Diabetic Service Dogs

Hello all you lovely people!

No, really, everyone on this site is wonderful and I’m so glad to be able to share and bounce ideas off of you.

Moving on…

I’m interested in adopting a service dog. I’m curious to hear other people’s stories about the adoption process and what life is like having a constant companion to help manage your numbers. What organization(s) did you go through for the adoption process? Did you adopt a dog anD train it to be a service dog, or did you adopt a fully trained dog? What kind of continuing education does the dog need throughout it’s life to keep you heathy? How do your employers and other people react to the dog? Are they welcoming of him/her or did you have to fight to keep the dog with you? What’s it like being out in public with your dog? Tell me everything!

Alex

Everything I hear about them sounds wonderful. Except for the cost. I do have a cat that jumps on the bed and walks all over me if my Dexcom “Low BG” alert goes off in the night, though. She gets right up in my face about it. Not a substitute for the CGM, clearly, but definitely gives it some “wake up now goddamit” that it wouldn’t have otherwise. :wink:

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Alex - I’ve been paired with my hypoglycemia alert service dog, Norm, for over five years now. Almost everything has been positive for me. I received Norm from Dogs 4 Diabetics, a SF Bay Area non-profit that trains dogs to alert for low blood glucose episodes. They get dogs from agencies that breed dogs for guiding blind people, as well as mobility and hearing disabilities. Guiding sight-impaired people, especially, is a demanding training process and a significant percentage of dogs wash out.

Norm was one of those dogs that didn’t make it, much to my benefit. He is terminally distracted by other dogs, an attribute not acceptable when guiding a blind person. So Norm was “career-changed” and trained to smell and alert to the scent of low blood sugar.

Be aware that even with professional dog breeding and dedicating puppy-raising programs, not all dogs make it into service. A fair percentage of them eventually get placed out as pets. There’s always a line of people waiting for these well-behaved pets.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s a risky proposition to select a dog and hope to turn him/her into a service dog. Service dogs, of course, are trained to mitigate the disability of their handler. Just as important, they are socialized from an early age to be comfortable in places most dogs never visit, such as commercial airliner cabins, dentist offices, and grocery stores. Not every dog can remain calm when traveling in a large city rush hour using public transit. This “public access” piece of the training is often what’s missing from people that want to turn their favorite pet into a service dog. These are the dogs that bark at Norm and me at Costco!

I think the best possible situation is the one that I experienced with non-profit bred and trained dogs. I know that’s not available everywhere and I caution you to choose carefully for both the dog and the trainer. While I wouldn’t have spent $10k+ for a service dog back when I first considered it, if I knew then what I now know about Norm, I would do it in a heartbeat! Not every team is successful, however, and it can be a risky proposition.

Norm alerts me every day to low blood sugar and I’m usually very aware of my glucose status as I fingertest frequently and wear a CGM and watch that displays my BG. Every once in a while, though, Norm beats all that technology and for that I’m grateful. He has saved my bacon more than once.

You can read more about my experience at DoggoneDiabetes. I wrote this long piece a few years back but it can help with some of your other questions.

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I don’t have experience with diabetes alert dogs, but do have experience as a guide dog handler in the past.

I totally agree with @Terry4 about the risks of just going out and adopting a dog. Not only are you risking adopting a dog who is not suited to be a working dog due to their temprament, one who has not been socialized from a young age, and one who may have health issues (this is something organizations screen for), but unless you are already an experienced dog trainer, training a dog can be extremely challenging. It’s hard enough to train a dog to sit or to come on command when you have no experience, trying to train them to do something as complex as alert to low blood sugar is likely even more difficult.

In recent years there has been a big problem with “fake” service dogs—essentially people sticking a vest on their pet dog (or other animal!) and claiming it is a service or support dog. Unfortunately, people who do this often have dogs who get stressed out in public spaces or unusual situations and end up acting out, having accidents, or the owner otherwise doesn’t have control over their dog’s behaviour. This creates a difficult sitaution for people with legitimate service dogs asking for public access when business owners, thinking of their last experience with a “service” animal, subsequently try to refuse access to the legimitate handler.

Having said that, I do know people who have self-trained service dogs, but these are people with years of experience working dogs and who clearly understand that simply sticking a vest on a pet dog does not turn them into a service dog.

As for your questions about continuing education for the dog and how people react and what daily life is like, here are my experiences. I had my dog during university, so have no experience with colleagues in a workplace.

Even when a dog is received from an organization, they need regular obedience practice in order to keep up thier skills. I’m not sure how a diabetes dog works, but with my guide dog if she accidentally ran me into an obstacle while guiding, we always stopped and “re-worked” the obstacle until she correctly avoided it, to make sure that running into obstacles didn’t become a habit. I also did obedience exercises with her daily or when she got distracted by something and I wanted to bring her attention back to me.

I found that when I was out in public with my dog it attracted a ton of attention. There was rarely a time I could commute without someone striking up a conversation about my dog or their dog or some related topic. I, personally, found this exhausting—but I’m an introvert, so someone who likes talking to people constantly may love the chance to connect and educate. My classmates and professors all loved her, though, and I often took the harness off and people couldn’t believe how different she became when she wasn’t working.

Also, even though it is not supposed to happen, it is pretty much guaranteed that a service dog handler will be refused access to a public place at some point. For me this happened at a public library, a swimming pool, and a restaurant. There are laws that say this type of refusal is illegal, but there are people who are either not aware of this, not aware of what a service dog is, or who simply don’t care.

A service dog, of course, comes with all the same responsibilities as a pet dog, such as taking care of their daily needs (including making sure they get to go use the washroom throughout the day), making sure they are healthy, keeping up with their training, and all the finances that come along with this. Since they will be out in public, it’s also important to groom them often (usually daily). When travelling, dog food, grooming tools, and toys and other dog equipment means that extra baggage is required.

Getting a service dog can be a life-changing decision for a lot of people. It does take a lot of committment and responsibility, and there are occasional bumps in the road, but for many these pale in comparison to the freedom and independence a service dog gives them.

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Jen - Thanks for discussing the topic of fake service dogs. I see it often and and I’m tempted to call these people out but I don’t want the stress related to that. All I can say is I wish I didn’t need a service dog (no diabetes!) and could just enjoy a pet.

You’re totally right about the ongoing need for training. Every bowl I feed Norm is preceded by an obedience session.

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Some years ago I was walking past a parking cop giving someone a citation for parking in a handicap-marked spot. The car had the necessary tag hanging from the rearview so I stopped to ask about it and the parking cop showed me how the person had whited-out some of the information on the card and changed it to his own name etc. She said she sees that trick all the time. Bastards! Pretty stiff fine for it here in Boston I’m told.

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My daughter begged and begged for a Diabetes Alert Dog. Taking out a second mortgage wouldn’t have covered the costs. She settled for a Dexcom and a puppy from the rescue shelter. We both love her Dexcom (named Phil). She loves her puppy (named Dottie). I love Dottie, too, but she peed on my bed while I was at work yesterday, so I’m loving Phil just a little bit more…

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Very good read @Terry4 I always wondered how diabetes alert dogs did their job, thanks for sharing the link!

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I had alert dog that could and would warn me of low BG… but she died 2 years ago she was a Lab , they do not last forever and I spent every day with her for 11 years 24/7…she was my shadow.

I’m training a new service dog now…she is 18 months old and will be working with people that are
suffering from chronic illness. She has already passed her Public Access Test and travels well in public and shows no bad behavior. I have taken her on the road from California to DC twice in the last year. She has been welcomed with open arms into many Restaurants,Hotels,and has been in all kinds of Stores, Rest Homes and Rehabilitation centers. She spends every day with me at work and wherever I go she goes. I have invested many thousands of dollars in this dog, but above all She is part of my life. I have no idea if she will ever detect a low BG we have not tried to bucket train her yet maybe in the spring. She has already done a great job with community service…she can put a smile on anybody’s face.


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I think that I have Hypoglycemia Unawareness, in other words, I don’t have classic symptoms when my blood sugar drops, so I was thinking about maybe having a diabetes service dog. However this didn’t happen in a while, so I hope I don’t need it.

Anyway, I researched a bit about this and blogged on my WordPress blog https://comeinsitdown.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/diabetes-service-dogs/

Here’s what I found out. Healthline site has some info about diabetes service dogs http://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes/dogs. Then, there is a company called Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers http://www.sdwr.org/service-dogs/diabetic-alert-dogs/ . This site claims that their dogs are trained to recognize both highs & lows; retrieve food, meds & meter; retrieve third party support, and even dial 911 on a special device. They have some videos you can watch http://www.sdwr.org/diabetic-alert-dog-videos/

Hope this helps

I looked into getting a service dog a few years ago & decided it just was not affordable for my situation. Fully trained dogs can cost upto 20K & for assisted training you would need a trainer in your area that would work with you. Not too many have that service.

There are 2 pages on Facebook that I follow that have service dogs, they provide great information for working with the dogs & how not to get scammed. Highly recommend reading through their pages. I would also recommend reading through this blog page, Black Dogs Rule - Want To Get A Service Dog?.

A Guardian Angel for Stella (Also writes the Black Dogs Rule blog)
Saving Luke - Luke and Jedi - Fighting Type 1 Diabetes Together

Good luck with your decision!

I have a similar situation in that I have a CGM and a DAD named Earl. I find each has it’s strengths. Earl has often detected lows when the CGM is way off and will alert when I am in the normal range but dropping. The cost of the DAD is prohibitive but my MD feels we are close to insurance companies considering it settled science.