Everywhere I go with my diabetic alert dog I am approached by people who wish to share with me their story of diabetes. It doesn’t matter whether it is church, a grocery store, a department store, the mechanics, the doctor’s office, or simply walking down the street I am sure to be approached by someone who wants to find out what this dog does for me and to share how diabetes has ravaged either their life or the life of someone they love. Diabetes is a nasty disease….and it doesn’t matter what type it is. So who better to be of assistance than the greatest friend to humankind…. a dog!
Always after listening to the story the conversation turns to the dog and how he does what he does. This is a very new area and there are many unknowns of the exact science behind all of it but the short version it is smell. Most people with diabetes can tell you when they go high they get a sweet fruity taste or smell about them and when you go low you get a metallic taste or smell…if us humans can detect it imagine how powerful it must be to the dogs. “A dog's sense of smell is said to be a thousand times more sensitive than that of humans. In fact, a dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors in its nose, while humans have only 5 million. (http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/U/UNP-0066/) Where it starts getting trickier is how do we teach a dog to tell us what they smell…that is where training comes in. That of course brings humans and all their many perspectives with it.
The next question that arises is “Where can I get one of these dogs?” The human factor quickly comes in now. There are many people who profess to know what they are doing and are willing to sell you a dog…most of these dogs are going for around $7000 to $10000. However horror stories abound about people who paid that kind of money only to get a dog that had little or no training and was defiantly not suited to being a service dog. Talk about broken hearts and broken dreams…..not to mention unscrupulous ethics!
I want to believe the best of people….I want to believe that no one would stoop that low for the almighty dollar but as with anything in life, there are some who just aren’t good people! I understand no one is perfect but this practice makes me mad! Many times it is the desperate parent(s) of a young child who wants ANYTHING to work to make the child’s and their lives easier that allows these unscrupulous practices to keep happening. Hey I cant blame anyone for hoping, but hope needs to be tempered with caution and common sense. Ask a lot of questions…….if it sounds to good to be true it probably is. Just so you know….this is not a fast process! No matter whether you buy a started or a finished dog or if you work with a trainer to train your own puppy it is not going to be a quick processs. It could be up to 2 years or more!!!!!!!
I am fortunate to have entered into this arena with a natural alerting dog. I believe that he started alerting because of the many venues of competition I have played in the dog sport world. He is a very well trained dog and he knows me as well as I know him. He knew something was wrong with me and he chained the sense of smell to my behavior and then he “told” me through his training. As with most things in my life I tend to do things backwards…the event happens then I want to know why and how it happened…so I started searching out the answers. Dogs are fairly simple creatures but they like us don’t do much with out a reason…we just need to understand the communication! Then we need to figure out how to teach other dogs that same communication. Teaching my other dog how to alert solidified some of my own personal thoughts about why my first dog started alerting naturally from a dog training perspective. I have been around working animals my whole life and yet everyday I learn something new! No 2 situations are exactly alike.
So why am I writing all of this??? I want you to hope, dream, and work to find yourself a dog that will work for you and with you to make your or your loved ones life easier. I want you to know what an amazing thing it is when a dog saves your life or helps aid you from feeling crummy. Many of these dogs alert faster than a BG monitor can pick up…often 15 to 30 minutes ahead of what the meter says. I want you to have the joy of having a working partner but I also want you to know that it isn’t easy and it isn’t without a price. You still have to be RESPONSIBLE about your own care. You will still have to do all the things that come along with the diagnosis of diabetes. A diabetic alert dog is not the end all he is simply another tool in the arsonal against diabetes. He is also a friend, a companion in some rough times but YOU have to take care of all of his needs as well! You also have to be willing to work at the relationship he is not a soldier to be ordered around. He will be doing important work and needs to honored for doing so! You also have to ask questions find people you can work with…build a team just like you have to with your diabetes care. Ask lots of questions, learn all you can, and be patient! Good things come to those who will show patience!