20140201-IMG_6609I love these posts, you know the ones: “We’ve only had Buster the Service Dog for 3 weeks, and already he has saved little Timmy’s life from low blood sugar 6 times! Little Timmy was 26 when Buster alerted!”. While I agree that these dogs have an amazing ability to pick up on sudden, out of the blue blood sugar issues, and it is always welcome to have another set of eye (or in this case, a nose) watching out for your child, there may be some other issue that needs to be addressed. Carb ratios, basal rates, growth hormones, puberty, illness, any number of things that might need to be looked at and considered to help your child.

There seems to be a plethora of people that feel obligated to brag about how amazing their dog is. And while I agree that these dogs are amazing, these posts (to those of us that have been around awhile) tend to come off as advertising campaigns for the company that provided the dog. I always have a bunch of follow up questions, but I stopped asking because they never get answered, or they are drowned out over the screams of how amazing the particular DAD organization is. I always want a little more context. Things like “why didn’t the dog alert to the drop at 85, or 65, 0r 50?”. A lot of times, a great DAD will prevent these extreme blood sugars from ever happening.

I have had the sincere pleasure of being around some of the most amazing DAD’s, handlers, trainers, teams and families in the DAD world. Of seeing first hand what a truly great SD can do. I am lucky enough to have an amazing DAD at my feet while I type this. These dogs are alerting daily to blood sugar issues, small drops or rises, multiple times every day. My dogs alert daily and provide amazing assistance at helping us keep our daughters type 1 diabetes managed. But if you have followed me for any great length of time, you know that I rarely post about alerts. Just often enough to make people aware of what these dogs are capable of.

My dogs alert accurately (or don’t alert accurately as the case may be) every single day. But you won’t see me in groups bragging about that. I sometimes wonder if the people that scream the loudest about how amazing their dogs are are in reality trying to justify making a poor decision by reading too much into what the dog truly is doing. Perhaps knowing there is an issue and walking the dog through it, handing it to them. Seriously exaggerating or outright lying about their dogs capabilities. A lot of these dogs haven’t had 6 months worth of training, and have been in the home for a very short period of time. There hasn’t been enough time to acclimate, and the new handlers aren’t experienced enough yet (most only have a day or 2 of training) to know how to handle the dogs. And when these alerts do come up, they are often in the easiest of scenarios for these dogs to handle, at home, in relative peace and quiet.

When it comes to training, many people will argue that the actual scent work may be the easiest part of the training. It is the obedience training required to develop and amazing public access dog that takes a great amount of time. To have a dog that can walk through a mall food court or the kids school cafeteria with all the food on the ground and the screaming and excitement, and then alert to a 190. THAT is an impressive alert. To be at a huge Halloween festival, surrounded by barbecues grilling corn, in the middle of a corn field maze and alerting to a 70. To be in the mountains surrounded by pines while your child is 2 cabins away, and alert to a 60. Those are amazing alerts. The alerts that prevent us from ever having to deal with dangerous lows. Alerts that never allow the child to see 400’s. And while not all of those extremes can be prevented, and regardless of how amazing the DAD is, those things can and will happen, they should be the exception, never the rule.

I would like to see more emphasis placed on how well these dogs do out in public. How they behave at Target or the grocery store. Sitting at a restaurant or the movie theater, with all that food on the ground. Walking through a busy amusement park, or sitting on the sidelines while their person plays soccer or baseball. Quietly alerting while under a conference table at work. Riding on the subway. THAT is the impressive stuff, the hard work.

If your dog is forced to constantly alert to high blood sugars, you are failing your dog. If your child generally runs on the higher end (over 160), eventually that will become your DAD’s norm. Your dad will stop alerting at 160, 170, 180. The BS won’t appear out of range to the dog until it reaches the 200’s or 300’s. That is the amazing truth about these dogs. They aren’t here to catch crazy blood sugars. They are here to help you tighten up your diabetes management. In order for them to be effective, the norm has to be 90-140 (or something similar). Then the dog can pick up readily when the BS goes out of that range.

While I post often on our Facebook page about diabetes, fun pictures of the dogs, and training sessions, one of the least often talked about subjects is alerting. I am weary of those that do brag too much. It leads me to believe that they are failing in some other aspect of management. And if the dog has saved the child’s life often since the dog has been placed, what exactly has happened since the dog got there? Was the diabetes management really good before, and now everyone has decided they can slack off because Buster is on duty? Or are they perhaps bragging just a little. Exaggerating. In an effort to get a kick back perhaps? A rebate? Or to justify spending all their followers money on a dog that may not be as amazing as they hoped? Not exactly the “miracle” they thought they might be getting?

As always, proceed with caution. Do your homework. Know that the amazing, life saving alert is the exception. The one off. It should never be the standard operating mode. Yes, I truly believe that on at least one occasion, Major may have saved my daughters life. But what has always been more important is that Major and Raven help me save my daughters long term health.

This is how an AMAZING DAD alerts:

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Team Blackdogsrule

 

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3 Comments

  1. Every time I read a FB post where someone considers an ‘AMAZING alert’ and it’s at 253 or even higher or 65 or even lower, I can’t help but think really?! To me the ideal alert is when our DAD alerts to a high at 175 and a low alert at 85. Sure I’ll take the alert at 253 or 65 — they are helpful but I definitely don’t consider them great alerts. (In fact, such alerts make me question what I’m doing wrong in my training that’s causing my dog to miss alerts at his trained thresholds.)

    The exception being if the dog and child are not together and the alert comes at the point they are brought together. (i.e. child comes home from friend’s house and dog alerts within moments of the child’s arrival home.) The other exception for me is if the dog’s alert is a repeat alert. (i.e. alerted at 175 and again at 200 and again at 253)

    As always with your posts, you’ve done a nice job informing and educating and putting the work these dogs do in perspective. Thank you!

  2. Agreed. These amazing creatures do not take the place of responsible human judgment/actions on the part of their humans. I recently witnessed a family looking for a trainer to ‘fix’ their dog. These folks did not appear to understand their responsibilities in managing their young T1 child. So sad. And happy to have your observations an comments.

  3. Thank you. In all seriousness – Thank. You. I work daily with a d.a.d., the scent training alert was so much easier than his ‘public access’ training. One of my proudest days was when he alerted me to a 190 on an airplane at 11 months of age. Not because him alerting was rare or exciting, but because it was done in an over-crowded airplane with tons of noises, people, and smells. I am asked often ‘so you don’t have to test anymore?’ and trying to explain that I test twice as much as other diabetics I know is almost impossible. Is a d.a.d. right for everyone? no. not even a little. Is it right for me? hell yes, it keeps me healthier, more active, and helps make my blood sugars boring–just the way I like them.

Speak!