Diabetic Alert Dogs Save Lives

I’m at the Wildrose Seminars at Orvis Sandanona, which are put on by Orvis-Endorsed trainer and breeder Mike Stewart. I’m here because Mike and I are writing his signature training book, which will be published by Orvis Rizzoli in the fall of 2012. The interesting part of writing this book is that I’m also training Murphy, a Wildrose Lab, at the same time I’m writing the book. Many of you have been following my series on training Murphy, which is now up to 19 episodes.

To be clear, Mike is the brains of this operation, and I am the brawn, so to speak. I transcribe all the recordings he sends me and then organize it and write so that it will read well and flow naturally from one step to the next. Mike is issuing a torrent of information, not unlike the floods we experienced in Vermont a few weeks ago; the volume of information is extraordinary, and my job is to channel it into a manageable stream of information that the reader can logically navigate.

Without trying to explain the Wildrose method, which would be impossible here, it’s basically a training method to produce a dog that not only works well in the field, but behaves at all times no matter where he is: the lodge, the living room, in public, wherever. They train and breed what is called the “gentleman’s gundog.” What’s even more interesting is that this is done without the use of force or e-collars. 

Does it work? Yesterday Mike took a totally dysfunctional dog from one of the attendees, and within five minutes the dog was heeling and sitting perfectly calm. By the end of the day, the dog was working well in the drills. It’s all based on pack behavior. Mike established himself as the leader, and the dog did what dogs do: he followed the leader.

But the most compelling story here today is the diabetic alert dog here with his owner who is a Type 1 diabetic. One of the programs at Wildrose is training diabetic alert dogs who alert their owners when their blood sugar is too high or to low based purely on the scent the body gives off in this situation.

Tom and Drake

Drake’s owner, Tom, used to fall into a coma when his blood-sugar crashed, but Drake’s assistance has made that problem a thing of the past.

photo by Paul Fersen

This particular gentleman is a “brittle diabetic,” a rarer form of diabetes characterized by big swings in blood-sugar levels. He is to the point where he cannot feel the effects and react, but simply falls into a coma. Until Drake came along, Tom was regularly falling into a comatose state and only immediate action saved his life. With Drake’s help, the comas have ceased completely because the dog alerts him whenever his blood sugar is out of balance. Tom told me that the other night, the dog literally pushed him out of the bed to wake him up and take care of the problem. Even while we were outside with all the dogs doing drills, Drake suddenly began barking, seemingly misbehaving. As it turns out, he was warning Tom. Tom left the drill and discovered his blood sugar was dropping rapidly. He took his medicine and immediately stabilized the situation.

While the training of this dog is remarkable, the fact is the dog must be behaved and alert 24/7, anytime and anywhere Tom goes. This dog never has a moment off. The interesting thing is the behavioral part of the training is no different than the training for the gentleman’s gundog. The only difference is the purpose. You can learn more about Wildrose as an endorsed breeder and trainer at orvis.com or on the Wildrose website.

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