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The making of an alert dog
Training a dog to do this kind of work takes time and the right animal.
“The whole process is a two-year process if we start with one of our own puppies,” Peters said. “We start molding the dogs just shortly after they’re born to tolerate different noises and distractions so they’re used to being out in public. These dogs in particular have to be with the person all the time, because they have to alert the person right on time.”
In training the dogs, Peters explained, instructors teach the animals to recognize a particular scent from the breath of a diabetic with low blood sugar. “We don’t know exactly what that [smell] is,” he said. “There’s a chemical change — and a certain scent happens.”
When diabetics’ blood sugar level drops below 80, they enter the danger zone. Trainers capture that low blood sugar-scent in a piece of gauze. The gauze is then placed in a plastic bag and kept in a freezer. During training sessions, the gauze is presented to the dogs so they can begin to recognize the smell. The average dog’s nose is tens of thousands of times more sensitive to odors than a human’s.
Since 2003, Can Do Canines has trained 28 dogs to alert diabetic patients. Right now, there are 21 people on a waiting list for alert dogs.
One recent summer morning at Breidenbach’s home, Moxie, ever vigilant, sniffed out a problem early.
Breidenbach was sitting on a couch, with Moxie lying quietly on the floor a few feet away. The dog suddenly raised her head, got up and jumped on the couch, placing her paws on Breidenbach’s chest and staring. Then Moxie began to whimper loudly, prompting Breidenbach to get up and walk to the kitchen to check her blood sugar level. Turns out it was high. Moxie followed her, eyes fixed on Breidenbach the whole time.
Breidenbach needed insulin.
After giving herself an injection, she rewarded Moxie with a pat on the head.
Having the dog, she said, has given her and her family peace of mind.
“I don’t think about it anymore,” she said, “whereas before I was constantly worried.”
Since Moxie’s arrival, there have been no more paramedic visits to her home.
Allie Shah • 612-673-4488