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Special Considerations for Training a Diabetic Alert (alert 1.4)

"I'm wanting to train my dog as a diabetic alert dog being that I'm insulin dependent. My question to you is what training tools do you use to teach the dog how to detect low blood sugar & high blood sugar (sensing)? I've asked numerous trainers on youtube this question, but no one has responded. My dog already does the targeting exercise with flying colors thanks to you and your video. Can you help me? TY :)"
Most people use a Tshirt or other clothing that has sweat on it from when they had a low blood sugar reading as the training object and store it in a sealed plastic bag like a ziplock when not using it.

Others breathe on a pad when their blood levels are low or high and seal it in a ziplock type bag or small vial.

Still others prefer to soak a small cotton pad in their saliva as they are having a low. These probably store the best for training purposes and are more accurate for the dogs than using sweat.

If you can get a blood sample, that works well, especially if you can test and know how high or low it is. Blood samples, however, break down quickly so are not as accurate. 

Dogs can be trained to alert to any sugar level you choose. You don't want the sample reading too low when the dog alerts, as you want to be alert enough to be able to still help yourself. Most people use a reading of 70-80 to train their dog asthey are still functioning and able to help themselves. 

In our training videos, replace the sound with the scent. Let the dog smell a small sample of the blood ( in a vial or other quick opening and sealing container) before cuing the alert behavior during training. Most dogs catch on to this quickly since they are so scent-oriented.

Please refer to our 4 blog postings (pt1, pt2, pt3, pt4) and embedded videos on training a one and two way alert.

Good luck!

How to Train a One Way Diabetic Alert

Ideally start by training with the actual diabetic person or you will have to retrain the dog to alert to the other person later.

1. Train and practice the alert behavior separately.

For example: use targeting to teach a nose touch on your leg. Shape it into a hard nose nudge just above your knee. An easy position to start training this behavior is with you in a sit. Then when your dog is successful, change your position to a stand, squat, sit on the floor, face the dog, turn to your side, turn your back etc until your dog can nose nudge you in any position. Add distance.

2. Present the smell of the sweat or blood sample. Click and treat your dog for any interest in the smell (sniff, lick etc). Do not c/t a bark or other noise! Place the smell on your lap, on the ground and other places and see if the dog seeks it out to sniff. When your dog is consistently indicating that she smelled the smell, go to next step.

3. Present the smell and immediately cue nose nudge. (sniff, cue 'touch', dog nose touches, click as nose makes contact, then reward)

4. When your dog is offering nose nudges consistently, fade the cue (touch). Present the smell alternating using the touch cue and not and see if you get the behavior. After several repetitions, the smell alone will trigger the alerting behavior (nose nudge). If not, keep practicing with the cue. Now the smell has become the cue to do the alert behavior. Practice this until your dog nose touches after sound 8/10 times before moving on.

5. Change positions from sitting to standing to facing towards dog and away. Practice crouching, sitting on the couch, sitting at the table, laying down on your bed and other places you might normally be when a low or high blood sugar might occur. When your dog is successful at this level, try doing other behaviors such as pretending to do the dishes, talk on the phone, watch TV etc. while presenting the smell.

6. Next add distance in one foot intervals. You can throw a treat away from you to get the dog away from you. Present the smell beside you.

7. Change positions where the dog is in relation to you (the source of the smell). For example, throw a treat down a hallway, around a corner etc. Then present the smell.

8. Adding distractions such as one, two and more people in the room, TV or radio on, a person standing between you and the dog, person engaging you in conversation etc.

9. Ask a helper to be nearby as a distraction when you present the smell on your body. Decrease distance at first, increase it as your dog is successful (to say where the dog is laying on her dogbed and alerts you from there).

Your dog may want to go to them to alert first. Ask your helper(s) to ignore the dog by avoiding eye contact, not responding to the alert, not petting or otherwise distracting the dog etc. You then give your alert cue "touch" and your dog will come to you to alert. C/t.

You will need to practice this several times before the dog understands that it is only when she alerts you that she gets rewarded. Adding other helpers in the room and training the same way with all of them (prepare them as to what you want them to do if they dog alerts to them). With many repetitions, your dog will learn to search only you out in a crowd.

10. Use a timer to cue you to present the smell on you at unpredictable times during the day. Ideally, try not to let your dog see you set the alarm or she will anticipate that you are doing it. For example have it set to go off when she is relaxing next to you, or on her bed, when she is playing quietly with a toy, when she is sleeping lightly, when she is sleeping soundly. Ideally, she should jump up from a sound sleep and run to you to give the alert. If she is sound asleep, she may hesitate and she may be disoriented, but give her up to to 6 seconds the first few times (count one one thousand, two one thousand in your head) to assess what is going on and to start moving towards you before helping her by cueing the 'touch' cue. Do not say the cue if she starts moving towards you before that time. As she gets more practice, allow her less time decreasing in one second intervals (but always allowing at least 3 seconds to orient on her own).

11. Generalize the behavior by training at different locations, starting from the beginning at each location.