HOW ARE HYPO ALERT DOGS TRAINED?
In Estonia the training of hypo alert dogs is organized through Estonian Children and Youth Diabetes Association (Eesti Laste ja Noorte Diabeedi Ühing (ELDÜ), www.lastediabeet.ee). The training course lasts for 1 year and is divided into modules that take place on weekends with approximately 2-month intervals. In these meetings people share their experience and learn necessary theoretical and practical skills for practising at home. In the time between modules the participants are in constant contact with the trainers.
In broad terms, the training consists of three parts: (1) basic obedience, so that the dog would cope well in social situations and always focus on the owner; (2) theory, so that the owner would obtain necessary knowledge to best take care of his/her dog and for smooth coexistence; and (3) scent training for the specific work of a hypo alert dog.
Scent training starts with collecting smell samples from the person with diabetes and storing them in sterile airtight containers in the freezer. As the smell of hypoglycaemia (hypo) is not a natural smell for dogs, as opposed to that of prey, for example, then during the training course it must become the world’s best smell for the dog, to be followed everywhere. This is achieved by rewarding the dog generously during training. When the dog has learned to recognize the correct smell with the help of a special training board and it can already mark the smell, these two actions are combined. In the next phase the hypo smell sample is hidden in the clothes of the diabetic.
When the dog detects the smell and starts marking it, the dog will be abundantly praised and rewarded. Usually the reward for hypo alert dogs are their favourite treats, and in big quantities.
Currently there are 4 attested and working hypo alert dogs in Estonia. 6 dogs have met all the requirements of a service dog and are waiting to receive the respective vests.
In the video you can see smell sample training. A piece of cloth with the smell of low blood sugar or hypo, is hidden in the clothes of the owner. The dog, recognising the smell, comes and marks it to the owner. The American Staffordshire Terrier called Aiki participating in the video, did so well that it started to work for its owner already after only 6 months of training.
First work, then fun!
A well-trained diabetes assistance dog has to know how to bring blood sugar-lifting food. In most cases, dogs bring a small juicer to the owner.
Australian Shepherd Yamba in training. Yamba continues to bring the juicer, despite the distraction.