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

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.