How to Train Your Dog to Detect Gluten

Hard
9-12 Months
Work

Introduction

Imagine you have such a severe reaction to gluten that even coming into contact with and ingesting a small amount of gluten could make you extremely ill. Now keep in mind that gluten is pervasive in our diets, the main ingredient in a large number of commercially prepared foods, and even contained in cosmetics and products such as mosquito repellants and medications. How do you avoid accidentally ingesting or absorbing gluten and becoming very sick?

The answer may be a gluten detection dog. Gluten detection dogs are service dogs trained to detect the scent of even small amounts of gluten in products and the environment. The first known gluten detection dog, Elias, was trained by his owner in Slovenia to detect gluten because she had severe celiac disease and coming into contact with even a small amount of gluten could result in life-threatening symptoms. Elias sniffs out food and other products, and if they contain gluten, he pulls the item away from his owner to let her know that they pose a danger to her.

Celiac is an autoimmune disease in which gluten exposure causes damage to the small intestine, resulting in serious symptoms including diarrhea, weight loss, and lethargy. While not everyone who needs to avoid gluten experiences such severe life-threatening reactions, many people with celiac disease do, and exposure to wheat, barley, or rye, which can easily be hidden in a variety of products, needs to be avoided.

Defining Tasks

Dogs are trained to detect gluten by scent. The problem is that so many different items contain gluten that it can be very difficult to teach a dog to distinguish the gluten scent contained in a product with competing scents present. A gluten detecting dog must be constantly under training to keep their senses sharp and able to detect gluten in a variety of products. Gluten detecting dogs must also be trained to be obedient and act appropriately in a variety of environments, including restaurants, grocery stores, schools, workplaces, and other public places.

Dogs trained to detect gluten do so by being presented products and alerting their owners if gluten is present and by searching out and locating gluten in the environment. To alert their owners to the presence of gluten, a predetermined sign must be taught for the dog to provide their handler. Gluten detecting dogs may paw at their handler, or the item, or perform another appropriate behavior that will clearly signal to their owners the presence of gluten.

Getting Started

In order to teach your dog to detect gluten, you will need multiple samples of gluten, starting with samples which are purely gluten and moving to samples that only contain some gluten and contain other substances with other distinct smells. Both food and cosmetics containing gluten should be used. The use of a scent wheel to help your dog distinguish between multiple samples in training may also be incorporated. Treats and toys for rewards are most often used to reinforce appropriate scent-detecting behaviors. Because of the complexity of the environment in which gluten must be detected, a commitment to ongoing training will be required.

The Match to Sample Method

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Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Establish signal
Teach your dog a signal such as paw or nudge.
Step
2
Plant scent
Prepare two articles, one that is scented with a strong scent of gluten and one that is not. Place them in front of your dog.
Step
3
Provide scent
Provide your dog with the gluten scent on a separate object.
Step
4
Shape and reward match
Let your dog approach containers with scent. When your dog approaches the unscented object, ignore. When he approaches the scented object, click and reward. Gradually click and reward as your dog gets closer and closer to the scented target object. Repeat the exercise multiple times a day for several weeks.
Step
5
Add signal
Now give your dog the command for his alert behavior when he approaches the gluten sample. Continue to click and reward when your dog successfully matches the scent and signals you with his alert behavior.
Step
6
Remove command and click
Gradually remove the command for the alert. Gradually remove the click.
Step
7
Remove provided scent
Remove the scent to match to and allow your dog to identify gluten samples without being given a matching scent.
Step
8
Add multiple samples
Provide multiple samples of various products containing various amounts of gluten.
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The Distinguishing Scents Method

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Effective
1 Vote
Step
1
Introduce scents
Set up a scent wheel with two containers, one containing gluten and an empty container or one filled with water.
Step
2
Reward identification
When your dog approaches the container with the gluten to investigate, reward with a treat.
Step
3
Teach alert
Now teach your dog an alert he can provide you, such as paw the container or nudge your hand. Provide a verbal command to direct the behavior, you may need to shape this behavior or capture it with clicker training.
Step
4
Combine alert with scent
Combine the alert command with scent identification training, gradually removing the verbal command.
Step
5
Reward after alert
Start rewarding the dog with only play if they identify the scent and provide the alert.
Step
6
Add scents
Gradually add more scents to the wheel to distinguish between.
Step
7
Continue
Continue providing this training on an ongoing basis, providing multiple samples of products containing gluten and gluten-free samples, reward identification and alert, ignore identification of non-gluten samples.
Recommend training method?

The Scent = Reward Method

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Least Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Provide gluten
Provide a strong gluten sample to your dog in a bowl with a colander over the top, or in an open container in your hand. Let your dog sniff the gluten; make sure he gets a good nose full of the scent. Reward with a treat. Repeat multiple times.
Step
2
Teach alert
Teach your dog a signal such as to paw a container or your leg, or nudge your hand. Use a verbal command. Reward your dog for performing the alert to the verbal cue.
Step
3
Combine
Provide the gluten smell and ask for the alert behavior, reward for alert in presence of gluten smell so they become associated.
Step
4
Remove command
Capture the alert behavior in the presence of the gluten without providing a command, reward.
Step
5
Provide variety
Start using different samples containing less and less gluten and containing other substances. Reward for correct identification and alert to gluten containing substances, ignore wrong identifications.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Amy Caldwell

Published: 11/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
milo
Border Collie
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
milo
Border Collie
1 Year

i have celiac disease and want to teach milo how to detect gluten and notify me.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
257 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Here is an in depth article on teaching a dog to detect gluten. You can use whatever command you'd like. Something you don't say in your regular vocabulary too often. https://wagwalking.com/training/detect-gluten

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Question
Bella
German Shepherd
2 Years
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Question
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Bella
German Shepherd
2 Years

So what form of gluten should I use

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1105 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sarah, When first training, you can purchase vital wheat gluten, used to add into baking products to make them stick together. If you have Celiac yourself, I would ask someone else to mix some of the powder with water to make the sticky glue like substance out of it, so you can work with a version that's easier to avoid contaminating yourself with while wearing gloves, than a powder form would be. Once pup has perfected detecting that, then move onto items that simply contain gluten, like bread, crackers, ect... Gluten detection training video - 8 minutes and 40 second in she talks about what she uses and how she handles it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIhyyL5VKLM Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Max
German Shepherd
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
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Max
German Shepherd
1 Year

What would be the best command?

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
257 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Here is an in depth article on teaching a dog to detect gluten. You can use whatever command you'd like. Something you don't say in your regular vocabulary too often. https://wagwalking.com/training/detect-gluten

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Question
Luna
Yorkshire Terrier
8 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Luna
Yorkshire Terrier
8 Months

I need to train my dog to detect gluten and manage my blood sugar as I am a diabetic

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1105 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Blood sugar detection training is typically done using saliva samples taken during times of high or low blood sugar (don't put yourself in danger with too high of a low or high). The dog is taught an alert, such as Sit, paw, bark, or nose. You then practice having the dog sniff the sample, give their alert, and you reward with a treat. Practice this until you don't have to tell the dog to alert but they will simply alert when they smell the sample, then you reward. Once pup can alert really well on the sample, then Saliva samples taken during good blood sugar read times and saliva samples taken during highs or lows practiced together - with the dog only being praised and rewarded for alerting to the high or low sample, and not the normal sample. Ignore incorrect alerts and don't reward them. Practice this until pup can reliably alert to the correct sample only. Once pup alerts consistently, you plant the sample on yourself and practice with the scent somewhere like your pocket - rewarding alerts. You then plant the scent on yourself at random times during your day and in different environments to help pup do the alert when they aren't in "training mode" to teach them to pay attention to you in various environments and be ready to alert at all times. If you want to teach pup to alert for highs, in addition to your lows, like in some diabetic cases, I would teach the low first, wait until pup is reliable with that, then teach pup a second alert cue, like nudging for the first and pawing you for the second, and then work on teaching that second one also, separately, so pup is learning two skills really. You can also teach additional things that benefit you, such as pup going to get help if you pass out. Gluten detection is taught in a similar way. I would teach one thing at a time, low blood sugar saliva sample practice, high blood sugar saliva sample, and gluten sample. You would teach and alert, have pup alert on a known gluten sample that's a decent size, then gradually decrease the size of the sample, practice with non-gluten food samples with the gluten sample - only rewarding when pup detects correctly, then plant the gluten sample on yourself or something you pretend to be eating and reward pup when they detect those when you have them sniff. Some people also teach a distinct yes and no for gluten, instead of just a yet, like paw at you for gluten and Sit for clear. Social media, such as instagram and facebook is actually a good resource to connect and follow other owner-trainers who are teaching their own pups tasks too. It can be a good place to meet others in your city doing the same thing to connect for practicing things with people doing similar training with their dogs. Radiantk9 is a trainer who personally has celiac and hypoglycemia herself. She trained her own dog as a service dog before later becoming a trainer and helping others with behavior issues like aggression and specialty training like service dog training. You may find her helpful to follow on Instagram and Youtube. Gluten detection 101: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIhyyL5VKLM Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFb7G0y3MmgTGMLwXnBdQrg/videos Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/radiantk9/?hl=en There are trainers who offer remote and in person service dog training assistance - whose role is not to take the dog and train it entirely themselves (which is great but much pricier), but who can guide you in training your own dog as needed for a lower price. Youtube is also a resource to find service dog trainers who share some how to videos on teaching specific tasks to help you trouble shoot as you go. You will also want to work on public access - with socialization, manners, and obedience. You can work on task training at the same time if you have time, but obedience and socialization is often more time sensitive. While doing that, you can certainly reward pup's natural alerts right now to further encourage them. In the United States there is no official certification required for a dog to pass as a Service Dog. A qualifying medical or psychological condition, great behavior while in public, and at least one task that directly helps with your condition is all that is required. Carrying a copy of ADA law regarding service dogs, pup's vet papers, a note from your doctor simply stating your need for a service dog (you don't have to disclose what condition you need help with to anyone), and a vest for pup letting people know pup is a working service dog can help people allow pup into places more easily though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Ellie
Yorkshire Terrier
7 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Ellie
Yorkshire Terrier
7 Months

Have you seen success in training a yorkie to detect gluten?

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
257 Dog owners recommended

Hello! While I have not personally worked with any, I have heard some really awesome success stories about toy breeds being wonderful service pets, as well as detecting gluten, seizures, and other allergens. A good place to start is a local non profit near you and see if they can you pointed in the right direction.

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