8733373815_d028cb96b1_bAt our house, we work hard and we play hard. That goes double for the Labs. Diabetic alert dogs use scent, and are “on duty” 24 hours a day, as they can’t turn their noses off, whereas some other types of service dogs can be off duty when home, or when the vest comes off.

As such, we try and build in some routine to our day, to know that when we need the dogs most, they will be rested and ready to perform, not exhausted or burnt out from the days activities.

I’m a runner. I run on average around 30 miles a week. Major runs most of those with me, and Raven runs about 20 miles with us. Both of these dogs are high energy, and we also require high endurance from them. And as the old saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog. So they run with me, we do dock diving, lot’s of swimming, daily walks with them, games of fetch, and just general running around that happens with 2 kids in the house. But most of it is done around certain times of day as to improve our chances of success with alerting when we need them most.

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I run before dawn most mornings. I try to be out the door between 4:45 and 5 am depending on what the days mileage is, so I can get home, have breakfast, and get ready for work on time. And that is just fine for the Labs too. It’s never that hot, and the ground won’t burn their paws, so it’s a great time for them. It also proves to be convenient for me. I get my exercise in, and it doesn’t take away time from the family. The timing also works to Raven’s strengths, and helps to make her successful.

Raven is our night shift, which means she alerts to Stella’s blood sugar issues while everyone is asleep, and will wake up either my wife or I. But we have learned a few things about how to improve our chances of that happening. First, we have her sleep on a Kuranda cot. We have learned that if she sleeps on a standard dog bed, or on our bed, she sleeps heavily and doesn’t wake up. When she is on her Kuranda, she never gets to the deep, REM sleep, making it easier for her to pick up the scent.

Secondly, I have noticed that if I run with her in the afternoons or evenings, she will sleep too heavily, as she is more tired than normal at bedtime. So I run with her 1st thing in the morning. When we get back from our run, I feed the dogs, and then we crate Raven. This is normally around 6am. The household is in full hustle bustle mode, getting ready for school, work, eating, etc. Raven has been up throughout the night, had her exercise, and eaten her breakfast. Raven finally gets some quiet time to get in a good, deep sleep. Major goes with my wife and kids to school, and off to any errands Laurie has, and then around 9am Raven comes back out of her crate. My wife works from home, so the rest of the day is spent lounging around by her feet for both dogs. Major often times squeezes in a big nap during this time, so he’s ready for the rest of the day. At 3pm. Major and my wife head back out to school, and Raven gets another solid hour of quiet time in her crate.

This schedule seems to work well for the dogs. When we stick to this schedule, Major is on duty all day, and both Major and Raven are both on duty throughout the evening, then Raven takes over at night. If we have a big, busy outing during the day on a weekend, we know that, depending on the timing, Raven may be too tired to work that night. That is okay. Raven is NEVER our first line of defense. That is our responsibility. Raven is a back up, or an early warning detection device. That’s why it’s so important to know your dog.

Now with Major, he seems to work harder the harder he works. So he loves days filled with running and swimming, or some big day out. We really improve our chances for success with him when he is running in the mornings, has some public access work with Laurie during the day, and then has an obedience training session in the evening with me, Stella, and Raven.

A lot of this is trial and error with us. We learn through paying attention to patterns of good work and bad periods. Then we look for what was different between the 2. Sometimes in the winter, it is too cold at 5am to run, or I haven’t seen sun in a while, so I will run in the afternoons. When I did that this past winter, we noticed the Raven wouldn’t alert over night. So, if I want to take her with me, I know I need to go early. Major also has a threshold, I try to keep his mileage under 12 miles at a time. He has gone as far as 18 miles, but as you can imagine, he’s too tired to do anything the rest of the day. Up to 12 miles and he’s good to go.


With Raven, I have also learned that she tops out at about 6 miles. She is great for a 10K, and then she’s done. So she does my daily runs with me, normally between 4-6 miles, and stays home on the longer weekend runs. and if we are doing something that day, like going to the park, dock diving, swimming at Nana’s house, or heading off to an amusement park, I will leave her at home when I go run so she isn’t doubly exhausted.

Another way we try to set Raven up for success at night is to increase the treat reward. During the day, if the dogs get a low alert (we regard the low alert as the most important), the dogs get what we call a “low party”, which consists of a food reward (which is a slightly different grain free kibble than their normal dinner kibble), a lot of loving, petting, praise, and their favorite squeaky toys. But at 3am, lots of praise and squeaking doesn’t really work. So I give Raven an even higher value moist meat treat (we use the Natural Balance Meat rolls that I pre-cut and store in the fridge) to give her a little extra incentive. As I believe I have mentioned before, we also stagger the alarms, move her bed from one side to the other, and change the flavor of the treats. This is to keep night time checks interesting and exciting for her, and to prevent her from anticipating the alarm.

By making sure our dogs are exercised, we are increasing their endurance, bettering their chances of success for a busy day outing, or being up at night. It also betters our chances of having good dogs, not dogs that are bored and looking for mischief. By making sure that exercise is done at the right time, we are bettering our chances of success at night. By choosing the right rewards, we are bettering our chances of creating dogs that want to alert. The list goes on.

Hope some of this gives you something to think about. As far as the dog is concerned, routine is good, and routine is safe. But we do some tiny tweaks occasionally to make sure that routine doesn’t equal rut.

Team Blackdogsrule

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1 Comment

  1. We love the Natural Balance food rolls for treats! They are our go to for high end training, new or scary stuff, and beginners that need an extra incentive.

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