Canadian Diabetic Alert Dogs

I am a type 1 diabetic who has been working with pet dogs for 5 years in Canada. My work with dogs includes dog walking, canine basic and advanced obedience and the identification and training solutions for canine behavioural issues. Recently, my focus has moved away from pet dogs due to a desire to use my canine training knowledge and experience to train Diabetic Alert Dogs for my fellow insulin dependent diabetics.

I started professionally working with dogs when I went through a 3 year period of constant hypoglycaemic episodes and could no longer work in my college educated and trained profession of forestry due to the long periods of time spent in remote locations. I became hypoglycaemic unaware and struggled with my everyday life. Going to bed at night became difficult as I was uncertain if I would wake up with paramedics standing over me, in a hospital bed or not wake up at all. I became removed from society and the only thing that helped me to manage was my dog. When I was out with my dog, I noticed a distinct behaviour change that was always preceded by a severe hypoglycaemic episode. That is when I started working with dogs. When out walking a pack of dogs, I would know if my blood had dropped because the pack would close in around me instead of running around playing. This gave me a sense of safety and security. As a trainer, I have control of my scheduling and work my lessons around my diabetes management.

I want to deliver a Diabetic Alert Dog program to diabetic Canadians that is not just reactive (already suffer from Hypoglycaemic unawareness) but one that is proactive and can limit the occurrence of severe hypoglycaemia and the cognitive issues that it may cause. One that promotes effective diabetes management in a non judgemental way. One that promotes the human-animal bond with all the life enrichment that it brings.

I'd very much like to hear from my fellow diabetic community in hopes that there is such a demand for Diabetic Alert Dogs that I can provide a program that will place a Diabetic Alert Dog in every diabetic's home that wants one!

Our daughter is 7 years old and we live in Saskatoon, SK. She has never woken up for a low blood sugar and often does not notice her low sugars. Much seems to depend on how quickly she is dropping - the quicker the drop the more likely she will pick up on it. We keep her safe by frequent testing during the day and throughout the night. We would love to have a DAD and we currently have a 3 month old bichon shih tzu. He is in puppy training and I mentioned DAD training to our trainer. She is a certified trainer but has never trained a service dog for diabetes alerting. She is willing to learn how to help us, but I don't know where to start...Also not even sure this breed will be able to alert. (if not he is sure a great little guy and we are happy to have him as a pet!!) Can you help? Where are you and how much do you charge? T1 momma aka continuous glucose mom meter!

Dogs that are brachycephalic like Shih Tzus should not be trained for diabetic alert work due to their insufficient nasal capacity.

Im Mary McNeight, the diabetic alert dog trainer Emily Coles from TuDiabetes did an interview with.

And just FYI, anyone without a solid history of producing diabetic alert dogs really should not be charging you for their services. If they do, you are paying for their experiment.

As 'DiabeticAlertDogTrainer' stated, Shih Tzus are not the ideal breed for scent work.

Canine training is always an experiment, as no dog is the same. What sets trainers apart comes in their ability, knowledge and experience in identifying temperament (sound or unsound) and their understanding of dog psychology. Understanding the dog that is being trained is the most important factor making up a professional dog trainer. Anyone who offers training advice without meeting the dog, should be avoided!

Here is a research paper that was conducted on 'Canine Responses to Hypoglycemia in patients with Type 1 diabetes'.
It is worth reading just to provide additional knowledge about pet dogs and their untrained ability to detect.

DAD scent training is teaching the dog the scent and what it does when it smells it. Same is done with ocular cues for epilepsy assistance dogs. Your trainer that you are working with will be able to help you out in determining if your dog can do either of these.

Hope this wasn't too much or too little information! If you have any additional questions, I would be happy to answer them.

This is very helpful indeed.
I have been comfortable with our trainer as she has been very honest with us and very interested helping us and has made absolutely no claim that she could pull off the training. She has offered to pursue the training with us. There aren't many options here in Saskatoon and she is a reputable trainer who was recommended by our vet. She has trained other types of service Dogs and comes highly recommended.

Our trainer suggested that we apply for a service dog through the Canadian Guide Dog Association. (has anyone tried this?) From what I understand, Diabetes doesn't qualify my daughter for any funding for this and an application would not result in DAD!

It sounds like the next step could be to share this blog with our trainer and ask her to assess or pup on whether our pup would be a candidate. He does have more of a snout (maybe from the Bichon) so it is probably worth starting here. I appreciate all input and I will be sure to share our journey to a DAD with all of you. We are still hoping that Animas will offer the CGM for the children in the near future! In the meantime, since we have a pup, we may as well consider him! As I have said before, he is a lovely little guy, and will be a wonderful pet. Genetics are stacked against him being a successful sniffer/alert dog!

Currently, of the National guide dog associations, only the Lions foundation of canada dog guides has a program. Their program is just starting up, this month, and delivery of assistance dog teams for Diabetic Alerting will not be until late 2013. I have had a lot of interaction with this organization, have been to their facilities and met almost all of their trainers. They are just in the beginning of developing their program, so it might be a while until they get their breeding program putting out quality dogs that can do scent work along with their trainers knowing how to teach scent work to the dogs. They do provide dogs at no cost, except that you must be able to show that you can provide/afford all of the requirements associated with having a dog. Some of their other requirements are that the diabetic recipient is 10 years or older, suffer from hypoglycaemic unawareness with supporting documentation from your endocrinologist or doctor and if you have a pet dog, he or she must be rehoused. They do have strict requirements, but it is completely understandable considering they are a charity and provide the animals at no cost to the recipient. Mr Alex Ivic is the manager of operations and Mr Ian Ashworth is in charge of program development. Both are very nice people and from my experience would be very willing to help answer any questions or provide additional insight into their DAD program.

Not only are there very limited options for Diabetic Alert Dogs in Saskatoon, but across Canada also. From my interactions with guide dog and assistance dog organizations, mostly all lack the funding to develop DAD programs. They face limited resources that can only be applied to their current programs.

Don't worry about genetics! I've seen a yorkie do scent tracking work and be better at it then the shepherd beside it! Whatever your dog ends up being able to do, it is still better!

I'm a type 1 diabetic who would love to have a DAD dog!!!. Except in Alberta where I live all service dogs have to be trained by/in a specific way, and there are only 9 foundations in Canada that according to the province are acceptable to do that. Lions club/Guide dogs of Canada is one whom Alberta will allow us to get DAD dogs from, but they don't even have there DAD program laid out on paper, let alone up and running yet and there qualification list is going to be impossible to meet.