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

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What People Want to Know

Over the course of our journey, I've been asked a lot of questions about having a Diabetes Alert Dog. These are the top five questions people tend to ask and my answers.

Q: How does Bo know Austin's blood sugar is high or low?

Most people don't realize DADs alert on the smell of blood sugar similar to how a bomb detection dog alerts on the smell of explosives. I've found many people think DADs sense a drop or rise in blood sugar as opposed to smell it. Once I describe how Bo knows in terms of how a bomb or drug detection dog works, people get it. 

Q: How does Bo alert to you? 

Once people understand Bo is trained to alert on the smell of low and high blood sugar, they often follow-up with this question. In my experience, their first thought is that Bo alerts us by barking. He does not; he alerts with a paw swipe for a high and a paw swipe followed by a bow for a low. He may bark out of frustration if he was alerting and we ignored him but we don't ignore his alerts. We always acknowledge them verbally by saying 'let's check' and then, once we validate an alert we reinforce it by asking him to 'show us' and reward him with food and or play. 

Q: Does Bo ever get to play and have fun?
I'd wager to bet Bo has more play time and fun each day than most pet dogs. Training time is fun time for Bo and we do it every day -- multiple times a day. When he sees me take out a clicker, or put my training pack around my waste, he gets visibly excited.  In addition to training every day, we play with Bo every day. His favorite game is 'getcha' where he gets a toy and runs laps around our living and dining rooms, while we pretend we are going to get him. He also loves playing football fetch at Gil and Syl's house. He has several dog friends that he enjoys playing with during off leash trail walks too. 

Q: Do you still  check Austin at night?
Yes. We check Austin on a schedule regardless of Bo's alerts. His alerts help us catch highs and lows that occur between our scheduled checks but they do not replace them. Many nights we check Austin two to three times due to Bo alerting. The other night Bo alerted to a high of 180 at 12:30 am and re-alerted at 3 am to a 99 that was out of his reward threshold but too low for night time. I decreased Austin's basal rate by .10 units and told Bo he was a good boy. At 6 am Bo alerted again; Austin was 74. 

Q: Did you train Bo yourself?
Yes, with the help of professional trainers. I'm not a professional trainer. Bo is the first dog I have ever owned. Prior to having Bo I was not a 'dog person' which makes our story even more fascinating to many people -- but mostly my close family and friends who know me well. I attribute my success training Bo to four factors: 
1. Helen Nicholls, CDPT-KSA, CDBC, OSCT
As our primary trainer, she has been by my side teaching us, supporting us and advising us since before we brought Bo home. Without her skill, expertise, knowledge and friendship we would not be where we are today in our journey. 
2. Our Neighbors Syl and Gil 
Ever since Bo was 10-weeks-old, he has been spending his days at Gil and Syl's house while we spend ours at work and school. At their house, he socializes, plays, exercises and naps all while getting a lot of love and attention. I'm certain our journey with Bo wouldn't be what it is today if it weren't for Gil and Syl taking him during the day and nurturing his development. They have provided him countless socialization opportunities, practiced and reinforced trained behaviors, supported his DAD training and provided me with guidance and support on dog ownership. They have been a major part of the village it has taken to raise and train our pup.
3. My Personal Commitment 
It's been a huge investment in time, energy, and resources to get to where we are today. My unwavering commitment to the process has helped get us  here.
4. My Ability to Take Direction 
I started out on this journey knowing nothing about obedience, public access or scent training. I've learned everything I know today on this three year journey. If it weren't for my ability to listen to and take directions, I never would have succeeded. 

Q: If you had it to do again, would you train another DAD? 
I would do it all over again most definitely. Raising and training Bo has been one of the most challenging, fulfilling and gratifying experiences of my life. 

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