Training Your Puppy to be a Diabetic Alert Dog

Training Your Puppy to be a Diabetic Alert Dog. My training manual is in
workbook format with links to online resources, training videos, recommended
products,how to use collect and use scent samples, forms to track
scent training,training checklists, and much more. 122 pages.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

They Gathered in Mississippi

Heat, humidity, and hope found their way to Oxford, MS last weekend. Mike Stewart hosted a Diabetic Alert Dog Workshop at his world-renown Wildrose Kennels. California Trainer Rita Martinez led two days of obedience and scent work. Diabetics and their families gathered to learn and share information. From the very young to the not quite so young, the common denominator was Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetics live with the knowledge that some night in the future they could drop into a diabetic coma, no one would know, and they could die alone in their sleep. Can a dog prevent this from happening? Can a dog warn a diabetic when his or her blood sugar is dropping into the danger zone or going too high?

The simple answer is yes. The more complex answer is ... this service dog specialty is in its infancy. As a result, properly trained diabetic alert service dogs are rare ... good trainers even more so. And there is no training protocol. The good news is that a plan is in motion to change all that. There are a committed few who will, before year's end, announce the formation of a Foundation whose mission it will be to create the international standard for diabetic alert dogs and train dogs to those standards.

Mike Stewart will conduct another diabetic alert dog workshop at Wildrose in late 2009 or early 2010. Watch this space for information as it becomes available.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Canine Good Citizen Certification (CGC)

Note: The most basic certification - the CGC - should be required for ALL dogs. Can you and your dog pass it? If not, enlist the help of a positive dog trainer.

The American Kennel Club's CGC is a certification program that is designed to reward dogs who have good manners at home and in the community. The Canine Good Citizen Program is a two-part program that stresses responsible pet ownership for owners and basic good manners for dogs. All dogs who pass the 10-step CGC test receive a certificate from the American Kennel Club.

After signing the Responsible Dog Owners Pledge, owners and their dogs are ready to take the CGC Test. Items on the Canine Good Citizen Test include:

Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger
This test demonstrates that the dog will allow a friendly stranger to approach it and speak to the handler in a natural, everyday situation. The evaluator walks up to the dog and handler and greets the handler in a friendly manner, ignoring the dog. The evaluator and handler shake hands and exchange pleasantries. The dog must show no sign of resentment or shyness, and must not break position or try to go to the evaluator.

Test 2: Sitting politely for petting
This test demonstrates that the dog will allow a friendly stranger to touch it while it is out with its handler. With the dog sitting at the handler's side, to begin the exercise, the evaluator pets the dog on the head and body. The handler may talk to his or her dog throughout the exercise. The dog may stand in place as it is petted. The dog must not show shyness or resentment.

Test 3: Appearance and grooming
This practical test demonstrates that the dog will welcome being groomed and examined and will permit someone, such as a veterinarian, groomer or friend of the owner, to do so. It also demonstrates the owner's care, concern and sense of responsibility. The evaluator inspects the dog to determine if it is clean and groomed. The dog must appear to be in healthy condition (i.e., proper weight, clean, healthy and alert). The handler should supply the comb or brush commonly used on the dog. The evaluator then softly combs or brushes the dog, and in a natural manner, lightly examines the ears and gently picks up each front foot. It is not necessary for the dog to hold a specific position during the examination, and the handler may talk to the dog, praise it and give encouragement throughout.

Test 4: Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead)
This test demonstrates that the handler is in control of the dog. The dog may be on either side of the handler. The dog's position should leave no doubt that the dog is attentive to the handler and is responding to the handler's movements and changes of direction. The dog need not be perfectly aligned with the handler and need not sit when the handler stops. The evaluator may use a pre-plotted course or may direct the handler/dog team by issuing instructions or commands. In either case, there should be a right turn, left turn, and an about turn with at least one stop in between and another at the end. The handler may talk to the dog along the way, praise the dog, or give commands in a normal tone of voice. The handler may sit the dog at the halts if desired.

Test 5: Walking through a crowd
This test demonstrates that the dog can move about politely in pedestrian traffic and is under control in public places. The dog and handler walk around and pass close to several people (at least three). The dog may show some interest in the strangers but should continue to walk with the handler, without evidence of over-exuberance, shyness or resentment. The handler may talk to the dog and encourage or praise the dog throughout the test. The dog should not jump on people in the crowd or strain on the leash.

Test 6: Sit and down on command and Staying in place
This test demonstrates that the dog has training, will respond to the handler's commands to sit and down and will remain in the place commanded by the handler (sit or down position, whichever the handler prefers). The dog must do sit AND down on command, then the owner chooses the position for leaving the dog in the stay. Prior to this test, the dog's leash is replaced with a line 20 feet long. The handler may take a reasonable amount of time and use more than one command to get the dog to sit and then down. The evaluator must determine if the dog has responded to the handler's commands. The handler may not force the dog into position but may touch the dog to offer gentle guidance. When instructed by the evaluator, the handler tells the dog to stay and walks forward the length of the line, turns and returns to the dog at a natural pace. The dog must remain in the place in which it was left (it may change position) until the evaluator instructs the handler to release the dog. The dog may be released from the front or the side.

Test 7: Coming when called
This test demonstrates that the dog will come when called by the handler. The handler will walk 10 feet from the dog, turn to face the dog, and call the dog. The handler may use encouragement to get the dog to come. Handlers may choose to tell dogs to "stay" or "wait" or they may simply walk away, giving no instructions to the dog.

Test 8: Reaction to another dog
This test demonstrates that the dog can behave politely around other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries, and continue on for about 10 feet. The dogs should show no more than casual interest in each other. Neither dog should go to the other dog or its handler.

Test 9: Reaction to distraction
This test demonstrates that the dog is confident at all times when faced with common distracting situations. The evaluator will select and present two distractions. Examples of distractions include dropping a chair, rolling a crate dolly past the dog, having a jogger run in front of the dog, or dropping a crutch or cane. The dog may express natural interest and curiosity and/or may appear slightly startled but should not panic, try to run away, show aggressiveness, or bark. The handler may talk to the dog and encourage or praise it throughout the exercise.

Test 10: Supervised separation
This test demonstrates that a dog can be left with a trusted person, if necessary, and will maintain training and good manners. Evaluators are encouraged to say something like, "Would you like me to watch your dog?" and then take hold of the dog's leash. The owner will go out of sight for three minutes. The dog does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness. Evaluators may talk to the dog but should not engage in excessive talking, petting, or management attempts (e.g, "there, there, it's alright").

All tests must be performed on leash. Dogs should wear well-fitting buckle or slip collars made of leather, fabric, or chain. Special training collars such as pinch collars, head halters, etc. are not permitted in the CGC test. We recognize that special training collars may be very useful tools for beginning dog trainers, however, we feel that dogs are ready to take the CGC test at the point at which they are transitioned to regular collars. The evaluator supplies a 20-foot lead for the test. The owner/handler should bring the dog's brush or comb to the test.

Owners/handlers may use praise and encouragement throughout the test. The owner may pet the dog between exercises. Food and treats are not permitted during testing, nor is the use of toys, squeaky toys, etc. to get the dog to do something. We recognize that food and toys may provide valuable reinforcement or encouragement during the training process but these items should not be used during the test.

Failures – Dismissals
Any dog that eliminates during testing must be marked failed. The only exception to this rule is that elimination is allowable in test Item 10, but only when test Item 10 is held outdoors. Any dog that growls, snaps, bites, attacks, or attempts to attack a person or another dog is not a good citizen and must be dismissed from the test.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sometimes it's all about the gear

Following are some of my favorites - things I recommend to students and use with my own dogs.

First, there is the standard buckle collar. The collar below is rolled leather, the kind Murphy, my Lab, wears. This collar is for your dog's tags: rabies, I.D., local registration (as required), etc. This collar stays on your dog at all times, except when he is crated or kenneled. All collars should be removed when crating because dog's have been known to choke to death - somehow getting their collars entangled in the metal parts of a crate or kennel.
One of the best solutions for young dogs and dogs who pull is a front-connecting body harness. The best are the Halti and the Sensation. The key to success with both of these harnesses is that the leash is attached to a ring on the chest. Why is that important? Because it's the dog's center of gravity. Uses? These harnesses are great for small people with big dogs, dogs with neck injuries, and dogs for whom nothing else works. A body harness does not replace proper dog training. If you do not have a positive dog trainer in your life, contact me.

A Martingale collar is terrific if you have a well-behaved dog and simply need a collar that is safe. The Martingale goes on over the dog's head. When adjusted properly your dog cannot slip out of it. I consider this collar insurance. I've seen way too many dogs get scared or excited and back out of a buckle collar, run away and then not come when called. This collar goes on your dog only when the leash does. Left on all the time, your dog can conceivably get his jaw caught in it's loop (not an issue when attached to a leash, if it's the right size).I recommend a four-foot leash for daily use. Leather is my preference since a good leather leash will last for years and is easy on the hands (especially with big pully dogs). If you need a double-ended leash (for the Halti harness) try the leather version offered at Southeastern Guide Dogs (below).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hot Weather Precautions

It's summer and time for you and your dog to enjoy the great outdoors together. Here are some great tips to keep your canine partner healthy and safe.
  • If you are tempted to leave your dog in the car this summer, remember that during warm weather the inside of your car can reach 120° in a matter of minutes, even if you're parked in the shade. Dogs don't perspire. They dispel heat by panting and through the pads of their feet. Dogs left in hot cars even briefly can suffer from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, brain damage, and can even die. Don't think that just because you'll be gone "just a minute" that your dog will be safe. If you happen to see a dog (or cat) in a car alone during the hot summer months, alert the management of the store near where the car is parked. If the owner does not return promptly, call local animal control or the police department immediately.
  • Summer is time for yard work. Remember that plant food, fertilizer, and insecticides can be fatal if your dog ingests them. In addition, many plants are toxic to animals.
  • Make sure your dog is always wearing a collar and identification tag. If you are separated from your dog, an ID tag may very well be his or her ticket home. Having your dog microchipped by your vet is another good idea. Remember that if you move you should notify the company that registered the microchip of your new contact information.
  • Check with your veterinarian to see if your dogs (and cats) should be taking heartworm preventative. Heartworm disease, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, can be fatal in both dogs and cats.
  • Another summertime threat is fleas and ticks. Use only flea and tick treatments recommended by your veterinarian. Some over-the-counter flea and tick products can be toxic, even when used according to instructions.
  • Pets and pools can be disastrous. Prevent free access to pools and always supervise a dog in a pool.
  • Provide plenty of water and shade for your dogs while they're enjoying the great outdoors so they can stay cool.
  • Dogs can get sunburned and yours may require sunscreen on his or her nose and ear tips. Pets with light colored noses or light-colored fur on their ears are particularly vulnerable to sunburn and skin cancer.
  • In summer heat your dog can suffer from heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These conditions are very serious and can result in death. The signs of heat stress can include heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid pulse, unsteadiness, a staggering gait, vomiting, and a deep red or purple tongue. If your dog becomes overheated, immediately lower his body temperature. Move him into the shade and apply cool (not cold) water over his body to gradually lower his core body temperature. Apply cold towels or ice packs to your pet's head, neck, and chest only. Let your pet drink small amounts of water or lick ice cubes. Most important, get him to a veterinarian immediately.

And, finally, take the Red Cross pet first aid class.

Summer Wear

Here's a possible alternative to a vest or cape during the hot summer months. A cooling vest (under the belly) and a service dog bandanna.

Alerting in Hot Weather

Does anyone else's dog seem to have a harder time alerting when they are hot? Just curious. Bailey is on a no alert run right now, and she has been outside a lot more, with summer activities.

One Answer:
Again, referencing wilderness SAR, when dogs are worked off leash and are typically moving quickly in a large area - I always tried to be aware of how much my dog was panting. If I allowed her to get overheated the panting seemed to, to some degree, inhibit her most excellent nose. Another tip - from my vet: when your dog gets her Bordetella, ask for the injectable version rather than the intra-nasal. I don't know if the intra-nasal would interfere with my dog's ability to air scent but I never wanted to chance it. I also read that the intra-nasal version can cause sneezing, mild cough and even a fever 1 to 2 days following vaccination.

Alerting to Other Diabetics | Air Scent SAR

There is a correlation between DADs alerting to other diabetics and air scent search and rescue dogs alerting on the "wrong" person. Our dogs worked off leash, oftentimes in large wilderness areas. Note: the dogs were trained to find any human scent, on cue, off leash ... then return to the handler, alert, and take the handler to the found person. Both in training and on real searches it was not uncommon for a dog to "find" another searcher in the process of finding the victim. In all cases, when the dog found that spare person, he was given an "atta boy" and a "let's find another one". He was, however, not given his big reward (the thing each dog works for - a tug toy, a tennis ball for some of the retrievers, etc.) reserved for real finds. As with DADs, we never punished or discouraged finding the "wrong" person (scent) but acknowledged it and moved on. Knowing that your low/high scent is not unique will help you respond properly to your DAD alerting on the "wrong" person.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Alerting to Other Diabetics

I often get asked if lucy will alert to other diabetics and the answer is Yes. The high/low smell is the same(or very close) for everyone. Lucy has alerted to another girl with hypoglycemia and I should find out in the next week if she correctly diagnosed my boyfriends sister. My younger sister who is living with me at home for the summer is also a type 1 diabetic and lucy often alerts to her as well. When Lucy alerts to my sister lauren, I encourage it however, I never encourage/reward her for alerting to anyone else. There are far to many type 2 diabetics in the world and I don't want lucy alerting to 15 people everytime we walk through walmart; it would be stressful for me and for her. I should also mention that while lucy does alert for my younger sister she has not dropped off in alerting me and she does not alert to lauren as often or as close to going-out-of-range bloodsugars as she does for me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cooling Vests

If you live or travel to locations where the weather gets really hot, consider a cooling vest for your dog. They also have cooling pads for crates.

Doggy Diaper Bag

Bringing a puppy out in public is a lot like bringing a new born baby out in public..... you need a diaper bag!

When you bring your puppy in public you should always have:
  • Poopy Bags - Always clean up after your puppy!
  • Wet Wipes - For just in case your puppy makes a mess!
  • Dog Treats - I used to bring a can of cheese wiz with me every where i went. But you know your puppy best and you know which treats they like the best.
  • Bone - You just need something that they can chew on and that will occupy puppy's time. Mr Darcy likes Nyla bones...... but Mr Darcy likes anything you put in front of him :)
  • Stuffed Kong - I believe Mrs Dee posted about how to stuff the kong.
  • Clicker - I keep a clicker on my key chain at all times.
  • Law Cards - Law cards are SO important, especially with a little pup because people tend to not take you seriously when you bring a cute, little puppy into a store.
  • Portable Water Bowl - Puppy's get thirsty fast! We have a portable water bowl from Outward Hound. It folds up and snaps together and fits right in Mr Darcy's vest.
  • A Mat (depending on where you are) - I always bring a mat with me to church. There is tile floor and Mr Darcy gets cold if I don't bring one.
  • Don't Forget your medical supplies!!! I have my meter, low snacks, a insulin pen, and glucagon in Mr Darcy's vest.

Now that Mr Darcy is older I do not have to bring all of these things with me everywhere I go. I have poopy bags hanging off of his vest, a water bowl strapped on top of his vest, and law cards clipped on to his vest. At this point, that is all Mr. Darcy needs in public. But when he was a puppy I had ALL of these things with me CONSTANTLY!

Hope this helps,

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dogs & Fireworks

Note: This is a post that I share every year with the general public. For service dog handlers it is a reminder. Loud noises can be scary to any dog. Like everything else, your dog should be properly introduced to loud noises. I always start mine at a sporting clays range (lots of shotgun shooting on a weekend) when they are fairly young. No matter how old your dog, remember to always be aware of his body language. You need to know what fear looks like so you can properly address it when it happens.

Every year on the 4th of July America's skies are bright with fireworks, sparklers and Roman candles as we celebrate Independence Day. Bangs, explosions and bright lights are accompanied by screams, sirens and howling dogs throughout the country. Dogs tend not to like fireworks. Fact: Every year dogs along with many other animals experience fear and confusion, sometimes alone when their owners are away enjoying an organized event. It is not unusual for dogs to run away from home after being frightened by fireworks. Another problem for dogs is the fact that fireworks seem to be going off for a few days leading up to July 4th as well, so there is no way of knowing exactly when your dog might be subjected to a loud bang. Below are some suggestions to help ensure that your pets can get through the fireworks unscathed.
  • Do NOT take your dog to a fireworks display.
  • It is a good idea to bring outdoor pets inside during the fireworks. Always remember how acute a dog's sense of hearing is. A loud bang to us can feel like a volcano erupting to a dog.
  • It may be hard, but try and stay with your dog during the fireworks. Your presence will help to calm your dog and while the noise may still frighten him, he will feel better and recover faster with you there. Do not inadvertently encourage your dog's fear by petting, cooing, or using a praise voice. Instead, use a neutral tone. Engage the dog in his favorite game, like fetch or hide and seek.
  • Always make sure your dog has his own special area where he can go to feel safe. Be it a crate or a place under the stairs, dogs love to have a den at their disposal.
  • Keep the windows and curtains closed during fireworks displays, as this will lessen the effect of the noise and bright flashes.
  • Normal household noises like TV or music can help to distract from the loud noises coming from outside.
  • Make sure your pet has identification on him. Dogs do run away from home because of fireworks. Even dogs that have previously shown no fear of fireworks can occasionally take flight at the loud noises and flashes in the sky.
Keep your dog safe and sound and wait until July 5 to venture outside in the evening.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


These are the best interactive toys ever. And most dogs can't destroy them. Get the Kong shaped like a snowman. In a container with a lid, pour a cup or more of your dog's dry food. Cover it with water. Put the lid on and put it into the refrigerator. Wait til the food has absorbed the water (you now have moist food). In the bottom of the Kong (where the little hole is), drop something really smelly and tasty like dried liver treats. Now stuff the Kong tight with the moist food. You can layer it with a few green beans, pieces of apple, anything to make it interesting. Remember, your dog will be able to smell everything in there. Now cover the big hole with peanut butter or cream cheese and ... here's the most important part ... freeze the Kong. This is awesome for teething pups - the frozen Kong feels great on their teeth and gums.

Stuffed Kongs are also great for when company comes. They can keep Fido busy while you're visiting. And, they can help ease the anxiety of your leaving the house. Going out for the day? The very last thing you do is give Fido that yummy smelling frozen Kong.

The red Kongs are for average chewers (fine for my Labs) and the black ones are for heavy chewers. If your dog does destroy one, take it back to the store where you bought it. Many will refund your money or give a store credit.

Water for your traveling dog

Here's my favorite way to carry water for Murphy - in the Water Rover. I like it because whatever water he doesn't drink drains back into the bottle.

Another Interactive Toy

The "tricky treats ball" is Mr. Murphy's favorite. Same concept. Every time I put it in my bag to take it to a demo he looks at me, like, excuse me? You're bringing that back, right? I like the texture of this rather than some that are hard plastic.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

a great toy!!

Once upon a time, Lucy shared a cool toy with Mr Darcy and now Mr Darcy has kindly shared the toy with Lilly. It is the grandest toy:
the Buster Cube :

It is a great way to provide mental stimulation for a dog and seems like a super way to reinforce scent work. (and a good way to let an energectic pup burn up some extra energy!)

a small amount of food is place in the 'core' of the cube. there is a small opening thru which the dog can 'sniff' the kibbles and thru which the food will come out, given proper rotations of the cube. so, the dog is 'rewarded' for playing. Lilly rolls the cube all over the yard - using her nose and her paws - and as small kibbles fall out, she stops to sniff for them in the grass.

THANKS, LUCY!!!!! And, Stacy, you might as well go ahead and get one of these if Dee likes it, 'cos Lilly LOVES it!!

click here to read more: BUSTER CUBE

To Pet or Not To Pet

Note: This started as an email conversation but it's such a good one, I've transferred the thread here to share it with others. Dee, the Dog Trainer

Rachel, a diabetic's Mom:
i wanted to bring up this topic as reb prepares to begin working with lilly. we have had plenty people petting lilly in public at this point - so that she can meet strangers, etc. however, i know that both abi and val find it a HUGE distraction when people pet mr d or lucy when they are in public. ??is a service dog to be petted or not?? for mr darcy, he LOVES people and loves the attention, but it distracts him. but, it is so hard to tell 'some people' not to pet . . some people who are good friends, etc. think that 'do not pet' refers to everyone except them. it would be good for Reb and Dee to hear from y'all (valerie, abi and amy). Amy, you *do* allow Duke to be petted while in vest, right?

I just had this conversation with the Boyds over the weekend. My opinion is that it is a decision that should be made case by case. Reb and his family are extremely social and not allowing anyone to pet Lilly simply would not work for them. Whichever way a dog team goes on this one, there may well be exceptions. I will work with Reb to identify occasions when it might be better not to allow petting. I believe that training a service dog should be collaborative among all parties: trainer(s), dog handler, and family members (when appropriate). I think that dictating one set of hard and fast rules is counter-productive. I consider a big part of my job to be creating an individualized training program that suits an individual's lifestyle.

Abi, a diabetic & Mr. Darcy, her diabetic alert dog:
I DO let people pet Mr Darcy! It doesn't seem to distract Mr Darcy too much at all. However there are occasions when i ask people NOT to pet him. When Darcy is already in a distracting place, and i am already working with him to re gain his focus, then i do not let people pet him. But in his normal public setting i have NO problem with him being pet because Mr Darcy is pretty good at ignoring it. Each time i let people pet him i try to explain the he is a service dog and that USUALLY you can not pet service dogs. I use it as time to educate someone. I remind them that they should ALWAYS ask first!! I really hate it when someone comes up to him and randomly starts petting him without asking me first......VERY rude! Sometimes i just don't have time to let people pet him. A quick trip into walmart can turn into a 2 hour ordeal!! ;)

As always, Abi, you have the wisdom to know what is right for you and Mr. Darcy. Let's try to make time for you and Reb to talk while we're at Wildrose. The education piece is something I'm all about. As far as asking to pet your dog, I insist on that for MY dogs. No one as the RIGHT to pet another person's dog in public - service dog or not.

Abi: Here is a pic of MR Darcy enjoying some kids petting him at the Blue Angels Air show!

Dee: You and Mr. Darcy are a wonderful ambassadors to the world. Great picture!

Valerie, a diabetic and Lucy, her diabetic alert dog:
This was something that took a while for me to figure out too. I'm going to be a physical therapist and I am already doing clinicals where there are lots of patients that not only want to pet lucy but, also seem to have very positive effects from petting her. So for me this is what worked...

  1. Family(other then immediate), friends and strangers always needed to ask to pet her even if they have pet her before

  2. I don't always let the same people pet her everytime-a family from my church is allowed to pet and play with her at my house but when we are at church they have to completly ignore her so that lucy learns not to pull away from me to go to someone else.

  3. I put lucy in a sit or down and tell them to calmly pet her and only talk to her in a calm voice. For a while I would tell people if she gets up you need to immediately ignore her until i get her to sit again. lucy learned very fast to stay seated.

  4. I really stress to people that it is soooo much better if they completly ignore her if I say they can't pet her. Lucy takes eye contact, happy voices directed to her as an open invitation to get up and go play with that person.

  5. I only let a limited number of people pet her in one sitting(usually one or two maximum)

  6. If lucy is already excited and distracted then I dont let anyone pet her.

I dont know if that helps but its working for us.

Thanks, Valerie. I love that you have figured out what works best for you and your dog. You are using common sense based on your own lifestyle. You will find that Lucy will change fairly dramatically as she matures. The positive training that you do now will become second nature to her and eventually, she will know instinctively what you want from her. She'll also get really good at reading our body language.

I should say that I tell people they cannot pet lucy way more often then I say yes and its especially hard with a puppy. While the size of the british labs is soooo perfect for service dog its a pain because lucy still looks like a 4 month old american lab. Also, people often ask why they can't pet your dog so its helpful if you come up with a sentence or two that explains how you need lilly focused on you and usually people are very understanding.