Small World

We took the family to Disneyland to celebrate my son’s 8th birthday. We also took our service dog Raven with us. We had a fantastic day, and Raven was amazing. Stella did the handling all day and Raven earned her keep with several low alerts. (The excitement of the amusement park tends to burn off blood sugar)

Based on a compliment we received from another SD handler and just how crowded it was yesterday, I realized I have never discussed how important it is or what is meant by protecting your service dog while out in public.

For public access work, distractions, obedience, and crowd control work, I can’t imagine there is any place more challenging than Disneyland on a gorgeous Southern California Saturday. The park was jammed full of guests making it hard enough to traverse the park with kids, let alone a teenager handling a dog.

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primark

Sorry for the dramatic headline, but I see posts like that every single day. Most often it is relating to an alert from a dog. See, this happened to me too, just this past weekend. 20150815-DSCF1638

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20140525-IMG_9843The picture above was taken on day 2 of our rally competition. All 5 dogs are Canine Hope dogs, but not all the people in the picture are dog trainers. 1 of them is an 11 year old (my daughter), 2 of them are teenagers (15 and 13), 1 of them is a self trainer (she worked with the org to raise a puppy for her son), and 1 of them is an official trainer for the org, raising a fully trained DAD for a family. More »

20140322-IMG_6709Raven is an amazing night alerter. What exactly does that mean? That means that after a full day of excitement in a house with 2 children,  3 dogs, type 1 diabetes, a running partner, and all that goes along with that, she is still capable of picking up diabetic scent after all the lights are turned off, the house has gotten quiet, and we have all gone to bed. More »

1661616_814261655268735_7488107394780660463_nWe spend a lot of time in the car. Always on the run somewhere, and in Los Angeles, prone to extended periods of being stuck in traffic. While we are in the front seat, the kids aren’t technically far away, but I can’t tell what my daughter’s blood sugar is doing easily or safely while I am driving and she is in the back seat listening to her iPod, playing with her brother, or sleeping. Raven, one of our diabetic alert dogs (a DAD for short), does alert in the car. But we noticed recently that it was noticeably less often, so we decided to go back to the drawing board and work on fine tuning it a bit. This post gives you some background on where we started, some things we tried (that did or didn’t work), and where we are now.

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1979156_10203364917621334_520525939442577090_oSpring break is over, the kids went back to school. When I got home last night, I told the kids that after dinner I would take them to the park to go run around. We had some odd blood sugars during the day (normally the case after a week away from school) and had to do a site change at 3am that morning, so we were keeping a close eye on our daughter. It was a beautiful afternoon though, and it seemed like a great night to be outside.

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Getting on soapbox. Flame retardant gear on, I have a feeling I’m getting flamed. But I may also help save a child’s life:

Enough already. A 150 bg reading with 2 units of insulin on board is not your dog alerting to a low. You left out the part about how your child just ate 30 minutes ago, had a meal of 75 carbs, and the 2 units is working on the carbs from lunch. If the child has 2 units of IOB, YOU GAVE IT TO THEM TO COVER FOOD! We know that 2 units of insulin could drop your BG 100-200 points (depending on age/weight), but that assumes the child has NO FOOD OR CARBS in their system. If you just fed them within the last couple of hours, the IOB is working on food. Your child could very well stay at 150, or could go up or go down. In actuality, what is happening is EXACTLY the way it is supposed to work. Eat food, take insulin, insulin requires time (in our case 3 hours) to work its way through the system, all the while working on the carbs that she ate. Now if there is a BS spike (which often happens after a meal) where the BG shoots up to 200 or higher, THAT is an alert. When the dog alerts and the child is in range, but you think the dog may be right, wait 10-15 minutes and check again. If there has been a significant drop of 20-40 points, that was possibly a good, heads up alert. If they are 145, all though that is a drop, that ISN’T an alert.

And as for the “my dog alerted at 11:30 and little johnny was 135. Then I checked at 12:15 and he was 120. Then I checked at 1:30 and he was 99. Then I checked at 2:45 and he was 70. Good low doggie!”. Well, that is just ridiculous. Your dog should have been on his place, and not come to you until sometime after 2. I tell you what. I’m going to tell you to go check your child right now. I bet that sometime in the next 5 hours, they will be out of range.

Most likely, you have trained your dog that when they swipe you with a paw, you treat. They aren’t alerting, they want a treat, and you taught them a way to get one.

Here is what you need to do. Tighten up the reigns, and provide the dog with structure. Make sure they are doing a lot of place work, they are getting a lot of obedience training from you, and you are providing some scent sample games and real time training to work with the dog. But telling me your dog alerted 4 hours ago? Please. And as for that alert, why didn’t he re-alert 3 hours then 2 hours, then 1 hour, then every 15 minutes until you corrected the low?

We all love to brag about the amazing things our dogs have done. But lets be honest. We want these dogs to be accurate. If we as handlers are treating all these other things as alerts, or drag our dogs through them, or treat them every time the child is really in range after a meal, with insulin on board, or prompt/cue them to alert, then when you REALLY need it, you may not really know your dog actually is capable.

When Major or Raven alert and our daughter is 135, we don’t reward. We say “we will watch it”, and then we will check again in 15 minutes. Most likely when we check again, if it was Major, Stella will be below 80, and if it was Raven, she will be over 170 (they each have a freaky specialty of early alerting to a drop (Major) or a rise (Raven) ). What we think of as an “early” or “predictive” alert, is in reality, a real time blood sugar change that current modern medical tools can’t catch that quickly.

So please, you are expecting these dogs to be an extra safeguard for your children. But before trusting them with your child’s life, make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for disaster.

Rant over. Off soapbox.

Team Blackdogsrule

904122_600075823353987_450448929_o Night time alerting. Most often it is the number 1 reason someone cites for wanting a DAD. And it is often followed up with “and then we can sleep through the night” as if the dog will catch the low, go get a juice box, treat the low, and then go back to bed. Or catch the high, bolus to correct, and do all of that while you stay snuggled up in bed.

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