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

Sunday, June 16, 2013

An Afternoon of Mini Golf

Training at a mini golf course.  
Bo joined Austin and Kylie for a game of mini golf today. The course was busier than usual due to a dad's play free promotion in honor of Father's Day. I worked Bo, while Austin and Kylie played. 

I was impressed by how well Bo did given all the distractions. Not only were we feet from crowds of people, there were also rolling balls, erupting water fountains and highway traffic. Despite all the activity, Bo remained focused and calm.

Early in our visit, a dad with two young girls asked what job Bo was being trained to do. When I told him he was being trained to sniff out high and low blood sugars, he pointed out the OmniPod insulin pump on his youngest daughter's arm. It was nice to share what we are doing with Bo with him and his daughters. Austin also got a chance to see the new smaller sized pod the little girl was wearing.

Treating a sit stay.

As we moved through the course, I used the environment to work with Bo on various different distractions. The most obvious being the golf balls. At one point, we were at the bottom of a hole that had a steep slope. I had Bo in a down stay and he watched the balls come rolling down the hill.

There were a few fountains throughout the course, as well as a running brook. Bo seemed like he wanted to get into the water, so we practiced 'leave it' near those spots. The course is situated near a busy highway and the noise of the traffic was audible everywhere on the course. I was happy to observe Bo remain calm when motorcycles with throaty exhausts or loud trucks drove past. I treated him liberally throughout the entire session.

He had many eyes looking at him as well as the occasional young child who would walk by and screech ' doggy' with delight.  I took a video of Bo to show the distractions that were present. In watching it, I saw my mistakes. I had Bo parked but watching the video made me realize I should have had more slack on his leash. I love watching videos of training sessions just for this reason. It lets me see things I wouldn't otherwise have noticed in the moment.  Video URL

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Training the 'Come' Command

We practice the 'come' command several times a day. We are training Bo on this command, so he learns to respond to us immediately regardless of what may be happening around him. We train and practice the 'come' command using a 10 ft dog lead. The lead is used to guide Bo toward us as we call him. We start by allowing Bo to explore the environment in which we are training. The idea is for him to venture away from us. Once distance is established, but before the lead gets tight, we call him back to us. We consistently use the verbal cue, 'come Bo.' Our trainer, Helen, taught us how to use this method to train Bo to come on command.

We add distractions to make the work more challenging. In an open field, birds present a challenge. At the ball park, it's parents and children cheering on the sidelines. In the backyard, Austin tossing a ball to his friend is a distraction for Bo. The sequence of photos below illustrate the steps we use in the training process.

We wait for Bo to walk away from us.


As we call him, we gently pull the lead toward us.

We get animated and open our arms to Bo as we call him.

We make a big deal out of his coming to us on command.

When he gets to us, we first reach for his collar.

We gently hold his collar before treating him.



Adding the distraction of a dog nearby.
Adding the distraction of kids tossing a ball nearby.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bo's Alerts

Bo's alerts during the week tend to be in the evening between dinner and bedtime. 

Earlier in the week, he alerted to me while I was in the kitchen and Austin was in his bedroom. Austin checked and he was 193. 

Last night he alerted to me while I was on Austin's bed with boy and pup. Austin checked and he was 80. This alert came at bedtime but 30 minutes before Austin's scheduled bedtime check. 

Tonight Bo alerted to me while I was making Austin's bed. Austin was in the bathroom at the time. I was standing with my body against the edge of the bed, facing away from Bo and he paw swiped the back of my leg. I told Austin Bo wanted us to check. Austin checked and the meter read HIGH. Austin's meter will give a H-I-G-H reading (we spell it when it registers that word) when his number is above 500. I had him wash his hands with soap and water (instead of an alcohol wipe and cotton) and re-check to confirm the accuracy of the number. The second number was 407, so we corrected it. 

Bo got a high party in return for his alert. He continued alerting after the party, so we gave him the verbal cue 'all set' -- we are using the cue after we finish a scent training session or treat a high or low that he has alerted on. After giving the cue tonight, I redirected Bo to a game of tug. After a few rounds of tug, he stopped and went to his toy bin to get a squeaky toy.  This is his new way of letting me know he wants to play 'gonna get you.'

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What 'Get Help' Looks Like

I was in the kitchen this evening and Bo came in and barked at me. I thought I was being smart and I ignored his sassy behavior. He kept barking at me and then started jumping on me. He went toward the dining room where Austin was and then came back to me. He wasn't alerting to me, he was just barking at me and getting right on me. I asked Bo if Austin was low thinking he would give an alert. Still no alert. I went to see Austin in the dining room and Austin told me he had sent Bo to get help. 

Austin wasn't low. He was practicing the 'Get Help' command without me knowing. He likes to practice this command with Bo when I'm not aware of what he is doing. Tonight, it worked beautifully. I had no idea he was sending Bo to me for help and Bo did what we have been training him to do -- bring a person back to Austin. 

That pup of ours just continues to amaze me. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Scent Samples

Thanks to our pharmacist we got a bag full of empty test strip vials from Abbott Diabetes Care. We use the vials to store Austin's blood sugar scent samples. They are the perfect size for one gauze pad and they provide an airtight seal. 

Bo got visibly excited when I spilled the contents of the bag on the table to take this picture. I can imagine he saw the vials and thought we were going to do training. This supply of vials, combined with the used ones we collect from Austin's test strips, should keep us stocked for awhile. 

We do scent training with Bo daily. Up until recently, we only collected low samples between 70 - 89. Now we are collecting samples over 200 to build our high supply. To collect the samples, Austin puts a sterile gauze pad in his mouth when his blood sugar is a number within our training range. He leaves it in his mouth long enough to saturate the gauze with his saliva. We then put the sample in a test strip vial, label it with his blood sugar number and store it in the freezer for use at a future date.

We also use real time lows and highs to train Bo on these scents, however the samples allow us to do training at any time. For example, this morning I put a low sample in my car and then loaded-up Bo. When he alerted to the low, I made a big deal about it and brought him inside to get his food reward. We repeated this a second time and will continue to train in the car, so Bo learns it is another place where his boy can go low. 

On our walk this afternoon with Bo, I was thinking about trying scent training outdoors. I was watching Bo sniff the ground, the ferns, the rocks and the tree stumps and thought it may be a good idea to train in this environment because of all the scent distractions it provides. I haven't read about scent training outdoors... I'll do some research and see what I find. 

While on our walk today, we took video of Bo cooling off in the brook that wove its way around the trail we were hiking. The temperature was in the 90s today and even with the shade of the trees, it was hot. Bo took every opportunity to cool off in the running water. This video shows him navigating his way across the uneven bed of the brook.