How do I get a gluten and/or allergen detection service dog?
Do you place already trained service dogs?
We do not offer in-house training or "board and train" services, instead we strongly believe in Animal-Assisted Intervention (AAI) (human-animal bond), and the many benefits of the human-animal bond by training your own dog. We coach the owner/handler in how to train the dog, educating the owner/handler on how to handle scent properly, the risks of cross contamination, the realities of life with a service dog, and how to navigate the challenges that they may encounter with a service dog in public. With this foundation of education and training for the owner/handler and their dog, the owner/handler will be able to maintain the scent training for the life of their dog, as well as become a confident service dog team in public.
Which breed of dog is best suitable to become a gluten and/or allergen detection service dog?
Choosing a suitable service dog prospect comes down to temperament traits within each breed, and which breed(s) the owner/handler is comfortable working with, and which breed best fits their lifestyle and individual needs. Retrievers with some field lines in their pedigree are typically going to have a better drive for scent work, as they’re bred to hunt and work with humans. There are a growing number of gluten detection service dogs in the world, of a wide variety of breeds, so unlike programs that train guide or assistance dogs that have proven success with Labrador and Golden Retrievers, for instance, there is not yet an identified “best breed” for gluten/allergen detection. The most desirable traits a scent detection service dog consist of: the dog must have a solid temperament, be biddable, have the desire to work with humans, and the desire and aptitude for scent work. If the owner/handler also needs light mobility assistance, then a larger breed would be recommended. Refer to IAADP for more factors in considering breed choices.
Can I train my pet dog to become my scent-detection service dog?
This is determined on a case-by-case basis, and requires evaluating whether your dog can be trained in the task(s) required to mitigate your disability. It takes a unique skillset for a dog to become a successful service dog, which requires a specific temperament for public access, as well as the dog should to like to use its nose, (not all dogs, even within a working breed, like to do scent work). Service dogs are typically trained from a very early age (beginning with the breeder or foster raiser) to be able to handle the stress of working in public, and unfortunately, most pet dogs do not have that skillset and training foundation.
How long does the program take?
This depends on the owner/handler and individual dog. If starting with a puppy, you're looking at 18 months to 2 years to complete scent training, any additional tasks, obedience/manners, and the ability to pass the appropriate scent standards test(s) and a public access test. If starting with an older dog that already has some obedience and public access foundations, it may take less time, depending on where the dog is with obedience and how quickly the dog takes to scent work. After beginning the scent imprinting, after 4 to 6 months into the program, a dog might be reliable enough on scent at home to begin checking foods/products to keep the owner/handler safe in the home environment. These are very general estimates, and vary with each individual dog.
At what level can a dog detect odor
There is a lot of misinformation on the internet and in news articles that state a dog can detect at a specific level (parts per million) of gluten or other allergens. While we understand that dogs have a highly specialized olfactory system much more sensitive than humans, currently there is limited but ongoing scientific research on this topic, and none currently specific to gluten and/or allergen detection.
J.M. Johnston, PhD has estimated that dogs have the ability to detect some compounds in parts per trillion. That may be the case for a small molecule or volatile organic compound (VOC), or substances with high vapor pressure, but gluten is a large molecule, with an estimated low vapor pressure (this has not been studied), and may or may not be detectable at such minute amounts. Nathaniel Hall, PhD, at Texas Tech University's Canine Olfaction Lab has done extensive research on canine olfactory perception and scent detection dogs, including investigating methods for training scent detection/discrimination.
How many odors can a dog
be trained to detect?
There is very little research on this topic as well, though there is a growing number of canine cognition labs and researchers investigating canine olfaction. In addition to the researchers listed here, Simon Gadbois, PhD and his students have done extensive research into canine olfaction and its application to wildlife conservation and biomedical applications.
In Canine Detection Capabilities: Operational Implications of Recent R&D Findings, J.M. Johnston, PhD 1999, Johnston states “Although the maximum number of odors dogs are generally capable of detecting at any time has not been determined, there is probably little value in such an exercise even if it could be accomplished. It may be more relevant to evaluate the effects of training an increasing number of odor discriminations on detection accuracy, new odor training, and refresher training.” He concludes that the dogs had no decrease in detection performance on 10 target odors.
Can a gluten/allergen detection service dog be able to work in an environment where gluten/allergen may be present?
Yes, based on the methods we use to train, where we present items, one at a time, to the dog, the dog will check the item and perform a trained indication behavior to indicate whether the item contains or does not contain the target scent (gluten/allergen(s)).
If the owner/handler suffers from anaphylaxis to an airborne allergen, then presumably their dog would need to indicate the presence of the allergen upon entering every new environment. This kind of scent detection may be possible to train, based on the work of the Vapor Wake dogs of Auburn University, however we do not train service dogs for this kind of task.