Major is alerting. This alert tells me the girl doesn’t feel well 😉

I feel I need to preface this post with a disclaimer. This blog is meant to be an honest depiction of life with these amazing dogs. And this particular post is a reflection of where I am as a handler, and how these dogs have been asked to fit into our family personally, based on the needs of OUR family and specifically our daughter, and is in no way a reflection of these dogs abilities, which far exceed any of my capabilities. This post is an effort to try and tell myself that I am still doing great with these dogs. Because honestly? Sometimes I feel like I am letting them down. I feel like they are Ferrari’s, and i am only qualified or ready to drive a Honda Civic. They are capable of so much more.

Have you taught you DAD different alerting behaviors to mark different types of issues? Something like a bow to signal a low, a wave for a high, or maybe hitting the right or left hand? How about grabbing some type of tool like a bringsel that is around the house or that you wear on your person?

If so, more power to you. We are still working through our alert/attach an event to it training. . In some instances, we are letting the dogs be our guide, paying close attention to what they want to do naturally, and encouraging/rewarding that. At other times, we are asking them to do something very distinct to signify what type of event is occurring. Here is an honest account of where we are.


Major with a bringsel


Raven with a bringsel

Major has never used a bringsel as his first option. He has used them, but it is out of his norm. Part of it comes from his previous life with an abusive field trainer. Asking him to grab something by month (a bringsel, pull on a rope tug on the fridge, etc) really stresses him out. I’m sure it has to do with grabbing ducks to harshly and being scolded/treated poorly. So he doesn’t want/like to do it. So we don’t enforce it. When we do scent training, the bringsel is offered, and Raven is a bringsel girl, so he appears interested, but we know that will never be his “go to” alert.

Major likes to put his paws on you and lick your hands. That is his natural alert. The first day we met him, he did that exact alert to Crystal when he alerted for the first time on Stella. We have taught him to bow and wave, but he has never been consistent with it. We have had an issue chaining them together (I’m sure it is MY issue) with each particular alert. He likes to bow, and now he likes to bow for every alert. And actually, I am okay with that. It is a very distinct move, usually followed by a paw on me. Unlike the licking of the hands, which can also happens after I eat a sandwich, or some cookies, or the kids are eating goldfish or cheese, and he would like to help clean it off your hands, the bow and paw are easy for me to read and know what he is telling me.

We get the “stare” from both dogs. The stare is normally when you are sitting on the couch or in a chair. The dogs walk up, out their head in your lap, and stare at you. It is a look of worry or trouble, and they don’t move until you acknowledge them. It sounds subtle, but it is very effective.


Raven’s “stare”

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Now Raven is a bringsel girl. She likes to grab the bringsel, and she knows where they are all over the house. As a matter of fact, sometimes we need to hide them if we happen to be dealing with a stubborn high that refuses to go down. Even then, she has grabbed them off the top of a bookcase, the top of the fridge, and the top of the dining room table. She will occasionally bring you every bringsel she can find. She too knows the wave for a high and bow for a low, and she is better about showing you, but only if she is asked. Now we try not to ask until after we test, so we can confirm that A: it is a real alert, and B: we can confirm a high or low.


Raven grabbing the bringsel from under a table in a restaurant

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Along our journey with these amazing dogs, we thought it would be really cool if they could tell us what the issue was before we checked. But in reality, we are checking Stella every time they alert anyway, so we place more emphasis on the actual alert. We ask these dogs to do so many things in so many scenarios, that we have come to the conclusion that if something is working, don’t try and fix it.

As a for instance, Raven alerts in the car, she alerts in the house during the day, and she alerts over night. She is a rock star in each of those scenarios. But her alerting behavior is different for each occasion, as is what we are asking her to do. During the day, she will grab the bringsel, or if she can’t find one, do the head in the lap alert. If I don’t respond to the head in lap alert, she will climb on top of me. Don’t laugh, it is a behavior that absolutely gets her point across, and that is EXACTLY what I want from my alerting dog.

In our SUV, the dogs are in the cargo area. We tried hanging a bringsel, which Raven will get to alert, but then she will chew and tear the bringsel unless I pull over and take it back from her (not an ideal situation). So we took the bringsel down, and now she will whine from the rear when we have an issue. This was a dog figuring out how she could alert all on her own. We don’t encourage any noise from these dogs, but Raven has always had a noise issue, so for now, this is working. We have recently reintroduced the bringsel in an effort to eliminate the whine, we will keep you posted.

At night, Raven sleeps on my wife’s side of the bed. We have a huge 4 poster bed. We worked hard and it took us several weeks to develop a system that works for us at night. And again, in this scenario, we are asking our dog to do a little something different. Raven needs to stand on her rear legs, put her paws up on the bed, and wake my wife. Sometimes, all it takes is the sound of her stirring on her Kuranda. Sometimes she needs to nudge with a cold nose or reach with a paw. One time she actually leapt on to the bed and laid across us to let us know. Once she wakes my wife up, she leads the way into my daughter’s room and waits until my wife is done checking.

Now I could continue with the training and teaching the behaviors that I would like to see, and perhaps if we were working with puppies, we would certainly start them off that way. But Major didn’t enter the program until he was 18 months old, and already had enough other baggage to get through, and Raven is doing EXACTLY what we brought her in to do. So again, if it isn’t broke… We will continue to ask for the specific alerts when scent training, but during real time, unless offered, I am not demanding the behaviors. I just want them to alert, and to make it as easy and stress free for them to do so, and then they don’t ever consider it easier to “not” alert, or to make it not fun for them. Often, after we have confirmation of the high/low, and I am heading to the fridge for a juice box, I will sneak in a “show me” just to see that they know what it is, and then I will give them some snacks.

Along the way, a funny thing is happening. Major is watching Raven’s use of the bringsel. And with 2 of them alerting, there is a little bit of competition that takes place, so Major is showing more of an interest in it. But Raven is a stealer. She will take the bringsel whenever Major has it in his mouth.


Major brought me the bringsel


Raven stole the bringsel. Doesn’t the look on Major’s face break your heart?

When I sit down and get honest with myself I have to admit that I get caught up in what some of the other DAD teams are capable of doing. I would love to be able to do some things that those amazing teams do. I have to remember that I have 2 amazing DADs that work, and some families have DADs that are now pets. I have to remind myself that Stella’s A1C was 9.6 before Major, Raven, and the pump got here, and now, through the dogs and our families hard, diligent work, her latest was 6.8! I have to also remember that more often than not, when it comes to the dangerous “quick” drops, these dogs give me a 15 minute headstart, before the meter reads the low, and before Stella shows any signs. What more could I possibly ask for? To get them to this point and maintain this level is a lot of continuous work, and that will be on going forever. Canine Hope has done an amazing job of getting these dogs ready for us. It is up to us to grab those reigns and hold on tight. These dogs know more the first day they show up, and it is up to us to make sure they don’t lose it all, that is a BIG, scary responsibility. We see our trainers a lot :). We are sliding in some new things here and there, and there are always new scenarios being thrown at them, but ultimately, they need to continue to alert. And after the dog alerts, it is ALWAYS MY RESPONSIBILITY to verify and then deal with the issue appropriately and quickly, regardless of whether they tell me it’s a high or a low.

Team Blackdogsrule


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