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Diabetic Alert Border Collie?


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I had an idle thought this morning - has anyone here known of BCs working as Hypo-alert or diabetic alert dogs? And if not, do you think it would be potentially a good or bad idea to give a bc this job to do when at home?

 

From my understanding, a trained dog will learn to smell and read body language when their human is beginning to hypo, or the start of a crash. Their application is varied, from people who live alone, to people who have 'unpredictable' diabetes.

 

My OH is a diabetic, and is generally in very good control of his blood sugar. But as some of you will know or experience, things like colds, medication, exercise and infections can dramatically throw the sugar levels up and down. Sometimes there are hypos (conscious). And sometimes there are embarrassing conversations with train conductors about 50 year old men who forgot to bring emergency snacks on their 4hr trip...

 

I was wondering if formally or home DVD training my potential BC to be an alert dog could be a good use of its faculties and focus when indoors, as they are such studious dogs. But could it also be a bad idea?

I don't mean that I would be jealous for "my" dog to pay attention to another person, but could giving a lot of focus mean potential fixation and guarding in a border collie brain? Am I creating problems for myself by looking at this activity?

 

I'm not looking for an all singing all dancing pet, I just thought this could be a unique learning activity, and would give the boyfriend a further reason to relate to the dog.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypo_alert_dog

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The only negative I see is, if you and OH ever go your separate ways, he should have the dog. So maybe if he wants an alert dog, he should get his own. Just sayin'.

 

Very fair point. Honestly he does not need the dog, he used to manage type 2 with pure diet.But it would be very very useful at times for him to have the help. I was thinking that it's an interesting job for the dog, and a helper for him, more than a life-changing partnership. He absolutely could not go to work during the day with a dog for example, due to his work (live chemistry).

Personally, we wouldn't use the access-all-areas part of being a medical dog alert either, as it opens another can of worms and responsibilities for us, and I'll stop there with that sentence.

 

We've been together seven years, and are in for the long haul, but you're right, it is a big consideration. At the very least, said dog would be "retired" on paper I'd imagine.

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In what sense "his"? Connection, legality, workload?

 

Physically a lot of the work in caring can only be done by me, as with our cats and fish. He has variable mobility due to rheumatoid arthritis, and I can't expect him to take on the work such as walking, cleaning up or exercising. There are days when he would be unable to stand or dress unassisted, never mind reach the ground with a bag.

That doesn't make him short of love to give, or dedication to manners and training though.

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Not all dogs will alert to low blood sugar. Not all dogs are suitable for service dogs, either. If you can find someone to mentor you all through the process of training the BC, you might be able to find out if your dog will be suitable for such an activity.

 

I think that a BC with a good steady temperament would be likely to make a good alert dog, if it could be trained to pick up some cue that indicates blood sugar is out of whack.

 

Good luck!

 

Ruth and SuperGibbs

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His as in the dog needs to be bonded to him and hang out with him or it won't be near him to pick up on the signals. It's a smell, change in body chemistry, that they pick up on. That's why they alert even when their person is asleep.

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We would definitely wait through and see the family dynamic before considering this idea. If the dog has a desire to please the OH, that's a start. :)

 

We would all be hanging out together at night and weekends, and this house is a close unit, but split during the day. I'm deliberately setting up the downstairs of the house for better mobility access and so that incoming pup will be right with us after settling in, with a dedicated space in the middle of goings on. I am hoping there'll be equal opportunity for bonding and time together.

I think the relationship between myself and the dog, and the OH and the dog will be very different, time will tell if it's a workable situation. The OH likes routines, "rules" (learning to do things a specific way and sticking to it forever) and is quite methodical, so I think he would be absolutely consistent with the dog. I'm a bit more of an experimenter, which is something I'll have to knock on the head.

 

As one of the main considerations for candidates is good training and temperament, any medical alert idea would take a backseat to having a steady dog in the house for a year or two (or three.. or.. etc). We both have a lot to learn about dogs before giving one a job like this! My curious thoughts were more along the line of how healthy it would be to ask a bc to hone in on one person in such a way, when compulsions and obsessions can be an issue.

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Border Collies tend to be incredibly connected and tuned in to their person as is. So it would be more training them how to use their abilities. The scent of low blood sugar would become another cue for them to respond to in a specific way and I wouldn't see it becoming an issue or an unhealthy obsession.

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Thank you for the reassurance in that respect! :)

 

Though, "their person"... Is that to say they only really truly associate with one human? Less of a "family" dog so to speak? I realise a lot depends on individuals, but the thought hadn't occurred to me. I was viewing the monitoring of smells and blood sugar as a task or training tool, and less of a reflection of the dog's bond towards their owner.

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Three out of four of my dogs have been pretty "one person" dogs. They enjoy other people but they really want to do stuff with me. To be most effective at their job a service dog really needs to be a "one person" dog. They need to have the best bond with the person that they are assisting and get the most reinforcement for doing their job. They also need to hang out with that person so they can do their job. Otherwise they might be inconsistent in their job.

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The dog's sense of responsibility for a person with a disability comes from being with that person 24/7. When you routinely leave the dog at home to go to work, the message is: I don't need you. By being that person's dog and being with them all the time, the dog, on his own, if he has the aptitude for this work, will begin to notice when things are wrong and these signs, even the slightest sign that he is aware of a change, should be reinforced with quiet praise to let him know that he's on the right track and that this, indeed, is what you expect of him, that it is his job. Working as a service dog is a difficult, sometimes stressful, full time job for a dog. It needs the dog's full time devotion and the person's awareness of when the dog needs encouragement and thanks.

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Unfortunately a 24/7 contact is not possible due to the nature of the OHs work. Even well trained it would be dangerous for all concerned, and in some cases render the work void, to have a dog present.

He works in a development lab and factory environment across the day. Safety gear is worn to protect eyes, ears and often respirators are needed.

 

Perhaps a better idea to consider this after his retirement. I was (perhaps incorrectly) viewing it as a detection task in this case, not as a symbiotic relationship akin to guide or emotional service dogs.

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Though, "their person"... Is that to say they only really truly associate with one human? Less of a "family" dog so to speak? I realise a lot depends on individuals, but the thought hadn't occurred to me. I was viewing the monitoring of smells and blood sugar as a task or training tool, and less of a reflection of the dog's bond towards their owner.

 

At five months, my pup has yet to pick a favourite between my boyfriend and I, which is surprising, but fine by us. We split the training and such pretty equally, though. Maybe he'll start to choose one person as he gets older.

 

I've recently gotten into Search and Rescue with my pup. While we are training, I consider him like a service dog. I depend on him. I couldn't find the person or the articles without him scenting the out - or at least, it would take me a lot longer to. His devotion to the task is no less because he is not always needed for it. I recognize that with diabetic alert dogs there is the added factor that they need to be sensitive to the changes in the person that indicate low blood sugar, but from the sound of it this dog is going to get plenty of time and interaction with your OH.

 

I personally don't think there's as much to lose in trying as there is to gain. Maybe you'll waste some time or money, maybe the training will go wrong, but if you're willing to give up the first two and work to fix it in the case of the training, then it seems to be that it would be worth it. The wonderful thing about border collies is that they're remarkably adaptable. Obviously wait to see what kind of relationship the pup and the OH have, if there is a bond there, etc., but just because it may be difficult doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a shot.

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IMO, there is a difference between SAR and medical detection. With SAR you have a set of parameters that accompany the work. There is a distinct *working* time and it's not at home hanging out with the family. With medical detection, the dog is "on duty" most of the time. The default is working so the work needs the highest reward from the person they are working with. Family members ignore or are passive about the working medical alert dog for this reason. While I suppose it is possible to treat it like another detection task, if reliability and consistancy is important you need to make the person with the need the center of their universe and the job of detecting changes their primary concern and focus. So if that person needs to go to work and leave the dog home, then it's best (IMO) to make that the dog's down time instead of their fun time with another person.

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IMO, there is a difference between SAR and medical detection. With SAR you have a set of parameters that accompany the work. There is a distinct *working* time and it's not at home hanging out with the family. With medical detection, the dog is "on duty" most of the time. The default is working so the work needs the highest reward from the person they are working with. Family members ignore or are passive about the working medical alert dog for this reason. While I suppose it is possible to treat it like another detection task, if reliability and consistancy is important you need to make the person with the need the center of their universe and the job of detecting changes their primary concern and focus. So if that person needs to go to work and leave the dog home, then it's best (IMO) to make that the dog's down time instead of their fun time with another person.

 

I definitely agree that it's different, but I could see how it might work to have the dog learn to be on duty during certain situations, like when they're out in public. Why not? You're right, consistency and reliability are not going to be nearly as good if it's done like that, but I can't see any downside to a dog that is able to help out sometimes as opposed to not at all (as long as it's very clear that she/he may not alert every single time blood sugar is low).

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Why not? because training is all about consistency.

 

If the human isn't consistent then how do you know what exactly the dog is alerting on? Yes, it *might* happen. Or it might not. The dog may give an alert for just the sake of trying something. The dog may realize something is going on and ignore it. The dog could be frustrated because they don't know if they're supposed to focus on person a or person b.

 

Is there any harm, in it? Not really for the dog I guess. But I'm not exactly sure what you'd be training the dog if the human can't be consistent with it.

 

JMO of course :)

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I was talking about consistency in the dog, not in the human. There is a difference between teaching a dog to do something in a certain situation, and teaching a dog inconsistently. Dogs typically have no problem learning that certain things are not all-the-time things. Where would the human be inconsistent in this situation?

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I think we might be running our thoughts in different directions... (that common internet thing)

 

I think this task is complex and requires a good deal of foundational work and requires the dog to give their attention to first the odor and then the odor and the person. It's hard to "turn off" from the job when living with the person who has blood sugar swings. This makes it much different than other detection work where the environment is a big cue to do the work. Additionally there isn't a clear start and stop to the job as the dog lives with the diabetic person and low blood sugar can happen at any time.

 

I don't think you can train the dog to do this in public (as was suggested in an earlier post) without a good deal of foundational work at home where the result is a dog who reliably alerts.

 

If you have this scenario

 

(as long as it's very clear that she/he may not alert every single time blood sugar is low).

 

how do you know that the dog is actually alerting on low blood sugar when it gives an alert? An inconsistent dog is a dog that isn't really trained IMO.

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Fair enough. I think it's probably too much of a stretch, and I'm just trying to hold on to it because the advantages would be so great if it did work. But you're right, you wouldn't want a stressed dog or one that was alerting to the wrong things altogether.

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how do you know that the dog is actually alerting on low blood sugar when it gives an alert?

Pocket blood testing, I'd suggest.

Take a step back here - depending on a dog alone without using electronic blood tests to monitor would be dangerously irresponsible no matter how consistent the responses. An alert dog is not taking place of diabetic medical equipment, nor should it.

In any scenario if a dog alerted, you would test your blood and see what quantity it is you need to eat. You couldn't just see the dog alert and nibble down something sugary in the hopes you judged it right.

There are also unmistakable symptoms of low sugar starting, but early on they can be ignored or you can be distracted from them. Think how a good book can lead away from noticing your belly rumble, but if you put it down and pay attention to your body, you then realise you're quite hungry indeed. Often it is the same for the OH with blood sugar. He will be painting and then stand up and realise he needs to test. Or we will be walking outdoors and find when he gets back to the car, he is in no state to drive.

 

 

Right now? We don't yet have the BC, and I am deliberately waiting well into next year to set up a proper home, pet budget and contingency plan (or two, or three...). I didn't mean to step on any toes with this idea, it may not be something we end up looking into.

 

I really do appreciate all of the advice you guys have taken time to write, and bow to the experiences of you guys, I feel that Chene has also kept sight of my initial line of thought and description of our individual home life.

I am not seeking to trivialize medical assistance dogs nor any partnerships where dogs must be keenly attuned to their partner, by considering training our dog to this task. However, my OH could survive without a dog's input, right or wrong. I was approaching this "idle thought" with the view to give our dog something very specialised and interesting for it to do, after settling down to home life. It isn't something I'd approach without a few years of experience of the dog, and learning a lot more.

 

It is indeed times when we break routine like going out of the house, or away from a scheduled work environment that blood sugar becomes harder to remember.

Simply the act of walking more than usual can make blood sugar unpredictable - when we went on holiday in February, OH was walking over four hours a day and suddenly found he didn't need to take one type of insulin. He did ten days on a three night supply because of the change in routine. It is times like this that an alert dog would be helpful, but still couldn't take the place of digital monitoring.

 

 

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Bogwoppit - I hope I didn't give the impression that you were stepping on toes - certainly was not my intention!! I've had issues with hypoglycemia for years so I do understand many of the nuances of low blood sugar. I also have a SIL who is type 1 diabetic. My SIL asked about the possiblity of training a dog for her a couple years ago so I have looked into the training process a bit. So I'm pretty much sharing the conclusions I've come to while researching. I do understand that nothing takes the place of monitoring but there are things to be aware of such as the fact that a dog will alert on low blood sugar going low before a meter will pick it up. So a dog may be "right" but testing right away won't pick it up yet. So if you are training do you reward the dog? or not? I know from working with SAR dogs that a person can inadvertently cue an alert as well if training or handling isn't done correctly. That is part of the reason that I feel that if you're going to *train* for it, it's best to wholeheartedly train for it. If you're not ready to fully train for it then I think the best alternative would be to just wait and see if the dog begins to pick it up on it's own (has happened before with people focused dogs) and encourage/praise/reward any alerting behavior it might offer. Does that make sense? And I apologize for the huge paragraph - posting from a phone.

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Not at all, Maralynn! I just realised I sort of blundered into a serious area of dog training with my "do you think..." pet training question. I don't mean to undermine the work others put in by having a hobbyist idea of how to do something, that's all. :ph34r:

I also don't want to reflect badly on any medical alert dogs by having a badly trained one, which is why we won't be approaching this (if we do) until our dog is reliable outside the house.

 

Why this thought came about at all: In another topic I mentioned the OH is dog fearful to 99% of breeds, but has accepted a rough or long haired border collie (he wanted a sheltie but I steered him away) would be "okay", and this training would give him a reason to bond with our dog, even if it comes to nothing. He's accepted that his involvement with training commands and consistency in the house is something he can do, so this would be something a little personal, just for them.

The best laid plans... however.

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