by Mike Stewart | on July 20th, 2009 | in Features, The Wildrose Way
Dogs have long been used to alert us to faint whiffs of drugs or explosives. In the last decade, trainers have also discovered that dogs can smell high or low blood sugar levels in their diabetic handlers and alert specifically for each of these life-threatening conditions. Unfortunately, the information out there isn’t being readily shared and the techniques being used to train diabetic alert dogs is anything but standardized. To better understand this new field of dog training, we held the first annual Diabetic Alert Dog Training Conference here at Wildrose Kennels, June 24–26, 2009. The workshop was full and overflowing with 60 participants and 18 dogs covering 12 different states. Some of the participants were trainers, and some were people with diabetic alert dogs seeking training assistance. People who came without dogs were looking for guidance in finding a dog. The conference was facilitated by Rita Martinez, “Clickin’ Canines,” in California. Breakout sessions for hands-on work were led by Wildrose trainers, Mike Stewart, Jeremy Criscoe, Ben Summerall, and James and Carissa Skipper.
These are some of the observations we made over the weekend:
- There is a general lack of defined and standardized alerts. In some cases, dogs’ apparent alerts were confused for high or low blood sugar.
- There was a lack of obedience with most participating dogs. Diabetic alert dogs need to comply with the same public access standards as any other service animal.
- There was a question of consistent scent discrimination between the high and low blood sugar levels.
Participants had a great many questions, and a good number were answered by the trainers and those who own and handle their own diabetic alert dogs. Rachel and Abi Thornton, who have Mr. Darcy (a Wildrose Labrador) to alert Abi, run diabeticalertdog.com where they answer questions and give tips based on their experience training Mr. Darcy, who’s now 18 months old.
We’ve got a lot to learn in this field, and there’s an overwhelming need for diabetic alert dogs. More than 16 million people in the US have diabeties. Wildrose has begun developing a training program specifically for diabetic alert dogs. Currently, we have three puppies in training to prove the concepts. Wildrose British Labradors are known for their amazing scenting ability, temperament, and trainability. Their instincts, intelligence, desire to please and smaller size make them exceptional candidates for diabetic alert work. We’ve set up a page for our diabetic alert program here, and will also be discussing the top on our Facebook page.
Finally, we’ve set up the Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dogs Foundation (Wildrose DAD) as a non-profit project of Tupelo, Mississippi’s Create Foundation, to provide quality diabetic alert dogs to individuals with Type I diabetes. All donations to Wildrose DAD go to support programs designed to deliver trained dogs to qualified individuals with Type 1 diabetes. Also the foundation will support research, continued education, training and information dissemination about diabetic assistance dogs.
To contribute online to the foundation, go to createfoundation.com and search Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dog Fund or send a check to Create Foundation, P. O. Box 1053, Tupelo, MS 38802 and designate Wildrose Diabetic Alert Fund.