From time to time, I'll be catching up with someone who knows about Bailey and they'll ask 'is he still working'? This is a valid question and one I'm always happy to answer. It always makes me reflect on how long he's been doing his job and how essential it is to work together to ensure that he continues working hard. I read somewhere that the average shelf life of a DAD is one year and it makes me think about why. I think its probably like anything, if you put the work in you usually reap the rewards. And having a DAD is hard work. I felt this more so recently when I spent a week feeling out of sorts, stressed to the max and fed up. I'd been sleeping badly (which is given for parents caring for their T1 kids) and it had been a hectic week, and everytime I sat down to try and take a breather, Bailey would alert me. Instead of responding to him with my normal enthusiasm, I found myself thinking 'just leave me alone, I don't want to get up, I'm tired'. And as I sat there, taking longer than normal to respond, I wondered how long it would take of me ignoring him for him to eventually give up and stop alerting. Or perhaps he wouldn't, he would remain as is and keep trying. He has a stubborn streak, so I'm guessing it's the latter. But as I stared into his soft brown eyes it didn't take me long to snap out of it and put the 't' back in team. I'm fortunate to have the support of the rest of the team, the 'e', 'a' & 'm', to pick up the slack sometimes so that I can take a break. But I've noticed it doesn't matter who gives him the reward, he will always come back and stand in front of me and wait for me to give him a pat and acknowledge his good work with kind words. It's then that I remind myself that he's not doing it for the food, he's doing it for me. Bailey really is the 'm' in team, he's our MAGIC...
The main objective of successful diabetes control involved keeping your blood sugar levels within range. Jason's ideal range sits between 4-8. Dangerously low BGL's can result in coma, and at the very worst, death. Dangerously high BGL's can result in ketones and if consistently high, can result in long term health complications.
Keeping Jason's BGL's within range is a constant balancing act and our DAD plays a very important role in helping us to achieve that.
When Bailey alerts me to a low, I expect him to offer this alert when Jason's BGL's are in the 4's. This means he is picking up an impending drop before it happens and allows me to correct this by stabilising Jason's BGL's. Sometimes Bailey will alert when Jason is in the 5's, and this is usually when he senses a dramatic drop in BGL's. In this instance, I tell Bailey that 'we'll watch' and re-test every 20 minutes. If Jason's BGL's start to trend downwards, he is rewarded straight away. Sometimes Bailey will be so insistent and frantic that he will continue to alert constantly, in which case, I will offer a small reward to settle him and continue to monitor Jason's BGL's. Bailey will alert to any BGL's over 8, so Jason's range thresholds are quite tight. There will be infrequent instances where Bailey will alert when Jason is already experiencing a low or high. The main reasons for this are tiredness, distraction or if Jason has just returned from school and already out of his target range. I have found that by still rewarding Bailey in these instances, helps to strengthen and improve future alerting.
Jason has just returned from school. He alerts to a low. I test Jason, he's 6.4. Perfect range. I tell him he's fine and we'll watch. I look at the time and take a mental note to re-test in 15 minutes. He keeps alerting. He stands there, maintaining eye contact. He won't settle. I get busy. 20 minutes goes by and I forget to re-test. He bumps my leg hard with his nose and this time, doesn't wait for me to prompt his alert. He paws my leg and follows me to the cupboard. I pull out the meter and test Jason's BGL's. He is 4.3. Jason's BGL's where trending downwards. Bailey had sensed this half an hour beforehand, and caught him before he went low.
Later in the week, he alerts to a high when Jason's BGL's are within range at 8.0. I said that we'd watch but he became agitated and kept alerting over the next 15 minutes. I re-tested Jason again before he went to sleep and all was fine. But on re-testing Jason one hour later, his BGL's had risen to 24.0.
Huge fluctuations in Jason's BGL's can happen for no apparent reason, and fast. Typically Bailey will alert to an impending high or low half an hour beforehand, sometimes sooner. Considering one of the most frustrating and dangerous aspects of diabetes is how unpredictable it can be, we are fortunate to have a dog who has a nose for danger.
Living alongside a Diabetes Alert Dog will be a lifelong journey for us and one which requires ongoing commitment in order to maximize Bailey's alerting abilities. Positive Reinforcement has been the cornerstone of his DAD training, so after being seperated from us for three weeks, lots of praise and rewards are needed to bring solid alerting back into focus.
In general, the ways in which we communicate to Bailey on a daily basis also impact on how eager he is to alert us. Staying focused and aware of any alerts so that I am responding immediately and enthusiastically, helps develop consistent patterns and positive experiences for him.
Much of our communication is verbally based and the amount of verbal cues given to Bailey is far greater than those used with our pet dog, so it becomes very important to keep them short and simple to avoid confusion. Below are some verbal cues we use with Bailey and the behaviour it communicates to him.
As well as ordinary commands such as SIT, STAY, COME, LIE, DROP and DOWN, we use other cues such as WATCH ME, prompting Bailey to lock eyes with me and essentially, grabs his attention when there's a distraction and encourage him to focus on the job at hand. GET HELP is used by Jason to send Bailey to bring a person back to Jason in an emergency, whilst WAIT is used to encourage self control and stop Bailey moving forward until I say OK. It is used before being fed, when releasing him from the crate or outside so that he doesn't push through the door and bolt outside. BUMP is used to encourage Bailey to bump our leg; LEAVE IT encourages him to ignore an object; BRING IT to return an object to me; SPIN to encourage him to make a circular motion; FIND IT is sometimes used for a game of 'hide & seek' with the kids or to find a hidden object; FIND JASON encourages Bailey to locate Jason's whereabouts; GO to encourage urination; OFF to remove him from furniture or our person; HEEL to walk closely behind me; ENOUGH to cease repeated alerting, YES to indicate a positive action and WHAT'S UP to cue a high or low alert signal.
The SIT command can also be prompted by using a non- verbal, tilt of the head action.
We've just returned from a fantastic three week family holiday enjoying the sun and sand.
For me, it is the only time that I can really relax and unwind, which is vital to me starting the new year feeling ready to take on my role as carer.
This time away also gives me a chance to reflect on the year just gone and our accomplishments along the way. As a team, we are better than ever. Bailey is now two years old and a little more mature and relaxed. He is confident in his alerting which has been extremely consistent and reliable.
It became even more evident how hard he works and what a valuable asset he is when he was not with us.
I don't know how many times I said, 'I wish Bailey was here' when on holiday, as at times, I struggled to keep Jason's BGL's within range.
Their bond has grown ever closer too, with Jason commenting how 'Bailey is the best friend a boy could ever ask for'. This connection, the attention and care that Jason shows his dog, contributes to the success of the team and is what makes it really special.
So here's to a new year and the old saying that 'anything is possible', for when I started my journey to train a DAD for my son I had only my belief that it was possible... and nothing more.
Jason has attended his first Diabetes Camp over the weekend. There are many benefits to attending Spring Camp as he participates in some serious fun with fellow campers whilst learning a little more about how to manage his diabetes in a safe and caring setting.
Yes, this weekend he gets to be a normal kid. Whether it's playing soccer, building a hut, making a tye-dye t-shirt, toasting marshmallows over a bonfire or participating in one of the many team or food challenges, he's just like all the other type 1 kids there.
These camps have been launched as part of the Type One Youth Support (TOYS) Program and aim to empower these kids with the belief that, although diabetes can be challenging to live with, that anything is possible.
As his parents, we try to show Jason through example, that understanding and caring for his diabetes is always the priority but that throughout his life, it should never hold him back from achieving what he wants to do. Diabetes is a part of his life but it shouldn't define who he is.
Sometimes I get to witness an alert in it's entirety and it always feels like I'm observing a small miracle. Jason had just walked in the door from school and was sitting at the kitchen table. I looked across as I heard him say 'Awww, hello my gorgeous boy". Bailey had walked across the room quietly to greet him, nudging his hand as he reached him and stretched his nose towards is mouth. I knew by him doing this that he was checking Jason's blood sugars so I observed them from a distance. Bailey's tail is wagging the whole time as Jason talks to him and gives him a pat. I smile as I think of how much more bonded they've become lately. Bailey then turns and walks towards me, bumping my leg. I ask him 'What's up'? and he swipes my leg with his paw, a low alert. I test Jason's blood sugars and he's 4.4. I always marvel at these low alerts because he warns me just before he going low, giving me enough time to correct them before he drops too far. We've had a lot of these alerts in the past couple of weeks as Jason has participated in the school's swim program and the extra daily exercise has meant that he's experienced post-exercise delayed hypoglycaemia. It's during these extraordinary times that Bailey works best, and he's still working harder than ever.
I have just finished reading a blog and the things they would have done differently training their Diabetic Alert Dog. This has got me to thinking about what I would have done differently...
One thing that I would have chosen to do differently is an alternative low alert signal.
As my fellow blogger stated, the paw swipe can be a somewhat 'violent gesture', resulting in bruising of one's leg, especially if not covered and the alert is received numerous times. This is also not ideal for a child but luckily for my son, Bailey mainly alerts to me. He has grown into a decent sized dog and as he has become more confident with his alerting, his paw swipe has become harder.
Over recent months, he sensed that his alerting was causing me pain after hearing me proclaim 'ouch' on many occasions and this resulted in him offering the alert (nose bump) without the follow up signal (paw swipe). The last thing I want is to discourage alerting, so I started to redirect him to swipe my hand instead of my leg. This has worked and as he also understands what the word 'gentle' means, has managed to modify his low alert to a softer swipe of the paw.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it is only in retrospect that we see how things really are. I have a blog reader whom also intends to train her own DAD, so when she asks me for my thoughts or advice on training matters, I can hopefully pass on useful information from the many lessons learned. When she recently asked about alert signals, I said 'go for the bringsel' (a short stick that is suspended to the collar and retrieved when alerting) and avoid the paw swipe!
School holidays in the middle of winter usually end up being a disaster every year due to illness. This year was no exception. The first week, both Jason and Claire were sick, and the second week I came down with the flu.
It's times like this that we realise how valuable Bailey is. I spent three days unable to get out of bed due to extreme nausea, vomiting and migraines. During this time, Bailey stayed by my side, only leaving to check on Jason at regular intervals and then returning. He alerted to several low blood sugars, so I would then ask my daughter to let Jason know that Bailey has alerted and that he needs to test his blood sugars and let me know. When Jason tested himself he was in the low 4's, so Jason was able to avoid hypoing. Bailey is always alert to Jason's blood sugars but it was very obvious that he was working particularly hard because he sensed I was ill and not mobile.
And because Bailey has been receiving so many rewards for his alerts from other family members when I was ill, there have been a couple of incidents lately where I have been busy and Bailey has alerted to Jason directly. On the last occasion, Jason recognised his alert, went to the kitchen and tested himself, treated his own low and rewarded Bailey too. This is very exciting because it shows that Bailey is willing to work for Jason too and that they can work as a team without relying on my presence if need be. It's times like this that I really do marvel at Bailey because when things get tough and you don't have anyone else to rely on to help, he is there working extra hard and keeping things from getting out of control.
I love this dog...
This week is National Diabetes Awareness Week (13-19th July 2014) and I'm reading a lot of stories about family's recounting when their child was diagnosed with type 1. Sharing these stories is also a way JDRF can raise awareness of the symptoms of type 1 diabetes.
I remember our son's diagnosis clearly. He had just celebrated his fourth birthday and we had just returned from a driving holiday interstate. We'd been gone for weeks and had a really enjoyable time, although we'd noticed that Jason was crying at the drop of a hat. I put it down to all the travelling but a couple of weeks after we got home, he started to drink copious amounts of water and I commented to my husband how much weight he appeared to have lost. It was during this conversation that we both stopped and just looked at each other and said at the same time, "he wouldn't have diabetes would he?"
We had an old dog at the time who had been diagnosed with diabetes and he too had been drinking water non-stop and had lost a lot of weight. I think that's why we made the connection so quickly. This and the fact that I was aware of the symptoms of diabetes through things I'd heard and read and because my uncle is type 1, I related to it and I think it made me just that more aware.
I got into the doctors the next day and because my daughter was only around one year old at the time, my Mum came with me. I told them his symptoms and said I though it could be diabetes. They ran tests and confirmed this quite quickly. I remember the doctor saying what a cool cat I was, and looking back I guess I was really calm about it. I rang my husband at work and told him we were being taken to the Royal Children's Hospital by ambulance. We were living in the country and the trip was an hour away. My mum had to take my daughter home and stay with her there. The doctors commented on how lucky it was that we picked it up so quickly because usually this isn't the case.
Jason stayed in hospital for a week. Life has been full on ever since.