How to Train Your Dog to Detect Gluten

How to Train Your Dog to Detect Gluten
Hard difficulty iconHard
Time icon9-12 Months
Work training category iconWork

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 glutenĀ 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.

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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.

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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.

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The Match to Sample Method

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1

Establish signal

Teach your dog a signal such as paw or nudge.

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.

3

Provide scent

Provide your dog with the gluten scent on a separate object.

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.

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.

6

Remove command and click

Gradually remove the command for the alert. Gradually remove the click.

7

Remove provided scent

Remove the scent to match to and allow your dog to identify gluten samples without being given a matching scent.

8

Add multiple samples

Provide multiple samples of various products containing various amounts of gluten.

The Distinguishing Scents Method

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1

Introduce scents

Set up a scent wheel with two containers, one containing gluten and an empty container or one filled with water.

2

Reward identification

When your dog approaches the container with the gluten to investigate, reward with a treat.

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.

4

Combine alert with scent

Combine the alert command with scent identification training, gradually removing the verbal command.

5

Reward after alert

Start rewarding the dog with only play if they identify the scent and provide the alert.

6

Add scents

Gradually add more scents to the wheel to distinguish between.

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.

The Scent = Reward Method

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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.

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.

3

Combine

Provide the gluten smell and ask for the alert behavior, reward for alert in presence of gluten smell so they become associated.

4

Remove command

Capture the alert behavior in the presence of the gluten without providing a command, reward.

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.

ByĀ Amy Caldwell

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

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Lexi

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Yorkshire Terrier

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3 Years

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Question

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0 found helpful

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Iā€™m celiacā€¦and disabled and Iā€™m having trouble with finding hidden gluten in things. I would love to train my dog to detect gluten. Iā€™m tired of being sick all the time

June 26, 2022

Lexi's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Pamela, There are less resources out there for teaching Gluten Detection than many service dog tasks; however gluten detection is taught very similarly to allergy - like peanut, detection, and even scent based training, where saliva samples are used to teach blood sugar or seizure alert, so you can also look into how scent based detection is taught to a service dog in general, since gluten detection is scent based training. Generally, you would start with pure gluten, like the ingredient used to add to baked goods to make it stick together. You would teach an alert on cue, like pup pawing at you when told to, have pup alert on a known gluten sample that's a decent size, by having pup sniff it, give pup their verbal pawing cue, then reward. You would practice until pup will paw at you when they sniff the sample before you give the verbal cue to, waiting a few seconds between pup sniffing and you telling them to paw to give pup a chance to paw you before told to. Once pup can alert on the sample when they sniff it without being told to, gradually decrease the size of the sample, practice with non-gluten food samples along with the gluten sample - only rewarding when pup detects correctly to the gluten sample, then plant the gluten sample on yourself or something you pretend to be eating and reward pup when they detect those samples when you have them sniff. Some people also teach a distinct yes and no for gluten, instead of just a yes, like paw at you for gluten and Sit for clear. Obviously you need to be careful about cross contamination, with precautions like wearing gloves, making sure samples don't become aerated, using plastic baggies that can be throw out after to contain samples, ect... You might need someone to help you initially mix your gluten into a dough like ball you can use to train with that's less likely to spread than powder, if you purchased a powdery form. 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. There is less education out there about Celiac and service dog training, so you may run into people telling you it can't be done. I can tell you from personal experience it can be taught to the right dog. It does take work; it can be harder to teach than some other service dog tasks, but I have seen it make a big difference in someone's life once accomplished. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

June 27, 2022

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Lady

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Labrador Retriever

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1 Year

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Question

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0 found helpful

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0 found helpful

I am celiac and very interested in teaching Lady to detect gluten. When glutenized I get very Sick for days.

June 23, 2022

Lady's Owner

Expert avatar

Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

Recommendation ribbon

1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Susan, There are less resources out there for teaching Gluten Detection than many service dog tasks; however gluten detection is taught very similarly to allergy - like peanut, detection, and even scent based training, where saliva samples are used to teach blood sugar or seizure alert, so you can also look into how scent based detection is taught to a service dog in general, since gluten detection is scent based training. Generally, you would start with pure gluten, like the ingredient used to add to baked goods to make it stick together. You would teach an alert on cue, like pup pawing at you when told to, have pup alert on a known gluten sample that's a decent size, by having pup sniff it, give pup their verbal pawing cue, then reward. You would practice until pup will paw at you when they sniff the sample before you give the verbal cue to, waiting a few seconds between pup sniffing and you telling them to paw to give pup a chance to paw you before told to. Once pup can alert on the sample when they sniff it without being told to, gradually decrease the size of the sample, practice with non-gluten food samples along with the gluten sample - only rewarding when pup detects correctly to the gluten sample, then plant the gluten sample on yourself or something you pretend to be eating and reward pup when they detect those samples when you have them sniff. Some people also teach a distinct yes and no for gluten, instead of just a yes, like paw at you for gluten and Sit for clear. Obviously you need to be careful about cross contamination, with precautions like wearing gloves, making sure samples don't become aerated, using plastic baggies that can be throw out after to contain samples, ect... You might need someone to help you initially mix your gluten into a dough like ball you can use to train with that's less likely to spread than powder, if you purchased a powdery form. 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. There is less education out there about Celiac and service dog training, so you may run into people telling you it can't be done. I can tell you from personal experience it can be taught to the right dog. It does take work; it can be harder to teach than some other service dog tasks, but I have seen it make a big difference in someone's life once accomplished. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

June 23, 2022


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