You may have noticed it’s been a while between dog blog posts. That’s because Kira’s in time out. She’s banned from using the computer until she starts behaving a little bit better.
No, seriously, I thought it was time I gave you a run-down on how the alert dog thing actually works.
So, we applied through Aussie Angel Assistance Dogs for a Diabetes Assistance Dog (DAD) for Lauren, partly for psychological reasons because she was having a really tough time coping emotionally with her diabetes at the end of last year. She was angry, teary, ‘didn’t want to be here’, and was seeking respite alone in her bedroom or cuddled up to our big dog Herbie whenever she had the chance. We were obviously very worried, with such big words coming from a 5-year old. The companionship and solace she finds in animals would soothe her through the tough times.
The other factor was the constant hypos, which everyone with diabetes is all too familiar with. Lauren’s were so frequent she often had no awareness until the low 2s, which was getting very dangerous. She also had quite frequent ones during the night, despite pump setting adjustments and plenty of checking at 3am. It was all so unpredictable, we felt the extra back-up of a dog who can detect the onset of low or high blood sugar often 30 mins before a meter can detect it would be a great addition to all of our anxiety levels, particularly through the night.
THE HARD PART
Once you’re approved and you’ve paid for your puppy and membership, the dog is born and checked for temperament and suitability. Then, your 8 week-old puppy comes home with you, ready for you to teach it EVERYTHING. How to wee, poo, be a dog, AND be an alert dog. Oh – and keep up the diabetes routine, with all the emotion that goes with that. We do all the training ourselves, with phone support from the DAD organisation based in Queensland.
Kira’s a gorgeous, loving, sweet addition to our lives, but she is still a puppy who is sub-majoring in Interior Design. She’s pooed in every room of the house, painted all the furniture and couches with mud after swimming in the fish pond, and carried rocks, leaves and palm fronds throughout the house. It’s a little like living in a cave with a natural forest floor lately.
Kira needs to be EXTREMELY obedient, completing dog obedience training so she can sit, stay, come, and stay still quietly for extended periods as a public access dog. Not only that, but she pretty much needs super-powers in scent detection to be able to detect when Lauren’s smell ‘changes’. This means that she sits with Lauren for every finger prick, and if she’s within range (6-10 mmol/L) we say ‘good test, thank you’ and give her a brief pat. If she’s high, above 10 mmol/L, we say ‘GOOD HIGH KIRA!’ in a really animated voice, give her a medium-quality treat like a few bickies, and a good pat. If she does any ‘alerting’ type behaviour during the test when she’s high, like pawing at Lauren, or licking her like a lollipop, we say ‘Good high lick’, or ‘Good high paw’.
If she’s low, below 5 (even though 4 is technically hypo, but we’re training her to detect drops as well) we say ‘GOOD LOW KIRA’ and have a massive party. Big pats, and awesome treat like ham or cheese or a bit of meat, and basically get so excited with her that she wants to let us know every time Lauren is low so she gets the same special treatment. To her, Lauren’s breath smell slightly acetone or sour when she’s low (when she blow gently on her during the finger prick), and when she’s high she smells awesome – all sugary and sweet. Her low smell scared Kira a couple of times and she shied away to the other side of the room. Then Kira comes with us to fetch the ‘low juice’ and we ‘fix low’. Kira gets a little drink from the poppa after Lauren’s finished it too.
THE BEST PART
Even though she’s trashing our house and driving me crazy a lot of the time, she fixes it all and then some with her cuteness. I love her to bits. And she’s already caught a number of big hypos, including one that would have been incredibly serious (with possibly dire consequences) that I’ll talk about another day. Her hypo behaviour is so un-puppy like we just know something is up, and do a test. She suddenly goes all quiet, and just lies across Lauren like a blanket, and pats her with her paw. She has picked up crazy highs above 20 as well, by licking Lauren the sweet lollipop like crazy. So she’s already worth her weight in gold even though she has a long way still to go with her training.
So now Lauren has two DADs, and I often wish I was two mums to cover everything I need to do looking after the puppy training and the diabetes management. It’s hard work, but for us it’s already been completely worth it to have our happy girl back.