- Sit (visual signal - j motion with hand)
- Down (visual signal - flat hand lowering)
- Stand (visual signal - two fingers pointing in front of dog)
- Sit Stay (visual signal - palm moves towards dog's face)
- Down Stay (visual signal - palm moves towards dog's face)
- Stand Stay (visual signal - palm moves towards dog's face)
- Come - come to front and sit
- Heel - walk at left side
- Here - come towards me
- Let's go - walk with me (on right side or between legs, depending on previous command)
- Watch Me - give eye contact
- Touch - touch my hand with nose (visual signal - palm presented in front of dog, verbal required)
- Leave It - do not touch or eat item
- Under - lay under table, chair, or object (visual signal - pointing where dog should lie)
- Close - sit at my left side, facing forward (visual signal - pointer finger drawing a 'U' demonstrating the dog's path)
- Side - sit at my right side, facing forward (visual signal - pointer finger drawing a 'U' demonstrating the dog's path)
- Between - sit between my legs facing forward (visual signal - point between legs)
- Behind - lay between the back of my heels and counter or wall (visual signal - point behind, where dog's nose should end up)
- Front - lay between the front of my feet and counter or wall (visual signal - point in front, where dog's nose should end up)
- Chill - put chin on my foot (visual signal - two taps of foot)
- Paws Up - put front paws on object that I point to
- Get Up - jump onto object (visual signal - patting object with palm)
- Get Dressed - put head through vest (visual signal - presentation of vest in front of her)
- Get Your Vest - retrieve vest and bring to my hand (visual signal - point toward vest)
- Get Your Leash - retrieve leash and bring to my hand (visual signal - point toward leash)
- That's Trash - pick up item and put in trash can (visual signal - point towards item, then point toward trash)
- May I have a yogurt? - open fridge, take yogurt, bring yogurt to me (visual signal - point toward fridge)
- Get The Meter - retrieve meter and bring to my hand
- Hold - hold bringsel on collar
- Bring It - bring object
- Shut The Fridge - close the door to the fridge (visual signal - point toward fridge)
- Shut It - close any door or cabinet (visual signal - point to object)
- Get In - get in car
- Place - lay on place blanket for a long period of time (visual signal - point to place)
- Wait - pause, typically at a curb or doorway while heeling
- Break - release word (used for stays, when allowed to relieve herself, when allowed to play)
- Off - jump off object (visual signal - point toward ground)
- Drop - drop item or food in mouth (visual signal - opening of hand)
- All Better - blood sugar is taken care of, puppy party is ending, stop alerting. (visual signal -flat hand moving from left to right in front of her face)
- Powder Your Nose - relieve herself, regardless of location - on grass, mulch, concrete, grate.
Filly is a 12 month old Comfort Retriever, in training as a Diabetic Alert Dog. Below are the commands that she knows at this point in time.
About 1.5 years ago there was a study done in the UK by Neupane et al  that changed how people thought of Diabetic Alert Dogs and their training. (http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/39/7/e97.full-text.pdf) This study found that the chemical 'isoprene' increases during hypoglycemia, so authors and trainers then claimed that dogs are smelling this particular chemical and alerting based on it. I hadn't done much research into this and it got quite a bit of publicity in the DAD realm so I went with it. However, recently I've been looking into it more and wanted to share my thoughts and skepticism. I'm not saying that I believe the study is incorrect, but I just wanted to share why I am not quite convinced that this is what the dogs are detecting and share my questions in case anyone had answers or thoughts. Some things I address are about the study itself, but most are related to the application of it - the claim that DADs are alerting to isoprene. To clarify, the claim that dogs are alerting to isoprene is not a claim of the study by Neupane et al , this is the claim of those in the DAD field and news articles that came about as a result of the publishing of this study.
The first concern is that this study used only 8 female type 1 diabetics. 8 is a very small number of subjects and only one gender brings up some questions as to the generalizability of the finding. Another study, by Smith et al , found there is a difference in isoprene levels in relation to gender - in fact males have higher isoprene levels. So the sample was not representative of the population as a whole, and in future studies many more subjects need to be included.
Since isoprene is one of the most common VOCs (Volatile Organic Compound) in exhaled breath, if the dogs are alerting based on isoprene they must be alerting to a certain amount of the isoprene (otherwise they'd be alerting all the time), but this data does not support that.
The data shows that the isoprene in the breath is significantly higher around 2.8 mmol/L (approximately 50 mg/dL). When a subject's glucose is between 3-5 mmol/L (54-90 mg/dL) the isoprene levels are much lower. Many DADs are trained to alert to levels such as 80 mg/dL and below (4.4 mmol/L), when the isoprene levels are actually quite low. So then why are the dogs alerting? Additionally, the isoprene levels are not linear, with isoprene levels increasing as glucose levels decrease, so it is not that the dogs begin to alert at a certain threshold of isoprene.
It appears that the isoprene level increases solely during hypoglycemia at 2.8mmol/L. If the dogs were only alerting during hypoglycemic events such as at 2.8 mmol/L, then it would make sense that they are responding to isoprene. But that's not the case, the dogs can begin alerting at 80mg/dL or 70 mg/dL, or 100mg/dL, depending on what the diabetic chooses to train their dog for. DADs are absolutely not perfect - they miss alerts and sometimes false alert, but a well trained DAD is capable of alerting much more accurately than what the data suggests if they were only alerting to isoprene.
For argument's sake, let's assume that the dogs were capable of alerting to the specific level of isoprene. The issue with this is that the study by Smith et al  claims there are other variables that affect isoprene levels such as physical activity and subject gender. In another study  Smith et al specifically studied isoprene in relation to age and stated, "There is a clear increase in the mean breath isoprene concentration with age for the young cohort with a doubling of the level about every 5–6 years until it reaches the age-invariant mean level of that for adult cohort." So if the isoprene levels vary between subjects based on their age, activity level, and gender, how could the dogs possibly be accurate in alerting to different people? DADs have to actually be taught to not alert to other people with out of range blood sugars - whatever substance they are alerting to must be consistent among everyone. And if they are alerting accurately to strangers, then the stranger's levels of this unknown substance must be consistent with the dog's handler's levels when the dog alerts. If the quantity of isoprene varies significantly between subjects, then the dogs would not be able to accurately alert to out of range blood sugars to people other than their handler, except in very few cases. Furthermore, trainers that use their own or another diabetic's low blood sugar saliva samples to teach the dogs to alert would have a low success rate when the dog is transitioned to its permanent handler because that person's isoprene levels could be very different from the samples the dog was trained on since the samples would probably have been from a person of a different, age, gender, etc.
My next question regards high blood sugars. Once a dog is taught to alert to low blood sugars, she then alerts to highs completely on her own. If the dogs are only alerting to isoprene, why are they alerting to highs? The data shows that when a subject's glucose is 10 mmol/L, the isoprene levels are not high, nor when it is at 11 mmol/L. So what data would the dog have to prompt them to alert? It's possible that they are alerting to a different scent for a high blood sugar (as we are even capable of smelling extreme high blood sugars) but even then, what causes them to randomly begin alerting to that scent on their own?
Is isoprene found in sweat as well as exhaled breath? DADs often check ankles, knees, and crotches to confirm a low or high blood sugar prior to alerting. A well trained DAD does not jump on its handler and sniff its breath. While dogs have incredible senses of smell and are of course more than capable of smelling a person's breath from the ground, they still are sniffing at these locations where it appears the scent is most concentrated. So is isoprene released in these areas as well?
Lastly, the dogs have not been tested on this chemical yet. The researchers just found that this chemical rises during a hypoglycemic event. No one has ever presented the chemical to the dogs to determine if this is what they in fact alert to or not.
It is a possibility that the dogs are not alerting to one factor in particular, perhaps they are alerting to multiple factors. One difficulty is that it is difficult to determine how much the dogs learn on their own, without us teaching them. For example when I first am training a DAD and they start to understand what levels I want them to alert to, they tend to be quite accurate! But then they begin to alert more frequently when it appears they are not being accurate, but if you analyze the alerts you can see they are alerting to rapid rises and drops now, in addition to specific lows and highs. I don't teach them this, they just do this on their own. Are they tracking my blood sugar and anticipating that they will get a reward when it's rising or falling quickly? Or is there a chemical being released that they have figured out precedes a low or high blood sugar? Or is there a chemical being released during a rapid rise or drop that is actually the same as the chemical released during a low or high?
I am not making a claim about the validity of this study, I am just expressing my personal doubts and questions regarding the study in relation to DADs. Those in the DAD community have taken this study and assumed it to be truth, and I'm not quite as convinced. If you know of studies looking at DADs and isoprene please let me know! And if you can help me answer any of these questions or I have misinterpreted something, please also let me know because I'd love to understand this further! Feel free to comment or email.
There is a lot we do not know about Diabetic Alert Dogs. The dogs are not 100% accurate and I believe that it is not completely due to the fact that dogs are imperfect and not machines. I think we view them as not being 100% accurate because we just don't know what exactly they are alerting to. Perhaps they are much more accurate than we think, but we just don't know how to measure what they are alerting to. Further research needs to be done so that we can utilize the dog's maximum potential. Even though we don't fully understand how they work, these dogs are still very beneficial and huge assets to many type 1 diabetics to help keep them in range more frequently and stay as healthy as possible.
1. Neupane, Sankalpa, et al. “Exhaled Breath Isoprene Rises During Hypoglycemia in Type 1 Diabetes.” Diabetes Care, vol. 39, no. 7, 2016, doi:10.2337/dc16-0461.
2. Smith, David, et al. “Can volatile compounds in exhaled breath be used to monitor control in diabetes mellitus?” Journal of Breath Research, vol. 5, no. 2, 2011, p. 022001., doi:10.1088/1752-7155/5/2/022001.
3. Smith, David, et al. “Isoprene Levels in the Exhaled Breath of 200 Healthy Pupils within the Age Range 7 -18 Years Studied Using SIFT-MS.” Journal of Breath Research, vol. 4, no. 1, 2009, p. 017101., doi:10.1088/1752-7155/4/1/017101.
Filly turned 6 months old last week! We have been in Philadelphia for about 1.5 months and she has done great. She has adjusted without a problem and has become quite a city dog. We have a little tiny fenced backyard (if you can even call it that) that she hangs out in while I eat dinner or study. We also spend a lot of time on our front porch, where she has learned to be off lead. It's not fenced in but she now knows she isn't allowed to put even a paw off of it (it's pretty adorable when she plays with a toy and it falls off the porch so she lays down and stares pitifully at it). This is incredibly important because we have a busy street right in front of our house, but I love letting her be off leash, so this was our compromise. Since it's still warm out, I bring out a few toys for her and my homework and we will sit there for hours. She loves to people watch since we have so many people and dogs walking by our house. She's also getting quite the following of people who come up to the porch to say "Hi" to her.
I have not been going low very frequently, so she has not had much practice alerting unfortunately. She has been doing well alerting to samples though. She also seems to be alerting to drops and rises in my blood sugar, even though she never gets rewarded for it. I consider a fast drop or fast rise when my bg changes 10% or more in 10 minutes. The difficulty with fast drops and rises is that alerts to them get repetitive. If a diabetic gives himself/herself insulin, he or she will drop quickly. But they just gave themselves insulin so they know that, they don't need a dog to tell them. The majority of the time they dose correctly, so they will plateau at a healthy number in range and don't need an alert to it. Some organizations only train so their dogs alert to rises and drops and not to exact levels. While it's helpful sometimes, it also results in many unneeded alerts. Additionally, it requires a LOT more testing because without a CGM you can't tell a drop or rise is happening by just one finger prick, it requires you to recheck in 10 minutes every time the dog alerts in order to know if it's going up or down and by how much.
All this is to say, that Filly is alerting to rises and drops which is great, but she still isn't getting rewarded for them. Another reason that she isn't getting rewarded for them is because I personally do not reward my dogs unless I can verify the alert - otherwise I will get false alerts. But to verify a fast rise or drop, I have to wait 10 minutes to recheck and see if it changed significantly. While I think my dogs are brilliant, they are still dogs and if I reward 10 minutes after an alert, they won't know what they are being rewarded for. I'm not sure if she will stop alerting to rises and drops if she continues to not be rewarded, or if she always will. If she always alerts to them it's not the end of the world as it is helpful. But she will need to be placed with someone who is able to check their bg very frequently and wants a dog that alerts to these things rather than just to 80 and below or 180 and above. Some people do want to know about fast rises and drops so it will just be a matter of finding the right person!
Her alerting right now is to initially paw me, then to hold her bringsel and paw the air. We are working towards her alerting by holding the bringsel and pawing my leg rather than the air because sometimes she alerts but I can't tell because she's behind me pawing the air and I can't feel or see her. But she's doing well with holding the bringsel so I think she will get it. Sidenote, she is the most adorable thing ever when she alerts holding the bringsel.
At 6 months this Crouton loves: morning snuggles, people rubbing her belly, doing zoomies around the house, throwing tennis balls in the air and pouncing on them, and snuggling (this is new!). Crouton does not love: pouring rain, boots, and having her teeth brushed.
I just wanted to give a quick update as a follow to on the last post.
Filly definitely is live alerting! She gave her first live alert on July 9 and her next was on the 16th. Her third live alert was today, July 19th. But so was her 4th and 5th live alert! Today she has alerted me 3 times to my personal low blood sugar! I am so proud of this girl!
The first live alert today was partially prompted. We've been on vacation the past few days and I thought to get her back on track (not that she was off track, but vacation is over so I need to work too ha!) I should set up a live alert. It was before lunch so I thought I would check myself, it turns out I was 72 with zero symptoms. I sat down next to her and dangled my hands just being near her. The combination of the scent and me having just checked my bg, caused Filly to take a sniff of me and alert. We had a party with lots of excitement even though it was prompted. I had to make lunch and my bg wouldn't come back up before then, so I encouraged her to realert, but then she rerealert about 3 more times after that, once she realized she kept getting cookies for realerting every few minutes! I think this may have hit home for her as she learned that as long as that scent is around, she should alert.
The next two live alerts today were unexpected and completely unprompted. For the second one, I was in the middle of working on place with her. So I would tell her "Place" and point to her bed, then give her a treat by tossing it off the bed and releasing her. Then we would repeat this a bunch of times. It's a pretty active exercise but I told her to place one time and she came in front of me, sat, and pawed my leg. I checked and was 74! Woohoo!
The third live alert was not quite as crisp but still unexpected. I was pouring some food for her to use as training treats, when I noticed she was staring at me (not unexpected as I am pouring kibble!). But then I noticed my hand shaking slightly as I was pouring the kibble. I thought maybe she's trying to tell me something. I left the room and she followed, then laid down and continued to stare at me. Then she let out a piercing bark while still staring at me. I had stopped walking at this point, and just looked down at my phone, thinking if she was trying to alert I don't want to correct her, but if she's trying to alert I am not by any means going to respond to a bark! But after a few seconds of thinking, she sat up and pawed my leg. 77! Excellent demonstration of how to let the dogs think, because most likely now that she had to think through that process, she won't get in the habit of barking - she understands that barking gets nothing but pawing gets the cookies.
Excellent progress made by Miss Filly - I think she is really catching on and doing great for less than 4 months old!
Since I brought Filly home I've been working on both scent and obedience training with her. 3 days ago I started the step of scent training where I rub the saliva with low blood sugar on my skin and wait for her to paw me. With Filly I'm using a slightly different method than I did with my previous DADs (because a main reason why I enjoy DAD training is because I have the opportunity to experiment and tweak training methods all the time). The difference is that I've been rubbing the scent sample on the back of my knee and foot rather than on my hand. This is because I've noticed the previous DADs like to nudge my hand in order to confirm a low or high before actually performing the alert, but this requires them to sit up and reach my hand, and requires my hands to be at their level which isn't always possible as I'm often typing on my computer, taking notes, etc. The other DADs still alert very well, but I am curious whether it takes them a few more seconds to alert because they were essentially taught that the scent always comes from the hand. The back of my knee and feet will almost always be at a similar, accessible position for the dog to smell, and those are two places where people tend to sweat the most meaning that the scent of a live low or high will be fairly strong there.
Well today, I was able to see how Filly is putting this into practice! She did a tentative live alert for the very first time and when she pawed me the second time she sniffed the back of my knee prior to putting her paw on my leg. Good job Filly!
Before the alert I was sitting on the couch on my phone, Filly was on her "Place" (Kuranda cot) right in front of the couch. She was staring at me and being restless in general, but most likely that is because she is a 3.5 month old puppy who gets really bored on her place. But because she is incredibly adorable when she stares at me with those big eyes, I leaned over to pet her. As I leaned over she sniffed my breath and then placed her paw on the couch right next to my leg. Skeptically, I said "Let's check" and we walked to my room where I began to check my bg. As I was checking it, she sniffed the back of my leg, and pawed me again. The meter read 80 mg/dL. I didn't really believe it as I hadn't washed my hands before checking so I retested and the meter read 82. With two readings that low, I figured that chances that it is somewhere below 82 was pretty likely, so we had a party!
As she gains confidence I'll start to only reward her for alerts to 80 and below. But as this was the very first time alerting to a live low blood sugar, I wanted to build up her confidence and reward her for it. When dogs learn to live alert, they are typically much more tentative because they are thinking independently - a live low blood sugar is different than a sample because a live low blood sugar is 'moving' and doesn't include things like the cotton or plastic that the samples include.
This does not mean that Filly knows how to live alert, will catch them all, or really even knows what she is doing. But it means she is likely starting to put the pieces together and think independently which is fantastic! There is still a chance this was all a coincidence but even if it was, this experience taught her that when this scent is present and she puts a paw near me, AMAZING things happen! Cookies come from all over, she gets a big bone, mom is super happy, and she gets a bunch of toys! So even if it was a fluke, she learned something from it. I will see if she repeats this within the next week or two and that will show me whether this was an intentional alert or just a coincidence. If it was intentional, a first live alert at 3.5 months old is earlier than my other dogs began, and I'm really excited to see what the future holds for this girl.
Liberty's journey with me has ended, but her journey with her girl, Kylee, has just started. On May 10, Liberty was placed with Kylee as her Diabetic Alert Dog. I spent two days with Kylee, attending school with her, as well as practice and going about their life with them. This was to help transition both Liberty and the Dwinal family to their new lifestyle. My previous two DADs were placed at 9 and 10 months old. I wanted to experiment with Liberty, placing her a few months later when she was more mature. Liberty's behavior at 9 months and 14 months was pretty similar, however the transition to her new family went more smoothly. I can't know for sure if this is because she was more mature or because we had a gradual transition period (3 sleepovers with Kylee, many training sessions, etc.). But, I believe that a gradual transition period and a 12-14 month old dog is a better combination. Suzie, the dog I placed around 9 months, went through a 'depression' period when I placed her. She didn't have the opportunity to have a gradual transition, and she was very young, so the transition was hard on her. While it's not always possible, I would like to mimic Liberty's schedule to help ease the dog into their new life.
So far, Liberty's transition has been going well! She attends school with Kylee every day (which is a huge responsibility for both Kylee and Liberty!) and is learning her place in the family and what her new normal looks like. I'm incredibly proud of this new team. It's never perfectly smooth, but they are doing a fantastic job ensuring Liberty is the best she can be as well as giving her the love and family she needs. Thank you to the Dwinal Family for taking care of my girly, I miss her more than words can say but she couldn't be in a better place, helping a better girl.
So what's next? 1 week ago I picked up my new pup, Filly. Filly is a very different temperament than my Liberty Belle. Filly reminds me a lot of Suzie - spunky, outgoing, and hilarious. She's not the clingy cuddler that Liberty was, but as long as this personality continues as she matures I think she will make a great DAD. We just began scent training and she is only at the stage of "sniff and click", where she sniffs the low blood sugar sample in a metal container, then I click and give her a high value reward. I will try to do better about updating as she progresses :)
Already Liberty is over 7 months old! She is still doing wonderfully with me at Penn - she doesn't have a single absence :) Everyone is used to her in class now, which makes me a little more relaxed. For the most part people have been very respectful of her. We occasionally have the 'driveby pettings' but because she's so short it's a little difficult for them to be discrete! I've been surprised how respectful other students are - they almost always ask to pet her first and usually are understanding when I have to ask them not to. The worst people are the staff - those that work security or cafeterias. Typically they are the ones that make the kissy noises and try to call her over and distract her. But she usually handles it very professionally and ignores them.
Now more about Liberty! We continue to practice her commands frequently. So far she has a pretty solid understanding of the following:
We are currently working on the commands: Chill (put your head on the ground), Stand Stay, Behind (lay down between my heels and the counter/wall), Sit Pretty (sit up in begging position on haunches), as well as increasing the distance and duration of all her stays and place.
Some commands are purely for fun - such as spin/turn and put your hands up. But the majority of the commands are because they are necessary for her to know in order for us to negotiate a public environment that is not situated for dogs. For example the command "front" is incredibly useful when I'm checking out at the grocery store. I put her in a "front" between me and the machine, as I move back and forth I can see her and know no one is touching her, and that she is behaving appropriately.
Oh adolescence - how I have not missed you! At 7 months old, miss Liberty has started going through adolescence, which means we have both good days and bad days. Some days she's a perfect little gem and other days she decides that she doesn't want to heel riiiight next to me, she prefers to be a foot or two ahead. Or she decides that my "place" command was only a suggestion and that I wouldn't mind if she snuck over to grab that tasty goldfish on the floor a few feet away. But even on her bad days she's very well mannered and no one but a dog snob (I fully admit I'm one of those!) would notice her behavior.
Liberty's alerting has been very good this past month! Both today and yesterday she alerted me to 3 different live lows! Once she's confident about the scent, she gives me a nice paw on my leg accompanied by a big ol' stretch. We are still working on increasing the speed that she becomes confident. A few times the past few days she has sat up from her Place blanket, given me the 'stare down', whined a little, then gave up and curled back down. I then checked to see if IT was low and I was. So we then worked through the alert chain to help her learn that yes, she should definitely give the paw behavior to that scent because it gives lots of cookies and snuggles! Speaking of which, one wonderful thing about Liberty is that she absolutely loves her person. As a result, she is rewarded by snuggling and being able to sit in my lap. She always still receives high value treats as a reward for alerting, but before we run to get the treats we will have a pre-party (pregame???) with snuggles and excitement, then run to get the meat/cheese/liver. For regular obedience in public, sometimes I do just reward her with a scratch behind the ears and a "good girl".
She has also begun to alert to blood sugars that are high for me - in the 140s. I very rarely go into the 140s but about 4 times now she has alerted me to 141 or 142, or somewhere in that range. I haven't ever given her a high scent sample - she just alerts on her own. I just think that that is absolutely incredible! That after a few months of training the dogs learn what your natural bg numbers are and then let you know when you are out of your typical range! How does she decide to start alerting to highs int he first place?? How does she decide what numbers to alert at?? Currently I give her a medium value reward for alerting to a high of 140 or above - because it is, in fact, high for me, but won't be for the person she's placed with later. I don't want to extinguish the behavior, but I also don't want to reinforce it too strongly, otherwise when she is placed she'll be alerting almost constantly. I hope to get very high scent samples from volunteers later this month so she can practice on real highs such as 200 - hopefully this will begin to teach her this new threshold.
I'm so proud of this pup and can't wait to see how she continues to improve!
Live Alerting Videos:
Photos of Liberty at 7 months old:
Liberty is now a little over 6 months old and is 20.5 pounds. To say that she has done well here at Penn would be an understatement. We have been here about 1 month and Liberty has been an trooper through the transition. She has adjusted to city life very well - she's not phased by buses, ambulances, fire trucks, busy streets, other dogs, grates, weird steam coming out of said grates, or riding the shuttle. She attends all my classes - so on our easy days we are gone for about 6.5 hours, some days are longer. She tucks under my chair in each class and sleeps through it. Her small size makes fitting her under my chair almost always doable. She does occasionally let out a groan of complaint in the middle of a class if she's bored though - this usually causes some laughter.
Before this year I had never been to a dog park - I lived in a dog park practically. I still don't love dog parks because they make me nervous - all the strange dogs that have never met, running around with toys to guard and humans to take ownership of - but I do realize that sometimes they do have benefits since I was worried about my dog not experiencing enough canine socialization. The first weekend I was in Philly Liberty and I went to the dog park. She likes other dogs so I thought this would be fun for her. She was terrified. The dog wouldn't go within 50 feet of the entrance for 30 minutes! Gradually we worked up to sitting next to the gate and watching dogs go in and out (During this time she was huddled between my legs looking like I was torturing her). But gradually she became more curious until we got to the point where we could go inside. Once inside, she reverted back to square 1 - huddled between my legs, terrified. After about another 20 minutes she began to wander to see the other people and sit between their legs - not quite the behavior I was looking for but a step in the right direction! Very gradually she investigated the other dogs, venturing out to see one then running back to my legs. Until a 6 month old Goldendoodle came in the park - these two hit it off and she finally played! Thankfully she has improved greatly and she now gets excited as soon as she knows we are walking to the park - she loves to play in the baby pool full of water that they have set up, and she plays with any dog that is smaller than her (she definitely likes to be the one doing the beating up, rude). I think that she has come to the realization that she is, in fact, a dog and not a human. Well, maybe she's just realized that dogs are fun to play with - she still thinks she's a human.
As always, we are practicing low blood sugar alerts frequently. She gets practice with live lows almost daily and about once or twice a week I practice with scent samples. Her precision has been improving - typically she alerts right at 80/81 or below. I've noticed she might be alerting to me dropping - a few times she's alerted and I've been in the 90's, I then tell her "We'll watch" and recheck in 5 minutes. When I recheck I'm often in the lower 80's or the 70's. She never gets rewarded unless I'm at 80 or below, but alerting to drops could be very useful to whoever she is placed with.
We need to work on extreme lows as she is only familiar with lows in the 70's and upper 60's. A few days ago she gave me a very half-hearted, unsure alert. It consisted of pacing, stretching, yawning, and a little whining. These are often her 'pre-alerts', before she gives me the paw. I didn't feel low in the slightest and had just eaten and drank a soda recently. So, with this unsure alert I thought she was maybe bored and false alerting. But I checked my blood and the meter read 46! This is very unusual so I rechecked and it read 67. Both times I used alcohol and my hands are clean, so I'm not sure which was accurate. I didn't start to feel low until my sugar was rising - and even then I didn't feel terrible. This is what makes training DADs difficult - each meter is different and even the same meter will give different readings. But, typically with enough tests I can get a sense of what the actual number is. And in this case, my sugar was definitely low and Liberty was right in that it was low. She got her puppy party and I drank some juice.
A few of Liberty's favorite things: swimming, the dog park, people obsessing over her, ice cubes, hotdogs, morning snuggles, liver, and chasing squirrels.
Some things Liberty does not like: being left alone, me not letting her chase the squirrels, walking past the dog park without going in, and being ignored.
This little Munchkin is doing very well at just 6 months old! Currently, I'm thinking that Liberty would be best suited to be placed with an older teenager or a young professional. She needs someone that she can be completely loyal to and will be her "person" alone. She will also need to be placed with someone within a few hours drive of Philadelphia so that we can gradually transition her over multiple months. If you or someone you know could benefit from Liberty, feel free to contact me or fill out the DAD application (tab above).
This past year I was in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania for my freshman year of college. Just before moving to Philly I placed the second Diabetic Alert Dog I had trained.This meant that for the first time in 10 years I was dogless. To satisfy my canine obsession I worked at the PennVet Working Dog Center for 8-10 hours/week. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the training of their dogs. I discovered a new realm of working dogs, attended the Center's working dog conference, and worked in the ovarian cancer detection program. Although it was an incredible experience to be involved (and I'm not sure I could have survived without them), I still missed having my own dog that I could train. So, in October I began to inquire about having a Diabetic Alert Dog in training with me while at Penn. Long story short, I asked multiple people, had numerous meetings, received countless rejections, but in a last ditch effort during the last month of school, God sent someone that finally approved my request to have a DAD in training! I was, and still am, ecstatic and incredibly grateful for the opportunity to continue my passion of training DADs during my sophomore year at Penn.
Liberty is now 5 months old and we are focusing quite a bit on public access because in one week we are both moving to Philly. But we are also still working hard on alerting. She began live alerting a few weeks ago, and while she is definitely still learning, she is doing very well! Today I caught a live alert on video (below) - she began by sniffing me and then was restless so I started to record it. You can see in the video when she recognizes the smell she begins to whine and wiggle all around me. Then all of the sudden she remembers that when she smells that scent, she should paw me. As she has more practice and gains confidence, this process will speed up and she will smell the low blood sugar, then almost immediately paw me. But right now her puppy brain still has to think it all through. Part of her "puppy party" she receives for each correct alert is going through the routine of pawing me and receiving a reward multiple times - this is to help build the drive for alerting and to clarify exactly what I want her to do when she smells the low bg scent.
As she matures and her alerting improves, I will train her to alert using a bringsel. At some point I may try to teach her to alert with the bringsel hanging off her collar, but this will depend on her drive for the bringsel and if it works with her temperament. A lot of DAD training is discovering what methods work best for each dog.
My plan is to place Liberty with a type 1 diabetic near Philadelphia so that beginning in early 2017 we can gradually transition her over to the new family. If you or someone you know is interested and in need of a Diabetic Alert Dog, Liberty will be available at the end of May to be placed with a family - when she is 14 months old. Feel free to contact me through email, phone, or by filling out the DAD application (tab above) if you would like more information about her.
I'm really excited for the upcoming year with Liberty at Penn, and I hope to update the blog at least once a month with her progress. For more frequent updates you can follow our Instagram account @libbysloving leashes or our Facebook page "Libby's Loving Leashes".
Saying good-bye to Suzie was very difficult of course. For 9 months I was with her and we did everything together - we went to school, we went bowling, we saw movies, everything was “we” (special thanks to my friends for putting up with it!). Raising her wasn’t always peaches and cream - she went through one heck of an adolescent phase (actually I think she had multiple!). But she is brilliant, driven, and affectionate. If I left for more than a day, she would be the most excited one to see me – my Border Collie could not have cared less. She loved everyone and could make anyone smile, but she was also loyal. Although she was driven and not an easy or typical “golden”, she was a blast and she made me think. Her willingness to learn allowed me to experiment with bringsels and discover what a wonderful tool they are. She was always willing to learn something new, but she would let me know if my training was less than stellar and that I needed to change my methods. She taught me a lot and always kept me on my toes, but she also knew how to settle down when I needed her to be serious.
I miss her love and excitement of training that caused her “Close” command to become more similar to the hop of a jackrabbit than anything else; I miss her hilarious personality that caused me to call her a dork on a daily basis. I miss how she would sometimes bring me 3 bringsels to alert, to ensure she received her puppy party. I miss how when she wanted to sit on my lap she went head first, flopping the rest of her body down afterwards. I even miss how my Doozy learned to false alert in hopes of being allowed on the bed for the night. And I miss how when I caved, and did let her on the bed, she always laid her head on my stomach and we would fall asleep together.
Suzie, we spent more time together than apart for those months; you were my partner and my friend. But as much as I enjoyed our 9 months together and as much as it hurts to let you go, you have a much bigger and more important job; my role was only to prepare you as best as I could. As the song says, “I’ll have tears as you take off, but I’ll cheer as you fly.” You could not have been placed with a better, or more dedicated girl and family. So watch over Annie and protect her, this is what you were made for.
Suzie is now Annie's girl. She is now bringing Annie 3 bringsels, is flopping onto Annie's lap, and perhaps even sleeping on Annie's stomach. Suzie is working on transitioning into her new life; Annie and I are still having lots of communication as Suzie tries to fit into their family, schedule, and environment. I wish I could have stayed with the Westons for about 3 weeks instead of 3 days to help them learn to work with Suzie, but part of the transition is just spending time with each other and forming a relationship. And they are doing a great job working with Suzie, especially considering that my teaching was often not nearly as clear as I would have liked it to have been! (I'm much better at teaching dogs than humans...) But as work through the changes and challenges, Annie is learning how to trouble shoot and she continues to work with Suzie on a daily basis. Having a DAD is hard work! But in the end, when the alerts become more consistent and the relationship is strong, the hard work pays off.
Currently I am in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania, so the dog training has come to a halt. I am volunteering at the Working Dog Center at Penn in an attempt to satisfy my dog addiction. I hope to be able to train another DAD at some point, until then I’ll be studying among the concrete and skyscrapers!
I'm Libby Rockaway, and this blog is to document my experiences training Diabetic Alert Dogs. Over the years I have succeeded, failed, tweaked, and morphed my DAD training - this blog follows my journey through it all!