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

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!