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

ribbon-method-1
Most Recommended
17 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

ribbon-method-2
Effective
5 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

ribbon-method-3
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?
author-img

Written by Amy Caldwell

Published: 11/27/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Theodore
Goldendoodle
6 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Theodore
Goldendoodle
6 Months

How can I get my dog to be a service dog to help me with my diabetes

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello, How is pup is other people, dogs, and general distractions? How is pup's nose with scents? If pup does well around others and in public and his nose is good for scent work, there is a good chance you can successfully train him. Be aware that service dog training takes about 1-2 years (depending on pup's current level of obedience and social skills). The public access part of the training takes the longest usually, since that actually tends to take more work than the actual skill of scenting your blood sugar fluctuations. To qualify as a service dog, first, pup needs to be allowed public places - this means working on pups general obedience, socialization, and manners, so that pup can go places, get along well with everyone, and be well mannered enough not to disturb others. During pup's first year, I would focus most on socialization and manners. Those things will be more time sensitize than the task training, which can be done now but can also be done as an adult too. Socialization gets harder the longer you wait though. Manners are harder to teach once pup has acquired bad habits that need to be undone. Joining a Canine Good Citizen or Intermediate obedience class is a good way to work on those things. How is pup around kids, various ages, races, and personalities of people, new objects, noises, other animals? Pup needs to be able to be calm and not distracted by those things. Pup should be able to handle a child or adult suddenly running up and hugging or petting them (although someone should never do that to a service dog - it probably will happen at some point when in public with pup so often). Without the socialization and manners a dog can be asked to leave places by restaurant and building owners for causing a disruption and they won't qualify as a service dog. Pup will always be a dog still, so will never be perfect at all times but should do very well! To qualify as a Service Dog a dog needs to be well mannered in public as mentioned above, and be able to perform at least one specialized task that directly assists with the medical or psychological condition they are trained to help with. The person also has to have a doctor approved medical or psychological condition that qualifies - of diabetes should qualify. 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 though). 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 on command, 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 (or whichever is more concerning for you), 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. 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. 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. For now, I suggest starting with pup's 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

Add a comment to Theodore's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Lucy Mae
Poodle
4 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Lucy Mae
Poodle
4 Years

I need to train our dog to detect low blood sugar.
Can you help with this?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ray, 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. 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. 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. In addition to the task training you will want to work on overall obedience and manner and any behavior issue that would make public access an issue. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Lucy Mae's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Layce
Bichon Frise
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Layce
Bichon Frise
5 Years

My dog is 5 years old, and I want to train him to alert me during a low blood sugar epically at night if I sleep through an alert sound (which has happened before in the past). Is it too late or can he still be trained?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Cinthia, The socialization needed to be a service dog can be something that you can't regain later in life, but if pup was already socialized well and does great around other animals and people, the obedience training and service tasks can likely still be taught at this age. If pup isn't able to make up for lost time with socialization and do well enough around others to go in public with you, you could still teach pup to alert you at night at home most likely. Whether pup can be taught that depends more on pup's natural scenting ability and motivation to work with you, than it does pup's age. If pup has the natural aptitude being a little older shouldn't prevent pup from working with you. Expect the training to take longer at night age, and be prepared to work on this for a year before pup is reliable. Pup should be able to alert some before then, but reliability takes time and practice, often service dogs are trained for 1-2 years depending on where they will need to accompany you and what tasks they will be expected to perform, so pup will be around 6 when they are fully trained. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Layce's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Roscoe
terrier
7 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Roscoe
terrier
7 Years

Interested in training him to be certified as a service dog to detect when my sugar level drops. I am hypoglycemic.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Deborah, How is pup is other people, dogs, and general distractions? How is pup's nose with scents? If pup does well around others and in public and his nose is good for scent work, there is a good chance you can successfully train him. Be aware that service dog training takes about 1-2 years (depending on pup's current level of obedience and social skills), so pup may be a bit old by the time you are ready for him to work with you all the time. Whether that's worth it to you, or whether you would choose to start fresh with a puppy depends a lot on your preference and how trained pup already is for the public access part of the training, since that actually tends to take more work than the actual skill of scenting your blood sugar fluctuations. To qualify as a service dog, first, pup needs to be allowed public places - this means working on pups general obedience, socialization, and manners, so that pup can go places, get along well with everyone, and be well mannered enough not to disturb others. Joining a Canine Good Citizen or Intermediate obedience class is a good way to work on those things. How is pup around kids, various ages, races, and personalities of people, new objects, noises, other animals? Pup needs to be able to be calm and not distracted by those things. Pup should be able to handle a child or adult suddenly running up and hugging or petting them (although someone should never do that to a service dog - it probably will happen at some point when in public with pup so often). The socialization and manners part of Service Dog training is actually the hardest part many times. Without it a dog can be asked to leave places by restaurant and building owners for causing a disruption and they won't qualify as a service dog. Pup will always be a dog still, so will never be perfect at all times but should do very well! To qualify as a Service Dog a dog needs to be well mannered in public as mentioned above, and be able to perform at least one specialized task that directly assists with the medical or psychological condition they are trained to help with. The person also has to have a doctor approved medical or psychological condition that qualifies - hypoglycemia by itself or a type of diabetes that can trigger hypoglycemia should qualify. 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. 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. 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. For now, I suggest starting with pup's 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

Add a comment to Roscoe's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Apollo
Pit bull
2 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Apollo
Pit bull
2 Months

My son is diabetic and he has high highs and low lows and I would like for the dog to be able to detect it and alert him so that he can be aware. This will be a 1st

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Mil, You can generally teach a dog to detect both, but you will just want to train the highs and the lows separately. Picking the one that's most problematic for him (let's say hi for example purposes), taking saliva samples from your son when you know his sugar is high, and when it's in normal range, and teaching pup to alert on the high sample but not on the normal sample for instance. Once pup has practiced enough with the high alert and will alert your son in every day life for that, you can teach a different alert for the low, (like pup pawing at him when it's high, vs. nosing him when it's low), and then take samples from when your son's sugar is low and normal, and teach pup to do the new alert for the low sample but to ignore the normal sample. Practice with the normal and low then until pup is reliable at alerting your son in real life for the lows. Finally, practice with all three samples, rewarding pup when they alert with the correct type of alert for the highs, the lows, and ignore the normal samples, practicing with each until pup can consistently alert for his sugar levels in real life. This process involves things like having pup sniff the samples and alert on those, having your son hold the samples and alert to those, hiding the samples in his pockets and having pup alert to those when he has been told to sniff there, hiding samples in pockets without telling pup to sniff or letting him see you hide them, then rewarding when pup alerts correctly to the surprise samples. Finally, those surprise times will need to be practiced around distractions, starting with low distractions like your yard, and working up to harder distractions, like parks with dogs, gradually as pup improves with practice. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Apollo's experience

Was this experience helpful?

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.

2 years, 8 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!

2 years, 8 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