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

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Third Shift

Sleepy Bo right after a night alert.
We are fortunate; Bo is an excellent night alerter. I believe he does some of his best work for us while we are sleeping. He didn't start out as a night alerter. It took hard work that involved training in the middle of the night, as well as a lot of trial and error including tweaking his sleep schedule and space.

Some of the most common questions people ask about Bo pertain to his night alerting. Recently when asked one of these questions, I decided the topic was worthy of a blog post.  What follows is what people want to know about Bo working the third shift.

1.  How did you train Bo to alert during the night?
I used live scent when I began training Bo on night alerts. Every time I checked Austin in the middle of the night, I woke Bo and included him in the check. If Austin's blood sugar was in Bo's low or high reward range, I would cue Bo for his trained alert chain and then give him a high value food. As his training progressed, I began using scent samples but only when Austin was not in the house. In the middle of the night, with Bo asleep and Austin away, I presented a low scent sample near him while he slept. When he awoke I would reward him with a jackpot of high value food and his favorite game or toy. The idea was to condition him to associate waking up to a low scent with things that he really, REALLY liked.

2. Does Bo sleep at night?

He does sleep but we put systems in place so he is able to sleep lightly. (See answer to Q5)
Bo goes back to bed with Austin after a night alert

3. Where does Bo sleep at night?

Bo sleeps in bed with Austin. When Bo was a puppy he slept in his crate beside Austin's bed. Once he was house broken he began sleeping in bed with Austin. For nearly two years, we put a baby gate at Austin's bedroom door to prevent Bo from leaving Austin's room at night and coming into our room to sleep.

4. How does Bo wake you to alert at night?

When Bo was gated in Austin's room, he would jump off Austin's bed and whine at the baby gate to alert us. We sleep lightly and our bedroom is within ten feet of Austin's room, so we never had a problem hearing him at the gate.

As Bo matured, we were able to remove the gate. Now he jumps off Austin's bed and comes to our room to alert at night. He will stand at the side of my bed and whine. I am a light sleeper, so I usually hear him when he jumps off Austin's bed. Once I get out of bed, Bo leads me to Austin's room. He waits at the side of Austin's bed as I check Austin. If I respond quickly to his whines, he typically will not paw swipe. 
A baby gate helped in Bo's night training.

5. Did Bo always alert at night?

He wasn't always a reliable and consistent night alerter. It took training, tweaking and time to get to where we are today. I found success in allowing him to sleep for a few hours in the early evening before he gets in bed with Austin. So, from 8 - 9:30 pm he hops in bed with me and sleeps. At 9:30 pm he gets up and goes in bed with Austin where he stays until the morning. Bo will not work at night if he sleeps in my bed all night; he simply sleeps too soundly burrowed under the blankets between two warm bodies.

6. Do you check Austin's blood sugar in the middle of the night if Bo doesn't alert? 

Yes, we always check Austin's blood sugar at night regardless if Bo alerts. Bo's alerts help us between our scheduled night time checks. 

7. Do you feel more comfortable at night knowing Bo will alert?

Night time is scary. I am always concerned about Austin's safety when he is asleep at night and having Bo doesn't change that. 

Your turn. What questions do you have about Bo's night alerts? 

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