Life with mara

mara, sometimes shortened to m in posts, is my belgian malinois and she’s training for sugar alert. i am aware of the mixed science out there on alert dogs (and, given what goes into truly training one of these and then maintaining that training and those behaviors over time, i am really not surprised the data is somewhat mixed! actually, until m started alerting on me on her own unprompted, i was as big a skeptic as anyone…)

i’m starting this thread for a couple reasons:

  1. because she is super cute, and connected to diabetes, and so i have an excuse to talk about her here! besides, she is easily the most fun and adorable part of my diagnosis and treatment plan by far.
  2. to address the aforementioned skepticism, mine included! our story is anecdotal, nothing more, but she does make a compelling daily argument for the utility and functionality of an alert dog. once you experience (or even see video of) her in action, it may just give folks something to think about. sure changed my perspective.
  3. to share, for anyone curious, what goes into training and living with a medical alert dog. how we did her scent work for BG, how we do her public access training, and so on. m is entirely homeschooled (we have never seen a professional trainer), and most of my methodology is cribbed from my in-laws (LEO k9 handlers). we do all of our training independently.

mara is a little over 1.5yo and a purebred belgian mal. most mals go into law enforcement or the military, but m didn’t have the temperament and ended up being sold to me (originally) as a companion animal/pet in fall ‘22. she’s now a nurse/medic and heading for law school with me this fall. :sweat_smile::rofl::woman_shrugging:t2:

given what we know now, sometime between fall ‘22 and fall ‘23, my diabetes Sx started. once i got diagnosed and started wearing a CGM, it became very clear that certain new behaviors by m were directly linked to BG changes: she was beating the meter by 5-15 minutes and she was pretty consistent, i even started logging it to be sure. once i was sure, at that point i got some books and we started reinforcing her natural alert behaviors with stimuli and rewards to turn her into a working alert dog.

that’s the actual sugar detection, which (oddly) is the easy part: it’s simple scentwork, just like training a drug- or bomb-sniffing dog. the hard part is what’s called public access training; that’s the work that goes into her conduct and manners in spaces where animals don’t normally go. her VIP (very important puppy) pass i call it. we have another 6-8 months on that probably, til her manners are on lock and she’s able to keep focus on her duties in any environment. that will put her right around 2yo, and the associated canine cognitive development at that age is significant for this final stage of training.

other than her diabetes work, m is like any 1.5yo pup: a bundle of energy and good intentions, something of a chaos monster, and just sweet as can be. in addition to her alert work, she uses a word board to communicate beyond normal dog comms. she has and uses 105 word buttons in her board. she also loves fetch, hide and seek, long woodsy sniff walks in our forests, trail running, race days, a bite of literally anything i’m eating (hot sauce on anything is not a hit though, she’s got a flyover state taste for spice), squeaky toys, and frozen marrow bones. she’s on full voice control (but i leash her in public spaces like pharmacies and coffee shops just for appearances) and doesn’t take days off in any format. we use a blend of training techniques and tools for our many different scenarios that we navigate together.

ask us anything!


What a cutie! :yellow_heart: Can’t wait to hear how she continues to progress!


oh don’t worry, long before we’re done here all y’all will be so sick of hearing about my dumb dog :rofl::heart:


Never, w
We love reading about our furry companions and I say Mara is not dumb.


She’s a highlight, way to go on the training!

Are you headed to UW? My daughter grad from UW Law in 2022, it is a great program


congratulations to your graduate! UW is on the list, but my first choice is actually gonzaga. spokane is an easier drive for us - we’re on the east side of the state, and hoping to come home weekends - and life with a malinois will be a lot easier in a slightly smaller city or town. she is fantastic but she isn’t super well suited to dense urban cores like seattle, just the nature of the breed. spokane is definitely the big city compared to home, but it’s still a far cry from seattle proper, with a lot more breathing room.

plus if i’m honest my lsat score made UW just a slight reach for me anyway. but we already got in at willamette, and are waiting to hear back from the rest!! (and you had best believe she will walk with me at graduation in a couple years!)

a fun aside: i took my lsat shortly before i got diagnosed, and i was severely symptomatic - my polyuria was so bad that i had to ask my proctor for bathroom breaks LITERALLY every 20minutes. and based on what we learned later, i took the exam probably with my sugar around 400 :grimacing::grimacing::grimacing: i was scared/sure they were going to throw out my score for suspicion of cheating because i took so many breaks!!! :sweat_smile: it all made sense when i finally got my diagnosis …


Well you can’t go wrong with Gonzaga or Willamette either, both are great programs. My daughter chose based on where she wanted to live/work after law school (Seattle area to stay close to Dad!). Seems like eastern WA is loaded with Gonzaga grads and western WA with UW, etc.

Yikes about the BG issues during LSAT, tough to concentrate with high BG. Welcome to FuD by the way, to you and M both. Such a cool dog, hopefully we can all get to follow her progress through dog adolescence and beyond


thank you, on several counts - we are very excited to matriculate, and (under the circumstances) excited to be here on the forum :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: and yeah those cascade passes are a bigger barrier than they seem like they should be! the cost of living is also a lot more approachable in spokane or salem than seattle, quite honestly :sweat_smile: which doesn’t hurt either! and i love that your kiddo wanted to stay close to family. that’s so sweet.

stinkles (she has many names) here is definitely a very special girl. i am lucky to have her! and i’m sure we will have many relevant adventures to share, from our running events to tackling a JD program as a diabetes team.

(she does know what “smile pretty” means, btw, and this ain’t it… speaking of those teenage stages…)


for anyone who missed it (i posted it in an unrelated sport thread) here is a clip of mara responding to a low. i wasn’t paying attention after a workout and sat on the couch: she responded to me from across the room. sorry about the poor formatting, it was originally for a different platform.

mara at work


That is amazing!


she sure is! like i said, she’s easily the cutest part of my treatment plan.


Mara is a beauty! I’m so impressed with BOTH of your training for BG monitoring! I have two Afghan hounds, still puppies, but no instincts whatsoever for BG changes in me!


i bet yours are just precious, and a lot easier to keep up with probably! :heart: would love to see pics if you care to share.


@panda I worked with many Belgian Malinois during my military days. Whether explosive detection, drug detection, or just straight patrol, they were champions at what they did, true team players with their handler’s!! I didn’t know the larger breeds were being used for diabetes/medical detection work, thought it was mostly small breeds…that said, I’ve no doubt they would be great at it!


yes, i’ve had dogs before but a mal is something else. you’ve met them, you know :joy: as far as alert work, i don’t know what’s “normal”, but we are homeschooled and independent, so we didn’t go through an organization. as far as mals, i feel like the relevant issue is that regardless of the service the dog can provide (and they are more than capable of any kind of medical service work i can think of), most people very simply cannot keep up with a mal. they are a LOT of dog and if you don’t have a pretty specific lifestyle, that dog’s placement will not be successful. if their needs are met they are incredible! but if those needs aren’t met, they’re anywhere from destructive to dangerous… and yeah, the breed definitely has intense needs around exercise, emotional bonding, and intellectual enrichment. they can’t be successful in their training or tasks if their needs aren’t otherwise met, and so they are just generally a crapton of dog for most homes (especially ones with say, young children, other pets etc). the placement has to match the dog to work out, and such a high-need breed isn’t suitable to everyone. otherwise i expect you would see more of them in service and therapy work: we happened to be that match that worked out (my lifestyle, her talents, my needs: stars aligned!), but again, my situation is fairly unique :sweat_smile:


Thanks, but not so sure about being a lot easier to keep up with! Afghans were bred for hunting snow leopards in Afghanistan. They are as swift as greyhounds but have endurance that allows them to run hours to run down the leopard.

Totally agree with you! This applies to the Afghan, too! Probably a main difference between the Belgian Malinois and the Afghan is that Afghans are not easy to train! They expect their humans to be trained by them! This has been their way for thousands of years! You can tell I am devoted to them so may be biased! :wink: I love all dogs though and your pup looks so beautiful and her expression shows her great intelligence!

Playing in the latest snow storm!



oh how darling, you have a matched set!!! :heart_eyes: love it!!!

i actually didn’t know afghans were so intense. i learned something new, thanks! to be fair, i actually think there are a lot of breeds that have bigger straight-up activity needs than a mal… the kicker with the mal is that intellectual awareness that never turns off, they are truly very much like a small inquisitive child that way (and they sort of demand to be treated like one). super engaged literally all the time and super smart, and very sensitive. i don’t know if it’s per se “easy to train” them, but definitely they don’t have that same stubborn independent streak you describe! with a mal it’s more like if you establish the bond (and they have a powerful sense of respect and fairness, so they make you earn it :sweat_smile:), then they truly bend all their worldly capacities toward being the robin to your batman. (tradeoff: now you can’t pry robin off your hip with a crowbar if you tried :rofl::woman_shrugging:t2:) but aren’t we all a little biased toward our own?! it’s all about the fit. and they all make us better versions of ourselves. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:


So true!!! I didn’t mean to imply that the mal is “easier to train” as I know you need to make a big effort as with everything that is worth doing!! I love this photo of the two of you!! It shows your love for each other!!!


oh absolutely didn’t take it in a dismissive way! just kind of musing on the differences between training say, a lab, a mal, an afghan, and a chihuahua. different learning styles for sure!


nothing too especially cool here, but here’s some insight into the training we’re doing, and a few shots of miss m mugging for the camera (and a cookie).

on learning styles: she will learn to do anything if it’s presented as a game, especially if it’s a team sport. she’s very clever and loves solving puzzles, so the key to structuring her training plan is turning everything into a game she will enjoy.

her most biggest favoritest reward is approval and attention. food is great but this dog truly runs on praise, so we do a lot of both of those. more later on her fave snackies.

so in order for m to succeed with her training and alert duties, her basic needs also have to be met. for a mal, that looks like 3+ miles every day, plus at least two 15min play sessions and some training work. and of course we make time for some affection in there too :wink: right now we are home full time, and take full advantage of it to get outside.

we scatter training throughout the day (i am always wearing a nerdy little belt pouch with cookies and a clicker in it, very fashionable). that might be public access work, that might be find-the-sample scentwork games, that might be basic skills drills like heel, or a long down+stay in a distracting area. we also consistently work on building mini-games: things like climbing an obstacle, or going through certain sequences of commands, or jumping from one log to another without touching the ground (the floor is lava!), etc. this is so that we have a platform for jumpstarting new skills, or combining or making new applications of old skills - routinely adding mini-games makes her practice learning those new skills and flexing and adapting on the fly, as well as taking old skills and combining multiple, or abstracting/generalizing them to new situations (super key for service work!). it’s fun for both of us and encourages the kind of analytical mindset that excels in alert work. because she won’t have guidance in an emergency, it’s crucial to teach her how to make smart decisions and problem solve on her own.

she sure keeps a person busy :sweat_smile: i think this is why the data is so mixed on sugar dogs. it requires extreme consistency to train one and have it be effective, and not sort of lose that training over time. even as a solo person (no kids, no roommates, no demanding job distractions etc), it’s really hard to be that consistent all the time. she’s worth it but she’s a heck of a project, and they’re all perishable skills that require refreshers to maintain, and can get muddled if there’s any confusion on behavior/reward connections. luckily, the daily training requirements should ease off as she matures.

still cuter than a lancet. :wink: