Retrievers as service dogs – The diabetic alert dog  

| April 15, 2013 | 0 Comments
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a•lert \ə-ˈlərt\ – noun. A trained response to a specific phenomenon.

Working retrievers find themselves far from the duck blind these days. They are trained to alert on everything from accelerants, drugs, bombs, bed bugs, cancer, and cadavers, to the fluctuating blood sugar of diabetics.

It’s true. Dogs can recognize fluctuations in the blood sugar levels. But it is a relatively new concept. The first scientific mention was in the December 2000 issue of the British Medical Journal. The article was called “Non-invasive detection of hypoglycemia using a novel, fully biocompatible and patient friendly alarm system”. Included are three case studies about the spontaneous response of family dogs to changing blood sugar levels in a family member.

Fast forward 13 years and you have a growing population of Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs). Many breeds may be capable of doing this job but retrievers, especially Labradors, are a favorite. Why?

A Lab is a nose with a dog attached. That over-the-top sense of smell is a requirement for the Diabetic Alert Dog, who learns to recognize and alert on the smell of blood sugar levels in the diabetic’s body. They learn what “normal” smells like in their diabetic and are rewarded for recognizing anything outside that normal range. Simple recognition of “bad” blood sugar levels (lows and highs) becomes a trained alert, often a paw or a nose nudge. The dogs have proven over and over that those lows and high smell different, since they can be trained to two different alerts, one for high, one for low.

To that great nose, add the Lab’s work ethic, a strong desire to please, intelligence, problem-solving ability, and rock solid temperament and you have the perfect dog for the job. With those floppy ears, smiling faces, and perpetually wagging tails … what’s not to love? Especially when so many DADs are trained to work with diabetic children, like Reagan.

Reagan and his Diabetic Alert Dog, "Doc"

Reagan and his Diabetic Alert Dog, “Doc”

Reagan (above) was three years old the day the family picked up his puppy and took her home for training. Reagan named his black Lab “Doc”. Two years later, Doc is a fully trained Diabetic Alert Dog, on the job 24/7 protecting her boy. Flexibility is a trait that sets the retriever apart.

A retriever is the ultimate multi-tasker. For example, a retriever can be a service dog, run the agility course, be a wicked good Frisbee dog, and the family pet. That same retriever will curl up next to his person and dream happy dog dreams, waking and ready to work at a moment’s notice. I have known retrievers who, just home from surgery and woozy from the anesthesia, alerted on their diabetics. There’s that work ethic, along with loyalty to person and job.
Retrievers adapt.

Where a retriever lives is far less important than HOW he lives. Given one or more jobs, a retriever can thrive in the city, the suburbs or the country. Doc lives in rural America with lots of time spent outdoors, hanging out with her boy. Lily (below) lives in the suburbs of sunny southern California and is a total beach dog. Although still a puppy, she is learning her job as a Diabetic Alert Dog, building a foundation of solid obedience and public access skills, and making all the other dogs jealous when she goes kayaking.

Lily a Diabetic Alert Dog in training, kayaking with Kim

Lily a Diabetic Alert Dog in training, kayaking with Kim

Then there is Pepper, going on three years old. She is a black Lab who lives in Virginia with her T1D, Cassidy. This video celebrated the day in 2012 that Cassidy (13 at the time) and Pepper passed their public access test. These days the girls are loving life on the family’s horse farm, visiting Nashville when Cassidy records her songs, and rocking the local music scene – always together.

Whether the job requires finding ducks, people, cocaine, or fluctuating blood sugar levels in a diabetic, retrievers are always there, willing to give their all for the people they love.

Dee Bogetti is a service dog trainer, consultant, a published author, and writer living with five Labrador retrievers in central Virginia. Subscribe to her e-newsletter, Brown Dog Tales, online or text the phrase BROWNDOG to 22828.

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Category : Dogs With Jobs

About the Author ()

Growing up, Dee Bogetti's best friends were her father's hunting dogs. In her 50s, divorced and making a living as a freelance graphic designer, she knew there was something missing from her life. September 11, 2001, changed everything. Watching the search and rescue dogs working tirelessly day after day in NYC and at the Pentagon, a spark was ignited. She realized she wanted to work with dogs … dogs who could help people. That realization led her to the worlds of wilderness search and rescue, therapy dogs, and finally service dogs. Her belief that dog trainers should have experience as dog handlers is backed up by her own experience over the years with her gun dog Maggie, SAR dog Cody, and therapy dog Murphy. Dee has taught hundreds of obedience classes, provided dog lovers with in-home dog training and behavior modification, and worked with families to train their own service dogs. When not writing, she continues to train people and their dogs. She is the author of Training your puppy to be a diabetic alert dog and Puppies chew shoes, don’t they? She lives in Virginia with five Labrador retrievers.

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