Life Saving Diabetic Service Dog

What Does a Diabetes Service Dog Do?

LAB -DOG
Lifesaving Labradors: Stories from Families with Diabetic Alert Dogs

Diabetes service dogs are trained to help diabetics in the following ways:

1.Recognize symptoms and alert you to impending hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Type 1 diabetics commonly experience hypoglycemic unawareness—a condition where a person cannot feel when his or her blood sugar is rapidly falling or is dangerously low until other symptoms, such as stomach cramps, nausea, dizziness, or even seizures, begin.
tRAINING-YOUR-DIABETIC-ALERT-DOG
Training Your Diabetic Alert Dog

Diabetes service dogs are given special training to learn how to assist people with type 1 diabetes. (Some training facilities will also train dogs to work with people who have type 2, but not all. Some insurance companies do cover the cost of a service dog, but most only cover dogs for people with type 1 diabetes.) They are trained to recognize symptoms of dropping or too-low blood sugar and alert you so you can treat yourself. This prevents your blood sugar from going too low so you avoid any possible severe side effects. It may also help you regain a normal, active life.

The dog notifies its handler when it senses a drop in blood sugar.

It may be taught to sit and stare at the person, to touch the person with their nose, or to jump up on them. They also use a small soft toy, called a bringsel that hangs on the dog’s collar. The dog will reach down to hold it in their mouth to notify their handler that they have smelled the particular scent.

2.Test your breath for low blood sugar.

Dogs are trained to identify a scent obtained from a diabetic when the diabetic is undergoing a low (blood sugar generally below 70). The dog is trained to identify that particular scent from other scents that are presented to them. As the dog learns to recognize that particular scent, they are trained to react in a certain way to his handler.
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Dogs, such as Labrador Retrievers, have over 200,000,000 sensors that can smell individual elements in parts per trillion . Rapid changes in the blood sugar levels cause chemical changes in the body that are expressed through a person’s breath and skin, and include unique chemical elements that the dog can smell.

Chemical changes through breath have been long been used to measure blood alcohol levels.

Some of those devices can tell the difference between a disabled diabetic with hypoglycemia from an person suffering from alcohol intoxication.

The identifiable changes in a diabetic’s chemistry derived from his breath or sweat precedes the measurable change in blood sugar currently measured by glucose meters by 15 to 30 minutes.

The dog is trained to identify the onset of these changes and react to his handler when it is smelled.

3.Act as a brace if you have fallen and need support getting up.

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Balance assistance… Example: Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage caused by chronically high blood sugar and diabetes. It leads to numbness, loss of sensation, and sometimes pain in your feet, legs, or hands. It is the most common complication of diabetes.

People describe the early symptoms of peripheral neuropathy in many ways:

Touch sensitivity. You may experience heightened sensitivity to touch, or a tingling or numbness in your toes, feet, legs, or hands.

Muscle weakness. Chronically elevated blood sugars can also damage nerves that tell muscles how to move. This can lead to muscle weakness. You may have difficulty walking or getting up from a chair. You may have difficulty grabbing things or carrying things with your hands.

Balance problems. You may feel more unsteady than usual and uncoordinated when you walk. This occurs when the body adapts to changes brought on by muscle damage.


Your dog is trained to walk close by your side so you can rest your hand on the dog’s harness to help you keep your balance.

4.Alert others if you are unresponsive and need assistance.

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A diabetic service dog will alert a diabetic to an impending shift in their blood glucose levels, giving them plenty of time to ascertain the gravity of the problem and take the necessary precautions or treatment.

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Early Alert Canines will alert in any location, under nearly any circumstances, and even wake their diabetic partners up in the middle of the night if necessary.

This early alert to shifts in blood sugar is a huge relief to diabetics and parents of diabetics struggling to identify such changes before they result in uncomfortable symptoms and eventual debilitation, an invaluable tool in a diabetic’s efforts to achieve and obtain optimal blood sugar levels and in many cases a life-saving warning.

5.Bring objects such as juice bottles or medicine and retrieve cordless phones in case of an emergency.

Some dogs learn to pick up and bring hypoglycemic treatment (glucose tabs or juice) or a telephone so the handler can call for help.

What is the difference between a Medical Assistance Dog, a Diabetic Alert Assistance Dog and a Medical Response Dog?

Medical Assistance Dogs are service dogs that have been trained to respond to an identifiable element that is available to their senses in order to provide support to their handler, allowing the handler to address some aspect of that medical condition.

Diabetic Alert Assistance Dogs are a specific type of Medical Assistance Dog that has been trained to use their highly sensitive scent capabilities to identify the changes in blood chemistry that occur during rapid changes in blood sugar levels.

Medical Response Dogs are another type of Medical Assistance Dog that has been trained to assist persons based on recognition of symptoms pertaining to a specific medical condition.

The differences between medical alert and medical response training is the trigger that the dog has been trained to identify.

In the case of a Diabetic Alert Dog, the trigger is the change in blood chemistry, allowing the diabetic to treat hypoglycemia prior to becoming symptomatic.

A Medical Response Dog for diabetes responds to the handler as symptoms are occurring.

What Breeds Make The Best Diabetic Service Dog?

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When choosing a dog to train as a Diabetic Alert Dog you must know something about their breeding.

Certain breeds such as German Shepherds make excellent Diabetic Alert Service Dogs because they use their noses and are very loyal and very protective.

Golden Retrievers are also well suited to the job because they are hunting animals and use their noses to find their prey, and you cannot find a more loving animal.  

Other breeds that make good Diabetic Alert Dog are Poodles since they were first bred as hunters and have a tendency to sniff out whatever they find interesting.

Poodles, from the tiny Toy Poodle to the larger Standard Poodle are becoming popular as Diabetic Alert Dog. 

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 Mixed breeds can also be used as Diabetic Alert Dogs  and are no less reliable than their pure bred counterparts.

Poodle Mixes; the smaller Maltipoos, Bichonpoos and the larger, Labordoodles.  Many favor the Poodles and Poodle mixes because they are largely nonshedding and tend to induce allergies less often. 

They are often called hypoallergenic dogs  though experts claim that 100% hypoallergenic dogs are not possible.

Labs have also been known to make great Diabetic Alert dogs because they are also hunters and have a tenacity that makes them an excellent choice.

The main thing to remember when selecting a dog to train for this service is that they need to be motivated.

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Although sometimes people want a dog to be unobtrusive in the home and whenever out and about but that does not necessarily make for the best Diabetic Alert dogs.

 While the dogs are trained to perform specific alerts such as whining, yipping or barking, ultimately how the dog alerts depends on the handler’s needs, age, health and lifestyle.

A handler that lives alone may need a dog that is trained to bark, fetch his kit and press a special button on the phone.

A handler with human companions may have a different set of needs.

Additionally, the dog may choose its own method of alerting, based on the situation.

In a public place, the dog may nudge or attempt to lead its handler to a safe spot or signal by licking the handler. 

IT IS NOT IMPORTANT HOW THEY ALERT BUT THAT THEY ALERT!

Is it hard to train Diabetic Alert dogs? 

TRAINING-YOUR-OWN-SERVICE-DOG

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The most highly trained service dogs are specially breed, socialized and trained from birth to 18 months when they begin their specialized service training.

To properly train the dog to identify the scent and then work with a diabetic handler to properly alert, takes another 6 months to one year.

That includes training the dog and the diabetic to become a successful alert team and also so that the dog can be properly accessed in public places.

This training is expensive.  The direct costs in training the dog and diabetic amount to about 25,000 euros.   This value reflects all the direct costs as well as the significant value added by volunteer raisers, and the costs of training and supporting the diabetic client to develop a successful placement.

After placement, the diabetic is responsible for all costs of supporting the dog.

Once diabetics have gone through an intensive training, they understand what it takes to own a dog and have them as a constant companion.

Some individuals that have entered the program have found that working with a dog is very difficult for a variety of reasons, and have not been able to develop a successful alerting team.

Others have also found that that the dog does not fit into their lifestyle and have decided that this is type of support is not for them.

For the right person, with an understanding of the effort required and the change in their life that the dog will make, this can be a very rewarding opportunity.

These dogs can be used in many situations and with all types of people, male, female, young and old.

They are most valuable in situations where the diabetic is actively managing their blood sugar, with  insulin injections or a pump.

These types of diabetics have more lows than persons using oral medications and they have the lows frequently.

The dog is able to assist them in these situations.

A diabetic that does not have frequent low blood sugar would not need a dog for this purpose.

In the case of children, the dogs assist the parents in providing night time alert coverage. The parents must test multiple times during the night, and the dogs support the oversight beyond that testing.

In the case of a new college student, away from home, the dog provides the support that parents previously did, to make sure that the student tests when low, day and night.

Living alone is scary when you have this disease and the dog provides the support to make it manageable.

General Eligibility Criteria For A Diabetic Service Dog

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The applicant must be a non-smoker and live in a smoke-free environment.

The applicant must be insulin-dependent for a minimum of 12 months prior to submitting the  application.

The applicant must have access to a computer for submittal of weekly activity and glucose records.

The applicant will be invited for a personal interview and day long training workshop.

A Home Inspection Visit will be scheduled to assess the suitability of the prospective home environment for the dog.

Final Client selection will be made by the Applications Review Committee.

The cost of your Diabetic Alert Dog may vary based on your individual needs.

Your needs are outlined through the application process.

Financial assistance and payment plans are often available.

Benefits of diabetes service dogs

MY-BEST-FRIEND-IS-A-DIABETIC-ALERT-DOG
My Best Friend Is A Diabetic Alert Dog

A good night’s sleep: People with diabetes can rest easy, knowing that their dog is trained to alert them to a dramatic change in blood sugar levels.

Less stress: Parents can’t be with their child every minute of the day. With a diabetes service dog as a constant companion, they know their child is being monitored. A service dog also brings peace of mind to people with diabetes who live alone and worry about what might happen if they experience severe glucose swings.

A more normal life: For people with diabetes, something as simple as taking a walk by themselves can be risky if their blood sugar drops. With a diabetes service dog by their side, they can enjoy a broad range of activities worry-free.

A more active life: Studies show that dog owners engage in more physical activity than those without a four-legged friend.

Kids with dogs spent more time doing moderate to vigorous physical activity than those without dogs. And the same goes for adults—dog owners walk an average of 300 minutes per week, compared with non-dog owners who only walk an average of 168 minutes per week.

A loyal companion: These dogs are trained to be an ever-vigilant friend for their owner with diabetes.

These dogs are a diabetics best friend, lifesavers and life-changers!

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If you have any information,questions, or feedback you would like to include in this webpage.

Please email momo19@diabetessupportsite.com or leave your comments below.


12 Comments

Trevon

January 9, 2016 at 7:53 pm

Thanks for the great content! I have an Aunt who has an assistance dog for herself, and I will be sure to link her to your page! Great writing and content, keep up the great work and be sure to add some more links to the products mentioned! I would love to check out some more products!

    momo19

    January 9, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    Hi Trevon,

    Hope your aunt enjoys reading this article and finds the information helpful.

    I will definitely take your advice and add more products and links to this webpage!

Molly

January 31, 2016 at 3:19 pm

This is a great article and really proves that dogs are man’s (and woman’s) best friend! The dedication and skill that these animals show is really wonderful to read about. Are these services available everywhere across the States, because I am sure there are many people who would need them?

    momo19

    January 31, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    Hi Molly,

    Yes these dogs are amazing animals!

    Diabetic service dogs are trained across the globe.They are in countries such as Spain,Italy,Greece,Canada,Australia, UK and USA etc.

Andrea

January 31, 2016 at 3:30 pm

Absolutely outstanding post!!

I didn’t know such an amazing training was on the run.

I am not surprised of the dogs’ abilities, with the right training and a good coach the possibilities are infinite.

What an amazing information, what great support for many families.

I hope one day the cost could drop a little but, is the state willing to contribute at least a bit of the training bill?

I am sharing this , good stuff.

thanks!!

    momo19

    January 31, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Hi Andrea,

    So happy you enjoyed reading this post.

    Some countries have charitable organisations that help pay for the dogs and some diabetics have fundraisers as these dogs are usually not covered by health insurance.

    Unfortunately in most countries the state is unwilling to contribute so unless you are well off most diabetics rely on the goodwill of others to help pay for these life saving animals.

    Thanks for sharing this post really appreciate it!

Lou

February 22, 2016 at 5:25 am

What an interesting article. I had no idea that dogs could sense a falling blood glucose level on the breath and alert the owner. I have a sister who is deaf and she has a hearing dog, so I am well aware of the benefits of assistance animals. Do you know if they are training diabetic dogs in the UK?

    momo19

    February 22, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    Hi Lou,

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment on this article.

    Yes they do train diabetic alert dogs in the UK.

    Specialist organisations, such as the UK charity Medical Detection Dogs, train dogs to recognise signs of low blood sugar and take action to prevent a medical emergency.

    A hypo alert dog may be suitable for someone that has impaired hypo awareness, meaning they have significant difficulty in recognising when their blood glucose is dropping to potentially dangerous levels.

    If the lack of hypo awareness is having a pronounced, negative effect on that persons quality of life, they may be eligible for a hypo alert dog.

    Loss of hypo awareness is more likely to develop in people dependent on insulin who have frequent episodes of hypoglycemia.

    In the UK there are also coaches available who will train you to train your own diabetic alert dog at your home.

Christina

March 8, 2016 at 3:35 pm

What if you have already have a dog can it be trained as a puppy?

    Maureen

    March 8, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Hi Christina,

    You can train your own dog to become a diabetic service dog by getting involved with a charity that trains diabetes alert dogs, or you can get your dog trained by a professional.

    However it’s not easy to simply teach your own dog how to be a “Diabetes Alert Dog.”
    Rita Martinez published the most comprehensive guide for training your dog to be your best friend in diabetes management, titled Training Your Diabetic Alert Dog.(refer to the above post for book)

    This book helps diabetics train their own dog with the help of a professional trainer, and explains how to:
    1. Select a great dog for alert work
    2. Find and work with a qualified trainer
    3. Understand how dogs detect changes in diabetic blood sugar levels
    4. Train alerts and low/high blood sugar signals
    5. Teach your dog to alert at night and in the car
    6. Train other helpful skills such as Go for Help, trailing the diabetic, and retrieving useful items (glucometer, juice box, etc.)

    I highly recommend you check this book out,it is a very helpful resource for training a diabetic alert dog.

Ashley

March 19, 2016 at 2:49 pm

Wow, I’ve just read such an amazing post! I had no idea there were dogs especially trained for helping people suffering from diabetes. i work in the medical field, so this information will be extremely useful to me.
I know there are dogs for people who don’t see but I never thought about diabetes, I mean this is so cool. It’s incredible how could a dog go bring you the phone or something sweet in case any emergency happens, or how it can recognize a drop of sugar.
Do you know if you can do this training course without hiring a specialist? I mean, for me it would be pretty hard to train my dog just by myself….

    momo19

    March 20, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Hi Ashley,

    So happy you enjoyed reading this post!

    The website servicedogacademy.com provides assistance in training diabetic alert dogs.

    This assistance dog and service dog training program allows you to get a task trained service dog within as little as six months. .

    This program can help you train dogs for diabetic alert, seizure alert and response, migraine alert and narcolepsy alert and response.

    You may be able to get members of your family to help you train the dog but care must be taken that the dog does not attach himself to them and not to you alone.

    Call an organization that trains service dogs to ask for help if they’re not able to provide you with a dog or training. They might be able to make suggestions over the phone or by email if you discover problems during your training.

    The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners(iaadp.org) publishes a wealth of information on training service dogs, including behaviors and tasks to train that might help with a range of disabilities, legal information , finding assistance dog organizations, and much more.

    Hope this information helps you Ashley and best of luck in training your dog!

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