Here is a copy of the article I just finished writing for the next edition of the Early Alert Canine’s newsletter, “The Scentinel”
Early Alert Canines is fortunate to have good relationships with other service dog training organizations that allow us to ‘adopt’ and customize the training of their “Career Change” dogs. EAC usually receives the dog candidates as young-adults between the ages of 18 and 24 months.
These dogs have been bred for their intelligence, work ethic and temperament. Early socialization to both the canine and human worlds is critical for a service dog. It is important that the puppy remain with his litter for his first 8 to 12 weeks. During this first stage, puppies learn canine social interaction, play, canine body language and moderating aggression from their mother and littermates. Without this, the puppy may grow up to be difficult and aggressive.
However, because a service dog’s bond to humans must be strong, a service dog-in-training must be removed from its litter, and placed in a human home at between 8 and 12 weeks old. The window of opportunity to create a bond that is tighter to humans than to other dogs closes at about 12 weeks of age. In the puppy-raiser’s home he begins learning the ‘human world’, basic obedience and learns his place as a member of the human pack. The ‘puppy-in-training’ requires consistent and almost continual human interaction. Early exposure to many different experiences is imperative to enable a dog to be successfully adaptive in the active human world. A few examples of human-related experiences that an unsocialized puppy might otherwise shy away from are: Umbrellas, airplanes, trains, hats, cars, public transportation, shopping malls, schools, elevators, etc.
Dogs that are chosen to be trained as diabetic alert dogs are selected for their intelligence, scenting abilities and work ethics. Does the dog have a willingness to work and initiate the alerting action without being prompted? He must be intelligent and motivated enough to smell the scent produced by the diabetic’s body when the blood sugar changes rapidly, and perform the desired behavior (alerting) with no verbal cuing or any other prompting. He must be self-motivated to work at any time and in any surroundings, yet be able to remain quiet for hours at a time (such as sitting under a desk or attending the theater).
By playing games like hide-and-seek, the dog reveals whether he uses his eyes or nose to find food, and whether he is food motivated and thrives on praise. For a diabetic alert dog, he must ‘seek’ with his nose, since the life-saving responsibilities are scent oriented.
Another characteristic that is imperative in a service dog is his desire to please humans and interact with us in a positive way. Early Alert Canines finds dogs that want to give to and please their humans above all else.
After some initial testing of the dogs, and knowing their training and socialization histories, the trainers at EAC can then focus on the intense scent training and alert training that our dogs require.
Although every dog is fully scent trained, each dog has his own personality and energy needs, which must be taken into account when a match is being made for a human/dog team.