I am not a dog trainer. I am a parent of a child with type 1 diabetes. And I’m a dog lover. I am always looking for a tool to help make diabetes management easier and safer for my child and a dog lover. So when my wife and I heard about DAD’s, we were very interested.
When it comes to these dogs, to say we occasionally struggle, are totally unqualified, and feel completely overwhelmed is an understatement. Failures, screw ups, missed training opportunities, bad timing, bad habits. They are all there. And with 2 dogs, it’s amplified. What we do have is the willingness to make this work, some incredibly smart, forgiving, and resilient dogs, and some amazing people that still take our calls and answer our texts. (Thank you Crystal, Johanna & Tracy!)
Through this process, and our amazing good fortune to find Canine Hope for Diabetics, we have met some awesome people. We have become great friends with dog trainers, adult type 1’s, families with type 1 kids, and people that are completely immersed in both the diabetic and dog world. All of these people have become friends, allies, and resources for us as we move along developing and evolving our life with a service dog (or 2). Our initial vision of life with a dog and our actual reality almost 2 years later isn’t quite the same. As far as I’m concerned, it is far better than imagined, but a lot more work than I envisioned. (If you’ve been following for awhile, that is a constant theme)
We know families that have young children that are handling a lot of their own diabetes management, and we know families that are very hands on. We know people who have dogs that are alerting to the kids, and we know people that have the dogs alert to the parents. And we also know families that are evolving as the kids are getting older and showing more independence and responsibility. There is no right or wrong, it is whatever happens to work for your family. But I want to share with you a little bit of our philosophy, which will probably morph over time. This is what works for us. For now…
I am asked all the time whether our dogs alert to Stella or my wife and I. We have both dogs alert to us. Stella gets to play and bond and have fun and train and relax with the dogs, but they work for us. Why? Because Stella doesn’t wake up at night if they alert to her, so night alerts go unrewarded for the dog, and untreated for Stella if we were to let that happen. And then the dog stops alerting. My wife and I still make the decisions when it comes to diabetes management, so when the dogs do alert, they alert to us so we can decide the course of action.
Stella knows how to use her meter, she knows how to bolus, she knows what her BS range is and what a low or high is. But she doesn’t yet know how to factor in insulin on board, or how long ago she ate, or whether she needs just a 1/3 of a juice box or a full Gatorade. Sometimes she doesn’t even remember to put on her pump after a shower.
So what happens as she gets older? Well, things may slowly evolve over time, but by the time Stella is ready to go to college or move out, and needs a dog that will work solely for her, Major and Raven will be retired, and she will most likely have a different dog. We knew when we got Major that he would work for us. It’s how we train (and our training does involve Stella) and how we have our lives set up. When there is an issue, they come to us. This works for us. Yes, in a year or 2 Major may be going to school with her. And he will alert to her. But the majority of work we do with these dogs has them alerting to my wife and I, and when we are out in public, it is normally one of us that is handling them, or we are keeping a very close eye on them.
This also extends to our night alerting set up. This is where it really comes into play. You see, some people are horrified to hear that Raven sleeps in our room. They think it’s cruel to keep them apart. “What happens if there is a blood sugar issue?” “How can you take her dog away?” “How will the dog ever know?” “They will never smell it from that far!”. Well, the truth is, these dogs love to work, and they love treats. And our dogs are pretty damn spoiled 🙂
You see, my daughter’s room is the Bermuda Triangle. Kids and animals go in there, and they never come out. It has it’s own climate, it’s own currency, it’s own language, it’s own uniform, it’s own anthem, and it’s own government :). If we are just hanging out at home, we make sure to keep one dog with us in the family room. The dog that goes in there may be subjected to costumes, story reading, and a very comfy bed (<—–that tends to be the issue) Major doesn’t alert at night, so he sleeps with her, but we will be doing some more experiments soon with him. (don’t tell Stella)
1. wake up when she smelled the scent
2. get out of a very comfy bed
3. head out the door
4. go down the hall
5. come into our room
6. put 2 paws up on our bed and nudge 1 of us awake
7. then head back to Stella’s room
This has proved to be very hard to train for us (again, I’m a parent, not a trainer, and we already lack sleep in our house). So we removed 2 through 5, making it easier, and allowing Raven a chance to be successful. She sleeps next to us, so as soon as she smells the scent (#1), she goes straight to 6. We have hiccups along the way. We make changes and small tweaks. But it works. And again, the night alerts are back-ups. They are redundant systems to things we are already doing (like setting 2 alarms at night to check her at 12 and 3) in case we sleep through the alarms, or we have a stray blood sugar issue.
We had a night last week where Major showed signs of alerting (he actually woke Laurie up during a random high) so we are going to try a couple of things to see if he is ready to start night alerting. We will keep you posted on that progress and the steps we take to try and make that work. Fingers crossed.
When we are out and about, my wife and I are the main dog handlers. Stella does spend a lot of time walking the dogs, and training almost nightly with them, so she will occasionally handle a dog when out in public. She has proven to be an excellent handler. But she never leaves our sight. The dogs alert to us, so when they are leashed and connected to her, they can’t get to us. We need to watch out for alerting signals. Major has proven very adept at getting our attention when he can’t get to us, it’s actually pretty amazing to witness.
So again, I’m not a trainer. Spend any amount of time with my dogs, and that becomes very apparent. But I’m a dad that loves his kids and loves dogs. I am a little more accepting of some behaviors than a trainer might be. And our dogs spend a little more time with our family than a trainer might like. And I am very much a member of the “Indiscriminate Petters Association”. They have become beloved family members. We are doing dog specific things on the weekend with them like dock diving, hiking, going to dog beach, and Canine Hope events. They go everywhere with us. It works for our family, and our dogs. The proof is in the A1c tests.
We work constantly with them, and I am always learning and trying new things. I have a tremendous support group of very knowledgeable people that I can reach out to for problem solving or training a new behavior. And I put that network to good use. After all, it takes a village…