On our Facebook page last week, I asked if any of our members had a topic about DAD’s or diabetes, and several great topics came up that I will be covering here soon. The first one I wanted to cover was from Jenn Demchuk. She writes:

“I would like to hear more about the bonds developed between the DAD’s and family members. How have they developed, which DAD is closest with Stella? Does Stella have a preference for one of them? What about with the other members of your family? Do you have a preference? Who’s personality meshes best with who? And I know they have different strengths and weaknesses as DAD’s (why you have two) but which one is the stronger or even more consistent?”

What a great group of questions. Before I answer though, let me just say this. My answers here apply to our family and our dogs. Other families do things differently, or have different experiences. What works for us may not work for someone else.

316318_305061602855412_1181966050_n 884447_595563723805197_1451653691_o 857669_582146895146880_714468073_oInstead of tackling each question individually, I think that as I talk about the relationships we have with these dogs, the answers will all kind of reveal themselves. Spend any amount of time with our dogs, and as you’d expect from living things, their personalities shine through. Both of our dogs have had radically different backgrounds, leading to some of their different strengths and weaknesses, or, since we have 2, what we call their individual “specialties”.

6131077055_5ddf18bbac_b(3) 9180922322_407a98b889_b(1) 560876_468845033143734_70609198_n 934664_658207210874181_1716397679_nFirst up is Major. He is the dog that started all of this, that completely and totally captured my heart, and is my first experience with a Labrador. Before we go to far, let me explain the way we use our DAD’s, because it may be different for other families. We expect Major and Raven to work for us. They don’t work for Stella, and most times, they will not alert to her. She is their person, but we are their employers. If they want to get paid, they alert to us. The reasoning behind this is that we got Major when Stella was 8. She wasn’t (and still really isn’t) capable of fixing an issue. If she was high, she wasn’t capable of loading up a syringe and injecting herself with insulin. If she was low, she wasn’t capable of figuring out how much juice she needed. She doesn’t wake up in the middle of the night, so it would take a herculean effort for a dog to wake her. And more often than not, she would assume that Major alerting to her was a case of a dog being annoying and looking for attention, and she would push Major away. It doesn’t take long for a dog being pushed away and not being rewarded before the dog figures it’s just easier to lay on the floor. So Major and Raven both alert to my wife and I.

843905_575776265783943_1881110208_o 616857_478129935548577_771334097_o 331440_336443063050599_1645647084_o 461214_610222972339272_537350341_oWhen Major 1st came to us, we knew he was a pretty sensitive soul. Major had a pretty abusive past, as he was a rescue. More of his story is here. As such, occasionally the hustle and bustle and noise of a 2 child/multi pet household gets to him. He will hang out under a table, or crate himself if things get a little loud at home. Knowing this, our trainer Crystal (from Canine Hope) told us that the more loving and bonding we can give him, the better. So from day 1, he and Stella have always had a great bond. We have always let her love on him, keep him on her bed, use him as a pillow, etc. He has stayed with her in the hospital, on her bed for 4 days, not leaving her side. They are really very close. She also works with him at Rally classes, and when we have training sessions. Stella loves to walk him, show him off at school, hike with him, and do training sessions with him. Of our 2 DAD’s, Major is the one Stella is closest with. Part of that is by design, as I will discuss when we talk about Raven. Major keeps an eye on both children. When we are out and about, he likes toknow where both kids are at all times. He gets a little nervous when he can’t see them both. He once saved Dash from falling off a cliff as we were climbing up to the parking lot at the Huntington Beach dog beach.

324222_332119546816284_238015038_o 20111210-IMG_5287 20111211-IMG_4407 20111211-IMG_4405Major’s strengths are for public alerting and his nose. For as sensitive as he is at home, the crazier the scenario is in public, the more in tune he becomes to Stella. Just yesterday at the mall, we were with Canine Hope doing some public access training. 20 plus dogs, 40 plus people, multiple diabetics. We just finished our session, and we were waiting with several of the other families. Our kids were playing and running around. We were in a busy section just outside Macy’s. Several of us were answering questions from the public about what we were doing. Stella wasn’t particularly close when Major alerted, but he did and I called her over. She was 72. And when we play scent games, I can hide the scent sample anywhere, even inside boxes or cupboards, and he will find it, and try to open whatever it is in.

Major’s weakness is for night alerting and car alerts. He has never alerted at night or in the car. When Major was with the abusive trainer, he was forced to live on a truck that looked like an animal control vehicle, something that looks like this: https://i0.wp.com/www.customfiberglasscoaches.com/newImages/productGallery/8ws11-m-detail.jpg?resize=500%2C375

He was on that for most of the day, only allowed out for 1 hour each day. I believe that is why cars are a stressful place for him, as is night time, due to being in the dark the majority of his day.


8609090546_5a86844224_bFrankMajor 8726762563_eebaba293f_b(1) 1052776_646540945374141_1146039190_o 1064180_643917468969822_684256893_o

Now, while Stella is most closely bonded with Major, both Major and Raven are most closely bonded with me. I do the majority of the training with them, I run and exercise with them, I most often play fetch and scent games with them, and I most often feed them. But again, that is partly by design, as we want them to work for us. We may be doing some things slightly different in the future if/when Stella starts to take a dog to school, but that is still 1-2 years away, and will require some changes and training that will be covered here when we decide to make that change. With that said, Major sleeps in Stella’s bed every night, and hangs out with her in her room when she watches TV. He even hangs out with for reading hour every night, listening to the Harry Potter series as Stella and my wife read everyday.

20130915-IMG_4976As the picture above shows, you can see the dynamic between Major, Stella, and Raven. But trust me, Raven gets a lot of love and attention too.

886424_597314560296780_790049682_o 1010664_634206923274210_1763455462_n 1072656_654130001281902_1261982684_o 1008212_654129894615246_232238657_oRaven is the newest edition to Team Blackdogsrule. She came to us last December. Raven is a great night alerter. We initially brought her in thinking she could help us train Major. Maybe create a little competition, something to help jump start Major’s abilities. Raven had been in the DAD training program for awhile, but it had become apparent along the way that she wouldn’t make it as a DAD due to a barking issue, some protective issues, and not working so well in public. She was about to either be re-jobbed as a search and rescue, or become a pet. So loaning her to us for a little while wouldn’t be an issue. More of Raven’s initial story is here.

20130708-IMG_9988 9210957958_0786d40da6_o 8447428607_5742ff3cb2_b 8609090178_1cb6627385_b(1)When we brought Raven in, we had a hard time getting her to alert at night initially. We spent a lot of time making small tweaks and adjustments. See, Raven had been used to alerting to the actual diabetic, and sleeping with the diabetic. But my wife and I needed a dog to wake US up, to tell US there was an issue. So we did things a little differently when Raven came to us.

8360095572_f12a856d94_b 202428_543708372324066_1344922337_o 8607983479_e3befcd888_bWhen we initially brought Raven in, we thought it would only be for a temporary basis, and we let the kids know that. Plus, we wanted to make sure she worked for us, so Stella continued on with Major, and Raven spent her days with my wife, and her nights in our bedroom. After several weeks of work we finally got Raven to start night alerting. Some of that process of what works for us is here. It became pretty obvious after a while that Major was just never going to catch on. We tried everything. At some point along the way, the group at Canine Hope asked if we would keep Raven. She really couldn’t be placed in any other situation. And at that point, both my wife and I had kinda fallen in love with the goofball. So that is how she would up here. Once we knew she would be a permanent placement, we didn’t really change much. While Major normally hangs out in Stella’s room, we try and keep Raven with us, on a place in the family room or wherever my wife or I happen to be working. She still gets a lot of interaction with the kids through the normal course of the day, but at night when the kids go to sleep, Major goes off with Stella while Raven stays out with the adults.

So Raven’s strength’s are night alerts and car alerts. She is also rock solid at home. She continues to get stronger and stronger, often times now, when at home, being the first to alert. And unlike Major, the louder and crazier it gets at home, the better for Raven. She loves to be right in the middle of it all. Her big weakness is in the public alerting area, and an aversion to certain dogs, making public access work tough for her if there is any possibility of running into other dogs. If we are going to Disneyland, she will be fine. But if we are going to a park where there might be other dogs, she may get a little barky. When we are out with trainers at places like the mall, she is a perfect angel. She even alerted to a couple of highs at the mall and got a low at BJ’s during our outing yesterday. We are very proud of all she has shown us these last few months. She can also be our wild child, a free thinker if you will, occasionally determining for herself when her place work or down stay should be finished, or that perhaps she has waited long enough before releasing herself to go fetch the tennis ball. 🙂 Over time, she is showing herself to be the stronger alerter at home. Another strength of Raven’s is her heel work. She is great both on and off leash (when in controlled environments).


20130915-IMG_5037 20130915-IMG_5090

Raven is Dash’s favorite. She is a big goof ball, and just like my son, she likes fart jokes and the three stooges, so they get along famously. Whenever we go out and someone asks “what dog should we take?” Dash always shouts “RAVEN!”. When Stella went to camp this summer, we took Raven with us while out and about with Dash. we are always training and working with her in public, and not having to worry about alerting means we can spend more time on basics like heel work and such.

9549911089_100e6c0f34_b 1098329_660142594013976_1722953364_n 1010664_634206923274210_1763455462_n 904122_600075823353987_450448929_o 20130724-IMG_0657Because Major tends to have more self control, we tend to be more strict with Raven. Often times Raven will be on leash when in the house. She needs the structured existence more so than Major. We go through periods with both dogs where something may appear to be slipping, so we go back to basics and tighten up the day to day stuff to bring things back to where we need it. Raven is also much more interested in “dog” play than Major, so when we have another DAD visiting us (Like Astro or Lexi) we don’t allow Raven and the new dog unsupervised trips to the back yard. Major would much rather be on a run with me, or laying at my feet.

8494464894_683de05361_b Hope 8499608976_c994845dbc_b 8359031483_1dfb295dfe_b(1) 8733373815_d028cb96b1_b 8371532099_c685219d54_b(1) 8335372885_d8984bfb7a_b 8670173167_0694ef213c_b 8544334828_a3d5c068fd_b 8439032125_018b35fad4_h 8509041998_4f91b89a32_b 8544333914_2899cb4e8c_b 8404487638_25d2f92152_o 8551180651_6e7fb9eca0_o 8550794732_f0bb4c3b6a_o photo 2 8607875194_9b9a6fa4c2_o 20130328-IMG_3554 cropped-20130225-IMG_0146-22.jpgBoth dogs have found their very own niche in our household. They both fit in perfectly, right where we need them to help us kick diabetes ass. Just like children, they both have their own personalities, requiring different approaches to getting the most out of them, and they both have things they excel at, and things they are weak at. That they both compliment each other is a huge bonus for us.

Do I have a favorite? Yes I do. Major is my favorite male black lab. And Raven is my favorite female black lab. 😉

They are our watchdogs, watching over our children. They are my fitness partners, always ready for a run. They are our swimming partners. They console us when we want to shut the rest of the world out. They make us laugh and smile. And when we need a hug, they are always the first ones in line. They are life savers. And they will forever have a warm place to sleep and 2 meals a day.

Team Blackdogsrule


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  1. And this has to be one of my favorite posts…:) I felt the love for the both dogs come through from your whole amazing family.

  2. Your photography never ceases to amaze me.