treating the 69, Bo alerted to me again. We checked and Austin was 82. These were the only alerts he had and he missed several highs. I'm noticing that Bo seems to alert on highs right at or near 200. The highs in the 300-400s seem to be missed. 

Our first vacation with Bo was a success and I attribute it to lots of planning in advance of the trip and lots of work at home on obedience and public access skills. It is looking very good that our sweet pup Bo is cut out for the work of a service dog! At just nearly 11 months, he is still young; we still have a long road of training ahead of us but what we saw on vacation was definitely encouraging. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Training at School

Last week, I started what will be a regular training routine at school. I woke at 5 am to get ready for work and then took Bo for 30 minutes of exercise before taking him to school to train. Given Austin is at his grandparent's summer camp Monday thru Thursday, I am training with Bo weekly Monday-Wednesday and Austin is joining us on Friday.

School Training Session II - July 9, 2013

We arrived to the school at the front entrance and we were greeted by a member of the custodial staff. Bo was wearing his Freedom Harness and his service dog vest. I had both ends of his his Freedom Harness leash clipped to the front of his harness. He barked at the custodian who opened the doors for him and I gave the command to leave it. He was interested and focused on the man, so I tried a firm 'enough' command to no avail. It was clear that Bo was too distracted to respond to a one word command, so I tried redirecting his behavior by asking him to do a series of commands. I used a piece of kibble to lure his attention to me before having him 'sit' go 'down' and then 'wait' -- while I dropped a treat in front of him. This exercise worked in the moment of following each command but once he completed each task asked of him, he began barking again at the custodian. (Note: The custodian had good intentions but he was making direct eye contact with Bo and attempting to speak to him, rather than simply ignoring him.) I asked the custodian to walk ahead of me (he had to unlock the library where we were to hold our session) and I followed at a distance with Bo. With the distance Bo did stop barking and he did focus on walking with me.

When we got to the library I weaved between desks and chairs to practice 'behind me.' I then sat at a desk and put Bo in a down stay. He was good for about 5 mins and then he got up. I put him back down and he didn't like it. He barked at me a lot and didn't respond to my firm 'enough'. He got up and barked and he started mouthing the tongue of my sneakers. Then when I moved my hands to my sneaker tongue, he mouthed my hand. I tried redirection. He didn't work. He barked more. I tried ignoring and he still was barking. He was not liking being bored. He wanted to explore the library. All this happened in the matter of a minute or two. At our last training session with Helen at school, she said we would need to help Bo learn that part of his job as a service dog involves being bored. For this reason, a portion of each session at school involves me or Austin sitting at a desk or table and having Bo in a down stay doing nothing. It's our hope that we will see progress in Bo's ability to settle in a down stay by our side without breaking his down, barking, whining or doing any other activity that is not conducive to being in a public space as a service dog.

School Training Session III - July 10, 2013

After consulting with Helen on Bo's second training session and his sassy behavior, I took her advice to add lounge whip play into his pre-training exercise session. So, on Wednesday July 10, I walked the school track with him on a long leash and made brief stops to let him chase a squeaky toy at the end of his lounge whip. He showed signs of being more fatigued after this session than he had been the prior day. (Note: Helen introduced the lounge whip to us when Bo was just a young puppy. It still is one of his favorite play activities and it never fails to expend a lot of his energy in a short amount of time.)

Bo showed progress in his willingness to stay settled by my side as I sat at a table quietly. Eventually, he settled without barking but it took work on both of our parts. I rewarded him for his work and then change the focus of our work to walking 'behind me' as I weaved between tables and chairs. After a few passes between chairs and tables, I sat at a computer station and had him go down, while I pretended to use the keyboard. He didn't bark at all in this extended down stay. Progress.

I reserved the last 7 minutes of the session for scent training. I hid a scent sample in a scent stick and then hid the stick and gave Bo the 'find it' command. He got very excited to play this game. I would first give him the 'sit' or 'down' command followed by the 'wait' command, then I would hide the stick. Once I hid it out of his sight, I gave him the command to find it. I think this was his favorite part of the session.

We work really hard with Bo and we invest a significant amount of time, energy and money in his training. It's work that requires patience and dedication. Despite all the work we do, Bo is not perfect. There are times when he doesn't respond to our command immediately and even times when he doesn't respond at all. As you can see from the training sessions I described above, he is not perfect and our training sessions are not perfect. However, it's not perfection we strive for but rather progress.

Training Session IV - July 11, 2013

When Austin worked Bo at school on Friday, Bo showed excellent progress in his willingness to settle by his side in a down stay. Austin timed the spaces between Bo's food reward for staying settled. He treated Bo once after five minutes and another time after six minutes. These two videos are from the fourth training session at school with Austin handling Bo. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

We've Got a Water Dog!

Oh the fun we've had watching Bo discover the joy of swimming and playing in open fresh water over the past two weeks. We have been working on teaching Bo to retrieve a floating bringsel and drop it for us to throw again. He has mastered the retrieve part but we still have work to do on training him to drop it on command. We will get there I'm sure!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Training at School

We met Helen at Austin's school last Friday for a training session. The school was empty with the exception of two members of the custodial staff and some contractors who were on site doing construction outdoors. We started the session with Austin handling Bo in the main entrance corridor. Austin practiced putting Bo in a down stay while Helen and I caught up on Bo's progress, since our last meeting. When Bo first saw Helen, he broke his down stay and began barking. Helen did not greet Bo and only spoke to Austin from a distance. Austin worked to get Bo re-focused and settled in a down stay. Once he was settled, Helen had Austin walk Bo through the furniture filled corridors. Helen and I followed behind Austin and Bo. At one point, we came to two large industrial fans that were not only blowing but also loud. Austin walked between them and Bo followed at his side, without any hesitation.

Teaching 'Behind Me'

Austin took us to the sixth grade corridor, where we found a classroom set-up with desks and chairs. Helen showed Austin how he could use his body and the furniture to keep Bo behind him, rather than at his side. Helen explained to us the need for Bo to be able to walk 'single file', if you will, behind Austin when he is in a crowded hallway or classroom. Helen also had Austin sit at a desk and practice keeping Bo in a down stay. While Bo followed Austin's command, he quickly became bored and broke his down stay. Austin was able to put him back into it but needed to use his foot to hold Bo's leash down close to the ground. Bo was sassy and barked when he was down again. Helen told us we need to acclimate Bo to being bored. (i.e. just being down by Austin's side and doing nothing) For our homework, we will be going to school with a book or ipad for Austin to use, while sitting at a desk and having Bo down at his side.

Bo Attending School

While our goal is to have Bo attend school with Austin in the spring of Austin's 6th grade school year, it will all depend on how well they are working as a team. Bo will need to be alerting in the school environment and he will also need to be responsive to Austin's handling of him. Austin will need to be able to handle Bo and be willing to make sacrifices that come along with the privilege of having a service dog in school with him to assist with his diabetes  management. All the work we are doing now and will continue to do throughout the summer and fall, is work toward our goal.

We will be going to school two to three times a week to train throughout the summer. During the sessions we will also do scent training with Bo in the classroom, corridors and other locations throughout the school. With each session we will be striving for progress, rather than perfection.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Bo's First Trip to the Lake

True Love
Bo's first trip to the lake, where Austin spends his summers with his grandparents, was a lot of fun this past weekend. 

Bo did terrific on his first boat ride. The sound and vibrations of the motor didn't bother him and he seemed to enjoy the ride. We anchored the boat at a sandbar and encouraged Bo to jump off the back of the boat into the water. He was hesitant at first but between the three of us calling his name and encouraging him to jump in, he took the plunge all on his own. 

It was a joy watching Austin and Bo play together in the water. We forgot his floating toy, but we improvised with a stick. We threw the stick and watched him swim. Even though Labrador Retrievers are known to be strong swimmers, I watched with a bit of anxiety as he first left the shallow waters of the sandbar for the deep water where the stick floated. Like the mom of a young child, I generously praised his accomplishments. 

I'm so happy this special boy and this special pup have each other. Oh how I love them so!