Thursday, January 20, 2011

Having a young, alerting dog isn't always pretty ... or I screwed up again!

When I think about my dogs' alerting, I am still amazed at and very grateful for their abilities and willingness to share with me. Admittedly, much of it is still a mystery to me - I don't know how they know before I'm going to have a medical problem and I have no idea why Laurel decided to share that information with me or how she taught Hardy. 
However, after tracking Laurel's alerting in her training journal for the past four years, I am absolutely certain that it is predictive and accurate. We have her response on video and now people who know us recognize her alerts when they occur. And although Hardy hasn't had that many opportunities to alert on his own (when Laurel wasn't with us); he has stepped up 9 times and has also proven to be correct and predictive. 
In fact, since Laurel started alerting, there have only been 2 times when Laurel or Hardy has been with me and failed to alert 45 minutes to an hour prior to me going into spasm. Both of them occurred when I fell and immediately starting spasming as a result. Likewise, I've only had one rheumatoid attack in my chest wall that one of my Labs didn't do an early alert for - I ran into the corner of our entertainment center and immediately felt the pain. 
The diabetes alert is very different. Although I taught Laurel to alert using a specific toy that she only brings to me when alerting, if she can't find the toy easily, she reverts to licking me around my mouth. This is the only alert I feel confident I can teach Hardy and because my blood sugar has been well regulated recently, Laurel has only alerted at night (by waking me up) while Hardy is in his crate. 
I have never had the opportunity to talk to anyone else who has a dog that alerts to any of the three things my dogs do. And although I have read articles about diabetes alert dogs, I haven't ever seen anything about dogs alerting to muscle spasms or rheumatoid in the chest wall. I've heard that there are other dogs alerting to spasms but because rheumatoid in the chest wall is pretty rare, I'm guessing there aren't many (if any) other dogs alerting to that. As a result, I sometimes run into things that I don't know how to handle and/or I haven't anticipated. I am very grateful that I have our service dog trainer, Sue Alexander, and her extensive knowledge of all things dog as well as her creativity to call on but it sure would be nice to have some books and/or articles out there! 
Last night, I ran into a problem with Hardy alerting that I hadn't anticipated and as a result, didn't know how to handle. I took him with me to my Levels class as a demo dog. When I was done with him, I put him in one of the crates inside the hall. About five minutes later, Hardy started crying and after several minutes, I realized he might be alerting. I went over to confirm it and sure enough, he was letting me know I was going to start having muscle spasms (something that has been happening quite a bit lately, probably due to stress and the extremely cold weather). I let him watch me take my meds and he settled back down. About 30 minutes later, (45 minutes after he alerted), he started crying again. I asked someone to treat him for being quiet, which only worked for a minute or two. At the same time, I realized that I was going into spasm; probably the reason he was upset and yelling at me. Normally, my dogs are able to be with me after they alert and I start having the medical problem. This summer, Laurel struggled with not always being with me under those circumstances too. Last night, because I knew we didn't want Hardy to think that he had to be with me and that we wanted him to think his responsibility was done once he alerted, I left him in the crate and covered it. I'm sure I've mentioned once or twice that one of the things we selected him for was his persistence and last night, we had the opportunity to see (and hear) that in action! By the time I took him out to go home, he was pretty distraught and since then, I have been feeling awful!
I talked to Sue and she suggested that I use this time filled with muscle spasms as a training opportunity. We do want the Labs to think that their responsibility ends once they alert me, no matter what happens afterward and  for them to be okay with not always being able to be with me once they have alerted. So the plan is to use Manners Minders (the food dispensing machines) in their crates. After they alert and they see me take my medications, instead of letting them be with me (even if we're at home), I'll put them in their crates with Manners Minders and treat them on a heavy reinforcement schedule. This just means that I'll have to have the machines with me when I take the Labs to the training hall. 
You would hope that I could learn to not go against my instincts when I don't know what to do because I end up regretting it! That's what happened last night. I didn't think letting Hardy get more and more upset was the way to go but I didn't know what to do so I handled it badly. Besides not wanting him to be so upset, I also don't want him to think I'm ignoring his alerts. On the other hand, I also want him and Laurel to be okay when they can't be with me after they alert.

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