Monday, February 27, 2017


One of the things Murphy needs to learn is to "tuck". She must learn to lie down in a small, out of the way place. Yesterday at Church and three string cheese sticks later, she finally tucked and fell asleep under the pew just as all the kneeling, sitting, kneeling, standing began for which Catholics are famous.

Then, it was time for Communion. My husband asked what we were going to do about the people who would need to get past her to go to Communion? Before noticing this, he was going to stay with her while I went up. Now, I was going to have to get her up and out of the pew. And then, they left! I looked and they were gone. I know them casually, and remembered that their custom was to leave early. Problem solved for now.

There are loads of little things that don't occur to you with a dog in public until you are there. We normally sit in a location that is more visible to the congregation, but also away from other people. Honestly, we usually do this to avoid shaking hands with people that are coughing and sneezing into those hands right before shaking ours, but the spot was so visible if Murphy wasn't on her best behavior. (Did you know that churches are one of the few places that can refuse to let you bring in a service dog? Hence, the desire to be under the radar and very well behaved.) I guess it is back to the more visible, but out of the way, place to sit.

Friday, February 24, 2017

You Stink

One of the most interesting things I got out of the "Dog Emotion and Cognition" taught by Duke University on Coursera is that dogs are time travelers. Perhaps it is not the traditional way we think of time travel, but a dog, whose sense of smell is on the order of tens of thousands of times better than humans, can tell time from smell. 

From a simple smell, they can tell who has been here in the past. Often, they leave their own calling card for others to find. My mom always called it "pee-mail". They can tell something about where you've been and who you've been with. It seems common knowledge, as I often hear, "She can smell my dogs (or cats or horses)." They can "visit" what has already happened.

When I was little, my dog, "Banjo" would sit at the end of the driveway waiting for the bus to come just minutes before it did. In this course, they discussed that dogs can also tell time because evening smells differently from morning. They know the future as well as the smell of a thing arrives before the thing itself. 

And of course, they can smell what is going on all around them. Enter the Diabetic Alert Dog (DAD). The most frequent question I am asked is how a dog is trained to detect low scent or high scent of a person with diabetes. The quick answer is you don't. Dogs can detect some odors in parts per trillion. It is thought that DADs can detect the chemical isoprene in hypoglycemic people (low blood glucose) and perhaps ketones in hyperglycemic diabetics. They smell it without our need to train them to. The goal is to teach the dog that this particular smell is one you are interested in and to teach the dog to tell you when they smell it.

So, DAD training is really about teaching communication from the dog to you that they detect a low or high smell. Murphy is being trained to alert behaviors which is rewarded. Those alert behaviors are being tied to low scent samples we made. Dental cotton rolls are chewed on by William when he is low and frozen for use with training Murphy that this is the smell we want her to detect. Why focus on the "low"? High is easier for dogs and I'm told it will come naturally; we need only to teach a better alert than eating William's computer cord and emptying the trash can in agitation. (I am told a dog does not like the high smell and they think it "stinks", surprising given my dogs would eat deer poop and opossum carcasses if I let them.)

So, in a nutshell, the dog, already smelling these low and high smells from any body fluid (blood, saliva, sweat) is taught to communicate that it detects that smell and communicates it in some trained alert to a human. The dog must sometimes be persistent and perhaps exhibit "civil disobedience" if the human ignores the alert. Probably all dogs, (although our old brachiocephalic dog, Paris, is probably an exception) can detect these smells. Then, it comes down to whether the dog has the drive and temperament to be a service dog.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Happy birthday to my big boy-man! Time goes by so very quickly and now he towers over me and hugs envelop me. My little boy is gone and replaced by a teen. I miss that little boy but look forward to seeing his future unfold. 

This morning after breakfast. Murphy nudged me hard in the thigh. This is not something she does to ask for treats or anything else. William said he felt fine and a finger stick said his BG was 110 and Dex said he was steady. I reminded him that the dog will likely be 15 minutes ahead of finger sticks and Dex if he is dropping. 

William and Murphy retreated to their bedroom to work on homework. Ten minutes later, William was back. "I'm dropping." Dex still held steady. Finger stick was 117 mg/dL. William decided to trust Murphy and drank some juice. He had himself felt he was dropping after paying attention because of the alert.

Two hours later, he's 124 flat. Two hours postprandial is usually when he will be the highest because of the meal. This means that he will go down from this 124 and could have been low if he had not taken the juice. 

The dog outperformed the Dex this time. It's not that we wouldn't have caught the low or drop eventually, but if she tells us he is dropping, we can treat it before it becomes a low. That's pretty awesome.

Note: Dex here refers to the Dexom G5 continuous glucose monitor, which is also pretty awesome but not nearly as cute and loving as Murphy

Monday, February 13, 2017


Yesterday evening, we went to a youth group outing at an entertainment center. It was quite a sensory overload for a young pup, but she did well the first hour. Lights, noises, tons of people, bowling alley, you name it. She did very well, but I took her to the car with me to wait after the hour was up. It was a lot to ask of her to stay any longer. Her cue was that she barked, which she has never done before in public.

While there, however, I encountered an interesting dilemma. I had to go to the bathroom and William was bowling. I'll take the dog with me, I thought to myself, and use the family restroom. Of course, that was "occupied". Heading into the ladies' room, my next stroke of brilliance is that I would use a handicapped stall which has more room. What I didn't anticipate is that Murphy would try to look under the stall to the next stall to to visit with the person next door! Next time, I think I'll wait for the family bathroom until she is more fully trained.
Alerts: Last night, William had a pod (pump) change right before bed. They sometimes cause BGs to rise if the pump site was going bad (not delivering insulin well). He added a bucket of insulin and went to sleep. I stayed up, making sure not too much. When I went in to check, Murphs practically cried! "Finally," she whined. She was alerting to the high, but because the door was shut, could not come get me. (This is to keep her from wandering in the night.) I showed her that I was fixing it, gave her a taste of peanut butter, and she went back to sleep. Note that normally, she sleeps through the night and only lifts her head when I come in to check him. Good alert, Murphy!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

First Alert

At first, we though Murphy's agitation was due to the intense skunk smell coming into the car on our way to William's basketball game. Because we had a full car, she was sitting in the wheel well at my feet. (We are working on getting her a harness seatbelt.) She, however, climbed on my lap, up on my shoulder, and was desperately trying to get into the backseat with William. 

The Dexcom CGM showed he was 159 and climbing, but I asked him to test. He was 189 and climbing. She would not settle. I assured her that we were working on it, had William thank her, and she watched him use the PDM to bolus insulin. I gave her treats and finally, she started settling down, though clearly still agitated.

"How do you train them to do that?" is probably the most common question I get while in public after told that Murphy is to be a Diabetic Alert Dog. My answer is that these dogs can detect these changes without training. The key is training them to communicate (alert) what they already know and to train ourselves to pick up their alert. It is easy to doubt ourselves that we are experiencing her alert. Even in this case, we wondered if the skunk smell, unfortunately simultaneously encountered with a rising BG, was the cause of her distress. It certainly distressed me.

The high alert, I'm told, is easier for dogs to detect. Likely, they smell ketones in the breath. For lows, the chemical isoprene is likely what the dog detects. This first alert is encouraging. Maybe we'll figure all this out after all.

While at the game, we got two of the best compliments you can get for a service dog. The first was that a woman finally noticed Murphy, exclaiming, "Oh, there is a dog here! I hadn't even noticed her." (She was sleeping in the bleachers.) Later, she turned to me (as Murphy continued to behave) and said, "That is not a normal puppy." 

Weight this week: 28.5 pounds at 15 weeks