How to Train Your Dog to Detect Low Blood Sugar

Hard
6-12 Months
Work

Introduction

People with certain health conditions can be subject to low blood sugar episodes, that if not caught and addressed, can result in impaired cognition, making it difficult or impossible for the person affected to treat themselves. This can be very dangerous if the person is alone or asleep and is unaware they are having a low blood sugar episode.

While many diabetics have good control over their condition, with a routine of blood sugar monitoring, insulin injections, and careful diet, some people have a great deal of difficulty controlling their diabetes and are frequently subject to low blood sugar episodes that can be life-threatening. Service dogs that are trained to detect low blood sugar episodes almost as soon as they begin and alert their owners to take action to counteract the condition, can be lifesavers. These dogs allow diabetics the ability to be independent, working and living on their own, and provide safety for diabetics when asleep by detecting low blood sugar episodes that could go unnoticed and alerting the diabetic themself and/or another family member.

Defining Tasks

Diabetic service dogs detect low blood sugar by recognizing the scent of low blood sugar on a human's breath or emitted through their pores. Because dogs have such an incredibly sensitive sense of smell, they are able to detect this scent, which is not perceivable to us. Diabetic dogs are then taught several behaviors to help the person with low blood sugar. They alert the person with a nudge, paw or other predetermine signal, they can go get help by alerting another person if the diabetic does not respond, and they can be trained to assist a low blood sugar episode by going to fetch testing materials, a phone, and/or glucose tablets. When out in public or in an environment such as school or work, the dog wears a harness identifying him as a service dog and carries diabetic supplies for their owner. Because of the complexity of the behaviors and situations required of a low blood sugar detection dog, the training is extensive and takes a major investment of time; many hours over several months.


Any dog breed can be taught, what is important is the temperament of the dog. Detection dogs require the ability to work in public, around other people and distractions, they need to be non-aggressive, friendly, confident and motivated to work for a reward. Dogs trained to detect low blood sugar are started by being taught to recognize the scent of low blood sugar from puppyhood; serious training begins at 1-3 years of age. Low blood sugar dogs are extremely successful at detecting episodes and can detect the onset of an epsiode 15-30 minutes before it would be detected by symptoms or even blood glucose meters.

Getting Started

In order to train a low blood sugar detection dog, you will need to use positive reinforcement, never negative. Dogs are rewarded for providing the correct behavior and ignored when they do not respond appropriately. Lots of treats, attention, toys, and play can be used for rewards.

You will need to provide samples of low blood sugar scent in the absence of a person actually having a low blood sugar episode in order to provide the volume of training experience required to teach the dog to detect. Samples can be obtained by taking saliva samples with a cotton ball whenever a diabetic is having a low blood sugar episode, or swabs from sweat glands, such as in the underarms or feet. These samples are then put in a zipper baggie and frozen for future use. These scent samples can be used in porous containers to teach the dog to respond to the scent. Initially, teaching a puppy to respond to low blood sugar scent may involve using a bowl and a colander to teach the puppy to put their nose up to the scent for a treat.

Service dogs used for detecting low blood sugar need to be certified and regular yearly recertification checks are performed to ensure the dog and handler are working effectively together. Investigate the certification requirements and assistance in your area prior to training.

The Associate with Reward Method

Most Recommended
13 Votes
Step
1
Prepare scent
Start by putting a low blood sugar scent sample in a bowl with a mesh colander overtop to protect the sample but allow scent to pass through.
Step
2
Present
Present the bowl to the young dog or puppy.
Step
3
Reward with the scent
When the puppy puts his nose in the colander and smells the scent, provide the puppy with a food treat in the colander. The puppy begins to associate the scent with reward.
Step
4
Move
Move the bowl around to different location so the puppy has to go to the scent, this begins to teach locating.
Step
5
Hide
As the puppy gets older, start providing the scent in smaller containers and hiding containers in various locations throughout the house. When the puppy locates the scent, reward.
Step
6
Add signal
Later, you will need to teach your dog how to signal or alert you when he detects the scent of low blood sugar. Teach the signal on command, associate the signal with location of a low blood sugar sample, then remove the command so the alert is performed in response to the scent of low blood sugar sample.
Recommend training method?

The Shape Signal Method

Effective
2 Votes
Step
1
Teach signal
Teach your dog a signal, such nudge a hand, that will be used to alert for low blood sugar. Use a hand signal to command the behavior and capture the behavior with a clicker.
Step
2
Add scent
Now use the hand signal and provide a low blood sugar scent in a small porous container. When the dog performs the signal in response to the presence of the scent, and hand signal, click, and reward with food or toy play. Practice several times a day for a few weeks.
Step
3
Remove command
Gradually remove the hand signal, continue to present the scent and use the clicker and reward the dog for performing the signal HIDE - Now hide the scent in a small container, let your dog find the scented object, and perform the signal, click and reward.
Step
4
Add multiple samples
Use multiple containers, some using low blood sugar scent, some using other scents, present to the dog. If the dog signals to the wrong scent, ignore, but if they signal the correct scent reward.
Step
5
Remove clicker
Gradually remove clicker so that dog alerts and receives a reward to the presence of low blood sugar scent alone.
Recommend training method?

The Match to Sample Method

Least Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Establish signal
Teach your dog a signal to be used to alert for low blood sugar, such as nudge.
Step
2
Plant scent
Provide two articles, one that is scented with low blood sugar scent and one that is not, in two different spots on floor of the room.
Step
3
Provide scent
Provide your dog with the low blood sugar scent on a separate object.
Step
4
Shape and reward match
Let your dog loose in the room and 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 exercise multiple times a day for several weeks.
Step
5
Add signal
Now give your dog the command for his nudge signal, or another predetermined signal you have chosen, when your dog locates and matches the scented object. Continue to click and reward when your dog successfully matches the scent and signals you appropriately.
Step
6
Remove command and click
Gradually remove the verbal command. Gradually remove the click.
Step
7
Reward match
When the dog matches the scent and alerts, provide a food or play reward.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Belladonna
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Belladonna
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
5 Years

My pretty girl, bella, is no service animal. I already know that. Though she helps me with my PTSD, she does not know what to do when I collapse from my hypoglycemia. Would she be too old to learn though? I'm planning on training one of her pups but I wonder if I could also train her, as well. Do you think it's possible or a waste of time?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
689 Dog owners recommended

Hello Amanda, First, know that full training usually takes about two years, so you will partially have to decide if it's worth the work to train her given her age, with the amount of time to work before she is too old to perform the job. If you find training her fun and good practice, and its in addition to training a younger dog also it would be great for her mentally. If you are doing it to rely on her solely to help you, you would find yourself needing to start over with another dog probably a couple of years after she finishes her training. Second, whether she can learn depends a lot on her natural scenting ability, desire to please and learn, and overall canine manners with other people, dogs, and distractions in public areas - task training can often be taught later if the dog has a natural ability for it, but socialization is usually age dependent at the level needed for public access in service dog training. If pup can pass a canine good citizen class with flying colors, has good scenting ability and is eager to learn and please, then you could have a good chance of success with her, if you decide it's worth it to put in the work to train her for the next couple of years, before she is too old to work. My recommendation would be to only train her in addition to a puppy and not in place of, if you do want to train her though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Belladonna's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Sika
Australian Kelpie
9 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Sika
Australian Kelpie
9 Months

Would this dog be a good candidate for diabetes detection training?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
689 Dog owners recommended

Hello Cassidy, Without meeting or at least hearing more about your dog I cannot say. Many types of dogs can learn the behavior - a lot of it depends on the individual dog's scenting ability, willingness to please and learn, socialization and adaptability around new things, and focus on you - their person, opposed to other animals or things around them. I would try to meet the parents of any dog you are considering if you do not yet have your Kelpie. Pups tend to inherit a lot from their parents temperament-wise. In general, Kelpie's are very intelligent, sensitive, loyal to their person, willing to work, focused, and energetic. Their social skills and adaptability, and possibly prey drive around small animals are likely to be the hardest parts about training a Kelpie for service dog work. I would look for one whose parents seem calm, friendly, and very adaptable - not skittish, aggressive/suspicious of new people, or very prey driven, then pick a middle of the road pup that seems friendly but calm, and spend a whole lot of time socializing pup and working on calmness and confidence. The right Kelpie with enough socialization should be able to succeed but not all Kelpie's will - just like not all Golden Retrievers will either - it's important to know where pup is likely to struggle though and choose the right pup and spend extra time on that area. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Sika's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Katana
Lykos
8 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Katana
Lykos
8 Months

Want to train my dog to detect any hypos I may have. I am a type one diabetic.

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

Hello! This is a behavior that may be best to work on with a trainer in person. I am providing you an informative link, but you may want to call some local trainers in your area for a more personalized approach. https://can-do-canines.org/our-dogs/ourdogs/diabetes-assist-dogs/

Add a comment to Katana's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Josie
Australian Shepherd
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Josie
Australian Shepherd
5 Years

I have knowledge on training dogs i did obedience and conformation with dogs since mid 70 so now i have my aussie she is a emotionally support dog how hard do you think it would be to train her for a hypoglycemia dog given her age?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
689 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tina, Since this training is mostly based on scent detection, trained with samples taken from lower blood sugar saliva samples, the answer to this question depends a lot on pup's scenting ability. If pup seems to do well with scent games, and you are willing to commit 1-2 years of consistent training in this area, pup is likely not too old to learn this. You may just have less time with pup once trained before they have too hard of a time working to continue, than you would have with a younger dog who was fully trained and ready to work by 2 years of age. It sounds like you have the background to do the training yourself however. I would start by following other service dog owner trainers on social media like facebook and instagram and seeing if there are people in your city you could connect with to learn more from and practice training with. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Josie's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
honey
Golden Retriever
8 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
honey
Golden Retriever
8 Weeks

I don't know how to start basic training. I will eventually be training him to be a service dog but I'm kind of stuck right now.

Add a comment to honey's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Training Success Stories

Success
Lily
chiwawa dutchhound
2 Years

Lily was 9 months old when we adopted her from a rescue. She would close cabinets and draws on me in the kitchen. I have worked with her to where she will go behind me in the kitchen closing drawers and cabinets I forget to close.

1 year, 9 months ago
Success
Todd
Todd-American Foxhound Holly-Siberian Husky
5 Weeks

Todd is my retired service dog. I actually adopted him as a companion, but right at the same time I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. No matter what I’ve tried my blood sugar drops dangerously low very quickly. Once I can feel it I’m on the verge of passing out. Todd naturally alerted me long before I could ever feel it, but it took me months to catch on to what he was doing. Around this time I was also going through a divorce from a bad marriage. My husband at the time was abusive and Todd witnessed a lot as a very young puppy. As he started getting a little older he became very protective of me, especially towards men and especially if they had gray hair. So unfortunately, he has had to retire far too early. My young adult daughter has a Siberian Husky as her psychiatric service dog. She bred her Husky and now we have five 5 week old puppies. I am keeping a female to be my service dog in training and I am currently training her to pick up on the scent of low blood sugar. So far she’s doing pretty well. Although this isn’t much of a success story. I am mainly writing to give some input. The first training method is actually the one I have been using from the start. But the article mentions that a service dog has to be certified and recertified every year. But there is no actual registry for service dogs and they don’t need to be certified. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty positive that goes for every state in the US. All of the “ID” cards that people have for their service dog are fake. Companies do it just to make money. Your dog does need to be trained in basic obedience and has to perform some kind of task to be a service dog, but there is no registry or certification. Don’t waste your money on an “ID” card that isn’t even real, because you don’t need that. Service dogs actually don’t even need to be identified as a service dog. They don’t have to wear a vest or anything identifying. It’s easier if they do, but they don’t have to. I wasn’t aware of most of this until I looked into the ADA laws. Service dogs and their handlers are protected by federal law. So even though many places try to ask for identification, there really isn’t any that is legitimate. I hope that some of you find this informative! I found out a lot of information a couple years ago and I figured I would pass it along! Good luck to everyone!

1 year, 9 months ago
Hi I have a Pomeranian Yorkie mix, she is about 20weeks of age.Getting her trained to be sertified as a service dog is too expensive. Can I get her sertified If I train her myself?
Hello, I had a Siberian Husky male in my teens and until about my mid 20s. I was born with hypoglycemia and a genetic disorder. My husky was being self trained to recognize low blood sugar. He was only about year old at the time and already a big dog. Well I luckily had never had a seizure with mine until one day at home. We lived in a 2 story townhome and I was home alone that day. I started feeling really unwell and decided to take a shower. I did and then proceeded to dry off and get dressed. I am a guy so I was walking around in just boxers and shorts. I was using the upstairs bath. Ibwas walking toward the stairs and he blocked my way. I tried to move home and he literally knocked me down. Of course I was getting mad and telling him to stop and get off me. All of a sudden my vision went black and I passed out. I awoke super weak barely able to move and crawled to my phone I my room. The entire time he is beside me whining and licking me. I called 911 and they arrived to take me to they hospital. Apparently Ibwas seizing for over an hour and a half and had so much foam in my lungs and mouth feom the metabolic acidosis. I could barely talk. He would let them help me down the stairs since I was still so low and heart was beating faintly. It was strange how he knew to do that even before he was trained to do so. Some dogs have a natural
instinct to thesethings it's amazing. I had him a long time before he passed due to an inoperable tumor in his brain. I moss my buddy but he was awesome.
Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd