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

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Generalizing the Alert Behavior

Bo waiting for me after an alert.
One of the many key concepts in scent training involves teaching your dog when you ask him to perform a behavior it means the same thing regardless of the environment or scenario. This is called generalization; teaching a dog to generalize a behavior involves training the behavior in different locations and under different distractions. It also involves changing up the position of your body when you ask for the behavior. Once a dog is able to generalize a behavior, he is able to give the behavior on cue despite the scenario. 

During a recent extended stay at a vacation home, Bo demonstrated his ability to generalize his night time alert behavior. The vacation home was larger than our home and the floor plan was much different. I wondered if Bo would alert at night given the new space. Would he find his way from the room where he slept with Austin to the room where I slept. Would he come to the side of the bed to wake me? Would he lead me back to Austin? 

The first night he demonstrated his ability to generalize night alerting. Despite being in new surroundings, he alerted to a low of 69. Just like he does at home, he left Austin's bed and came to the side of the bed where I slept to wake me. When I stood up, he bowed at my feet and then he led me to Austin. 

Bo with reward toy after a game of getcha.
What really impressed me was his ability to also generalize his reward behaviors. Just like at home, he went to the refrigerator to get his food reward, then he followed me to the bin where his reward toy was and waited for me to initiate a game of 'getcha.' After a few laps of me pretending to get him, I cued him to return to the kitchen with the toy. He dropped the toy and waited for his last treat before returning to bed with Austin.  

Night after night in this new space he worked just like he works at home. He alerted to lows in the 80s and highs ranging from 173 to 220. His alerts were not limited to at night, he alerted during the day catching post skiing lows in the 70s and 80s, as well as highs related to temp basal decreases that were a bit too aggressive. 

Settled 'under' after being rewarded for a high alert.

At the ski lodge, he broke place from under the table to alert but Austin's blood sugar was 157, so we told him we would 'watch.' Within 12 minutes he re-alerted by paw swiping my leg from under the table; this time Austin's blood sugar was 187 and in Bo's high reward range. After being treated for his alert, he settled back under the table where he remained until we left. 

Being away on vacation has provided Bo the opportunity to demonstrate his ability to generalize his alert behavior. Seeing him work successfully in new environments and under different distractions fills my heart with pride and gratitude. We've come so far on our journey. 

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