CGM’s and BG meters are tools. They are devices that provide information, generally of an exact moment in time. Diabetic alert dogs provide something different, something that in some cases is exact, and at other times is more nuanced. If trained well, they can provide more information than a screen with a number on it, a lot more, but the handler has to be in tune with their dog.

An alert for an out of range blood sugar can be a paw swipe, a grabbing of a bringsel, a bow, a wave, or some other thing the dog has been trained to do. But what happens when a dog notices a slight fluctuation? There may be some pre-alert behaviors that start to occur. The nose in the air, sniffing, or standing up from a place (a down stay). These dogs are not machines. Their alerts are not 100% done exactly the same way every single time. There can be subtle alerts and there can be very exuberant, bash you over the head alerts. They can sense a slow rise or drop that may never drop out of range. They can sense rapid rises and crashes that might have taken 20-30 minutes to catch on a CGM.

We as handlers need to learn to read our dogs. And our dogs need to know that we can be trusted, that we will allow them to learn, to grow, to stretch their abilities, and to help them gain their confidence.

A new handler with a young dog can squash that confidence really quickly if they incorrectly read their dog. Instead of assuming the dog may be exhibiting pre-alert behaviors, a green handler may assume the dog is merely being disobedient and seek to correct the behavior. If that continues to happen, you can see just how quickly a well trained dog can slip into a very confused state, and instead of being rewarded for an alert, is punished. It doesn’t take long for the dog to learn that alerting is not a rewarded behavior, but a punishable offense.

Our dogs need to trust that we are a team. To build that trust, just like in many instances of real life, team building exercises can be very rewarding. Depending on the dog, things like agility, rally and obedience training, walks and exercising together can all prove to be beneficial and fun for the team. The dog doesn’t even realize that training is happening, they are just happy to be spending time with their person. These sessions should always be positive, with rewards and lots of praise being administered. These bonding exercises should be done daily and for the life of the dog. It is amazing how quickly these bonding sessions start to bear fruit.

The more time we spend with our dogs, while training, working, exercising, and hanging out, the more we get to know them and learn their subtle cues and hints. More often than not, the dogs are very well trained. It is the people that need to be trained. Learning from experienced dog handlers, dog trainers, asking questions before making assumptions, and being receptive to constructive criticism and helpful hints are all important when just starting out. There have been many before that blazed the trails, seek them out and learn from them. These dogs truly want to work and please. Don’t send them mixed signals. They are sensitive. They aren’t robots. While we are seeking information from them, they are seeking direction from us.

Unlike other tools that make our lives easier, these dogs are A LOT of work, often making things harder and more complicated. And that work lasts for the working life of the dog. If you are willing to put in that work, a well trained dog is an amazing and rewarding relationship. If you aren’t, there are other tools that may suit your needs better.

Team Blackdogsrule



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