Diabetes Alert Dogs — Oh the Drama!

Looking critically at another tool in the world of diabetes management

Michelle Alswager By Michelle Alswager

February 2013 — By now most people in the diabetes world have heard the term "d.a.d." A "d.a..d." is a diabetes alert dog. Now before you get all rev'd up and want to scream, "oh the scams! The scams!" — hear me out.

Over the past 13 years I have been to a lot of support meetings for families of children with diabetes. On this particular evening the room was packed full of people wanting to know more about these dogs. While I don't have a child in my home with type 1 diabetes I was more than excited to go ahead and learn more about these dogs, their trainers, and to decipher the scams rolling around social media about a few bad trainers in the alerting dog world.

I met Linda from BFF Training — she brought two of her alerting dogs to meet everyone. The dogs had two very different personalities, but one thing was for sure, they definitely knew the scent of diabetes. These particular dogs were living in the home of the trainer and had been taught on small cotton balls that had the saliva of children who had low blood sugars. First myth debunked for me was that all alert dogs can smell highs and lows. These particular dogs were only trained to sense lows. I also found out that the dogs can be trained to alert at different levels. For instance maybe a family wants a child's dog to alert at a blood sugar of 90 whereas an adult doesn't want to be alerted until 60. Just depends on how annoyed you want to be (much like a continuous glucose monitor beeps and beeps and BEEPS ).

I'm going to list a few things I learned from this woman (and her dogs).

  1. There are no guarantees a d.a.d. will alert a low in the night. Just like you dogs can fall sound asleep and not wake up.
  2. A d.a.d. does not replace testing. It's a tool to be used alongside your meters.
  3. A d.a.d needs a vacation from you. They need time every day to get away from "work."
  4. A person may choose to train their own dog. They can go through a series of tests to see if they are trainable.
  5. A d.a.d. can reside in the home of a family with more than one type 1 member.
  6. Training a dog is hard work. The dog does not come completely trained. You have to continually work with them to ensure they are properly trained.

Now, let's face it. These dogs are NOT cheap. Most families are fundraising to pay for these dogs, usually to the tune of $15,000 or more. And yes, there are a handful of companies out there under scrutiny for how their dogs are trained and sold, and how they treat the customers. But that's not my point.

The biggest feeling I walked away with is that a dog can be a great tool in the fight against diabetes, but really, how many teenagers do you know that would be willing to give up their autonomy and have a dog with them at school, at work, on dates? The fact is, I'm back to my old rhetoric that the only thing that's going to make a difference is a cure.

That's my point.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: July 12, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.
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by Brenda Bell
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