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

Friday, March 21, 2014

Putting On Bo's Freedom Harness

Younger Bo Trying to Eat His Harness
When I started using a Freedom Harness on Bo I had a difficult time putting it on him. He wanted to eat it or play with it -- anything but let me put it on his body. So, I began using treats to lure his head into the top part and then dropping treats to get his paws into the side parts before clipping it closed. I continued using treats to get him in his harness because it made the process quicker and easier than not using treats. Recently, I realized the harness itself is a cue to Bo that we are going outside for a walk. Realizing this I wanted to see if he'd let me put his harness on without giving him treats because he knew he would get to go for a walk. I gave it a try and it didn't work. He wouldn't have it. He backed away as if to say, "Not until you have a treat in your hand." So, I stopped trying and turned away from him.  After a minute, I tried again by offering the harness near his head. (This what I do when I have a treat in my hand.) Again, he declined and again I turned away and waited a minute all the while giving my attention to something else. I then tried again and it worked! Yup, he put his head through on his own and he let me lift his legs through each side of the harness and clip it. I then gave him a treat but the real reward was getting to go outside for our walk.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's Really Easy to Think You've Broken Your Dog

It's really easy to think you've broken your dog. Okay, maybe I should say it's really easy for me to think I've broken my dog. When something doesn't go as planned or expected, my first thought is I've done something wrong in the training process. 

A perfect example of what I'm talking about happened tonight. Within a half hour of returning home from eating dinner out, Bo alerted to me. The time was 8:18 pm Austin's blood sugar was 151. Now, 151 is not in Bo's reward range. For this reason, I checked Austin with a different meter and different test strips. I wanted to see if it registered a number in Bo's reward range but it didn't. Instead it read 154. Ugh! The information suggested this was a false alert, so I gave Bo the all set command. Then at 8:29 pm Bo alerted again. I checked and Austin was 132. Again, not in Bo's reward range, so I told Bo all set and planned to recheck Austin in 15 minutes. At 8:40 pm, Bo alerted yet again. Austin was 119. I repeated what I had done for the past two alerts and Bo alerted again at 8:50 pm. Austin, as you might imagine, was not happy about getting checked again. He allowed me to check and he was 114. I knew Austin's blood sugar was trending down but I was concerned by the fact Bo started alerting when Austin's blood sugar was 151. I couldn't keep myself from thinking I had done something to confuse him and his confusion was resulting in these incorrect alerts. Finally, at 9:05 pm Bo alerted again. This time Austin was 98 which is in Bo's low reward range. I finally treated Bo and gave Austin a 8g carb snack. 

Why had Bo started alerting when Austin was 151 and why did he continue to alert every 10 or so minutes until he reached 98? Why didn't Bo just alert when Austin reached 98? How should I interpret the four alerts that preceded the one alert that was rewardable? Was I doing something in Bo's training that was confusing him. These were some of the questions I was asking myself. I decided to reach our to a few experienced DAD owners to ask for their opinions and insight. No sooner did I send my message to them when I heard Bo jump off of Austin's bed and whine at the Austin's bedroom door gate. Austin removed the gate and Bo came directly to me in bed. He didn't paw or bow; he just stood at the side of the bed staring at me and whining. He then jumped on my bed and pawed me. I asked him if we should check and he jumped off the bed and headed toward my bedroom door and looked back to see if I was following. It was now 9:39 pm. I checked Austin, who said he felt fine, and he was 47

Clearly, Bo was smelling Austin's blood sugar drop. One of the experienced DAD owners I sought advice from, who is also a DAD trainer, explained what happened like this:
"When there is a steady drop over time and the dog is tracking the trend, I believe the dog's work is validated. That was a steady drop, which resulted in a plummet at the end. Bo was accurate and persistent, in my mind-giving you information to stay on top of the drop. His information was not only accurate but most beneficial."
Okay, so I guess I haven't broken him. Now, if I could just stop worrying that I will.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Low Alerts

Bo alerted to me immediately when I walked in the house with Austin this afternoon. We checked and Austin was 52. We treated Austin with juice followed by a 15 g snack and then took him to his piano lesson. When we got home Austin was in my room with Bo. He put the gate up to keep Bo with him. About an hour after we had been home, Bo moved from the bed to the floor and began whining at the gate. I went to let him out and he came right to me and alerted. He paw swiped and then bowed. I checked Austin and he was 87. Bo got carved chicken and Austin got 15 g worth of mini powered donuts --- something I bought for the first time today as a special treat.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pup Hanging with His Boy

Today was voting day in our town and there was no school. It was a beautiful day with temperatures in the 50s. Austin had two of his friends over to hang out for the day. The boys were in our driveway shooting hoops and Bo and I were watching. When it was Austin's turn out of the game, he hopped in the back of my car with Bo. I captured these pictures and video of the boy and his pup hanging out on a warm winter day.


Videos: Sit, Down, Stand & Stay

As part of our Level III homework, I've been practicing giving Bo four commands in succession. First I have him sit, then go down, then stand and stay. Stand stay is a new command for Bo but he has learned it quickly. Here are two videos from our practice session today.



Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bo Ridge

Bo has a distinct ridge line down the middle of his snout.  It's raised, it's soft and it's crooked. It inspired his middle name -- Ridge. (We began calling him Bo Ridge when he was very young.) When, and if, Bo attends school with Austin, we will introduce him to the students and faculty as 'Mr. Ridge.' This will be his school name, a name that fits him but doesn't elicit his full attention.

Bo has had the ridge line on his snout since he was a puppy.

My Thoughts on Bo

Guest Post from Austin:
I am so glad that Bo is doing well and I hope he can keep working hard and also come to school with me.  Austin Dearborn<3 <3 <3 xoxoxoxoxox I luv Bo Ridge.....!!!!!!

Way to Work Bo!

Alert After Church

Bo alerted within minutes of me and Austin getting home from church yesterday. I checked Austin and he was 156. This is not a number Bo gets rewarded for but we know Bo is often ahead of the meter, meaning he smells a low or high before the meter registers a number in his reward range. We told him 'all set' and waited to check again in 15 minutes. We didn't have to wait that long because after 12 minutes, Bo alerted to me again for a high. Austin was in the shower but he was finishing up, so I had him recheck. This time Austin was 175 -- the threshold number for a high alert. Bo got rewarded for his alert with chicken pieces. Austin got a correction.

Alert After School

Austin and Bo were in Austin's bedroom with the door closed. I called Austin out of his room and as Austin opened the door Bo came running out in front of him. Bo came directly to me in the kitchen and alerted with a paw swipe followed by a bow -- the alert chain he uses for a low. I checked Austin and he was 54.

Alert Before Basketball

Austin was downstairs playing XBox with his friend when Bo alerted to me upstairs. I went downstairs to check his blood sugar. It was 188. Bo is rewarded for high alerts at 175 and higher, so he got chicken and cheese pieces. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Life of Bo is Good

While we are at work and Austin is at school, Bo is at our neighbors Gil and Syl's  house. They have been taking him since he was 10 weeks old and their home is his second home. The two of them are his other family and they truly love him and care for him as their own. Bo's days with Gil and Syl are never boring. Today, Syl sent me these pictures of Bo 'helping' Gil remove the carpet in her sewing room. The pictures made me smile because I know each day with Gil and Syl provides an enriching experience for our pup. While some dogs spend their days alone, Bo spends his days with two people who absolutely adore him. There is no doubt in my mind, the life of Bo is GOOD!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The First Session of Level III Class

I took Bo to Helen's new studio this afternoon for our first Level III class. Bo was one of seven dogs in the class and one of a few who had never done agility before. The first part of the class involved jumps and running thru a tunnel.

The experience of watching other dogs, in a studio environment, run off-leash through a course of obstacles was new to Bo. He reacted as one dog ran towards a jump positioned in the area in front of us. I immediately dropped the leash, as Helen has taught me, and he and the other dog had a vocal exchange but they separated quickly without incident. Nonetheless, the experience left him agitated. The instructor, one of Helen's colleagues, had me move with Bo to a short hallway adjacent to the studio space. It was a space where he could see the other dogs run the course, yet not feel as though they were running at him. I treated him generously for remaining in a down stay and looking at the activity happening on the course and then looking back at me. Once he calmed, we moved back to our place in the studio.

I have read comments on Web sites about how service dog can be 'ruined' by a negative interaction with another dog, so I'm extra cautious with Bo around dogs in a leashed environment. I try to keep my anxiety in check as I expect he can sense my stress level. I have to admit, it was hard for me to keep it in check today. Having Bo on leash while another dog is working off-leash, in close proximity to Bo, is going to take some getting used to for me. I understand growing Bo's confidence in this area will serve to help him in his public access work.

When it came to Bo's turn on the course. He had no problem jumping or moving through the shortened tunnel. (I was happily surprised by his enthusiasm for jumping -- not to mention the air he got!) I, on the other hand, required gentle guidance from the instructor. I was slow to grasp the body positioning changes that go along with moving from one direction to another. Thankfully, the instructor and Bo were forgiving of my mistakes.

The instructor taught some targeting games involving the Staples 'easy' button and a battery operated push/touch light -- the kind sometimes installed in closets that are not wired for electrical lights. Bo did well with this exercise. I expect because of the target work I have been doing with him as part of his DAD training.

We did some games with 'sit' and 'down' signs, as well as some heel work on the left and right sides. I always work Bo on the left and both of us had a difficult time going from working on the left to working on the right. Learning to work on the right will definitely be a challenge for us.
Bo tired after Level III class.

The class was mentally exhausting for me and left me feeling physically tired. In Level II class, I felt confident. I knew what to do and Bo knew what to do. He worked well around the other dogs. He knew the commands. He demonstrated a readiness for his CGC test.

Today, I felt less confident in class. We have a new set of skills to learn and we are learning them in a new space, with a new instructor. I'm hopefully optimistic we will learn together and our confidence will grow over the next five weeks.

Video: Bo Playing With A Younger Dog

Bo initiating play with 8-month-old Labrador, Tracey. Tracey is a Guiding Eyes for the Blind puppy. She is one of several GEB pups Bo gets to socialize and play with when we take off-leash walks. (Bo is the pup wearing the red Freedom Harness.)