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

Friday, December 26, 2014

Videos: Going to College

Austin and I took Bo to a local college campus this morning to get exercise and to practice loose leash walking. This video of boy and pup working together is wonderful and exciting because it demonstrates just how far they have come on their journey. 

What makes their work so awesome is:
  • Bo is walking at Austin's side with a loose letter 'J' shape in the leash. 
  • Bo is making frequent eye contact with Austin, which we call 'checking-in.' 
  • Bo's tail is high and wagging indicating he is content. 
  • Bo is not distracted by the loud equipment or men that they pass by. 
  • When Austin stops walking Bo goes into a sit without being cued and he sits on mark at Austin's left side. 
  • Austin is not talking to or treating Bo with food. 
What you see in this video represents two years of a true commitment to daily training, positive reinforcement, consistency, patience and determination. It's so exciting to watch these two grow up and work together as a team. 

Before we took this video we were exercising and playing with Bo the college green and on the outdoor courts. This is video of the boy and pup playing 'getcha' on one of the tennis courts. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Video: Christmas Morning Walk

Bo enjoys splashing in large puddles. He digs, spins and races in and out of them with pure excitement.

One of the best parts of our Christmas day was taking a family walk with Bo through the woods. We met up with one other dog and his person out for a run in the woods.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Video: Precious Moment of the Boy and His Dog

The other night Bo was alerting multiple times over the course of an hour as we worked to keep Austin's blood sugar from dropping below 80. Between one of the alerts, I captured this video of the boy and his dog. (Excuse the television in the background, we were watching Forensic Files.) 

Other pictures from the same night.

From 8 pm to 9 pm Bo was alerting low.

I Never Would Have Imagined

I never would have imagined how much I would enjoy raising and training this sweet pup. It's been hard work and at times it has been stressful but it has also been exciting and rewarding. The experience has taught me about a dog's capacity to learn, to work, to show loyalty and to be a companion in every sense of the word. I love this dog with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul. There is no other like our sweet, silly, smart Bo. 

Videos: Bo Retrieving a Juice Box

I have been training Bo to retrieve a juice box on command and today I took this video of what it looks like when I give him the 'get juice' command.

When I give Bo the command he sets out to Austin's room where we keep juice boxes on a low shelf. He retrieves the juice box, brings it to me and then drops it. Training Bo to retrieve a juice was pretty simple because he already knew the commands: get, take, bring and drop.

When I started training Bo to 'get juice' I put a small distance between me, Bo and the juice. It looked like this.

As training progressed, I added distance which looked like the videos below.

Get Juice Kitchen View

Get Juice Room View

Monday, December 1, 2014

Work Over Play

One of the many things that continues to fascinate me about Bo's alerting is how he will stop doing something he enjoys to alert. Tonight, I had a few toys out and was alternating between games of fetch, tug and 'getcha.' I had been tossing a toy frog for Bo to retrieve when all of sudden he stopped playing. I tossed the toy and he didn't go for it. Instead, he came to me and paw swiped my leg. 

(He had alerted high 28 minutes earlier and Austin was 190 -- Austin had recently finished dinner and had IOB so the insulin pump wouldn't allow me to give correction.)  When Bo alerted when we were playing, Austin was 251. This time the insulin pump allowed me to give a correction. 

After I took care of Austin and rewarded Bo for his alert, Bo went right back to playing. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Video: At the Orthodontist Office

Bo came with us to Austin's orthodontic appointment today. This was Bo's first time there.  He did a great job settling into a down stay at my feet in the waiting room. I didn't use any food rewards and I only used the verbal command 'leave' twice. It's so exciting to see his maturity and progress in his public access work. It's sessions like this one today and the one last night, that encourage me to keep staying the course. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Video: Retrieving a Juice Box on Command

I'm working to train Bo to retrieve a juice box on command. I place a juice box on a shelf in Austin's room and give Bo the command 'get juice.' I was advised early in my journey to use as few words as possible with verbal commands. This stuck with me and whenever I am selecting a verbal command cue, I always try to limit it to as few words as possible. For our command to retrieve a juice box, it's simply 'get juice.' I took these videos of our training session today. I'm not a professional trainer, so I'm nearly certain my sequence is flawed. Lucky for me, I've got two things on my side. First, Bo is highly forgiving of my mistakes and second he is one smart dog. The ultimate goal with this command is to have Bo retrieve a juice box when cued and return it to the hands of the person who gave the command.

Remote Alert at the Football Stadium

We took Bo to the football stadium last night to train for a few hours and while we were there he gave a remote alert. Bo was sitting between my legs (close command) and Austin was on the side line when he alerted. Bo paw swiped me twice in quick succession and looked at me intently. I told him we would check. We were able to get Austin's attention to tell him Bo alerted and to have him check his blood sugar. Austin checked and he was 180 -- a number in Bo's high reward range. We treated Bo with hot dog pieces and praised him for his good alert, then gave him the 'all set' command.

This isn't the first time Bo has alerted remotely but it's one of his first remote alerts in a highly distracting environment. There were big and small kids running past us and there were people eating hamburgers and hot dogs near us. There was loud music, as well as people cheering and stomping on the bleachers. There was also a mom pushing a double stroller back and forth in front of us. We were seated next to the stairs so there was frequent foot traffic beside us. There were also several people who stopped to talk to us and some who stopped to look at Bo. Our sweet pup earned a gold star for his focus and attention. His alert was a bonus! When we got home Austin's blood sugar was 98, just right for sitting down to eat dinner.

Austin was on the side line beyond the fence
when Bo alerted high from the first row of the bleachers.
Down stay between my legs on the stadium bleachers.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bo's Two Year Homecoming Anniversary

October 13, 2012
Today marks the two year anniversary of welcoming Bo into our hearts and home. In 24 months, we've made so much progress and come so far in our journey. We have raised a sweet pup who loves to learn and do the job we've trained him to do. Time and time again, he has demonstrated not only his ability to do his job, but also his willingness to choose working over other highly rewarding activities. He alerts around the distraction of other dogs, food-filled Kongs and chew bones and in strange/new places. He alerts at night and has alerted on car rides. He has alerted remotely -- when he is inside the house and Austin is outside.

October 13, 2014
While he primarily alerts to me, he does alert to Austin and other family members in my absence. His alerts are consistent and accurate, with the exceptions of alerts to fast drops or spikes. In those scenarios, he is alerting 15-20 minutes ahead of when the meter reads within his alert reward range. We continue to work to hone his alerts during fast drops or spikes. Being sure to highly reinforce alerts within his threshold ranges with high value reinforcements. (i.e., cheese and chicken, reward games and toys)

Bo alerts with a paw swipe
He has mastered the basic obedience commands (sit, down, stay, stand, come, back, wait) and has good stimulus control with many of them. He has also mastered more complex commands. For example, when Austin gives him the command to 'get help,' he will search out a person to bring to Austin. When given the command to 'find Austin' he will search out Austin. When asked 'what is he?' he will either bow or paw swipe to indicate a low or high.

We continue to teach him new, more complex behaviors to keep him stimulated and engaged in learning. He is currently learning how to retrieve a juice box on command and is learning to lie on his side on command.

He is vaccinated against resource guarding and aversions to basic grooming tasks including teeth brushing, nail clipping, ear cleaning and body bathing and combing.

At this point in our journey, a major focus is training a reliable leave while in public. While he has a reliable response to the leave command in our home, he doesn't in public. He has an especially difficult time leaving the scent of dog urine. We also continue to work on his focus when working in public. As his primary handlers, I am committed to building my confidence level when it comes to working him in public. I'm also trying to talk to him less while I'm handling in public. My goal is for him to learn to respond to my movements rather than relying on my verbal commands for direction.

It's been a tremendous amount of work to get to where we are today. I owe so much of our success with Bo to the many people (some I've never met in person) who have guided me, advised me, taught me, supported me and most importantly believed in me. None of this would have been possible without each of you. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Video: Bringing Bo Home the Two Year Anniversary of Bo's Homecoming

Tomorrow marks the two year anniversary of welcoming Bo into our hearts and home.  We love our sweet pup more than we ever could have imagined.

Video: Training Juice Box Retrieval

I've been working with Bo to train him how to pick-up a juice box from a shelf and bring it to me on command. I started a few weeks ago. Yesterday when I was working with him, I took this video.

Ideally, he would release the juice box in my hand. We still have more work to do -- adding distance, getting the proper location for the release but overall he understands what I'm asking him to do.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Alerts on Ellen

This is Ellen. Ellen lives with Type 1 Diabetes and Bo works for her when she is at Syl's house.  Yesterday morning Bo alerted Ellen to a low of 76 when she walked into Syl's house. This afternoon he alerted her to a low of 78. One day we hope Bo and Austin will go to school together but in the meantime, he gets to do his job during the day by working for Ellen when she visits Syl.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Video: Why We Don't Greet On Leash

We don't allow Bo to greet dogs while on leash for a few reasons. Helen advised us not to allow on leash greetings early in our training but it took seeing an on leash greeting gone bad for me to truly understand why on leash greetings can be dangerous.

The meeting I saw involved two well-meaning dog owners walking their dogs on leash in a public space. Their two dogs spotted one another and immediately pulled their owners toward each other. The dogs met nose to nose on tight leashes before their owners caught up to them. The meeting appeared friendly at first as the dogs sniffed each other but in an instant turned into a fierce fight. The owners pulled on their leashes in an attempt to separate the dogs but it ultimately took one owner getting on the ground between the dogs to break up the fight.

We don't allow on leash greetings for three reasons:

1. When Bo is on leash we want his focus on his handler. If we allow him to greet other dogs while he is on leash, he learns it's ok to turn his focus away from his handler when he sees another dog. 

2. When dogs greet they typically move in a circle sniffing each other's tail ends. Two dogs on leash will get tangled in their leashes when they attempt to sniff each other in this circular motion. On leash greetings interfere with dogs' natural way of saying hello.

3. When dogs meet on leash we as handlers tend to tighten our hold on their leashes. The tightening restricts the dog's mobility and ability to flee from an uncomfortable situation. A dog that feels threatened but is restrained may react with aggression.

In a situation where we cannot avoid an on leash greeting, we drop the leash until we can separate the dogs. (i.e. an unleashed dog(s) approaches while Bo is on leash and we are unable to stop the greeting)

Bo does get to play with other dogs but we are diligent to be sure he greets his playmates and his playmates greet him off leash. This looks like getting to a meeting spot where Bo and his playmate are on leash and not allowed to say hello until they are taken off leash at the same time. We use the release command 'go play' to cue Bo that it's okay for him to go and greet the other dog. In this video, Bo is waiting for his dog friend Tracy. Bo is off leash waiting and Tracy is released from her leash to greet Bo. Tracy and Bo see each other about once a week for off leash walks.

When an off leash play session is over both dogs get put back on leash and may walk side-side-by but are not permitted to interact with one another on leash.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Night Alert at Strange House and to an Unfamiliar Family Member

Bo gave an encouraging and exciting alert last night while he was on an overnight at Austin's Gramma's house. The alert came at 3:15 am. Bo was sleeping in bed with Austin and Gramma. He jumped off the bed and went to the side of the bed where Gramma was sleeping. He alerted by paw swiping the side of the bed. Gramma woke to Bo pawing the bed and recognized the alert. She checked Austin and he was 220.
Three factors came into play which made this alert especially encouraging and exciting.
1. The alert was in the middle of the night.
2. The alert was at a strange house.
3. The alert was to an unfamiliar family member.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Video: High Alert from Bo

I was sitting at the dining room table this evening and Bo came to alert to me. He alerted with a paw swipe. I asked, 'What is he?' This is what I ask after he alerts. He is trained to alert with a paw swipe and bow if he smells a low and to alert with a paw swipe followed by another paw swipe if he smells a high.  When I asked 'What is he?' he gave another paw swipe. We checked Austin and he was 189, which is within Bo's high threshold for rewards. Bo got rewarded for this high alert and Austin got a correction bolus before bed.

One behavior Bo will give when he is alerting is the look that you see in this video when his head is resting on my leg. This is a tell tail sign that he smells an out of range blood sugar. He gives this look and head rest when he is waiting for us to respond to an alert. Over the course of our two year journey raising and training Bo, I've learned that having a successful DAD has a lot to do with paying attention to your dog's behavior patterns and understanding what behaviors are precursors to (or associations with) alerts.

For example, I can anticipate an alert from Bo when he does any of the following:

  • Breaks his place to come over to me;
  • Leaves (or drops) a food-filled Kong before it's empty and comes to find me;
  • Jumps off the bed and comes running out to me when he had been resting quietly;
  • Jumps off Austin's bed at night and whines at the bedroom door gate.

Video: Bo Waiting for His Food Bin to Be Refilled

In this video, I'm in the garage refilling Bo's food bin and I've given Bo the commands to sit and stay. I take my time filling each bin in front of him. When I'm done, I reward him with pieces of kibble in fast succession. You see him air scent and tongue flick but he doesn't break his stay. Even when I go to him to reward him, he holds his sit stay. He moves out of his sit stay when I place the kibble on the ground in front of him.

Video: Brushing Bo's Teeth

I brush Bo's teeth as part of our nightly routine. I bring him into the kitchen and let him watch me prepare his toothbrush with toothpaste. I then squat down to his level, ask him to come and gently hold onto his collar before putting the toothbrush in his mouth. He likes the taste of the toothpaste but he doesn't get excited about the actual teeth brushing. I'd say he tolerates it. What's your assessment?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Video: Demonstrating the Command 'Close'

The close command is one I learned from one of my Guiding Eye for the Blind (GEB) puppy raiser friends. It's a command to prompt your dog to sit between your legs when you are either standing or sitting. It took a lot of patience and practice to teach Bo this command. I wish I would have taken video when I started teaching it, so I could show the progression of Bo's learning. Instead, I just have this video of the end product.

Video: Bo Working in Staples

These videos were taken a couple of weeks ago when I was training Bo at our local Staples office supply store. I'm using a hands-free leash and I'm rewarding Bo for eye contact.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Alerts: Do They Ever Get Old?

Bo came into my room tonight while I was vacuuming and alerted. My bedroom door was closed and he pushed through it to get to me. He typically waits at a closed door for us to open it, so when he did this I had a feeling he was coming to tell me something. He walked over the vacuum hose, came to my side and alerted with a paw swipe. I didn't ask, 'What is he?' Instead, I turned off the vacuum and headed to the kitchen to get Austin's pack. Austin was 79. You'd think after experiencing hundreds of Bo's alerts they would get old but I can honestly say they don't. Each alert is unique in one way or another. For example, tonight's alert was the first he has given while I was using the vacuum. In addition to getting past the closed door, he had to maneuver around the vacuum canister and hose and he had to get my attention with the noise of the vacuum running. These may seem like simple tasks but in a dog's world they are a lot of distractions. He worked around them, proving his willingness and ability to to do what we have trained him to do, and he did his job beautifully! 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Lowest A1c Since Before Type 1 Diagnosis

Today we are grateful because Austin's A1c dropped from 7.9 in March to 7.2 today. This is the lowest average 90 day blood sugar we have seen in the eight years he has lived with Type 1. (The closest we've gotten to this number is 7.3 in 2011.) It's especially exciting because when his average 90 day blood sugar is segmented into 'within', 'above' and 'below' BG goal, the below goal represents 0%. A low A1c can be achieved by a lot of low blood sugars but as you can imagine that's not optimal. The goal is to achieve an A1c of 7.5 or lower by maintaining one's blood sugar in your target/goal range. Austin's goal range is between 80 and 140 mg/dl.

We attribute Austin's A1c today in part to Bo. Over the past six months, Bo's alerts have become more consistent and reliable. Additionally, he continues to demonstrate his willingness to work for us. He is not perfect but he is showing excellent and marked progress. We will continue to work to tighten Austin's blood sugar control with the goal of ensuring his long term health and well being. There is no question Bo will help us achieve tighter control sooner, rather than later.

Austin and Bo First Day of 7th Grade

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Today I Turned Two

I walked in the meadow.
I ate grass.

I played fetch in the field.

I posed for pictures.

I found my family's brick in the school yard.

I practiced 'leave.'

I went exploring.
I found a tennis ball.

I rested in the sculpture garden.
I got brushed.
I brought Syl presents for my birthday.
I got a birthday gift from Syl and Gil.
I played football.
I got rubs from Syl.
I hung out with my boy.
I got a cupcake treat from my Mama.
I got a new toy.
Our two year old pup. August 23, 2014.