If you decide that a diabetic alert dog is the right thing for you or your family, you need to make that decision knowing that you already have good diabetes management, (I didn’t say control) you already are making diabetes a priority, and you already understand the basics of this disease. That is the only way this will ever work, and it is the only way these dogs will ever have a chance to be successful.To go into this with out of control management, where normal ranges are 250-350, mealtime blousing is a guesstimate at best, where blood sugar checks are few and far between, but believing that a DAD will be exactly what you need to help you gain control, well, that is a recipe for disaster. That is a road that leads to a very expensive, resented pet, that could have potentially been helping someone else.
These DAD’s can be amazing tools. They are brilliant at being able to detect “out of range” blood sugars, but in order to do that, the diabetic needs to be in range often. If the range is normally big, then the dog will never detect those, or will become agitated and shut down, will stop alerting all together.
You see, one of the fallacies people believe when getting a dog is that they will test less. They also think that they will be able to sleep through the night. I’m here to tell you that opposite is true. You will test more than you ever have. You will test at all the usual times, like before meals, snacks, bed time, and you will test every time a dog alerts. You will also test she a dog isn’t alerting to make sure that the dog is right with the non alert. If you are lucky enough to have a dog that alerts at night, you should already be checking periodically at night, setting an alarm, and then your dog may wake you up at other times to have you check when the dog senses an event. In our case, with a type 1 that rises at night, we are woken up a lot.
So what can you do when searching for a DAD? Let’s assume you are committed to making diabetes a priority. You want to add a DAD to your arsenal of management tools. The DAD takes your management skills to the expert level. The data you get from a well trained DAD is so far above what you get from a meter and CGM, that if the team is working well, you will never want to be left without.
When searching for a DAD, you obviously want an organization that knows a thing or 2 about training dogs. But what may not be so obvious is to find one that places diabetes high on the priority list. You would be surprised how many trainers that train DAD’s don’t have a CLUE about diabetes, no personal connection, no one in the organization that lives with it.
Why is this important? Well, for one, this knowledge is imperative to be able to properly train the dog, and to be able to trouble shoot when issues arise later. I said “when”, not if. Issues will arise. You need to have someone you can talk to in order to help you work through them. Growth spurts, insulin changes, pregnancy, new environments, switching from MDI’s to a pump, all kinds of things will arise during the working life of your dog that may lead to a period of false alerts or no alerts that need to be addressed.
You also need someone in the organization that understands diabetes as a whole. What it means to have insulin on board, what a basal rate is, looking for ways to help you improve your management, be able to discuss all the intricacies of this crazy world we live in, and to understand you during periods of great frustration. To know what that struggle feels like. To be able to honestly look at you, give you a hug and say, “it’s okay. I’ve been there”.
This person will be able to train your dog with “real” diabetic scent, not just a cotton sample. They will be able to train your dog in real life scenarios, at the movies, at Costco, at a restaurant. Your dog will be better for it, and will be that much closer to working full time for you when it arrives at your house.
And something else this person will provide if you happen to be a parent of a young type 1? Someone to look up to. Someone that you can look at and say, “I know my baby will be all right. I know my child can grow up to be a successful, healthy adult, ready to take on the world”.
I am so lucky that Canine Hope has that person in their fold. The very first time we met they came out to our house to do an interview and home check, I met Johanna. She was the very first adult type 1 I ever got to meet and have a conversation with. She immediately put me at ease, and I knew right at that moment that we were in the right place. That not only would we get a great dog, but we were going to be able to have someone to help us keep our daughter healthy. She is an inspiration to me. She has helped us tweak a million different things, give us helpful nutrition tips, share experiences, help us with questions for our endo, everything. It is a HUGE piece of the diabetic alert dog puzzle for us, having her with us every step of the way.
Every dog goes through her house, becomes part of her life for a period of time. You should see what happens when she goes low at an event. All the dogs want to protect her, they love her, it is pretty amazing.
She loves these kids, she loves these dogs. Without that diabetic connection, that diabetic knowledge, that experience, the ability to think through issues you might be having between diabetic management and the dog, there could potentially be a huge disconnect. Canine Hope has amazing trainers, and amazing diabetic experience. And as the organization has grown, there have also been other families that have stepped up to pitch in and help and share. It is what makes this organization great.
When searching for an organization, ask what the connection to diabetes is. Is it a child, a family member, the trainer themselves? Make sure that there is a diabetic resource on staff that can help, that is hands on with the dogs. It is a HUGE plus. Make sure diabetes is a priority, and the organization should also make sure the same goes for you.
And to Johanna? Thank you. You are amazing, a true role model for our kids. And I know that Stella is healthier today because we know you.