Diabetic Alert Dogs?

Does anyone have any experience with Diabetic Alert Dogs? I am currently waiting to get mine. But really would love to hear how people feel about them.

I don’t have a diabetes alert dog, but I did work with a guide dog for several years. So, if you have any general questions about life with a service dog, feel free to ask.

I’ve been teamed with Norm since March 2010. Norm was bred and born at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California. He didn’t make the grade during his guide dog training and was career changed to help people with diabetes. Norm is a pure bred Yellow Labrador Retriever and weighs in at 57 pounds, light for his gender and breed but a great size for a service dog.

He’s trained to alert for low blood sugar only. His glucose training trigger is any level below 100 mg/dL. As you know this is not low but provides a nice safety buffer for me and it allows him to earn treats every day. Norm signals an alert in several ways but his primary one is to put into his mouth a small pendant that hangs from his collar. It’s called a bringsel. That’s the device he has in his mouth in the picture below.

He was actually alerting in this photo and you can see the serious look he gets when he’s doing his job. For him, he’s intent on earning the food treat that he’ll receive if he alerts and I verify that I’m under 100. Norm has several alternate alerts that I’ve come to recognize after living with him for so long. He’ll jump up onto my bed when I’m sleeping. Night-time alerts earn him a special reward – peanut butter.

I live alone and Norm accompanies me, with few exceptions, wherever I go. That means to the grocery store, dentist, doctor’s office, streetcar, and airplane. On the airplane, he travels at my feet.

One of the hardest skills a dog needs to earn the title, service dog, is the ability to blend into any human environment without disrupting anything. This ability to be laid back, not bark, or growl at other people or dogs, is special. This public access skill is the one that most pets trained for service work fail. These are the “service” dogs that bark at Norm and me as we shop at Costco.

I love my life with Norm. Except for him, I live alone. He adds a measure of security and companionship that I didn’t appreciate until I’ve lived with him for a while. I look after all his needs as we help each other out. I’m not a gregarious person and having a handsome dog on the end of the leash provides daily interaction from the many dog lovers in the world – especially the Lab lovers! When I took Norm with me on a cruise to Alaska last year, he was the only dog on the ship. Since I like to walk on the promenade deck, I listened to all the stories of the dogs left behind.

Norm’s alerts are valuable to me but I do not depend on him alone. I check several times per day with a fingerstick meter and I wear a CGM, too. I believe in the concept of multiple redundant safety systems when it comes to guarding against a severe hypo. Norm is not perfect but neither are the other devices I use.

Almost everything about living with Norm, I like. He’s fit, trim, and walks with me the three miles I log every day. He provides emotional support that sustains and comforts me. I never had a dog growing up – Norm is my first.

Here’s a picture of Norm at the top of Mauna Kea, just under 14,000 feet above sea level, on the Big Island of Hawaii. He and I have criss-crossed the country usually on airplanes. Norm has added immeasurably to my life. I don’t regret anything about it.

Good luck with your service dog. Don’t forget that every day is a training day for both of you. You need to work to keep your dog and you at the top of your game. Otherwise you’ll end with a service dog that assumes pet status!

Feel free to private message me if you have any questions.

14 Likes

@Terry4, this is terrific information. WE actually visited Guide Dogs for the Blind for one of their free tours one time.
I’m wondering how you got this repurposed dog, did you put your name on a waiting list? And did you need to demonstrate somehow that your disability would make a diabetic alert dog critical in some way?

I got my guide dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind. I spent a month in training at their San Rafael campus. They are a great organization. @Terry4, did you have to go for training with Norm? Or did the organization come to your home to do training?

Norm looks very serious and very beautiful at the same time. Thank you for all of the details. I am looking forward to my life with my dog Dewey. He is a chocolate Lab.

This is me getting used to him at my side last week.

He still has another 10 months to 11 months of training to go. Or maybe longer. I feel confident that he will be such a huge part of my life and I too will travel with him with confidence.

When you were on the cruise did you let anyone touch Norm or do you tell them to not touch him? Is he able to continue to do his job if someone gives him a quick pet?

3 Likes

@Tia_G Norm was given to Dogs for Diabetics for scent training and placement. I absolutely lucked out with my timing. I went to an open house in Novmeber, applied in December and was invited to attend team training in March. This was all 2009/2010. I just had to prove that I had a valid diabetes diagnosis and that I was actively trying to manage my condition. I also had to pass a home inspection and spend two weeks at team training.

@Jen – Team training was 8 hours/day for 11 of 12 days, essentially two work weeks. Then we each had to submit an extensive weekly spreadsheet documenting alerts and earn our graduation 6 months later.

I’ll let people touch Norm if they ask first. If he’s working a low, I’ll wave them off. While Norm pays attention most of the time, his duty cycle is not 100% like a guide dog. So I’m generous with people petting, especially children. What I detest is people reaching out without any permission sought. I don’t get it, but most people know. I often hear young parents telling their kids about proper service dog protocol.

Good luck with Dewey. Labs are a great breed!

Terry you have been wonderful. I appreciate all of the information. At
this point Dewey really needs to wear his vest and be left alone by other
people while he learns his job. But I understand what you are saying with
the children and people that ask. I want him on point. You have given me
so much reassurance. It was a big deal for us to spend $20,000.00 to get
him. I have met him as a puppy and now at 9 months. I will go and visit
him in a few months and HOPEFULLY he will be ready to do that training I
need by November.

He is very attached to his trainer which scared me at first. But when she
came out to our home it only took his friendly Lab self a couple of days to
walk with me and pay attention to me. But when his trainer was around he
didn’t pay attention very well and it made me nervous. But I know he is
only 9 months old and needs time.

He just may be the best thing to have ever come into my life. I look
forward to a long partnership with this guy! I’m more excited now than I
was before.

You are a very good writer. If you ever write a book on this subject I
will be first in line to buy it!

THANK YOU!

2 Likes

Thank-you, @DebraG. I fully understand limiting outside interaction with your dog. It will always be your decision and whatever you choose is the right call. Limiting outside distractions will help your dog focus on you.

I wouldn’t worry about attachment to his trainer. It just shows you he can trust a human. Once you become the source of his food and grooming, he will quickly align with you. I am the only one in my household so I am the only one that feeds Norm. I don’t know what your trainer will say but I think only having one food relationship is better than sharing, especially as you will be the one giving him treats when he successfully alerts.

I think Norm was dropped from Guide Dogs due to dog distraction. I need to use a head collar to eliminate him tugging whenever he saw another dog. Now, he still whimpers but doesn’t pull. He’s so good in so many other ways, I’m willing to accept this behavior. In almost seven years, I’ve only heard him bark a handful of times.

So November is your target to form your team? I was placed with Norm when he was just under two years old. Good luck and have fun!

I have a beagle (Napoleon) that alerts me for lows… primarily when I’m sleeping, which is when I need the help. I trained him myself… sort of accidentally at the start; but when I realised he was aware of my nighttime lows, I promoted the behaviour. It is GREAT to have him around! He alerts me when my BG is at or below 70. When I’m sleeping, he will paw at me once or twice… then if I haven’t responded, he paws at my wife, who shakes me awake and tells me that Napoleon wants me to check my blood sugar. He then watches me get up and walk to the dresser and pick up my meter… at which point he’ll sit back down, and watch 'till I’m done. His “treat” for this is to share the vanilla wafers I usually eat to treat a low… and he will wait 'till I’ve had at least one before he’ll take one.

If I’m awake, he’ll come over and paw at my leg, and then give me this “stare” he has… it’s really comforting and amusing having him “helping”. And after I’ve treated myself for a low, he just hangs close (if I’m in bed, he’ll curl up with me; anywhere else, he just sits close).

I absolutely recommend getting one if you can. The work entailed is well worth it.

w.

6 Likes

T1Wayne that’s so great!!

I have my dog trained to respond to my dexcom alerts, and also gets rewarded every time. I liked that my dexcom has a "TRY IT " mode so I was able to first train him with the sounds even when BG was not low. But now I think he is recognizing the low even before alarm, especially if dropping fast.

Thank you Wayne for your note on the subject. I am getting a Diabetic Alert Dog. He is a Lab and will be done training in November of this year I hope. I really look forward to having some help from him. It sounds like you have gotten your dog trained just the way you need him trained. Thats awesome! Dogs are amazing. And I look forward to my life with my Lab. :smiley:

Hello, I don’t have a diabetic alert dog, but I had a very interesting experience shortly after being diagnosed. I pet sit, primarily I take care of dogs. I was sitting for a family that has 5 dogs, one of them is an Australian shepherd. I was laying on the couch, really out of it, not at all aware there was a problem. The Aussie kept nudging me in the face, and then finally put her paws on my chest and really rammed her muzzle in my face, something she never did before. I was very “out of it” thought I was groggy from just being tired. I did test my BS and it was 38. I didn’t make much of her reaction. But she did it again the next day and I was low at a 55 BS. I doubt she had any training, as her family rescued her from a neglectful, abusive situation. The other 4 dogs in the house never reacted to anything.

3 Likes