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

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.
Recommend training method?

The Distinguishing Scents Method

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

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?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Don't know.
Golden Retriever
8 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Don't know.
Golden Retriever
8 Weeks

Hi my name is Jeanette. And I have celiac disease. I am wanting to get a puppy. How old does the puppy have to be to try and train it to detect gluten. Also is there a breed type that does it better than others. Also if I can't seem to get it to work. Is there a dog trainer I could take it to in Indianapolis,IN. And how much would they charge. I am having so much issues with being celiac and I have been so depressed. I don't have a puppy but want to get one soon. So I put in the information above what I would like to get. Since it won't let me submit this without the information.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jeanette, You can start training the puppy to prepare him to detect scents and to behave well in public to pass as a service dog as soon as you bring him home at eight weeks. The training typically takes a full year or two to complete though. The scent detection can usually be done in two to four months but preparing a dog to be well behaved enough to be able to go with you everywhere in public will take longer, and will require the dog to calm down and mature enough with age to behave well. Most service dogs are ready to work at two years of age, but likely making public trips with their owner to practice training much younger. For gluten detection you need a dog that has a desire to work, a strong desire to please, and a really good nose for scent work. For this reason most retrievers and German Shepherds make good gluten detection dogs. Other dogs that are easy to train and use their sense of smell as part of their breed standard, like hunting and retrieving breeds, can also be good. Honestly, a Golden Retriever is a great choice for a first time owner. A Golden Retriever from a high quality breeder with parents that have very trainable, friendly, calm temperaments will be easier than many of the breeds you could choose to. When you choose a puppy, I suggest finding a breeder who breeds for temperament and health and will do a temperament evaluation on the puppies for you before choosing one, including testing the puppies for potential nose work potential, meaning how good his sense of smell is and his interest in scents. If your puppy has parents that have good service dog potential themselves, meaning even though they may not be service dogs they are highly trainable, good natured, calm, and intelligent, and possibly even have good scent noses also, and the puppy with the most potential for service dog work and scent work is paired to you from a breeder who is knowledgeable and raises them well, then you will be setting yourself up for success rather than leaving things more to chance. Also, as wonderful as rescuing is, I suggest avoiding it in this situation, unless you can find a highly trainable, extremely well socialized, calm adult dog, that you know has a great sense of smell and can be trained for task work. A puppy with an unknown parentage or unknown breed can decrease your chances for success with services dogs. There are wonderful mixed breed service dogs, but many of those dogs are dogs that were already adults and predictable and then trained, or were people's well trained pets who later were trained to be service dogs when it turned out that the dog had the potential to help his owner. When seeing-eye dogs are bred and trained, the process starts with choosing the right breeding parents, with good temperaments and healthy genetics, and then the puppies are socialized early, and the puppies that show the best potential to be service dogs are chosen from that litter, and the other puppies sold to pet homes. Looking online I found this trainer whose website I have linked below, who will help owners train their own dogs in your area. They will also do board and train. There are many trainers who are further from you who will also do board and train for service dog training, but that also tends to be the most expensive option. I have never met with these people personally so you will want to check out reviews and ask questions beforehand to make sure you feel they are a good fit for you. https://www.medicalmutts.com/train-your-dog-to-be-a-service-dog Service Dog Training pricing can vary wildly, depending on how much help you need. To fully train a dog basic obedience through advanced with specialized skills it can easily cost upwards of $4,000-$5,000 BUT if you do most of the socialization, obedience training, and general training yourself, joining A Canine Good Citizen class when you need help with general manners, then you can spend as little as $200 on a trainer for just classes or a handful of private sessions to help with the specific things that you are stuck on. Check out the website that I linked above from the trainer in your area. Check out the different group class, private, and board and train programs and that should give you a better idea of pricing. For most things that you will train, you can participate in regular obedience and Canine Good Citizen classes to teach most behaviors. It is mostly just the specialized scent detection work and alerts that you may need something more specific for. Of course it is nice to work with a trainer that has experience with all of it though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Nova
German Shepherd
3 Years
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Nova
German Shepherd
3 Years

Where can I purchase pure gluten for training purposes?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Justin, Look for something like this: https://www.amazon.com/Vital-Wheat-Gluten-3-5-Pound/dp/B0006ZN52E It will usually be a baking type product with the gluten protein concentrated for baking. Bob's Red Mill used makes vital wheat gluten. You may be able to find that in the baking section of a grocery store near you. If you need to apply it to something else you will need to add water to it to make it a soft or more liquid consistency. If you have Celiac Disease, then I would recommend wearing gloves while you work with it and be sure not to inhale it. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
LeiLa
Havanese
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
LeiLa
Havanese
1 Year

LeiLa is just turning one year old & I've already taught her many things (good behaviors & entertaining tricks). I have celiac, so now I'd like to begin training her to detect gluten. I messaged one trainer (Willow) and asked if there are specific resources online that I could use, and she responded that it can only be done by a professional, & there is nothing a regular person can do. Today I found your methods & they seem like they should work. It seems that I should be able to train LeiLa for gluten detection with everyday practice, consistency & patience. Am I correct to think that LeiLa & I can do this together? Is there anything specific you'd like to caution me about, or encourage me with, before I get started?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello LuAnn, Many dog trainers are self-taught through years of reading, work with other trainers, and hands on experience. With enough work you could become an expert in this area also, but expect this to take time and work. Because you have Celiac instead of just gluten sensitivity you will need a much higher level of skill in your dog than someone who is less sensitive to gluten and can handle trace amounts. Whether or not LeiLa can be trained to do this actually depends more on LeiLa, her sense of smell, and her ability to detect very small amounts of the protein found in gluten containing products. You will need to cross train her to detect wheat, Barley, Rye, Triticale, and their varieties, as well as gluten in the form of more obscure ingredients that are called by other names and found in products such as Soy Sauce and Gravy. If you want to undertake the training yourself, you likely can, but you will need to be very thorough, and after you train her you will need to test her extensively to be sure that you have taught her all of the various forms of gluten and she will detect it reliably. You will also need to do follow up training sessions occasionally with her for as long as you are depending on her detection, to make sure that she remembers the training as time passes. Be aware that you will need to teach her to detect it in all of it's forms not just in obvious, smellier forms, like wheat bread. After you have taught her to detect and alert you when there is a gluten containing grain product, you will need to also teach her to detect much smaller, trace amounts in products like soy sauce, or in products that have been cross contaminated. If you can teach her to detect very tiny amounts in various forms, then she can successfully help you in this area. To become a service dog she simply needs to learn how to perform a task, in this case, detecting gluten, that directly helps a medically diagnosed condition that you have. I would suggest researching training a peanut allergy detection dog also because the training and level of skill needed in a dog are similar to gluten detection for Celiac disease. The main difference being that gluten is found in multiple grains, so you have to practice with the various forms. When you teach this, if you have not already, research everywhere that gluten can be found and the other names that it goes by, so that you can practice with these types of products while training. I wish you and LeiLa the best! I hope that if you decide to go for it, you feel confident in your ability to learn and train your pup. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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