Diabetes can be a dangerous condition if not monitored and managed well. Aside from medications and regular consultations, the best breeds for diabetic alert dogs can also help. These canines are trained to detect sudden changes in their handlers’ sugar levels that may indicate danger. While not 100% accurate, having this service dog by your side is added confidence. The diabetic alert dog (DAD) will also become your unofficial emotional support animal.
When it comes to diabetic alert tasks, only a few breeds can do the job. The ‘anointed ones’, as we jokingly call them, have a keen sense of smell, intelligence, and temperament that are suitable for working canines.
What does a diabetic alert dog do?
A diabetic alert dog is professionally trained to detect changes in its handler’s blood sugar level. Our bodies release a unique scent when we experience physiological changes. This occurs when the blood sugar levels experience a massive decline.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar level, occurs in people who are taking insulin. Most of us have a connotation that diabetic people always have their sugar levels shooting up (hyperglycemia). While this also happens, their sugar levels are on a sliding scale.
This is where diabetic alert dogs come in handy. These dogs can sniff sudden dips or rises in their handler’s blood sugar level. When the dog perceives a drastic change, it will alert the handler by pawing, barking, or nudging.
As complementary skills, diabetic alert dogs are trained to retrieve medication. The dogs are also trained to alert household members or retrieve phones for the handler to call somebody. In some instances, there can be a special device that the dog can press, which will automatically dial 911.
The following are some of the key responsibilities of a diabetic alert canine:
- Sniff blood sugar level changes
- Retrieve medication
- Alert the handler’s caregiver
- Alert the handler
- Hold a toy in its mouth as a sign of danger
- Touching the owner’s nose as a sign of danger
Take note that diabetic alert canines aren’t a replacement for actual tests. These dogs aren’t absolutely accurate, so they are just added protection in case of sudden blood sugar changes. Again, you should continue consulting your doctor and taking your medications even with a diabetic alert dog.
In this video, Dog4Diabetics shares with us the journey of Madelaine and her diabetic alert dog Rialta:
5 Best Breeds for Diabetic Alert Dogs
If you’re thinking of getting a DAD, the following are some of the breeds you can expect:
1. Golden Retriever
Golden Retrievers are the quintessential service dogs. It’s as if they were born for the job. These canines are intelligent, well-mannered, and suitable for almost every handler.
While not a scenthound, Golden Retrievers have a keen sense of smell and a sharp mind. They can be trained to pick up a specific scent and alert their handlers.
Goldies can be taught to paw, nudge, bark, and hold a toy when they sense low blood sugar levels. Also, their size allows them to provide mobility support in case the handler gets dizzy. Most of all, a Goldie can be trained to retrieve medication and alert the person’s caregiver or family member.
Many organizations that produce DADs consider Golden Retrievers as the top choice for the job. Goldies are tolerant and well-rounded dogs, especially when it comes to their tasks as working dogs.
Aside from that, Golden Retrievers are loving companions. They can also give emotional support to patients who are dealing with the complications of diabetes.
2. Labrador Retriever
Another top option for DADs is the Labrador Retriever breed. Like Goldies, this dog is intelligent, easy to train, and tried-and-tested for service work.
Labradors are medium-build dogs, so they are easier to maintain than Golden Retrievers. They are also equally friendly, docile, and eager to please their handlers.
The good thing about Labs is their background as fishermen helpers. They are used to carrying things around and retrieving items that their masters need. This comes in handy when retrieving medications for the dog’s handler.
Devotion runs in the blood of Labrador Retrievers. Once they bonded with their handlers, they will never go astray. This is the main reason why they are very effective diabetic alert dogs.
When it comes to maintenance, you’ll have to deal with shedding and mild drooling. But overall, Labs are easier to care for than Goldies because of their shorter fur.
For diabetic patients with allergies, a Labradoodle is the best breed. This is a cross between a Labrador and a Standard Poodle. The result is an intelligent, highly trainable, and hypoallergenic canine.
Take note, though, that the waiting list for Labradoodles is longer than typical Goldies or Labs. Also, it can be potentially more expensive due to the specific breeding requirements. Breeders have to be careful to achieve the right temperament and coat consistency of Labradoodles.
As a service dog, Labradoodles are nothing but stellar. They are sociable canines that bear the same intelligence as both their parent dogs. The best part is that this doggo is low-shedding, perfect for allergic and mobility-challenged handlers.
True to its Poodle and Labrador origin, Labradoodles are the happiest when they are surrounded by people.
Just make sure that the DAD organization sources their pups from responsible breeders. Due to the popularity of this breed, Labradoodles are hot items in puppy mills.
Another hypoallergenic option for diabetic alert dogs is Poodle. Standard Poodles are intelligent, laidback, and loyal canines that will stay by their handler’s side.
Poodles were originally bred to be retrievers, so they are reliable in retrieving medications for their handlers. They can also carry items on their mouths without biting or chewing into them.
For those who want a DAD that’s easy to live with, Poodles are excellent options. This breed can get along with just about anyone, and they don’t shed or drool. However, their curly coats do require proper upkeep through regular groomer visits.
Poodles also help diabetic handlers have an active lifestyle. While this dog isn’t very intense, they do like playing and running outside. They also love water, which is true to their nature as waterfowl retrievers.
5. Australian Shepherd
The Australian Shepherd also has a high potential of being a diabetic alert dog. Aussies are happy when they have a task to do, which makes them excellent service dogs.
Moreover, this breed is intelligent and a joy to train. However, trainers have to pay a lot of attention to this dog’s nipping, barking, and chewing. If not trained well, an Aussie Shepherd will wander off.
Aside from that, diabetic individuals who wish to stay active will find a perfect pal with an Australian Shepherd service dog. This canine is a ball of energy that will surely give your much-needed exercise as it runs around the yard. Just note that this breed doesn’t thrive on apartment living.
Overall, Australian Shepherds can be trained to detect the scent of low blood sugar levels and retrieve medication when necessary. They also have an innate nature to bark when they sense something dangerous or suspicious.
How to qualify for diabetic alert dogs
Just because you have diabetes doesn’t mean you automatically qualify for a diabetic alert dog. Each organization has its own criteria for applications. Also, there’s usually a waiting list, so getting an alert dog is a long process.
In general, most diabetic alert dog (DAD) providers will impose these requirements:
- Official diagnosis from a licensed physician
- The potential handler is 12 years or older
- Experiences blood sugar fluctuations without warning
- Complies to prescribed treatments and medications
- Ability to care for a service dog
Organizations that provide DADs have full discretion over the application. They can also impose specific guidelines that differ from most providers.
Most of the time, handlers can’t choose which dog will be assigned to them. It’s the training organization that will decide which dog suits a specific hander or patient.
Also, you should expect regular checks from the organization. They have to ensure that as much as the dog helps you, you’re also caring for the canine.
Cost and length of training
DADs don’t come cheap, so potential handlers have to prepare their pockets. Also, waiting lists tend to be long, so it will take years for you to finally meet and bring home your diabetic alert dog.
On average, a diabetic alert dog can cost around $20,000 to $35,000. It can be cheaper or more expensive based on how elite the organization is. The good thing is that there are agencies that provide assistance, so you won’t have to shoulder the entire cost of acquiring a DAD.
Overall, DADs aren’t cheap, and for very good reasons. These dogs undergo intensive training for years before being placed to a handler.
Limitations of diabetic alert dogs
Just like anyone else, diabetic alert dogs have their limitations. First of all, their detections aren’t always accurate. Still, even a false detection is worth checking instead of just dismissing it. Depending on how well-maintained the DAD is, its accuracy can range from 50% to 70%. However, since these are just dogs, it can’t be an absolute 100%.
Also, it’s important to know that DADs require care too. This is one of the major aspects organizations consider when placing their dogs to potential handlers. Diabetic alert dogs are expensive and hard to train, so they just can’t be given to negligent handlers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do diabetic alert dogs really work?
A: DADs are trained to sniff low blood glucose levels. These dogs really work as long as they are well-trained and well-maintained. Make sure that you only deal with legitimate trainers, so your money won’t go to waste. Also, never consider DADs as a replacement for your medications and physician.
Q: Can I train my dog to be a diabetic alert dog?
A: Unfortunately, you simply can’t train your dog at home to become a diabetic alert dog. There’s so much chemistry involved in the process, so you need a professional to train the canine. Also, most organizations that produce DADs don’t accept dogs from pet owners. They raise their own canines to ensure that it’s in good health and has been trained since puppyhood.
Q: What do diabetic alert dogs smell?
A: Diabetic alert dogs can smell a chemical called isoprene on the breath of their handler. Our bodies produce this chemical when the blood sugar level spirals. There are some who argue the correlation, but there has been evidence that this is exactly what DADs can detect.
Q: Can a German Shepherd be a diabetic alert dog?
A: Yes, German Shepherds have the potential to become diabetic alert dogs. However, the specific dog that will be trained must not be nippy, or it will be disqualified from the program. Trainers have to be very careful with dog selection they are going to train to ensure accuracy of low blood sugar detection.
Q: How long does it take to get a diabetic alert dog?
A: On average, a diabetic alert dog will have to undergo training and testing for around two years. This is to ensure that the canine is ready for its life as a service dog. The duration will vary based on the dog’s response to training and the requirements each organization imposes.
Q: How long can I keep a service dog?
A: A service dog is usually kept in its handler’s care for 10 to 15 years. Once the handler no longer needs the assistance of the canine, the dog will be retired as a pet. Some organizations allow the handler to adopt the canine as a pet since the two already have a bond. Take note that the DAD organization also has the right to take the dog back if the handler is negligent.
The best breeds for diabetic alert dogs will help patients manage their blood sugar levels. However, these dogs are just a form of assistance and not a replacement for proper medications. The goal here is to seek continuous medical care with the added help of a service dog.