They can lower your anxiety levels, sniff bombs, aid the visually impaired, and now detect when your blood sugar is dipping dangerously low. These days it appears there’s almost nothing dogs can’t do. Employing dogs in the medical field is a lucrative and surprisingly accurate means of managing your health, especially if you live with type I or II diabetes. Read on for more on the amazing, sugar-sniffing world of diabetic assistance dogs.
Young pups who have displayed a predisposed aptitude for detecting specific smells are then put through a rigorous training program. At Can Do Canines, the puppy portion (basic obedience and early assistance dog skills) typically takes place until 18 months of age or so, at which point more program specific training takes place back at the facility.
The National Institute for Diabetic Alert Dogs typically places dogs with homes at about one or two years of age.
The Wire writes that trainers use “the scent of human sweat with different blood sugar levels to train the dogs.” Dogs4Diabetics describe their astute four-legged workforce as 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.” An inherent desire to please—and love of reward treats—helps a lot in the training process. So long answer short: a lot of sniffing, trial and error, and treat giving occurs in training.
According to Healthline, some of the things these medical assistant dogs can do include the following. Trés impressive, Nurse Dog!
Must-Have Skills for Diabetes Service Dogs
- Detecting signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and alerting you to take action.
- Sniffing your breath for low blood sugar.
- Helping you get back on your feet if you’ve fallen.
- Notifying anyone nearby if you’ve slipped into diabetic shock.
- Retrieving sugary sustenance and/or insulin in case of emergency.
- Retrieving a wireless phone in the event you need to call for help.
Behaviors that signify a drop in blood sugar might include anything from staring at their owner persistently, nudging with their nose or full on jumping. Different strokes for different folks!
Breanne Harris was a UC Davis student in 2006 living with type I diabetes and her loyal sidekick Destiny. Even in her sleep, this on-call dog would insistently nudge Harris’s hand the moment she detected a significant drop in glucose levels. On their first day together, Destiny saved Harris from diabetic shock while riding the bus to work.
Harris told USA Today that her dog’s 20-minute warnings make all the difference. “Diabetics can do everything right and still these highs and lows just happen sometimes,” she explains. This makes having a medical assistance dog all the more useful, because over time the peaks and valleys in blood sugar can cause long lasting organ damage. For a lot of people, the peace of mind afforded by a living, breathing blood tester can mean the world.
Some likeminded programs include Dogs4Diabetics, National Institute for Diabetic Alert Dogs and Can Do Canine. USA Today cites that these specially trained dogs are valued at upwards of $30,000, but programs like Dogs4Diabetics place people with dogs for a very nominal fee.
It’s also worth noting that prospective owners must also take several weeks of classes to prepare for life together. Check out the links above for more information.