How to Train Your Dog to Detect Allergens

Hard
1-2 Months
Work

Introduction

If you’ve ever had a dog, you know the many benefits a canine companion can bring to your life. From a furry friend to enjoy a quick walk or run with to a snuggle buddy for those lazy movie and popcorn evenings, dogs provide emotional and physical support to their human owners. For people with physical impairments, dogs can also be service animals that help out with day to day activities. While most of us know that dogs can be trained to alert to obstacles, pick up objects, or provide physical stability to those in need, certain medical conditions can also be helped by your precious pooch. For people who suffer from severe reactions, training your dog to detect allergens can not only be rewarding, it may save your life!

If you’ve ever had a dog, you know the many benefits a canine companion can bring to your life. From a furry friend to enjoy a quick walk or run with to a snuggle buddy for those lazy movie and popcorn evenings, dogs provide emotional and physical support to their human owners. For people with physical impairments, dogs can also be service animals that help out with day to day activities. While most of us know that dogs can be trained to alert to obstacles, pick up objects, or provide physical stability to those in need, certain medical conditions can also be helped by your precious pooch. For people who suffer from severe reactions, training your dog to detect allergens can not only be rewarding, it may save your life!


Defining Tasks

While the average human can get by with being able to tell when the milk has spoiled or when there may be an unwelcome skunky visitor in the yard, dogs use their noses and sense of smell for much more. If you’ve ever noticed how your dog has an uncanny ability to find even the smallest crumb on the kitchen floor, you’ve seen that nose in action. As it turns out, a dog’s sense of smell is 2,000 times as sensitive than a human’s. Dogs can differentiate between nuanced smells that even humans aren’t able to detect. From peanuts to gluten to bed bugs to chemicals and additives, a properly trained dog can be a great resource to the allergy sufferer in your family. 


Getting Started

Depending on the intensity and level of training, there are a variety of supplies you’ll want to accumulate to teach your dog to detect allergens. To start off, you’ll want to have the allergy-inducing item on hand to help your dog identify the scent they’ll be hunting for. For those with extreme allergies, you may need an accomplice to help work directly with the item that induces a reaction. Commercial kits are also available online that contain concentrated scent samples for common allergens and other “nose-work” related training. For initial training, a jar of vanilla extract will also help learn scent discrimination. As with all training, you’ll need plenty of treats to keep your dog engaged and to reward for a job well done.

Training your dog to detect allergen is best started young, but completed as your dog ages in maturity and attention span. You can set the stage with young puppies by training foundational behaviors, such as how to differentiate between objects and smells, which will make later advanced allergen detection much easier. Once you’ve got your dog and your treats set up, it’s time to pick a training method.


The Teaching 'Touch' Method

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Step
1
Touch the nose
Teaching your dog to touch or target is an essential first step to scent training. Start out sitting in front of your dog. Gently touch him on the nose and then immediately treat and praise. Repeat this numerous times.
Step
2
Add a cue word
After you’ve repeated the nose touching sessions numerous times, your dog will begin to anticipate the touch even leaning towards it. When this begins to occur, add a cue word immediately before touching your dog’s nose. Treat and praise with higher value items when your dog leans into your hand or touches on their own.
Step
3
Shape the behavior
After working with the cue word over many sessions, find a random object such as a stick, rock, or household item. Say the cue word while holding it in your hand. Encourage your dog to touch the item and treat and praise when he does.
Step
4
Remove your hand
Set the object you’ve asked your dog to touch on the floor directly between you and your pooch. Say the ‘touch’ cue word while your hand is on the object. If you’ve practiced step three plenty of times, your dog will touch their nose to the object. Repeat this step numerous times.
Step
5
Change things up
Switch out the object your dog has been touching with another object, but leave it in the same place. Touch the object and give the cue word. Immediately treat and praise when your dog touches their nose to the item.
Step
6
Move things around
After numerous sessions of repetition, begin adding in three, four or more items in front of your dog. Touch the item you want your dog to touch and give the cue word. You can also slowly work towards pointing at the object. Slowly progress to pointing or touching other objects and giving the cue to cement the behavior.
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The Teach Difference Method

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Step
1
Establish the scent
Pick 6 random objects from around the house and scent each one with a drop of vanilla extract. Place all the objects on the floor. Over the course of at least three sessions, watch your dog interact with the objects and reward with a treat and praise each time they ‘touch’ one of the objects.
Step
2
Add an outlier
Remove one of the scented objects and replace with an unscented one. Be sure not to get any scent on the object. Work over multiple sessions, ignoring your pooch when they touch the unscented object and treating when they touch the scented ones.
Step
3
Replace additional items
Continue replacing scented items slowly over multiple sessions until there is only one scented item. If you’ve worked slowly and consistently with your pooch, they should be readily touching only the scented item. Begin adding in a ‘find’ or ‘touch’ command.
Step
4
Add in discernment
Remove all of the vanilla scented items and place two items on the floor, each with distinctive scents. Extracts work well here,but specialized online scent kits can also be used. Place scent on a towel or object and let your dog find it. Point to the items on the floor and give the ‘find’ command. Treat when your dog touches the correctly scented item.
Step
5
Reinforce and build up scents
Continue working slowly and over multiple sessions with plenty of reinforcement. Change up the scents and continue asking your dog to locate the one that matches the object you’ve let him smell. Eventually, introduce them to the scent of the allergen you’re interested in detecting. The process will take a number of sessions and a great deal of time so be patient and you’ll have an allergen detecting pooch in no time.
Recommend training method?

The Teaching 'Find It' Method

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0 Votes
Step
1
Hide some treats
Start out with some tasty treats. With your dog in the room in a ‘sit/stay’, “hide” the treats by placing them on top of various objects. Start small with three or four treats. Release your dog and tell him “find it”. Watch as they run around the room.
Step
2
Make things harder
After several sessions, start making things a touch harder by hiding the treats under objects. This will force your dog to use his nose instead of his nose and eyes. If your pooch needs help, point him in the right direction. Remember to give the ‘find it’ command.
Step
3
Switch it out for scents
Rub a treat on several non-edible, larger objects and then hide them behind chairs, furniture or other places. Let your dog smell one of these objects, then give your dog the same ‘find it’ command. This time however, when your dog finds the scented object you will produce a treat from your treat pouch and give it to them. If your dog isn’t searching readily and finding items, repeat step 2 a few more times.
Step
4
Introduce targeted scents
After your dog has become a treat scent finding pro, begin trading it out for other scents. Try vanilla, peppermint, lemon, or scents available in nose work kits. Let your dog smell a sample object then give the ‘find it’ command. Every time your dog locates an object of the same scent, give a treat. Ignore your dog if they find a different object.
Step
5
Practice and repeat
Begin working in outliers of differently scented objects. Identify one scent for your dog to find them ask them to sniff it out. Work on making your hidden objects harder to find. Finally, use the scent of your allergen to get your dog to sniff it out to make your canine companion a super useful helper!
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Brownie
Cane corso pit bull mix
7 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Brownie
Cane corso pit bull mix
7 Months

My dog before i acquired it from a friend Was starting allergenic training for him. Now we cant continue this class till November. And i was wondering what could i do so that he wont become a basic dog and lose sight of his recent training.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
113 Dog owners recommended

Hello Chad, Check out the article that I have linked below on gluten detection training. Follow the steps from one of those methods. I recommend the "Scent = Reward" method for you, but any would be fine. Simply substitute the gluten samples in the steps for the scent of the allergen you want to work on. I recommend only teaching one allergen scent at a time, until Brownie is good at detecting the first allergen. The most important thing you want to maintain with his training is learning how to alert and how to use his nose to figure something out. The details of that can be perfected when you start formal training, but if you can maintain those two nose and alert skills that will help a lot when you start formal training. Also, if you feel like his previous owner was doing a good job with his training, then ask what they were working on before he came to you, and simply practice the last thing they were working on. https://wagwalking.com/training/detect-gluten Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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