Getting a Diabetes Alert Dog: How and Where
There are no licensing or certification standards that diabetes alert dog (DAD) providers must adhere to.
Be prepared to educate yourself about the alert dog training process and to investigate potential providers if you are interested in getting a DAD.
DADs are amazing service dogs that alert people with diabetes (usually Type 1) when their blood sugar is high or low. The dogs detect glucose shifts early on, giving the human ample time to test and make adjustments before the high or low becomes life-threatening.
What Is Required of DADs
There is more to being a proficient DAD than recognizing the glycemic scent. According to the Diabetes Alert Dog Alliance, all DADs ready to be placed should meet these minimum requirements:
- The dogs must be certified as physically fit by a veterinarian, be free from pests and parasites, be well-groomed, and relieve themselves in suitable locations.
- The dogs must be non-aggressive and calm in public places, not seeking attention, bothering the general public, or disrupting businesses.
- The dogs must be confident and comfortable in a variety of settings and recover their poise quickly after novel experiences.
- The dogs must demonstrate obedience to voice and/or hand signals for staying, sitting, coming when called, lying down and walking in a controlled manner with their human companions.
- The dogs must perform a minimum of three tasks: alerting to high blood sugar, alerting to low blood sugar, and getting help (for instance: alerting someone, bringing a medical kit, plus another assigned task).
- The dogs should be monitored monthly during the first six months of placement to make sure both dog and owner are following guidelines.
Alert dogs must recognize fluctuations in glucose amid the competing smells of homes, classrooms, offices and public areas. They must also distinguish current glucose changes from the residual scent of previous glycemic episodes, which can linger on a diabetic’s clothing or furniture.
How to Find a Good DAD
The rigorous training required for DADs makes it clear why you will want to interview DAD providers armed with relevant questions. Ask for references and to observe a dog they have trained performing its service. Ask for veterinarian test results and pedigrees for the dog trainee and its parents. You will want to know what the trainer’s contract covers and have all of the guarantees in writing.
Because it takes months to create a successful DAD, they cost about $20,000 or more. Yet the peace of mind and freedom DADs afford those with diabetes makes this a worthy investment – if you do your homework. Some people have fallen victim to inexperienced or dishonest DAD providers and purchased expensive pets that cannot provide the services promised.
Where to Look
Once you have educated yourself, you can seek out local, regional or national DAD trainers and begin the inquiry and application process. A reputable trainer will want to know enough about the diabetic owner and their home life to make a good canine match, so be suspicious if they do not ask questions.
If you are unsure where to start, consider visiting the Diabetes Alert Dog Alliance (DADA) website. The DADA, along with the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, has created rigorous training standards for DADs, and they provide voluntary certification for alert dogs and their handlers.
The DADA site offers education about DADs as well as links to research, breeders and relevant resources. There is also a list of DAD trainers by state. Another helpful website is Dogs4Diabetics (dogs4diabetics.com).
Source: Diabetes Alert Dog Alliance
Photo credit: Jean / flickr