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

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.