– It’s actually kind of scary to think about. Most of the times he alerted me, says Ann Layne O’Donnell (40), I was asleep.
She has type 1 diabetes. The disease means that she does not produce insulin – the substance that regulates blood sugar in the body. Therefore, she relies on receiving insulin through a pump attached to her body.
Low blood sugar can make her sick feelingsa condition that could be fatal in a worst-case scenario.
– If I feel a sensation in the night, I depend entirely on waking myself up, or someone waking me up.
They don’t have to be in the same room. Anton can sleep in the hallway, while Anne-Line lies in the bedroom.
If her blood sugar drops to the exact level of 3.8, Anton wakes up. He can smell it.
Then the Labrador goes into the bedroom and claws at Anne-Line with his claws. He won’t stop until he wakes her up.
How is that possible?
The answer lies primarily in dogs’ improbable good sense of smell.
And a lot of targeted training.
The sharp gag
The dog’s muzzle is specially designed to pick up scents from the surrounding environment. In addition, dogs use about a third of their brain to process information about smells.
Among other things, the nose consists of specialized olfactory cells. Dogs have 70 to 220 million olfactory cells, while we humans have to deal with 5 to 20 million.
Thus, there are 100,000 more dog noses million times more sensitive than ours.
These numbers may not tell you much. In the book “The Sense of Smell on Adventure in Dogs” it is explained as follows:
On a sandy beach 500 meters long, 50 meters wide and 50 centimeters deep, a trained dog can find Two grains of sand.
The family dog has an extra job
Anton’s three-year-old Labrador is primarily a family dog.
When Anne Line gave birth to Anton, she lived alone with her son. She wanted to give the new addition to the family a mission in addition to being “just” the family dog.
I came across an article about a diabetic dog on the Lundqvist dog school website. The dog school is located in Rælingen, not far from where Anne-Line lives. She said how dogs can be trained to smell different blood sugar levels and alert the owner.
– The article made me sign up for a puppy course with them. On the first day of the course, I mentioned to the trainer that I was interested in training Anton to become a diabetic dog.
A short time later, she was put in contact with dog trainer Kjersti Østlund at the Lundqvist Dog School. Ostlund has previously trained diabetic dogs and has several years of experience working as a trainer on research courses.
Anton was about half a year old when he gradually began what had become an intense training programme.
In addition to the usual daily puppy obedience and basic courses, Anton was introduced to hunt training early on. It is training where dogs are trained to use their sense of smell to identify a specific scent.
The goal of the research training was for Anton to learn to recognize the smell of On Line’s saliva each time her blood sugar level reached 3.8.
Anne Line chose the 3.8 blood sugar level because it is a level she can still help herself to.
– At this level, I can still put down a slice of buttered bread and think clearly. She says: If I’m driving, I can stop.
Anton also had to learn that this smell meant he had to notify Unline, no matter what.
– Now I have a dog that I trust to help me. Ann Line says he chose to do this first.
Getting there takes a lot of training, patience, willpower, and money.
Q-tips with saliva in the freezer
In order for the Labrador to learn to recognize scent, Ann Lane had to make hundreds of saliva samples. She did this by lowering her blood sugar to 3.8 and taking samples of her saliva with a Q-tip.
Saliva samples were placed in sealed bags and frozen. In this way, it can be stored for a long time without the smell disappearing. Saliva samples were used in training with Anton.
Dogs have such sensitive noses that they can smell the difference between saliva that has a glycemic index of 3.6 and 3.8. Dogs can also distinguish the smell of different people’s saliva.
– Only our imagination sets limits to what we can teach a dog to hunt, says dog trainer Kjersti Østlund. She is the one who trained Anton with On Line.
I had to pay myself
Ostlund explains that there is no general scheme or support for training dogs with diabetes in Norway.
Guide dogs and service dogs are acquired and trained by various organizations. NAV is not subsidized to obtain or train dogs to warn of diabetes. Training a diabetic dog is something you have to do yourself and pay for yourself, Ostlund says.
The dog trainer explains that dogs will always try to do what is best for them.
If they understand that the behavior means a reward, they will try to do it again. In that sense, it’s easy to get dogs to seek out what they want, she says.
—but it’s important that we humans pick up on the signals the dog is giving us, and reward the behavior properly, she points out.
Nothing can replace a dog’s nose
During Anton’s training, they put a lot of emphasis on his experience of training as fun.
– We lifted the mood every time he smelled the right scent. We create a high expectation of reward. This is how we created his motivation to do this every day, you explain.
After a year and a half of weekly training, Anne Line felt confident that Anton would notify when he was supposed to.
– A dog can never take over medical assistance. The dog can contribute, says dog trainer Ostlund.
– But on the other hand: there is also no aid today that could replace a dog’s nose.
must be preserved
New dog training. Therefore, AnLine must train regularly with Anton in various situations to maintain his skills.
She often does this outdoors by putting up tips around the terrain, but also at home and when visiting friends.
On Line hides saliva samples in random places.
After searching the area, Anton approaches the q-tip.
Then he finds the saliva sample and marks it by scratching his paws.
– Anton did not notify me of level 4.1 or 3.6. Speaking at 3.8, Ann Line explains.
She has good aids attached to her body. Among other things, an insulin pump with a sensor that measures blood sugar at all times. An alert sounds if the blood sugar level drops dangerously low. But it happens that she calculates the doses incorrectly or does not hear the sound of the pump.
When she was recently sitting around the dinner table on a cabin cruise with friends, she didn’t hear the pump sound. Then Anton was fast with his paws.
– In a cabin with a lot of walking and moving around, I sometimes find it hard to distinguish between the fact that I’m tired after physical exertion or my blood sugar is low. Very helpful, says Anton, who is 40 years old.
– It made me safer
Ann Line was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 11 and learned to adjust to a life of chronic illness. But the four-legged companion has changed something important in her daily life: It has given her more security and freedom.
– I no longer depend on the presence of people around me who, whether I want it or not, take care of me. If I’m in the woods alone or lying asleep, Anton takes care of me. It made me safer.
She has no doubt that the operation there is worth all the time and money.
“Training Anton to become a diabetic dog is one of the smartest things I have ever done in my life,” says Ann Line.
Did you think of anything when you read this case, or do you have any input? Feel free to send me an email!
You can also send me advice on other matters. I wrote in the past about:
“Explorer. Unapologetic entrepreneur. Alcohol fanatic. Certified writer. Wannabe tv evangelist. Twitter fanatic. Student. Web scholar. Travel buff.”