How to Train Your Dog to Detect Low Blood Sugar

Hard
6-12 Months
Work

Introduction

People with certain health conditions can be subject to low blood sugar episodes, that if not caught and addressed, can result in impaired cognition, making it difficult or impossible for the person affected to treat themselves. This can be very dangerous if the person is alone or asleep and is unaware they are having a low blood sugar episode.

While many diabetics have good control over their condition, with a routine of blood sugar monitoring, insulin injections, and careful diet, some people have a great deal of difficulty controlling their diabetes and are frequently subject to low blood sugar episodes that can be life-threatening. Service dogs that are trained to detect low blood sugar episodes almost as soon as they begin and alert their owners to take action to counteract the condition, can be lifesavers. These dogs allow diabetics the ability to be independent, working and living on their own, and provide safety for diabetics when asleep by detecting low blood sugar episodes that could go unnoticed and alerting the diabetic themself and/or another family member.

Defining Tasks

Diabetic service dogs detect low blood sugar by recognizing the scent of low blood sugar on a human's breath or emitted through their pores. Because dogs have such an incredibly sensitive sense of smell, they are able to detect this scent, which is not perceivable to us. Diabetic dogs are then taught several behaviors to help the person with low blood sugar. They alert the person with a nudge, paw or other predetermine signal, they can go get help by alerting another person if the diabetic does not respond, and they can be trained to assist a low blood sugar episode by going to fetch testing materials, a phone, and/or glucose tablets. When out in public or in an environment such as school or work, the dog wears a harness identifying him as a service dog and carries diabetic supplies for their owner. Because of the complexity of the behaviors and situations required of a low blood sugar detection dog, the training is extensive and takes a major investment of time; many hours over several months.


Any dog breed can be taught, what is important is the temperament of the dog. Detection dogs require the ability to work in public, around other people and distractions, they need to be non-aggressive, friendly, confident and motivated to work for a reward. Dogs trained to detect low blood sugar are started by being taught to recognize the scent of low blood sugar from puppyhood; serious training begins at 1-3 years of age. Low blood sugar dogs are extremely successful at detecting episodes and can detect the onset of an epsiode 15-30 minutes before it would be detected by symptoms or even blood glucose meters.

Getting Started

In order to train a low blood sugar detection dog, you will need to use positive reinforcement, never negative. Dogs are rewarded for providing the correct behavior and ignored when they do not respond appropriately. Lots of treats, attention, toys, and play can be used for rewards.

You will need to provide samples of low blood sugar scent in the absence of a person actually having a low blood sugar episode in order to provide the volume of training experience required to teach the dog to detect. Samples can be obtained by taking saliva samples with a cotton ball whenever a diabetic is having a low blood sugar episode, or swabs from sweat glands, such as in the underarms or feet. These samples are then put in a zipper baggie and frozen for future use. These scent samples can be used in porous containers to teach the dog to respond to the scent. Initially, teaching a puppy to respond to low blood sugar scent may involve using a bowl and a colander to teach the puppy to put their nose up to the scent for a treat.

Service dogs used for detecting low blood sugar need to be certified and regular yearly recertification checks are performed to ensure the dog and handler are working effectively together. Investigate the certification requirements and assistance in your area prior to training.

The Associate with Reward Method

ribbon-method-1
Most Recommended
19 Votes
Step
1
Prepare scent
Start by putting a low blood sugar scent sample in a bowl with a mesh colander overtop to protect the sample but allow scent to pass through.
Step
2
Present
Present the bowl to the young dog or puppy.
Step
3
Reward with the scent
When the puppy puts his nose in the colander and smells the scent, provide the puppy with a food treat in the colander. The puppy begins to associate the scent with reward.
Step
4
Move
Move the bowl around to different location so the puppy has to go to the scent, this begins to teach locating.
Step
5
Hide
As the puppy gets older, start providing the scent in smaller containers and hiding containers in various locations throughout the house. When the puppy locates the scent, reward.
Step
6
Add signal
Later, you will need to teach your dog how to signal or alert you when he detects the scent of low blood sugar. Teach the signal on command, associate the signal with location of a low blood sugar sample, then remove the command so the alert is performed in response to the scent of low blood sugar sample.
Recommend training method?

The Shape Signal Method

ribbon-method-2
Effective
5 Votes
Step
1
Teach signal
Teach your dog a signal, such nudge a hand, that will be used to alert for low blood sugar. Use a hand signal to command the behavior and capture the behavior with a clicker.
Step
2
Add scent
Now use the hand signal and provide a low blood sugar scent in a small porous 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 scent and use the clicker and reward the dog for performing the signal HIDE - Now hide the scent in a small container, let your dog find the scented object, and perform the signal, click and reward.
Step
4
Add multiple samples
Use multiple containers, some using low blood sugar scent, some using other scents, present to the dog. If the dog signals to the wrong scent, ignore, but if they signal the correct scent reward.
Step
5
Remove clicker
Gradually remove clicker so that dog alerts and receives a reward to the presence of low blood sugar scent alone.
Recommend training method?

The Match to Sample Method

ribbon-method-3
Least Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Establish signal
Teach your dog a signal to be used to alert for low blood sugar, such as nudge.
Step
2
Plant scent
Provide two articles, one that is scented with low blood sugar scent and one that is not, in two different spots on floor of the room.
Step
3
Provide scent
Provide your dog with the low blood sugar scent on a separate object.
Step
4
Shape and reward match
Let your dog loose in the room and 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 exercise multiple times a day for several weeks.
Step
5
Add signal
Now give your dog the command for his nudge signal, or another predetermined signal you have chosen, when your dog locates and matches the scented object. Continue to click and reward when your dog successfully matches the scent and signals you appropriately.
Step
6
Remove command and click
Gradually remove the verbal command. Gradually remove the click.
Step
7
Reward match
When the dog matches the scent and alerts, provide a food or play reward.
Recommend training method?
author-img

Written by Amy Caldwell

Published: 11/27/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Roxy
Australian Shepherd
5 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Roxy
Australian Shepherd
5 Months

Dog naturally detected 2 low blood sugars from my type 1 diabetic daughter . I want to go further in training

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tonya, To qualify as a service dog, first, pup needs to be allowed public places - this means working on pups general obedience, socialization, and manners, so that pup can go places, get along well with everyone, and be well mannered enough not to disturb others. Joining a Canine Good Citizen or Intermediate obedience class is a good way to work on those things. How is pup around kids, various ages, races, and personalities of people, new objects, noises, other animals? Pup needs to be able to be calm and not distracted by those things. Pup should be able to handle a child or adult suddenly running up and hugging or petting them (although someone should never do that to a service dog - it probably will happen at some point when in public with pup so often). The socialization and manners part of Service Dog training is actually the hardest part many times. Without it a dog can be asked to leave places by restaurant and building owners for causing a disruption and they won't qualify as a service dog. Pup will always be a dog still, so will never be perfect at all times but should do very well! To qualify as a Service Dog a dog needs to be well mannered in public as mentioned above, and be able to perform at least one specialized task that directly assists with the medical or psychological condition they are trained to help with. The person also has to have a doctor approved medical or psychological condition that qualifies - diabetes or hypoglycemia should qualify. Blood sugar detection training is typically done using saliva samples taken during times of high or low blood sugar (don't put anyone at risk with too high of a high or low of a low intentionally though, just when you test and find it's a bit low or high, have them suck on a piece of gauze kept in a ziploc bag in your pocket at all times to be ready, to collect some saliva, while you fetch their medicine or a snack quickly). The dog is taught an alert, such as Sit, paw, bark, or nose. You then practice having the dog sniff the sample (which is kept triple bagged in the freezer to contain the saliva scent between sessions), give their alert, and you reward with a treat. Practice this until you don't have to tell the dog to alert but they will simply alert when they smell the sample, then you reward. Once pup can alert really well on the sample, then Saliva samples taken during good blood sugar read times and saliva samples taken during highs or lows practiced together - with the dog only being praised and rewarded for alerting to the high or low sample, and not the normal sample. Ignore incorrect alerts and don't reward them. Practice this until pup can reliably alert to the correct sample only. Once pup alerts consistently, you plant the sample on yourself and practice with the scent somewhere like her pocket - rewarding alerts. You then plant the scent on your daughter (make the training fun and motivating for her too, so its like a game she gets to be involved in) at random times during your day and in different environments to help pup do the alert when they aren't in "training mode" to teach them to pay attention to you in various environments and be ready to alert at all times. If you want to teach pup to alert for highs, in addition to lows, like in some diabetic cases, I would teach the more dangerous condition first, until pup is reliable with that, then teach pup a second alert cue, like nudging for the first and pawing you for the second, and then work on teaching that second one also, separately, so pup is learning two skills really. You can also teach additional things that benefit you, such as pup going to get help if your daughter passes out. Social media, such as instagram and facebook is actually a good resource to connect and follow other owner-trainers who are teaching their own pups tasks too. It can be a good place to meet others in your city doing the same thing to connect for practicing things with people doing similar training with their dogs. There are trainers who offer remote and in person service dog training assistance - whose role is not to take the dog and train it entirely themselves (which is great but much pricier), but who can guide you in training your own dog as needed for a lower price. Youtube is also a resource to find service dog trainers who share some how to videos on teaching specific tasks to help you trouble shoot as you go. For now, I suggest starting with pup's public access - with socialization, manners, and obedience. You can work on task training at the same time if you have time, but obedience and socialization is often more time sensitive. While doing that, you can certainly reward pup's natural alerts right now to further encourage them. In the United States there is no official certification required for a dog to pass as a Service Dog. A qualifying medical or psychological condition, great behavior while in public, and at least one task that directly helps with your condition is all that is required. Carrying a copy of ADA law regarding service dogs, pup's vet papers, a note from your doctor simply stating her need for a service dog (you don't have to disclose what condition she needs help with to anyone), and a vest for pup letting people know pup is a working service dog can help people allow pup into places more easily though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Roxy's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Maverick
German Shepherd
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Maverick
German Shepherd
2 Years

Picking items up that I have dropped.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kim, Check out this video on teaching your dog to bring you things, which in your case should work for picking up dropped items. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdFka56hAtM Also, check out this article on training a dog to pick up dropped items. https://wagwalking.com/training/pick-up-dropped-items When pup struggles to grab the item with their mouth, then make the object move, especially when practicing with something like a sock that can be wiggled. You can also tie a string to the item to make it move toward you a bit or jump a little, to reengage your dog's attention. Just don't get them so excited they being to destroy the item. As soon as pup picks the up, and later brings it to you, then be ready to reward, so the focus is on bringing you the item and not just chewing the item quickly. Since you will be training pup to bring things you drop and not just specific items around the house, in addition to teaching a verbal command like "Bring" "Get It", ect... I have found that adding in a pointing gesture toward the specific item you want on the ground can help some dogs figure out which item you are talking about. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Maverick's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Brynn
Belgian Malinois
4 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Brynn
Belgian Malinois
4 Years

I currently have a 10yr old and a newly diagnosed 2yr old children who have Type 1 diabetes. Is my dog too old to start training for low blood sugar?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Stephanie, That depends a lot on pup's current level of socialization and manners. The hardest part of service dog training is often the public access part of the training. Pup needs to be adaptable, calm, and not easily distracted or reactive while around a lot of different people, animals, noises, smells, sights, and locations, so pup can qualify to accompany the kids places to help in daily life. Socialization is age dependent with a puppy's development, so that can be extremely difficult or sometimes impossible to change if that's lacking. Obedience is best taught young but can be taught later, and many dogs already have some level of obedience that you can just improve upon if their overall socialization and temperament is a good fit. Pup is not too old for the task training as long as they have a natural aptitude for it - like a good scenting ability, human focus, drive to work and learn. Service Dog training is a lot of scent work and reward based training for something like blood sugar alerts. Be aware that service dog training tends to take 1-2 years, depending on pup's current level of training. So pup will be a bit older once trained, so will have less years to work before needing to retire when abilities decrease once older. You will just have to decide if pup seems like a good candidate and if it's worth it to you to train pup, or if a younger dog is something you want to consider starting with, becoming a two dog family. If pup is dog reactive or aggressive in anyway I will say up front that I wouldn't even start service dog training. I would consider a puppy with parents or grandparents or previous litters from those parents who have a history of successful service dog, therapy, or search and rescue work. Future Service dogs are something I recommend finding a very high quality breeder for because there is a genetic component and looking at family temperaments and abilities can help you find a good fit. Rescues can make great service dogs but its more of a gamble, and starting with a puppy is often easier socialization wise than an older dog, and you don't always know what to expect from a puppy without knowing genetic background. When choosing a service dog, you want a dog who is not timid and not overly dominant and aggressive, one who is smart, responsive, motivated, and people focused, and one who bounces back and adapts easily from being startled or introduced to something new. Some of these characteristics can be somewhat determined by learning how to evaluate puppies early. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Brynn's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Bruno
Bully
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Bruno
Bully
3 Years

I know hes older (hes a rescue) so i dont know his real age . But hes driven and has basic training, loves to be around me and always puts his head on my leg normally when i am in the 200+ ( i dont know if he does this because of the high) but most of the time thats when he does it. I would love to have him as my D.A.D i never had one but i love dogs and struggle with diabetes a little

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Taylor, How is pup with other people, dogs, and general distractions? How is pup's nose with scents? If pup does well around others and in public and his nose is good for scent work, there is a good chance you can successfully train him. Be aware that service dog training takes about 1-2 years (depending on pup's current level of obedience and social skills), so pup may be a bit old by the time you are ready for him to work with you all the time. Whether that's worth it to you, or whether you would choose to start fresh with a puppy depends a lot on your preference and how trained pup already is for the public access part of the training, since that actually tends to take more work than the actual skill of scenting your blood sugar fluctuations. To qualify as a service dog, first, pup needs to be allowed public places - this means working on pups general obedience, socialization, and manners, so that pup can go places, get along well with everyone, and be well mannered enough not to disturb others. Joining a Canine Good Citizen or Intermediate obedience class is a good way to work on those things. How is pup around kids, various ages, races, and personalities of people, new objects, noises, other animals? Pup needs to be able to be calm and not distracted by those things. Pup should be able to handle a child or adult suddenly running up and hugging or petting them (although someone should never do that to a service dog - it probably will happen at some point when in public with pup so often). The socialization and manners part of Service Dog training is actually the hardest part many times. Without it a dog can be asked to leave places by restaurant and building owners for causing a disruption and they won't qualify as a service dog. Pup will always be a dog still, so will never be perfect at all times but should do very well. To qualify as a Service Dog a dog needs to be well mannered in public as mentioned above, and be able to perform at least one specialized task that directly assists with the medical or psychological condition they are trained to help with. The person also has to have a doctor approved medical or psychological condition that qualifies - hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia should qualify. Blood sugar detection training is typically done using saliva samples taken during times of high or low blood sugar (don't put yourself in danger with too high of a low or high intentionally though). The dog is taught an alert, such as Sit, paw, bark, or nose. You then practice having the dog sniff the sample (which you collected and froze for future practice), give their alert, and you rewarding with a treat. Practice this until you don't have to tell the dog to alert but they will simply alert when they smell the sample, then you reward. Once pup can alert really well on the sample, then saliva samples taken during good blood sugar read times and saliva samples taken during highs or lows (it sounds like highs mostly in your case) practiced together - with the dog only being praised and rewarded for alerting to the high or low sample, and not the normal sample. Ignore incorrect alerts and don't reward them. Practice this until pup can reliably alert to the correct sample only. Once pup alerts consistently, you plant the sample on yourself and practice with the scent somewhere like your pocket - rewarding alerts. You then plant the scent on yourself at random times during your day and in different environments to help pup do the alert when they aren't in "training mode" to teach them to pay attention to you in various environments and be ready to alert at all times. If you want to teach pup to alert for lows, in addition to your highs, like in some diabetic cases, I would teach the high first (or whichever is bigger priority for you), wait until pup is reliable with that, then teach pup a second alert cue, like nudging for the high and pawing you for the low, and then work on teaching that pawing alert one also, separately, after pup has already learned to nudge for the high and is good at that first, so pup is learning two skills by themselves really. You can also teach additional things that benefit you, such as pup going to get help if you pass out. Social media, such as instagram and facebook, is actually a good resource to connect and follow other owner-trainers who are teaching their own pups tasks too. It can be a good place to meet others in your city doing the same thing to connect for practicing things like public access or task training with their dogs. There are trainers who offer remote and in person service dog training assistance - whose role is not to take the dog and train it entirely themselves (which is great but much pricier), but who can guide you in training your own dog as needed for a lower price. Youtube is also a resource to find service dog trainers who share some how to videos on teaching specific tasks to help you trouble shoot as you go. For now, I suggest starting with pup's public access - with socialization, manners, and obedience. You can work on task training at the same time if you have time, but obedience and socialization is often more time sensitive. While doing that, you can certainly reward pup's natural alerts right now to further encourage them. In the United States there is no official certification required for a dog to pass as a Service Dog. A qualifying medical or psychological condition, great behavior while in public, and at least one task that directly helps with your condition is all that is required. Carrying a copy of ADA law regarding service dogs, pup's vet papers, a note from your doctor simply stating your need for a service dog (you don't have to disclose what condition you need help with to anyone), and a vest for pup letting people know pup is a working service dog can help people allow pup into places more easily though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Bruno's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Rocky
black mouth cur
8 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Rocky
black mouth cur
8 Years

hates other dogs.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Molly, As you probably know to qualify as a service dog pup will need to be great around other dogs for the public access portion of service dog qualification. Even if pup can't go in public places with you, pup could still be trained to help you at home, then start fresh with a younger puppy in a few years, or get your older dog to the point where they would be okay with just one other dog in the household even if they weren't at the level where they could handle the high social requirements for public access. Before considering adding a new puppy or service dog work, pup's dog aggression will need to be addressed though. I would start by seeing if there is a G.R.O.W.L. class in your area, which is a class for dog aggressive/reactive dogs. Where all the dogs in class where a basket muzzle for safety and are intensively socialized with the other dogs in a structured environment. Because of the safety concerns, and especially the resources and environmental control needed to address dog aggression most quickly, I would consider working with a training group for this type of need. You will want a training group that has access to a lot of other dogs, at least two trainers, so there is a second person to handle the other dog while one person instructs you and works with pup, and control of the training scenarios, so you can adjust distance, repeating the same interaction with a dog over and over and over again (at first just a walk past at a distance), train around the same dog repeatedly until pup is desensitized to that dog, then be able to move onto a new dog, and repeat that over and over, and choose the types of dogs with particular temperaments to work around - starting with those pup is less reactive toward and gradually moving onto harder examples - like more excitable, same sex, ect... If pup has ever redirected aggression toward you, you will also need additional safety measures, like desensitizing pup to wearing a basket muzzle ahead of time, and having pup wear that, or tethering pup to something secure a safe distance away from any person while you train. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Rocky's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Success
Lily
chiwawa dutchhound
2 Years

Lily was 9 months old when we adopted her from a rescue. She would close cabinets and draws on me in the kitchen. I have worked with her to where she will go behind me in the kitchen closing drawers and cabinets I forget to close.

3 years, 4 months ago
Success
Todd
Todd-American Foxhound Holly-Siberian Husky
5 Weeks

Todd is my retired service dog. I actually adopted him as a companion, but right at the same time I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. No matter what I’ve tried my blood sugar drops dangerously low very quickly. Once I can feel it I’m on the verge of passing out. Todd naturally alerted me long before I could ever feel it, but it took me months to catch on to what he was doing. Around this time I was also going through a divorce from a bad marriage. My husband at the time was abusive and Todd witnessed a lot as a very young puppy. As he started getting a little older he became very protective of me, especially towards men and especially if they had gray hair. So unfortunately, he has had to retire far too early. My young adult daughter has a Siberian Husky as her psychiatric service dog. She bred her Husky and now we have five 5 week old puppies. I am keeping a female to be my service dog in training and I am currently training her to pick up on the scent of low blood sugar. So far she’s doing pretty well. Although this isn’t much of a success story. I am mainly writing to give some input. The first training method is actually the one I have been using from the start. But the article mentions that a service dog has to be certified and recertified every year. But there is no actual registry for service dogs and they don’t need to be certified. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty positive that goes for every state in the US. All of the “ID” cards that people have for their service dog are fake. Companies do it just to make money. Your dog does need to be trained in basic obedience and has to perform some kind of task to be a service dog, but there is no registry or certification. Don’t waste your money on an “ID” card that isn’t even real, because you don’t need that. Service dogs actually don’t even need to be identified as a service dog. They don’t have to wear a vest or anything identifying. It’s easier if they do, but they don’t have to. I wasn’t aware of most of this until I looked into the ADA laws. Service dogs and their handlers are protected by federal law. So even though many places try to ask for identification, there really isn’t any that is legitimate. I hope that some of you find this informative! I found out a lot of information a couple years ago and I figured I would pass it along! Good luck to everyone!

3 years, 4 months ago
Hi I have a Pomeranian Yorkie mix, she is about 20weeks of age.Getting her trained to be sertified as a service dog is too expensive. Can I get her sertified If I train her myself?
Hello, I had a Siberian Husky male in my teens and until about my mid 20s. I was born with hypoglycemia and a genetic disorder. My husky was being self trained to recognize low blood sugar. He was only about year old at the time and already a big dog. Well I luckily had never had a seizure with mine until one day at home. We lived in a 2 story townhome and I was home alone that day. I started feeling really unwell and decided to take a shower. I did and then proceeded to dry off and get dressed. I am a guy so I was walking around in just boxers and shorts. I was using the upstairs bath. Ibwas walking toward the stairs and he blocked my way. I tried to move home and he literally knocked me down. Of course I was getting mad and telling him to stop and get off me. All of a sudden my vision went black and I passed out. I awoke super weak barely able to move and crawled to my phone I my room. The entire time he is beside me whining and licking me. I called 911 and they arrived to take me to they hospital. Apparently Ibwas seizing for over an hour and a half and had so much foam in my lungs and mouth feom the metabolic acidosis. I could barely talk. He would let them help me down the stairs since I was still so low and heart was beating faintly. It was strange how he knew to do that even before he was trained to do so. Some dogs have a natural
instinct to thesethings it's amazing. I had him a long time before he passed due to an inoperable tumor in his brain. I moss my buddy but he was awesome.
Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd