How do I get a Gluten Detection dog? Do you have dogs already trained?
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, and the realities of life with a service dog and the challenges that they may encounter. With this foundation of education and training for the owner/handler, he/she is better able to maintain the scent training for the life of the dog as well as be a confident service dog team in public.
What breed of dog is best suitable for gluten and/or allergen detection?
This comes down to temperament traits within the breed, and what breed the owner/handler is comfortable working with. 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 isn’t an identified “best breed” for gluten/allergen detection. The desirable traits: 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.
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Can I train my pet dog to
become my service dog?
This must be determined on a case-by-case basis. It takes a unique skillset for a dog to be a service dog, which requires a specific temperament for public access, as well as the dog has to like to use it’s nose, (not all dogs even within a working breed like to do scent work). Service dogs are trained from a very early age (beginning with the breeder or foster raiser) to be able to handle the stress of working in public, 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, 18 months to 2 years to complete scent training, any additional tasks, obedience/manners, and pass both the appropriate scent standards test and a public access test. If starting with an older dog that already has obedience and public access foundation, 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, generally about 4 to 6 months into the program, a dog may be reliable enough on scent at home to begin checking foods/products to keep the owner/handler safe in the home environment.
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 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 dog be able to work in a gluten/allergen filled environment?
Yes, based on the method we use to train, we present items to a dog, and the dog will indicate through a trained indication behavior whether the sample contains or does not contain the allergen/gluten. For most scent detection service dogs, this method is preferred. However, if the handler has an anaphylactic response to an airborne allergen, then the dog would need to indicate the presence of the allergen upon entering a new environment. This is typically not the case for a gluten detection dog.