How to Train Your Dog to Detect Peanuts

Hard
6-12 Months
Work

Introduction

Can you imagine having a severe allergic reaction every time you come into contact with peanuts, even just proximity to peanuts? Your throat starts to close, your airway becomes compromised, and a life-threatening situation develops. Now imagine you are a child. What a terrifying experience.

For thousands of people, this experience can be an everyday reality if they are unknowingly exposed to peanuts or products contaminated with peanuts. In some cases, the sensitivity and reaction are so severe that simply being in the same room with a peanut contaminated product can induce a life-threatening reaction. So what can people with such severe allergies do to protect themselves? The answer is, use an allergen detection dog; specifically, a dog trained to detect the presence of peanuts. A dog’s sense of smell is thousands of times more sensitive than ours, with ⅓ of their brain being dedicated to the sense and discrimination of smell! No wonder they spend so much time with their nose to the ground. We can harness this special ability in our dogs to work for us and save lives, such as by detecting the presence of life-threatening allergens in the environment and alerting allergy sufferers to the presence of these allergens, so appropriate precautions can be taken.

Defining Tasks

For allergen detection dogs, life can be like a constant game of hide and seek. Dogs trained to locate a certain scent, alert their handlers, and receive a reward can be invaluable to humans suffering from life threatening allergies. Dogs are trained to detect and identify a particular scent, in this case peanuts, and alert their handler, usually by providing a location alert such as ‘sit and look at me’. The handler may be the person with the actual allergy, or in the case of a minor child, the handler may be the child's parent or guardian. Handlers may send the dog into a room prior to the allergic person entering, to perform a scan of the room, or present foods to the dog to smell, such as in a restaurant so the dog can scan for the presence of peanuts. Because no one is perfect, you cannot rely on a dog to be accurate 100% of the time, and precautions such as reading labels, instructing people preparing foods, and educating classmates about the presence of a severely peanut allergic person, is still required. Nothing is a substitute for appropriate vigilance, however, a peanut detecting dog can identify sources of peanut contamination when there is no other practical way of discovering them prior to exposure of the allergic person. Dogs can be taught to identify several different allergens, which can be especially useful if the handler is allergic to more than one type of allergen. Allergy dogs are often taught to also carry epi-pens and other medication required by the allergic person in case of emergency.

Getting Started

While training dogs to identify scents, you will need a small container for scents. It is best to avoid plastic, if possible, as plastic has its own scent. Dogs that are very food or toy motivated make the best detector dogs and are easiest to train to identify scents for a reward. Remember, this is like a game for the dog, and is fun for them. A dog that is motivated to locate the scent and receive his reward works best. You will need several months to train a dog to be obedient in a variety of situations, including public situations, and also develop the skills to discern peanut scent with other competing scents and distractions present. A young dog can be trained to detect peanuts as long as they have a calm, confident demeanor, and can stay focused on their job. More mature dogs are also used to detect allergens, such as peanuts, and may already be comfortable working in a variety of distracting or stressful environments.

The Match to Sample Method

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1 Vote
Step
1
Establish signal
Teach your dog a signal such as ‘sit and look at me’.
Step
2
Plant scent
Provide two articles, one that is scented with peanuts, one that is not. Put objects in two different spots on the floor of the room.
Step
3
Provide scent
Provide your dog with the peanut scent on a separate object.
Step
4
Shape and reward match
Let your dog loose in the room. 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 signal, such as ‘sit and look at me’, when he locates and matches the scented object. Continue to click and reward when your dog successfully matches the scent and signals you by sitting.
Step
6
Remove command and click
Gradually remove the ‘sit’ command. Gradually remove the click.
Step
7
Remove match sample
Gradually remove the match sample. Expose the dog to the peanut scent in a room, allow him to locate and signal when he finds the peanut scent. Reward. If the dog has trouble go back to previous steps, practice and try again.
Recommend training method?

The Associate with Toy Method

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Step
1
Play
Provide a toy and play with your dog often. Use play with the toy as a reward for basic obedience commands.
Step
2
Hide toy
Start hiding the toy in a box and teach your dog the game ‘find it’. Start with fairly easy locations and let your dog see you hide the toy. Gradually make hiding spots more complex.
Step
3
Introduce alert
Teach your dog to alert you when he finds the toy by performing a signal such as ‘sit and look at me’. Put the signal on verbal command at first and provide the command whenever your dog finds his toy. Gradually remove the verbal command so your dog performs the signal when he finds his toy and reward with play after successful alert is provided by the dog.
Step
4
Hide scented toy
Start hiding the toy along with the peanut scent to be targeted. Either cover the toy in the scent, wrap the toy in the substance, or hide the substance with the toy. Command your dog to ‘find it’. Your dog will learn to associate the smell of peanuts with the toy and play. When your dog finds the scent and toy and performs the alert, reward with play.
Step
5
Vary hiding
Start hiding the toy and scent in more complex locations
Step
6
Substitute just scent
Gradually move to just hiding the peanut scent. Command ‘find it’, and when your dog locates the peanut scent, play with the toy.
Step
7
Make complex
Find more complicated hiding places, introduce distractions. Reward locating the peanut scent and alerting with play with the favorite toy.
Recommend training method?

The Shape Signal Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Teach signal
Teach your dog a signal such as ‘sit and look at me’ or ‘bow’ that will be used to indicate the presence of the peanut scent. Use a hand signal to command and capture the behavior with a clicker.
Step
2
Add scent
Now use the hand signal, and provide the peanut scent in a small open 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 peanut scent and use the clicker. Reward the dog for performing the signal.
Step
4
Hide
Now hide the scent in a small container, such as a small open box. Let your dog find the scented object, click and reward.
Step
5
Make complex
Move to larger containers and hide the scent in more difficult places. Click and reward. The dog will eventually learn to locate the scent in large containers in various locations.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Punky
Fox Terrier
12 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Punky
Fox Terrier
12 Years

I have a severe peanut allergy. I want to train my dog to alert me when she detects the peanut smell. I am concerned of peanut contact when I am using shopping carts. If I have her in a carrier in the cart, what signal do you recommend she give me if she detects the peanut smell?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
460 Dog owners recommended

Hello Suzie, For that situation, I would recommend teaching her to paw at the door of the crate so you would both see and hear it but it wouldn't be as loud as barking. But, for scent detection the dog usually needs to be able to access the thing they should sniff with their nose, allowing the dog out of the crate to sniff the handle and basket of the cart or other potential areas of problem in order to detect peanut scent accurately. Inside the cart your dog may miss smells or falsely alert to a general smell of peanut butter in the air near certain isles where peanut butter products are kept, and not just areas where you could come into contact with something. Is the dog is trained to be well behaved in public? Will your dog not cause a nuisance, are they fully housebroken with no risk of accidents, and can your dog be quiet without barking while or poor behavior while heeling next to you. If so, then once they are fully trained to perform at least one task that directly helps you with a medically verified condition (detecting peanut scent and alerting), then your dog should not have to be in a crate while in the store. I would recommend having them wear a Service Dog vest and you carry a small laminated copy of ADA law with you in your wallet - which states your rights to bring your dog places, in case anyone thinks pup is just a pet. Your dog would have to be very well behaved to qualify though - if they are not, you can be asked to leave by the store owner. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Elie
Schnoodle
8 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Elie
Schnoodle
8 Months

Do you have trainers in Los Angeles that could train my dog to detect peanuts. My son is severely allergic and carries epipens.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
460 Dog owners recommended

Hello Diannah, Unfortunately we do not. The online Trainers and writers at Wag live and work remotely from all over the country and are not located at the main office. My dog training company is located in Atlanta Georgia for instance. I suggest googling: "Service Dog Trainer Los Angeles" "Service Dog Training Los Angeles" "Service Dog Trainer Los Angeles California" "Service Dog Training Los Angeles California" "Medical Alert dog training Los Angeles" and similar phrases. Make a list of all the qualified trainers and training groups close enough to your home and look on their website to see if they train for things like "Medical Alert", "Celiac disease", "Allergen detection", or other scent type tasks. If they do I suggest you call those training facilities and ask them about their training and tell them what you are needing and explain the level of detection you need for the training to truly be effective - a high level of detection to only trace amounts of scent. If you can find someone who has done Celiac training or allergen detection training before that would be best. Like allergies, Celiac disease also requires a very sensitive level of scent detection because trace amounts can be a huge problem for someone with Celiac too, so trainers who have done that and actually understand what Celiac is and how severe it is (opposed to treating it like gluten intolerance - which is totally different) are familiar with the type of work you would need for peanuts more likely as well. Someone who has done peanut detection would obviously be the most ideal. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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