I've just returned from an "ABCs of D4D" session held today in Concord, California (San Francisco Bay Area). I know that this topic has been covered before but I thought some of you may be interested in the topic.

D4D Description

As explained on the Dogs 4 Diabetics web site (www.dogs4diabtics.com):

"Dogs4Diabetics is an innovative non-profit organization that provides quality medical alert assistance dogs to youth and adults who are insulin-dependent type 1 diabetics through a program of training, placement, and follow-up services."

"Dogs4Diabetics assistance dogs have been specifically trained to identify, and more importantly, act upon the subtle scent changes that hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) creates in body chemistry, changes undetectable to their human companions."

The D4D staff routinely runs this session periodically to acquaint interested diabetics, potential volunteers and others about their program. The session ran about one and one half hours.

Volunteers empower D4D

This non-profit group places trained dogs with Type 1 diabetics to alert them to hypoglycemia. (D4D relies heavily on the services of volunteers; it has only three paid staff members and over 103 volunteers.) It has placed about 55 dogs already and it hopes to place about 27 during the next year or so. It has recently enlarged its target service area to include both northern and southern California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Interested T1 diabetics can start the application process online. The long form application runs to 15 pages and part of the application must be filled out by the diabetic's doctor.

About 12 people attended this session which included four T1 diabetics, some interested potential volunteers, and a diabetes educator. This varied group listened to Carol, a dog trainer for D4D (I'm sure her real-world title and responsibilities are far more impressive!), explain how D4D evolved and what they seek to accomplish. Carol presented with her German Shepherd. Brianna, a D4D volunteer and her D4D diabetes service dog, Desi, also provided commentary.

Powerful video shows D4D benefits

After taking some questions about life with a diabetes service dog (Can you bring the dog to work? Yes, but some jobs, like a chef, may preclude placement.), Carol showed a video intended as a fund raiser that featured various people that have benefitted from a D4D dog.

One featured family contained four young children, three T1s. Their D4D dog stayed home and worked the "night shift." If one of the three diabetic children started to go low during the night, this dog would alert the parents and then rush to indicate which of the children needed help. The mother, in particular, expressed extreme gratitude and relief that she could depend on the dog to protect her children and also allow her the chance to relax and get a night's rest.

Another family shown on the video included a 13 year old girl, a T1, with an interest in gymnastics. The video showed her working out with cuts to her mother expressing the great relief that she felt that the dog could alert her daughter to any diabetic danger; she then could be relieved of the role of "nag." Both mother and daughter comfortably eased into this new dynamic.

Desi alerts

While our session moved forward, Brianna's black labrador "alerted" as it recognized that one of the session's T1 attendees was going low. Desi gave Brianna "the look" that Brianna interpreted Desi as saying "there's a low going on, I know it's not you, but it's still happening." The T1 a few chairs to my right got up to deal with his low blood sugar.

I was totally impressed with the idea of diabetic service dogs. I have shouldered 100% of the responsibility for managing my diabetes. Here I'm now looking at the potential to share that responsibility with another living being. A diabetic service dog could easily wake me up from a life-threatening low. This could save me from becoming another tally in the "dead-in-bed" column!

I live alone. I have no safety net to back me up when the chips are down. These dogs exude loyalty and companionship. I had to fight back tears during the video presentation. Only a T1 diabetic can fully understand the haunting fear of lows that stalk you unaware as well as night-time hypos.

I was totally impressed with the D4D program. I intend to submit a long form application in the near future.

Is anyone else considering a diabetic service dog?

Tags: Diabetic service dogs

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Replies to This Discussion

Thank you, Terry!

I work in animal rescue. I've been researching training methods so that some of our shelter dogs may one day be service helpers.
Gerri,

I don't wish to dampen your interest here but I learned tonight that the D4D dogs are bred and raised to be service dogs. Apparently, the first year of "socialization" is critical to to the dog's future success as a service dog.

I am a total dog "novice" but I wish you success in your endeavor! Thanks for your comment.
Oh, that's disappointing. Appreciate the info. Hmmm, doesn't mean that other dogs couldn't be service dogs, though not D4D dogs, given the right temperament & the right training. Of course, that's a lot of training:)

Thanks!
I think the primary difference between a purposely trained dog like those in D4D and a dog that is encouraged by a perceptive owner is the ability to detect and alert to BG lows for 90-95% of the time. One big advantage that a service dog has over a gifted pet is being with his diabetic partner 24/7. The dog and master can evolve into a strong team.

Like I said, I am a complete novice when it comes to dogs, but this is my view of things based on what I learned yesterday. Good luck with your dogs.
A huge difference. Other than assessing a dog for the appropriate temperament, it's a ton of training of dog & person. We've had young shelter dogs be evaluated for suitability as service dogs (not diabetes alert dogs), therapy dogs (nowhere as rigorous as service dogs) & police dogs (K-9 officers). Some were taken into programs & are doing beautifully. Dogs love having a purpose & job to do.

There are different programs across the US that pair shelter dogs with prison inmates for training. The dogs live with them 24/7. Of course, it's not highly specialized training, but it does wonders for the dogs & the inmates. Saves lives on both sides.
Gerri, we have had two diabetic alert dogs and both of them were shelter dogs. The first one was a "natural alerter" from the time she was a puppy and was trained for service dog work. The second came from a shelter and my daughter trained it to alert for her. The dogs must have a special combinations of characteristics to be alert dogs. I'd be happy to share more if you are interested. I'm a HUGE fan of rescuing animals. You are doing admirable work.
Kristi, I'm writing an article about diabetes alert dogs for Diabetes Health and would love to talk to you if I can. Would you be available for an email or phone interview?
Thanks!
Sure, no problem at all. I'd love to help out. Just PM me and I'll send you my email and/or phone number - whatever its best for you.
Service dogs generally fall into two distinct groups: those specifically bred and trained to perform a series of tasks (the professionals, if you will) and those that an owner finds to be 'gifted.' One of mine falls into the latter group. One of my Siberian Huskies became attuned to noticing my distress when I had a low. Many times when I go into insulin shock, excessive sweating comes with it. The thought occurred to me that I could try to take advantage of his sense of smell to alert me to a low. So, I took one of my t-shirts from a low and as a new low began (as noticed from my dexcom) I'd put the t-shirt under his nose and give him a treat. After a while he got the hint, and when he'd go into his "give me a great, big tasty treat posture and bark" I'd associate that with an impending low - long before the 30 minute Dexcom lag kicked in. Granted, it isn't up to the standard that is shown by the 'professional' service dogs, but it works well enough. It is worth noting that both dog and person have to pick up on the other for this to work.
Hi Tom,

That's great that you've got a dog that can help you. One thing I learned at the meeting yesterday is that the dog alerts not just to an actual low BG value but also to a dropping BG. I heard several stories of dogs alerting, for example, when the diabetic was dropping from say 180 to 120 in a short period. Getting a warning at 120 is much easier to deal with metabolically than getting one at 60. Your experience with your dog confirms this ability.

Do you take your dog with you wherever you go?
Lots of people are unaware of what these dogs can do. I, for one, was recently made aware of the fact these dogs alert to highs as well as lows. We always have dogs and I would like to get a dog for my niece, IF the DAD could be used part time (while she is at home and overnight). No, she does not want to take the dog with her 24/7. Realize that a ton of training (initially and ongoing) is necessary for these dogs. So am putting this on the back burner but, yes, very interested. I would love it if D4D would expand to the New York area. Westchester county has a Puppies behind bars program that has successfully trained and bred explosive alert dogs and service dogs for children in wheelchairs, etc. but not seizure alert or DAD dogs. I don't think it would be hard to train these dogs to be DADs. The dogs are expensive and need a nonprofit like D4D to help train more dogs and get these dogs out to the diabetic population where I am sure they will be in great demand.
Jan,

One of the families that I wrote about, the one with three T1 children, use their diabetic service dog at home only. The value in alerting to night-time lows alone makes it worthwhile to get one of these dogs. They did mention yesterday, however, that the ideal situation is for the dog and diabetic to partner 24/7.

D4D just recently expanded their service area from northern California to a four state west coast region. The limiting factor for them is their continuing commitment to offer follow-up and back up for the life of the dog. If, for instance, the diabetic had to spend a few weeks in the hospital and the dog could not accompany them, then D4D would place the dog in one of its foster care homes.

I hope that organizations like D4D can expand to cover the entire country.

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