What Does a Diabetes Service Dog Do?
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
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.
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.
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.
4.Alert others if you are unresponsive and need assistance.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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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