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.