Mary McNeight, CPDT-KA, owner and head trainer of the Service Dog Academy shared some of her diabetic alert dog training fundamentals in a free webinar earlier this month with attendees from all over the country. With her background in training service dogs, and seeing the effects of diabetes through personal experience and with family members, McNeight set out to make training dogs for diabetic alert accessible for everyone.

Attendees from all over including Denver, San Antonio, Anaheim, Brooklyn, Michigan, Virginia, and New Jersey also got a sneak peak at Diabetic Alert Dog University – the next phase in McNeight’s quest for offering low-cost diabetic alert dog training to type one and type two diabetics, hypoglycemics, and pre-diabetics.

“I did find your webinar useful and your approach compatible [sic] with my own training beliefs. I am fascinated by the whole process!”

In this program, dogs are allowed to be dogs through the use of games, solving puzzles, and making service work incredibly rewarding. By using positive reinforcement methods, Service Dog Academy’s diabetic alert dog program keeps a dog’s spirit intact. The puzzles and games that are part of the training have been developed to create an improvisational dog.

Furthermore, by working with your own dog and doing the training with your dog, it will give you the ability to keep up with the training. Unfortunately, when an already trained dog is given to a person he may lose his ability to alert within a few months. With this program, in addition to the basics of alerting to blood sugar changes, getting drinks from the refrigerator, retrieving your meter and getting help, this program gives you the fundamentals to teach your dog more complicated tasks when you come up with them.

The main goal of the training is based on the discoveries of Ivan Pavlov, a psychologist who rang a bell when he fed his dogs, and discovered that his dogs equated the sound of a bell to being fed. Eventually, they started to salivate at the sound of a ringing bell. The main goal of diabetic alert dog training is to create a Pavlovian response in your dog to blood sugar scents.

1. Make sure dog has a strong foundation with the scent. At first, the low blood sugar scent might not be more important than a tennis ball, squeaky toys, children running by, etcetera. So, build a solid foundation with the scent using Pavlovian techniques. Pair food with the scent.

2. K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid. Train one variable at a time, in micro-increments. Start training in a low distraction environment, and build from there.

3. Start generalizing. Once your dog performs the tasks with 95% accuracy switch it up. change the body posture, distance, location, level of distraction, and “training predictors” – i.e. clicker, clenched fist, or treat bag.

Note: Don’t add variables until your dog is 95% accurate with the others.

4. There is a difference between an alert and a signal. The alert says “hey! there’s something wrong!” and the signal tells you exactly what – in the case of lows, it would be a paw swipe, and for highs, spinning in a circle.

5. The signal training is the same when it comes to generalization as alert training.

6. Always remember: Don’t put the chain together until your dog can generalize all steps in the chain with 95% accuracy. Why? It’s like trying to complete an algebraic equation with out being able to divide, or only being able to divide even numbers, or not being able to count past 50.

Be aware that dogs have an 85% success rate in alerting and typically do so around the 6th or 7th week of training. So many variables can come into play when a dog begins training – health, temperament, owner’s commitment to training, owner’s abilities, or history of punitive training methods – that can thwart a dog’s success. Be forewarned – anyone who claims they have a 100% success rate either hasn’t had enough dogs through the program, or they are lying.

“I am so thankful that I was able to listen today! i’m sure you’ve saved me from trying to do too much too soon. I am very, very interested in learning more about the Diabetic Alert Dog University online!”

We are in the process of launching an entirely online positive reinforcement diabetic alert dog training program called Diabetic Alert Dog University.
The online program will allow persons from anywhere to download weekly 20 minute training sessions, and teach how to create an improvisational diabetic alert dog. Visit www.diabeticalertdoguniversity.com today, or call the Service Dog Academy at 206-355-9033 for more information on this groundbreaking new program from the Northwest’s best pet and service dog training school.