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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Friday, November 30, 2012

Rock on, Cassidy!

Her creativity and talent define her. She absolutely wails on that guitar of hers, playing to audiences of all ages who cannot help but be inspired by her. Cassidy McAdams writes her own lyrics, lays music down behind them, plays her guitar, and sings her own songs ... all with a musical maturity that belies her youth. The word prodigy comes to mind.

I know Cassidy because she has type 1 diabetes and I helped her train her diabetic alert dog, Pepper. I've learned from Cassidy and other kids like her that living with T1D is like living in hell. It wreaks havoc with their lives. These kids learn that stress, exercise, hormones, illness and a host of other things can flip their blood sugar levels off the charts. And they know if it gets bad enough they'll be back in the hospital again. And, yet, over and over I see these kids excel. Some are athletes. Others are computer geeks. Still others are honors students. And a few, like Cassidy, are among the truly gifted.

So while Cassidy is forced to live with diabetes every single day, it does not define her. Her talent defines her.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Power of Dog

Kim is an adult Type 1 diabetic with additional health issues including PTSD. The decision to get a puppy to train as her diabetic alert service dog was daunting. After several months of consideration, Kim and her spouse, Jamie, decided to take a leap of faith and go for it. Puppy Lily joined the family at the age of eight weeks. Seven weeks into their lives together, here is an update from Jamie:
"You would have been proud of Kim and Lily today. Kim’s doctor is dying of pancreatic cancer. Kim is pretty stressed about this and having to find a new doctor. Lily’s presence by Kim’s side in itself is helping Kim tremendously. The situation was difficult for Kim but she managed it with Lily’s help.
"Also, Kim has made it 3 months without a hospital visit. Lily seems to keep Kim’s head focused in the right place (and when it starts to stray Kim works on getting her focus back on loving Lily).
"Today at 15 weeks old, Lily, dressed in her service dog in training vest, went to the new diabetes doctor with Kim for the first time. She walked politely on leash, sat quietly in the waiting room and exam room and made lots of people smile by licking their hands. She showed great self-control for a puppy and was only affected by crying baby in a neighboring exam room.
"Kim and Lily are becoming an amazing team. Lily ended her day by alerting Kim that her blood sugar was dropping before going to sleep."
Not everyone can train his or her own family pet, much less a service dog. It is a process that can be overwhelming. It is time consuming, frustrating, intimidating, and requires a level of patience usually reserved for raising children or caring for the elderly. It is not for the feint of heart. However, for those who decide to train their own service dog, it can be incredibly rewarding. Kim and Lily are off to an incredible start. And the bond they are developing will translate into a life-long partnership, one in which they will take care of each other. 

Lily lives in sunny southern California. That's her in the bottom picture ... beach walking with her canine family members, Mckenzie and Travis.

Friday, October 19, 2012

18-year-old stands up for her rights

Caitlin is a freshman in college. Away from home for the first time. With her Diabetic Alert Dog, Ellie. Caitlin trained puppy Ellie from the day she took her home, the summer before her senior year in high school. They are an incredible team. Here is what happened recently in the town where Caitlin's college is located. These are her words.
"My roommate was going to take me to Walmart so I could get some soup and cold medicine. We were going with three of her friends as well. The guys wanted to go to Sally Beauty Supply Store to get some stuff so we stopped there before going to Walmart.
"When Kelsey, my roommate was looking at the many different hair extensions and I was standing next to her pointing out that there were even Dancing with the Stars sponsored hair extensions, the manager of the store came over to me and told me that dogs were not allowed into the store. I told her that Ellie was my service dog and pointed out that she had service dog stated clearly in two different spots on her bright pink service dog vest and also on her collar. She then asked me to leave the store. I did not leave the store because I knew that I was allowed to be there with Ellie. This is when the other employee also asked me to leave.
"After that I did leave the store because I was getting mad and did not want to cause a scene in the store and make myself and Ellie look bad. Kelsey told the guys that if they could get the stuff they wanted at Walmart to do that and then explained what had happened. They put back what they could get at Walmart and only got the things that they could not get at Walmart.
"Kelsey then went back into the store to ask for the manager's name and the corporate number that I could call to make a complaint. The manager gave her first name only and said she had no clue what the corporate number was. When we got in the car Kelsey’s boyfriend Ryan looked up the number to call the headquarters for the store. I called the number and got a really nice lady named Gina who was very nice and understanding. After getting my side of the story she put me on hold for ten minutes and called the store to talk to the manager. When she took me off hold she proceeded to tell me that she had explained to the manager that what she had done was against the law and that there were severe consequences that could happen if that ever happened again. Because of this a training program is being set up and the store had to apologize. The person that I talked to was extremely nice and I was happy with how the situation was handled. They are sending me a gift card and a coupon to use if I choose to do so. 
"I am happy with how things were handled and now everything is all better.
"The group of people that I was around during this were supportive and stuck up for me when I was unable to do so for my self.  Things at college are so much better than they were in high school and I would not change anything if I was given the chance."
As the trainer who oversaw Ellie's DAD training, I could not be more proud of these two. Caitlin has consistently exhibited incredibly mature behavior in training and caring for her service dog and knowing their rights. She is a rock star in my world! 

This is Caitlin, Ellie and two Type 1 Diabetics who hope to get their own DADs soon.
In addition to everything else, Caitlin educates others about T1D and DADs.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Get your puppy started right!

Whether your puppy will be a Diabetic Alert Dog, another kind of working dog or the family pet, starting him right is key. That is why I wrote Puppies chew shoes, don't they? And it's why I am revising and republishing it this fall. The book has its own blog, so follow along so you won't miss the publication date, book signings, etc. This is it. What everyone has wanted since the Very First Puppy: An owner's manual for people with puppies!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Service Dog Information Tsunami

By Guest Blogger, Sue Kindred, President, Service Dog 411

Congratulations! You’ve decided to explore the idea that a service dog might help provide you with increased independence or an enhanced quality of life.
You’re having a good day – one mixed in with all the bad days – so you open your computer and start your Internet search. You type in “Service Dogs” and lo and behold, you get 31 million links to follow. Now what?  Where do you start … what do you click on first?  And, just suppose you find a site that looks pretty good to you … what questions should you ask?
The first thing you need to know is that for many service dog organizations, it is their job to sell you on their program. They will tell you why they’re the best and many times, they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear. Reputable organizations will tell you the truth which might be … “we’re not a good fit for you”, or “we don’t think our trainers can train what you need”. But often an organization will sell you hope. Hope that things will get better just as soon as you get a dog in your life. 
Start your journey before you ever crack open your laptop by contemplating your lifestyle, the amount of time you have available for training, your commitment of financial resources, training preference style (doing it yourself by working with a qualified trainer or waiting for an organization to provide a fully trained dog) and whether your disability is static or changing. The answers to these questions will inform the direction your research should take.

It’s not enough to know what questions to ask. You need to understand the answers you should get in return. So, here are few questions to consider and answers that make sense. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a place to start.
Do you offer your program to people who reside outside your geographic area? You will first want to know whether or not the program will accept you as an applicant presuming their program is a good fit for your disability. If the program only provides service dogs in their city or state and you live outside that area, move on to the next program on your list.

Do you have any age restrictions? Age restriction will be an important factor if you are searching for a service dog for a child. Many organizations will not place a service dog for applicants under the age of 12.

What types of programs do you offer? Do you have a specific specialty? Some programs specialize in one or two types of training. For example, training a diabetic alert dog is not the same training that would be used for training a dog for post-traumatic stress. Make certain the organization has qualified and experienced trainers who excel at training the types of tasks and behaviors your service dog needs. Ask them how many dogs they’ve placed and over what period of time.

Where do you obtain the dogs used in your program? Do you have your own breeding program? What breeds do you typically use? There is no right or wrong answer here. You simply want to ensure that the dogs are temperament and personality tested (and scent tested if for medical alert work) to ensure they are the right fit for service work. Keep in mind that rescue dogs will not come with a health guarantee but can still make an awesome service dog.

What do you charge for placing and/or training a service dog? How long is the waiting list?  And, how old are the dogs when they are typically placed? Do you guarantee a match? Prices range anywhere from $20,000 to free of charge depending on the organization. The waiting list can be from a couple of months to as long as five years. And, a fully trained dog will likely be between 18 and 24 months when placed; partially trained or untrained dogs can be placed as young as 4-5 months.  Some organizations offer and/or encourage fundraising as a way to pay for the cost of the dog.

How long do you follow a client after they are placed with a dog? Does the client have the opportunity to receive follow-up training if necessary? Organizations should ideally have a policy that follows their clients for the working life of the service dog.
And, if you decide that your one day of feeling good isn’t quite enough to manage this tsunami of information, consider contacting Service Dog 411. For a very small fee, they will consult with you about what you need and the process involved in selecting a provider. They will work with you, one-on-one, helping to determine YOUR best course of action, leaving you more time to take care of yourself and your health.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Four DADs. Four T1Ds.

Each of these four Diabetic Alert Dogs is under 18 months of age. Typical of young DADs, not all are alerting consistently at night. But they are all alerting and nights will come. Each of these four families took on the daunting task of training their own DAD pup, in their home, from around 10 weeks of age forward. The oversight of a trainer is necessary for this to work ... but work it does. And although training continues, to each family - and others like them around the country - congratulations! Your efforts show not only in each dog's alerting ability but in their public access skills. Simply amazing.

Bravo to DADs Blossom, Grace, Gracie, Mo and their people!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

2 Diabetics ... 1 Diabetic Alert Dog

July 2012

A year ago, I drove a puppy named Jasper to his new home and his new family. He was 10 weeks old. Unbeknownst to him, he was about to embark on an incredible journey.

Home is a happy place for Jasper. He lives out in the country, gets to romp and play, and has a family who loves him. He also has a job. He is a diabetic alert dog. Roxanne and her husband, Matt, wanted a diabetic alert dog for their son, 6-year-old Dylan, a Type 1 Diabetic.

Jasper soon learned there was more than one T1 Diabetic in his new home. Although his primary job is to alert on Dylan's fluctuating blood sugar levels, he also alerts on Roxanne's. For Jasper, a low is a low, a high is a high - no matter who is having it.

This family is having great success with their diabetic alert dog. They opted to start with a puppy and train him themselves with the oversight of their trainer. Day in, day out they worked to teach Jasper his obedience skills, good manners (he was a typical happy, waggy, "I want to jump on you and play with you" puppy), while helping him learn to recognize low and high blood sugar levels in his diabetics.

There have been stops and starts this last year. Regrouping. Plan B, C and D. The family kept working. Jasper kept learning and maturing. At 14 months, Jasper is on the job. He consistently alerts during the day to both Roxanne and Dylan's falling and rising blood sugar levels. Like many of his peers, night alerts are just now beginning. Like his day alerts, they will become consistent. It's just a matter of time.

While waiting for those night alerts to become consistent, the training doesn't stop. Picture this: Roxanne is going high and Dylan is going low - at the same time. The family is teaching Jasper specific alerts so they will know who is going what direction. Imagine. A dog who can, with distinctive alerts, tell Dylan he is going low and then tell Roxanne she is going high. And vice versa. Jasper is learning it all while being a great family dog, loving life, working hard.


Monday, June 18, 2012

A forum for you

If you are considering a diabetic alert service dog or are training one of your own, one of the best resources around is Rachel Thornton's website.

I have been told by my own clients that the forum is especially helpful. The world of diabetic alert service dogs is confusing ... full of more questions than answers, fraught with good and bad trainers and organizations, and jam packed with conflicting information. Rachel's site can help you navigate all of this by providing good information based on real-life experience.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Service Dogs & the ADA

Effective in 2011, the Americans with Disabilities Act's definition of a service animal changed to:
“Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler´s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal´s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.”
Important changes include:
  • Only dogs are recognized as service animals.
  • Service animals are exempt from breed bans as well as size and weight limitations.
If you have a service dog, know your rights. Read through the ADA's FAQs before venturing out in public with your service dog.

Need more information? Contact me at

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Service dogs in public

Recently I observed an adult dog, in a service dog vest, exiting a plane with his adult male handler. Sadly, the moment the dog's paws hit the tile floor in the airport, he became completely unglued - struggling to keep his footing. He took a step and one of his legs would go out from under him. He would correct and it would happen again, trying desperately to keep up with his person. The handler ignored his struggles, walking fast, the leash short.

I stress the importance of great handling skills in public to my service dog families. Why? Because a dog who is distracted, anxious or improperly trained cannot effectively do his job. The video that follows illustrates appropriate handling skills by 13-year-old Olivia. She worked her year-old Diabetic Alert Dog, Gracie, deftly through and around people. For more than two hours, Gracie was focused, tail wagging - a perfect canine partner.

Bravo to Olivia and all the other great kids I work with. They demonstrate time after time that young people are often the best dog handlers.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Teaching Heel & Under

When I go on service dog training visits to client's homes, one of the questions I ask is "does your dog know what 'heel' means?" The answer is usually something like "I think so". At that point I find out by saying to the dog: "Fido, heel". If Fido knows what the word means, he will come to my side. If he does not ... I may as well be talking to the wall.

Recently, this lovely black Lab helped me demonstrate how to attach the world "heel" to a specific behavior. Notice that I work her near a wall or a piece of furniture. Why? I want her to walk in a straight line next to me and sit next to me without swinging her butt out. Also, each time we stop, our toes should be aligned.

Practicing lots of off-leash heeling indoors will soon have you walking your dog through your neighborhood, on-leash, at heel - making you very proud and your neighbors very jealous!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Public Perception

Service dogs are more visible in public today than ever before. And yet ... a well trained service dog should be INvisible.

Invisible? Not literally, of course. But, yes, invisible in that the public is unaware of your dog's presence unless they walk past you. No matter where you go with your service dog, he should be well mannered, focused on and in sync with you. People who observe you leaving a restaurant should be overheard saying "I didn't even know there was a dog in here." In this video, 17-year-old Annie grocery shops with her 10-month-old Diabetic Alert Dog, Pacey. Note where he is sitting and his demeanor. He is quietly waiting (and watching) his handler.

Young handler. Young dog. Great job!

If you are struggling with your service's dog's manners in public, enlist the help of a local dog trainer ... one who uses positive dog training methodologies.