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

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A True Milestone on Our Journey

Last week, Helen gave us the go-ahead to remove the 'in training' patch on Bo's service vest. She gave the directive after assessing Bo work over the course of a two day adventure that took us across the country. The trip provided the opportunity for Bo to demonstrate his ability to alert to Austin's highs and lows, as well as to work in public for extended periods of time. Additionally, it provided Helen many opportunities to observe Austin and Bo working as a team in a variety of environments with varying levels of distractions. Together Austin and Bo traversed busy airline terminals and commercial airplanes. They rode public shuttle buses, ate in a restaurant, and worked in close proximity to other dogs. Helen was at their side every moment observing, assessing and offering guidance and support as needed. At the end of our trip, while we were on our flight preparing for departure, she told me Bo was working as a trained service dog and to remove the 'in -training' patch. 

When we got home from our trip, I asked our neighbor Syl to remove the patch. She had sewn the patches on Bo's vest, so I thought it was fitting that she be the one to remove the 'in-training' patch. I sat watching her carefully remove the stitching that had held it in place for two and a half years. It was a happy moment -- a true milestone on our journey. 

Sometimes I Just Don't Want to Check

Helen and Austin on our flight home from Texas.
Guest post from Austin:
When we were on are our trip to Texas I learned a crucial thing. Helen told me that when Bo alerts it takes away stress when we check. If we tell him all set without checking it is like telling him to not do his job. It was great for me to learn this. He alerts a good amount and sometimes I just do not want to check but if I don't it makes Bo's job harder. This was nice to learn. I have been better at now coming up or getting up right away when Bo alerts. I thank Helen for this helpful tip in our journey of raising Bo.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Video: Bo's First Time Flying

Pre-boarding the plane.
This week  Austin, Helen and I took Bo on his first commercial airline flights. The two flights we took were non stop and nearly four hours in duration. We spent three weeks before our trip training for the experience. We practiced working in an airport, passing through a metal detector and loading up and riding in small spaces. Our overall goal with this highly focused training was to set Bo up for a successful first flight.

Our whirlwind trip began in the early morning hours of May 18.  I awoke at 2 am to shower and get myself ready. At 3 am I woke Bo and exercised him for 50 minutes. We walked/jogged up and down our street and played games of chase (and tug) with our lunge whip. The idea was to exercise him enough to tire him but not make him hot, thirsty or hungry.

Walking to the gate.
At 4 am we departed for the airport and by 5 am we met Helen in the terminal. Our plan was for Austin to handle Bo, for Helen to support Austin and monitor Bo for signs of stress, and for me to carry the bags and document the trip. We each knew our roles and carried them out just as planned.

Bo and Austin worked through the security checkpoint, navigated the busy gate area, and boarded the aircraft with ease and confidence. On the plane Bo settled at our feet and slept for most of the flight. Early in our first flight, he alerted to a low of 82 and then later in the flight he alerted to a low of 78. On the flight home, he alerted to highs of 215 and 255. I was able to capture video of his alert on the 255.

I didn't expect him to alert on the plane because we had not done scent training on one, plus the environmental distractions were new and strong. The fact that he did alert demonstrated his ability to "generalize" or learn to perform a behavior in any given situation or environment. It also demonstrated his willingness to do the job we've trained him to do. 

Asleep during the flight.
I worried a lot about flying with Bo and it turned out none of the scenarios I worried about happened. Sure there were challenges but nothing we couldn't work our way through. For example, there were a few people who tried to pet Bo but Helen intercepted each of them. There were plenty of people who stared at and talked to Bo but Austin was able to re-gain Bo's focus by a simple call of his name. At the very end of our whirlwind trip, as the three of us stood alone waiting for an elevator to the parking garage, Bo got spooked by a man pulling luggage on wheels. The man came around a corner suddenly and Bo reacted with barking but Austin reset him and he recovered quickly. 
Settled at our feet.

While Bo was very visible as we walked through the airport terminal and as we waited at our gate, on the plane he was inconspicuous.  He settled at our feet and slept for the majority of the flight. In fact, he was so quiet and out of sight that he went completely unnoticed by a passenger sitting across from us. She only noticed him when we were getting off the plane. She came up to me and said, "I didn't even know you had a dog with you." I smiled at her knowing we had achieved success.

Waiting to board our flight.

In line to board.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Video: Training thru a Metal Detector

The focus of our training session with Helen this afternoon was on practicing passing through a metal detector and having Bo wanded with a hand held metal detector by a stranger. This training is in preparation for going through airport security. We conducted our session at our local federal court building. We chose to schedule our first session at the end of the day when it would be less busy. We introduced ourselves to the security personnel and explained what we where there to do and asked for their permission to pass through the metal detector for training purposes. The employees were incredibly welcoming and helpful. Bo did have a reaction to being wanded that was captured on video. Helen talked Austin through handling the reaction and Bo recovered. We did not remove his vest, harness, leash and collar, so the metal detector was NOT turned on when it was moved over his body. (It would have alarmed due to all the metal and we wanted him to experience the wand on his body separate from the sound of it alarming. We exposed him to the sound of the detector going off at the end of the session.) When we go through airport security we will remove his equipment and put on a slip lead without any metal parts.

We spent 30 minutes training at the federal court building and then went to Helen's studio to practice with an improvised metal detector and another male person who Bo had never met previously.  The following videos are from the studio session. In the first one, Bo walks into the studio unfocused and pulling. On his second entrance to the space, he is focused on Austin.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Early Morning Low Alert Ahead of the Meter

Bo left Austin's bed to come to mine and alert at 4 am this morning. I checked Austin and he was 111, so I told Bo we would watch. We tell Bo we will 'watch' when he alerts and Austin's blood sugar is out of his reward threshold. (Trained DADs often alert 10-15 minutes ahead of the meter)

In order to determine if the alert was false or ahead of the meter I rechecked Austin 15 mins after Bo's alert to the 111. Austin had dropped to 57. Bo was smelling the fast drop in Austin' blood sugar.

Our previous scheduled check of Austin was at 2 am. At that time he was 156, which typically would get him through to morning safely. I'm so grateful for Bo's night alerts. While we always check Austin on a schedule, even during the night, Bo's alerts help us between scheduled checks.
Bo alerting low with a bow.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Air Scenting Before an Alert

The other day Bo alerted to me while we were on my friend's deck watching Austin play basketball. Bo was in a down stay at my feet and he raised his paw and swiped my foot. I looked down at him and saw his nose sniffing vigorously while he was air scenting. At that moment, I recognized the soft breeze that was drifting past us. I called Austin up to the deck to check his blood sugar and Bo stood up and re-alerted. Austin got up to the deck where I was sitting (a good hundred feet from the court below) and checked his blood sugar. He was 82. Austin took glucose and I rewarded Bo for his alert.

One of the many things I've learned on this journey is the role air flow plays in a trained DAD detecting and alerting to a reward range blood sugar. As a result, I watch Bo for signs of air scenting which include his head in an upward tilt and his nostrils sniffing vigorously. I also pay attention to (indoors) if the heating/cooling fan has just kicked on or (outdoors) if there is a strong wind or soft breeze. 

Bo air scenting.

Austin on court below the deck where we were.

Video: Working at a Paintball Field

Today, Austin and his friend celebrated their 13th birthday's together at a paintball field with twelve of their friends. It was Bo's first time at the field. He handled the sounds of the guns, the yelling and screaming of players and the running and activity very well. He gave a woof at an adult, fully geared up player who was wearing a mask but stopped with redirection. Over the course of the five hours we were there, Bo alerted to a high of 220 and a low of 75.

In this video, you can hear the noise of guns being shot and players yelling. You can see Bo remain in a relaxed down. A fly on his rump got his attention more than the noise.  I would highly recommend training at a paintball field for the many distractions it presents.