Training Dogs & Clients
Churchland K9 trains assistance dogs to detect and alert on the scent of hypoglycemia in insulin-dependent diabetics. We also train our clients in the use and handling of these dogs. To be successful, a potential handler must develop new skills and insights into how to integrate and use this new tool, a Medical Alert Assistance Dog, in their lives.
What the Medical Assistance Dog Does
The dog’s acute sense of smell allows them to sense the change in their handler’s blood sugar as the smell of changing chemistry is expressed through their breath and sweat. When the dogs smell this chemical change, they are trained to provide a specific series of alerts to their handler to warn them of this upcoming event.
The expression of this scent does not indicate that the blood sugar has reached a specific level, nor does it indicate that the handler is currently suffering a low blood sugar. It is an indication that a rapid change in blood sugar is occurring. Upon performing a blood glucose test, the diabetic may not register a low blood sugar, but after waiting 15 to 30 minutes and retesting, their blood sugar will have registered a significant and rapid drop. It is this phenomenon that allows our clients the ability to treat their impending low blood sugar, before they suffer the debilitating effect of a hypoglycemic episode.
Developing this capability is not as simple as training a dog to recognize the scent of low blood sugar. That really is the easiest part of our training program, and we have been successful in training most dogs we have received to recognize that scent.
The Difficulty of Training Dogs and Clients
The difficult part in establishing a reliable Medical Alert Dog Team is dependent on helping the dog and the client in the following ways:
- Train the dog to recognize the scent emitted by a human, versus a static sample;
- Train the dog to respond to the scent with a recognizable and insistent alert, even when the handler is not attentive or responsive;
- Train the handler to respond appropriately to positively reinforce the dog’s trained behavior;
- Train the handler to enhance the dog’s learned behaviors in all venues and times throughout their daily life;
- Support the handler and dog to sustain a reliable and consistent alert process over the working life of the dog.
How to Achieve Success
To be successful in this effort requires a handler to develop good dog training skills, as well as to understand how the dog is responding to their diabetes. It also requires the handler to become very knowledgeable about their disease, particularly the way their insulin therapy is impacted by their diet, exercise, stress and all other factors. Lastly, it will cause the person with diabetes to test more often, as alerted by their dog, to validate changes as they occur, rather then simply testing on a fixed schedule.
All elements of our program are geared to develop and sustain successful working teams with well trained medical assistance dogs. Accordingly, our client application, training and support processes are all geared towards identifying active and motivated persons with diabetes that express a need and desire to transform their disease management with this new and innovative tool.
Our dog selection, training and placement processes are also geared to developing successful teams. We obtain mature, properly socialized service dogs that have a strong work ethic and client orientation. We do not attempt to place puppies or rescued dogs that are not trained for service or public access. Our training and matching of dogs is focused on having a dog work properly with their handlers to assist them with their diabetes management.
While the dog is a key element to this whole process, it requires a person willing to learn as well as invest their time and effort to improve their life with diabetes.
Normally, a person can feel the warning signals of LOW BLOOD SUGAR (sweating, shaking, nausea, and confusion); however, some are unable to feel these symptoms and are thus unaware that their blood sugar is dropping or is dangerously low. This can lead to seizures, brain damage, or passing out while driving – Diabetic Alert Service Dog : a dog that gives a trained signal to alert its partner to low or high blood sugar levels.
The ADA (The Americans With Disabilities Act) defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. The federal rules are explained below:
“The rule defines “service animal” as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The rule states that other animals, whether wild or domestic, do not qualify as service animals. Dogs that are not trained to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of a disability, including dogs that are used purely for emotional support, are not service animals.”
These Service Dogs are recognized by our government as “necessary medical equipment” that the person must have in order to maintain their life and lifestyle.