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Friday, September 11, 2009

Career Change?

Yes, Dakota's had a change in his career path. Kind of like when you start college and switch majors midstream, it means some retooling and extra work, but it's all worth it in the end! The family he met last week thinks he's a great match so all systems are go. Now, instead of training to be a guide dog, he's training to be a diabetes alert dog.

I can hear it all the way through cyberspace..."A what?" Since I've been answering that question about Dakota all his life it just doesn't faze me any more. In fact it seems almost fitting! (Passerby: "He's a what?" Me, for the thousandth time: "A labradoodle...")

Dogs have this amazing sense of smell, as I'm sure you know. In fact, guide dogs use their sense of smell for some of their "finds" ("find the trash can, " "find the boys," "find the girls" -- for the men's and ladies' restrooms). I remember my surprise when I was working Willie at a new strip mall and he suddenly "lost" his ability to find me a trash can. Later I realized that since it was new construction, the trash cans had no trash in them yet and he just didn't recognize them without their characteristic scent!

At any rate, Duckie will soon be training for a new scent "find" -- only this time he'll be using his nose to detect a drop or spike in his partner's blood glucose levels. He'll then learn to give an "alert" to his person, who can do a quick test and take appropriate action to keep the levels in the target zone. To the uninitiated it might almost seems superfluous to have a service dog for this purpose. But what I've learned is that many type I diabetics can become unaware of the physical symptoms of their "highs" and "lows." These swings can be fast and dangerous. In these cases, specially trained service dogs can be a real life saver, as they can often learn to alert long before the situation reaches a critical point. Think Dakota's up to it?...Yeah, I do too!

So far, we've had to retrain him in two areas. The first one was teaching him to walk at heel (right by my side), rather than in guide position (a little ahead). That took...well...all of one walk. He really seems to get the idea. I'm the one having trouble remembering! Old habits die hard, and I guess I'm older than he is, so there you go!

The second (get ready to laugh): we had to teach him to sleep on the bed! Again, this is much harder for me than for him. We have never ever ever let him on the furniture...AT ALL! Guide dogs don't do that. However, one of the times he'll be needed most will be nighttime and we want him close to his new person, should a blood sugar drop occur in the middle of the night. SO...(and I can hardly believe I'm saying this)...he's been getting to sleep with Katharine. Of course they both love it! The first time we asked him to get on the bed he dashed around it 2 or 3 times, like, "You're kidding, right?!...Oh you aren't?...well, here goes!" ...and with one leap he was up. He's never looked back, and seems to feel it's only his proper place now. So all you puppy raisers out there, let this be a lesson to you. All those months of careful training can be undone in just about ten seconds! Thankfully he's smart enough to get the difference between a bed and the other furniture and has never attempted to get on the couch or anything else. And here's the funniest part: the very next time I told him to "Go to bed" (our normal command for him to go to his crate)...guess where he went? That's right, the people bed! He just looked at me like, "Well, this is my bed now!" Funny dog...perhaps a bit too smart for his own good...

We may call it a career change, but to Dakota it's nothing short of a promotion!


Natalie said...

Awww.. Congratulations Dakota!! I hope everything works out with his new training so he can go on to become the best diabetes dog he can be :)

Jethro's Puppy Raiser said...

what a great story!! love the pitures!! what a great mission you guys have ahead of you!!

Erin and her Dogs said...

That's so cool that he is going to be a diabetes dog!!! Yes I've never had to ask a dog more than once to get on a bed before,they were a permanent fixture!!