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.
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.