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

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Alerts All Weekend

Bo is now alerting daily on highs and lows. His alerts came regularly over the holiday weekend, which provided three full days of day and night access to Austin. He alerted on Friday to a 115 when Austin had .15 units of insulin on board and alerted again within 7 minutes as Austin's blood sugar dropped to 105 with  IOB and then to 103 still with IOB.

On Saturday he alerted to me in the kitchen while Austin was in his bedroom. I asked Bo if we should check his boy and he ran over to Austin before I got to his room with his meter. We checked and Austin was 80. 

On Sunday Bo alerted at bedtime. Austin was 97 but because he was going to bed and his bedtime target is 160, we gave him a carb snack before bed. We would have checked Austin before bed but Bo's alert came before our scheduled check.

On Monday, Bo alerted to me as I was on the couch. Austin was in the bathroom at the time. I told Austin Bo wanted us to check. He checked to find out he was 200. 

I'm so happy with Bo's progress and I am anxious to see how his alerts impact Austin's next A1c.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Another High Alert

It happened again tonight! Another high alert from Bo. I was sitting at the dining room table with my laptop and Austin was in the bathroom. Bo came over to me and nose bumped my leg and he then paw swiped my leg. (He is learning the chain I've been teaching him. In the chain, he first gives a nose bump to let us know he smells something, then he gives a paw swipe for a low. We are working on teaching him to spin when he smells a high.) 

When he nose bumped and paw swiped me tonight at the table, I stood up and asked him if we should check. He barked. (We don't want him to bark when he alerts, so we've got to figure out how to handle that behavior.) To redirect his behavior (the barking) I had him follow me to the kitchen to get Austin's pack and then went to Austin to check his blood sugar. When Bo got to Austin he started sniffing him vigorously. We tested and Austin was 274. We used the opportunity to have Bo spin and receive carved chicken breast pieces, all while Austin was breathing on him and we were telling Bo Austin was high.

I am truly beside myself with how all the training we've been doing is coming together. Bo is turning out to be the dog that I have hoped and prayed for and it is such a wonderful feeling. We still have a long road ahead of us but we are happy to celebrate the successes along the way! 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Alerting on Highs

Bo has begun alerting on highs without training with high scent samples. The first high alert came a few weeks ago when he paw swiped Austin and Austin's blood sugar was well over 300. Then he alerted on a high of 219 last night and tonight he alerted on a high of 258. A D.A.D trainer recently shared with me that dogs she has worked with have also alerted on highs without training with scent samples.

I will need to seek guidance from experienced D.A.D. owners and trainers to determine how I should handle these real time high alerts. For now, we have been using the opportunity to associate the high smell with a 'spin' alert followed by a high value food reward. The idea is to use the spin as the alert for a high.

It takes a lot of work and commitment to train your own D.A.D. but seeing the result of your work makes it so worth it. It's an experience like no other I've ever had. I thank God each day for the strength, patience and determination he has granted me on my journey to train a D.A.D. for Austin -- all the glory goes to Him.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

First Car Alert

Bo alerted in the car for the first time this morning. He had been in and out of sleep in the back seat with Austin when he alerted. He paw swiped Austin's thigh. Austin said he heard Bo's breathing change before the paw swipe, I was in the front seat and didn't hear it.

When Austin checked he was 49. This is a very low blood sugar, much lower than the target range we use for training. It's the first time he has alerted at this number and I wasn't prepared for how to handle it. I opted for giving him a food reward without the fanfare of a typical low party. The fact that we all were in a moving car and he was tethered in his car harness, made it difficult to handle the alert the way we would at home or in public. 

The car alert is progress even though it wasn't perfection. This week I will start doing scent training in the back seat of my car. We want Bo to know that this too is a place where his boy could go low. 

Public Access Work

Bo rocked Kohl's today during public access training. It was the first time in Kohl's and the second store we trained in during a session this afternoon. He was so awesome walking by my side and staying in place despite lots of different kinds of distractions. One of the challenges we still have to work hard on is the distraction of food on the ground. It's really difficult for him to walk by a piece of food and to leave it. We continue to work on this skill daily. He is doing excellent with the 'wait' command, which we train by dropping treats on the floor in front and on the side of him. He has to wait for us to pick them up and give them to him between his front legs. We wait for him to look at us before we pick-up the food and deliver it to him. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Soccer Field Alert

Bo had his first alert on the soccer field this morning. Austin was coming off the field for a water break and when he sat on the ground to get his water Bo's breathing changed and he paw swiped Austin and then when I asked him if we should check, he paw swiped me. We checked and Austin was 109. Austin took two glucose tablets and returned to the field at the same time all the other kids returned. Thanks Bo for helping us avoid a low below 80 that would have required a 15 minute re-check before Austin could return to the game.  

When we got home Austin didn't check right away because he had to use the bathroom. He got in the shower and called me because he felt low. He was 48. There is no question Bo smelled Austin going down fast. Next time, we will do a recheck right when he gets off the field instead of waiting until we get home. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

It's Hard Not to Compare

As I have written previously, there is a wonderful community of parents who are raising and training D.A.D.s for their children with Type 1. These are people who unselfishly share their experiences and knowledge with thousands of strangers. They share a common goal — to raise awareness of Type 1 Diabetes AND the incredible work of diabetic alert dogs. 

Their stories inspire and encourage me but I'd be remiss not to tell you that sometimes I find myself comparing Bo's progress to the amazing accomplishments of these dogs I read about. (I suppose it's much like a parent comparing his child's development to that of  the child's peers.) While Bo is making steady progress in his alerting and public access training, he is not yet trained to alert on highs, he is not alerting at night, and he isn't perfect in public. In my moments of comparison, I remind myself that Bo is still a young dog of 8 months; that I am following through on my commitment to raise him using only positive reinforcement methods and that I am working with him daily on scent training and public access work.  When you give something all you've got, great things will happen. Right?!

Yesterday, Bo alerted to a 77 of Austin's. Today, he alerted to an 89. The alert today was directly to Austin; I wasn't even in the same room. These alerts are gifts, precious gifts, that remind me that this journey I set out on ... to raise a diabetic alert dog for my child ... just may be leading me to the incredible outcome I have hoped and prayed for.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Video: Let's Check Command

In this video Bo is participating in a check of Austin's blood sugar. We use the command 'let's check' with Bo each time we check Austin. Eventually, we will train Bo to bring Austin's diabetes pack right to Austin to perform checks. Our ultimate goal will be for Bo to carry Austin's supplies in a pack on his back and go to Austin with it for checks.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Two D.A.D. s and a Father

Facebook has served as an excellent resource on our journey to raise a D.A.D for Austin. Through it I have learned of other families raising and training medical alert dogs for their own children living with Type 1. Their stories are encouraging and inspiring;  their willingness to share their experiences and knowledge is humbling. 

One such person I have learned from is the father of a little girl named Stella. Like Austin, Stella lives with Type 1 Diabetes. She has two D.A.D.s -- Major and Raven -- both black Labradors. Stella's father chronicles their story on his Web site This past weekend, he spoke at a diabetic alert dog conference. I didn't attend the conference but I read the speech he gave to those in attendance. I was so moved by it that I asked him if I could share it here. It's powerful, heart wrenching and so true. I invite you to read it at:

If you are so inclined, leave a comment sharing the impact it had on you.

Video: Get Help

Getting help for Austin on command is one of tasks Bo is being trained to do. We practice this command daily. It involves Austin sending Bo to find me in the house and then returning to Austin with me. If Bo returns without me, Austin gives him the command again. If Bo returns with a me, Austin gives Bo treats using what's called rapid reinforcement where Bo gets treats in rapid succession. 

We started this training with 5 feet between Austin and me. Austin would give the 'Get Help' command and I would call Bo to me. When Bo got to me, I would walk to Austin and Austin would treat Bo. We have since added distance and duration. Now when we practice I am in another room from Austin and Bo. Sometimes when Bo comes to me, I start following him and then stop before I reach Austin, so he has to circle back to get me. I video taped our training tonight and the video here shows what it looks like. It's not perfect but with practice I'm optimistic that Bo will perform this very important job. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Low Alert

Just moments ago Bo alerted Austin to a low. I was at the dining room table on my laptop and Bo had been resting at my feet for awhile before Austin came over to snuggle with him under the table. I was not paying close attention to the both of them until I heard Austin ask Bo if he should check. I asked Austin if he felt low and he said he did not but that Bo had just pawed him. When Austin got off the floor to go to the kitchen to check, Bo pawed him again. As Austin was waiting for the meter to show his blood sugar number, he told me he didn't think he was going to be low. In fact, his meter read 80! The fact that Bo smelled his low and alerted directly to Austin is very exciting because when Austin is at school or somewhere without us, we want Bo to alert to him.

We treated Bo with carved chicken breast one of his favorite high value rewards and Austin had a juice box. Austin rechecked in 15 minutes and he was 109. Excellent work Bo! Tonight's alert was one of three Bo had this weekend. We are so hopeful and optimistic about Bo's willingness and ability to work for Austin.

We continue to train with scent samples multiple times a day, as well practice basic obedience skills daily. Recognizing the importance of allowing Bo to be a dog, we also give him daily outdoor exercise with other dogs. We are fortunate to have a beautiful trail complete with a running brook, watering hole, fields and woods within 5 minutes from our house. It offers a perfect place for the dogs to run, play, swim, sniff and enjoy life!