Ten years ago at the age of 15, my fiancé Chase was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Over the years, he has learned how to manage his blood sugar levels with the help of a pump that regularly provides his body with insulin and most recently a sensor that can detect when his blood sugar climbs or drops.
While this technology has been very helpful for Chase to maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle, it still has its flaws as most technology does, whether it is false blood sugar readings or broken equipment. Instances like this can be nerve wracking for both Chase and I, so we thought it would be a good idea to look into something else we can rely on in these types of situations.
According to several studies, a part of the dog’s brain is devoted to analyzing smells about 40 times greater than humans. Because of this, service dogs are now being trained all over the world to detect low blood sugar episodes almost as soon as they begin and alert their owners to take action to counteract the condition. According to Wag, low blood sugar dogs are extremely successful at detecting episodes and can detect the onset of an episode 15-30 minutes before it would be detected by symptoms or even blood glucose meters.
Purchasing a trained service dog can sometimes be expensive, so we decided to start training our own eight month old puppy. Training your own puppy can take six months to a year depending on how willing your dog is to learn and how willing you are to train them. The important thing is to stay patient and always use positive reinforcement, never negative.
While the process of training may be tedious, the step by step directions are quite easy to follow.
Step 1 – Saliva Sample
Have the diabetic provide a low blood sugar saliva sample (70 mg/dL) on a few cotton balls.
Step 2 – Prepare Scent
Place the low blood sugar sample in a bowl with a mesh colander overtop to protect the sample but allow scent to pass through.
Step 3 – Introduce
Present the bowl to your puppy so they can get some familiarity with the scent.
Step 4 – Reward With Scent
When the puppy puts his nose in the colander and smells the scent, provide the puppy with a food treat in the colander.
Step 5 – Move The Bowl
As the puppy becomes more familiar with the scent, begin to move the bowl around to different locations so the puppy has to go to the scent. This helps teach them locating.
Step 6 – Hide
As the puppy gets older, start placing the cotton balls in smaller containers and hide in various locations throughout the house. When the puppy locates the scent, reward.
Step 7 – Add Signal
Later, you will need to teach your dog how to signal or alert you when he detects the scent of low blood sugar.
Step 8 – Association
Teach the signal on command, associate the signal with location of a low blood sugar sample, then remove the command so the alert is performed in response to the scent of low blood sugar sample.
Chase and I are currently in the beginning stages of training our dog and so far she has done extremely well. The most difficult part so far has been making sure she doesn’t eat the cotton balls. With patience and focus, she’s been able to locate the bowl around the house and always gets excited for a special treat after.
Service dogs used to detect low blood sugar levels need to be certified and must attend regular recertification checks to ensure the dog and handler are working together effectively. Be sure to investigate the certification requirements and assistance in your area prior to training.
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