**Sorry, no pictures this week -- our photographer is on a trip. We miss you, Charissa!**
It's a cool, cloudy evening and as shadows begin to close in, people gather at the shopping complex. Small children run squealing through the playscape as their parents sit chatting. Pet dogs are there too, and an occasional bark rings out. The mouthwatering aromas of food pour out of restaurants as couples stroll toward dinner. On the patio, rowdy cheering erupts as people root for their favorite teams on the big screen. But we're not here for any of that. "Team Dakota" is on a mission!
So far we've gotten Duckie to alert us to the scents associated with high and low blood sugar, giving us a distinct signal for each one. But he needs to practice this work in a real-world setting. Will he still be interested in playing our little game when he's surrounded by all his favorite distractions? This is the perfect place to find out.
I wait for the kids, Dakota at heel, to disappear around the corner and then I open the cooler with its containers of scent samples. Grabbing one from the "low" jar, I stuff it in a pocket and head off by a different route to meet them at a predetermined spot.
As I arrive, it's clear that we've accomplished our first goal: Dakota is definitely distracted! He's so engrossed in the antics of a large golden retriever that he scarcely acknowledges my arrival. Charissa practices obedience work with him and he cooperates, but you can see his focus isn't really up to par. We circle around, chatting, and still nothing from Dakota. So we decide to sit down at some picnic tables...
...when all of a sudden, Dakota's head snaps around, sniffing. As if magnetized to that special scent, he leaves Charissa's side to snuffle loudly at my pocket and then he just STARES at me. Still, I don't do anything, waiting for him to give a definite alert. He looks at me as if to say, "Hey, I know, and you know I know, so what's the big deal?" I suppress a laugh and attempt to act like I haven't noticed anything. "Oh, all right!" you can almost hear Dakota say. He rears back on his hind legs and deliberately plants both forepaws on my leg -- our signal for "low." "GOOD BOY!" I praise him, probably much too loudly for public decorum. I'm sure this looks really great to other people...here I'm actually praising a dog, a service dog no less, for jumping up on me?! I just hope I don't have to try and explain this one! But we're elated. It's a definite success!
Dakota gets his well-deserved liver nugget, but I think he's equally excited about all the fuss we make over him. As he prances around happily, he seems to be glancing about to see if anyone's noticed how great he is! Probably a bit disappointed not to be the center of the world's attention, he settles back in to people-watching...and we get ready to repeat the whole procedure.
We practice a couple more times, varying the type of scent and where it's hidden, then meander to a nearby movie theater. Again, the Friday evening traffic, crowds, and popcorn work as strong distractions. Dakota's definitely interested in his surroundings...but time and again, he shows that he loves his work too and enjoys doing it in various situations. His reaction time varies but he never keeps us waiting too long. The more we play, the more alert he seems to get...we're making progress!