DADs – Diabetes Alert Dogsadmin

Service Dogs

service-dogsWhile service animal access is mandated by the ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act, (http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm), there are NO agencies to regulate the breeding and training of medical alert dogs of any kind including diabetic alert dogs. Anyone can say they are a service dog trainer and that they are providing you with a “certified” service dog but there is no actual licensing, testing or enforcement to validate their claims so your best defense is to thoroughly educate yourself on who you are dealing with and how to best confirm your dog is properly trained for its’ designated job.

On the flip side of that, just as there is no regulation to prove you have a “certified” service dog, there is nothing to disprove it either and some pet owners are misrepresenting their pets as service animals to gain entry into restaurants, supermarkets, retail stores, hotels and other public places. Fake service dog bill passes FL House of Reps
As long as the service dog industry remains unregulated and unenforced, it is critical that we help each other by honestly sharing information about our experiences, good and bad, free from embarrassment. There are a lot of unscrupulous people out there, especially when you’re talking about up to $25,000 per dog. That’s a lot of motivation to sell you “the perfect service dog”.

What makes a diabetes alert dog (DAD) so special?

Olympic sniffers

Dogs’ sense of smell overpowers our own by orders of magnitude—it’s 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute, scientists say. “Let’s suppose they’re just 10,000 times better,” says James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, who, with several colleagues, came up with that jaw-dropping estimate during a rigorously designed, oft-cited study. “If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well.”
Put another way, dogs can detect some odors in parts per trillion. What does that mean in terms we might understand? Well, in her book Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College, writes that while we might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth. Another dog scientist likened their ability to catching a whiff of one rotten apple in two million barrels.

A nose for odors

snifferWhat do dogs have that we don’t? For one thing, they possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us. And the part of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is, proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than ours.
Taken from: Dogs’ Dazzling Sense of Smell http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/dogs-sense-of-smell.html

Why do I want a diabetes alert dog (DAD)?

As a single Mom of a very independent 7.5 year old girl, I am all things all the time. This makes for one very tired Momma without backup. Diabetes is 24/7/365, there is no break ever. Having a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) now means that I don’t have to wake up at 12 & 3 am every night to check Teagan’s blood sugar because it will alarm if she goes too low (or high) but it’s not a perfect technology. Because the sensor is placed in tissue it lags about twenty minutes behind the actual blood sugar reading and if blood sugar is dropping rapidly, that 20 minute delay becomes even more significant. As with anything electronic, sensors can and do fail. I wake to the CGM alarms now but it is possible to sleep through them when you are sleep deprived. You can’t really sleep through a dog putting their nose in your face or pawing at you besides the fact that a properly trained alert dog can detect blood sugar changes with their Olympic sniffer real-time before it drops too far or too fast. I see an alert dog as having my back to provide a bit of a safety net to help watch over Teagan since I can’t be everywhere all the time with her but the dog can. Additionally, it will give her back some of the independence she lost at diagnosis (snacks, playdates, birthday parties and sleepovers all have new meaning requiring a bit of helicopter parenting which is not especially enjoyable for either of us) and give her a friend who is in this with her every step of the way for the next ten or so years. As strange as it feels for me to ask for help to make this happen, I’m doing what I believe is best for her health and well-being.

NY Times short documentary – Midnight Three & Six

Can any dog be trained to be a diabetes alert dog (DAD)?

Certain breeds are better suited to DAD work than others based on their head shape and their drive/temperament. Working breeds such as Labradors and Retrievers are very common and may be crossed with Poodles for their intelligence and hypo-allergenic coat resulting in Labradoodles and Goldendoodles. For these reasons, it is unlikely that most existing pets or potential rescue dogs are well suited for DAD work, of course there are always exceptions but generally this is why many come from breeders as puppies to begin their training early for obedience, public access and scent training to alert to diabetic lows and highs. It often takes a year or longer to fully train a DAD and that kind of time investment comes with a significant price tag.